The 8

It’s that time again – the iPhone no longer holds a charge, and is slower than slow compared to the new ones, so it was off to the Apple store on Saturday for the next iteration of the handheld computer gadget. I got the iPhone 6s in December of 2015, and was thinking of doing the thirty-dollar battery replacement deal and limping along until summer, or maybe when the 8s or the 8+ or whatever comes out. But, whatever. Easier to start new, I guess.

This time, there are more decisions to be made, since there are three different front-line iPhones available: the 8, the larger 8 Plus, and the X. That’s a bit confusing, because it seems like the X would come out after the 9, and the 8 would be long obsolete. Nope. The X is a “special edition” or something. I have no idea what will happen when they go from 8 to 9 to 10. Or maybe they’ll need to do something else. Anyway, I can’t deal with the larger size phone, so the 8 plus and the X were off the table, and the 8 it is.

I still don’t entirely understand how AT&T Next works. I am on some weird plan or sub-plan that required me to turn in my old phone in the next two weeks, and keep paying the $40 a month or whatever for the next 24 months to pay for the new one. I bought AppleCare, bought a new battery case (mostly so I can hold the phone without it slipping out of my hands) and assorted taxes and fees.

What’s odd is that this is the first time I’ve upgraded and had the same screen size, the 4.7″ screen. Each prior upgrade (3G to 5S to 6S) had a change in size. This one is the same, which is slightly underwhelming. In many ways, it feels like the same phone. I even had both phones on my desk the other day, and grabbed the wrong one. It’s not as dramatic as going from a tiny screen to a bigger one of a different aspect ratio.

There are little changes, though. No more headphone jack. I can plug in the included Lightning headphones, which I’ll probably use 99% of the time. There’s a small dongle to plug in standard headphones. I’m not really into Bluetooth earbuds, so I’m not doing that. The only other real change is the home button is slightly different – it isn’t an actual button, but a little dimpled area the size of a button, with haptic feedback. It feels like a button, but won’t get gunk or liquids in there. Oh, stereo speakers are on the bottom now, although I don’t spend a lot of time listening to audio on my phone without being paired to my car or with headphones.

One big difference is that the new phone is much faster. My old one was getting throttled because the battery was dying. The 8 is about twice as fast in benchmarks, but because of the throttling, it’s roughly four times as fast. So scrolling and app launching and whatnot all feel much more responsive. I’m sure I will get used to that in a few days and not notice it anymore, though.

(And I don’t want to get into the argument of “why doesn’t Apple have removable batteries.” Because it’s not 1997. Does the new Samsung Galaxy have a removable battery? Does any phone under a centimeter thick? Does any phone that is even vaguely spill-resistant? It doesn’t come with a floppy disk or S100 expansion bus capability, either. Sorry.)

The other difference is that I optioned up to a 256 GB capacity, up from 64. With 64, I was always within a percent or two from capacity. I also had a byzantine system of playlists to sync only part of my music collection. Now, I have synced all the audio in my iTunes collection, and still have half the phone left. So, time to get more music.

The swap was a bit of a pain in the ass. They activated it as a new phone at the store, then I came home and tried to sync a backup of my old phone onto it. But my phone’s OS was a version newer, so I had to reinstall a new OS to the phone, then wipe it and set it up from backup. I also had to back up, wipe, and restore my watch. All that took a few hours, and syncing over 16,000 songs took a few minutes, but it was otherwise up and running that afternoon.

The strange thing for me is that it’s become slightly easier to let the old phone go. I remember when I replaced my first iPhone, it was bittersweet to return this machine that I’d spent so much time with. But now, it’s like the soul of the machine transfers to the new phone after an upgrade. I’ve still got the same documents, backgrounds, settings, and so on, just in a more robust body. It’s some real Altered Carbon shit.

Anyway, new laptop, new phone, and the iPad is only a year out. The watch is probably the next thing to go, although there’s still a small part of me that thinks I should just get a typewriter and a bunch of index cards and spend the money on a cabin in the mountains or something. The toilet situation is the only thing holding me back, really.


The Latest S

Another two years have passed. My iPhone wouldn’t hold a charge more than half a day anymore, and I got annoyed at carrying an external battery charger everywhere. So this week, it was off to the Apple Store to trade in the old 5s for the new 6s.

First things first: I do not understand what the hell is going on with upgrading phones. I’m on AT&T, and it used to be you had a contract, you did your two years of time, then you came in and got a $700 phone for $200 or $300 and the promise to re-up for another two years. I realize phones are not “free” and you pay for that $500 subsidy over time. I recently moved to a different plan and gave up my unlimited data plan so I could use tethering, which was probably a mistake, especially since everything is streaming or in the cloud now. But anyway, I was under the assumption this upgrade deal would continue, and the AT&T web site made it look like it would.

But once I got to the store, they said no. I was given three options: pay $750 for an unlocked phone, join AT&T Next and pay an extra $25 a month for the phone and be locked in for 30 months with an option to swap phones at 24 months, or use Apple’s financing to pay some amount (maybe like $25, I don’t know and I’m too lazy to look it up) and then trade up every year. There is allegedly some discount on the AT&T Next thing if you have a newer plan, probably with a lower data amount — I don’t even fucking know. All I know is my cell phone bill went up like 25% for no real reason, but I did end up not paying for the entire phone up front. So they have made it so you pay the same price for not getting the phone subsidy, or you can pay extra to get the subsidy, which is total bullshit. I have a feeling if I would have said “Yeah, I’m not upgrading at all today and keeping my old shit phone” they would have charged me another $25 a month to do that.

Anyway. I jumped from 5s to 6s. The biggest thing about the 6s is the phone itself – it moved from the 4” to the 4.7” size. I looked at the 6s+, and it seemed far too big for a phone. The 6s is honestly too big for me. It’s also very slippery and I’m almost sure I would drop it within the first day if I didn’t get a rubbery case for it. I haven’t dropped an iPhone ever, but I’m certain I won’t make it six months with this one without face-planting it, hopefully not on concrete. The move of the lock button to the right side is also awkward to me, and touching anything at the top of the screen is a chore when holding the phone in one hand. Maybe I should have gone to the larger size and just completely given up on ever using it with one hand. I like the small amount of extra screen real estate, but honestly, there are rumors of a 4” next-gen phone, and I’d almost consider that when the next upgrade cycle happens (and who knows when the hell that is now, with this stupid contract I signed.)

The 6s is faster. It’s much faster, but I’m sure I won’t notice it in a week or so, and it will be the new normal. But the touch ID is remarkably fast. Battery life is about the same. There is the new 3D Touch feature, which detects finger pressure and opens little pop-up windows for frequently-used functions. This feature is largely useless to me, and is the equivalent to when right-clicking was introduced in Windows 95. It meant that some but not all things had a weird right-click menu on it, and you never knew what you could do unless you experimented forever to find these “bonus” menus in odd places, and who has time for this shit.

The camera is a big upgrade, going from 8 to 12 MP on the rear, and 1 to 5 on the front, with better sensors (really the important part, not megapixels) and the video moving to 4K. I haven’t had a chance to do much with the camera yet, but I used my iPhone as camera for most of my vacation pictures over Thanksgiving, so I see myself doing that going forward.

Upgrade was smooth, going from a backup. I had a phone with no music and no stuff on it for the drive home, which was the same as last time. But this time, I also had a watch that was similarly dead (although it could still tell time and everything) because my watch was now paired to an old phone that had been wiped and traded in. The one snag I had moving forward was that Apple Music and the iTunes Cloud crap meant that no music was syncing on the device anymore, and I was streaming everything. I had to fuck around forever with making playlists available offline, and I’m still not sure they are. Apple really needs to figure that shit out.

There’s always been an odd emotional reaction when the old phone gets wiped, shut off, and shoved in an envelope to go off to the recycling plant. My phone never leaves me, has everything on it, and there’s always a close emotional bond to it, as stupid as that sounds. My phones end up going to many states and countries, held to my face for many long phone calls, and tapped away for literally years of online interaction.

This strange nostalgia seems to happen less and less now with each upgrade cycle; I remember it being horrible the first time I traded in my broken iPhone 3G for a new one, after only nine months of use. Now, it’s not as big of a thing. With the cloud stuff and upgrade process, it’s more like a digital soul is being pulled from one host and dumped into another, because the new phone had the same old layout and data and preferences, but in a shiny new case.

Makes me wish I could do that with my own body at some point. Isn’t Kurzweil done with that shit yet?




iOS 4.1, semi-portable computing

iOS 4.1 came out yesterday, and I updated my iPhone 3G, which has been plagued with slowdowns and randomness since I updated it to 4.0.  It was almost so bad that I thought I was running a high-end Windows Mobile phone.  (Okay, not that bad.)  But it appears that the fixes in 4.1 alleviate any of the problems I was having, and everything is back to normal.  I can’t use the new game service, and it doesn’t multitask, both of which are not deal-breakers for me, since I need fewer things to waste time with, and I don’t care much about multitasking as long as I can switch between apps smoothly.  (Like for example, my Windows Mobile phone multitasked, but switching between applications was clunky and involved the virtual equivalent of the phone saying “oh yeah, hang on a second dude…” Switching between email and the web browser is faster on the iPhone, even if both of the applications are running and in memory in WM, the only difference being that in WM, you’re burning through the battery twice as fast.  And I used to constantly do stuff like switch out of Google Maps but not exit it, so it would still be running but not be visible, and by lunch my battery was dead.)

One of the things that enticed me though, and I can’t find any good information on it, is that you can supposedly use a bluetooth keyboard now with the iPhone.  I don’t know if you can on the 3G, or if the performance is decent, but if so, that gets me a step closer to the ideal travel computer setup.  I’ve always wanted some kind of thing where you had an iPhone-sized palm-based computer that you could pull out of your pocket to take a picture or play a song or jot down a note, but then when you sat down at a desk, you could pop it in a cradle or stand and hook up a keyboard and maybe a monitor, and you’d be able to work.

I think my obsession with this model was fueled by a week I spent in San Diego for a conference in 2000, when I only had my Palm Pilot IIIx with me.  It was before I owned a laptop, and probably the main reason I shelled out $5000 for a Dell Latitude in the beginning of 2001.  But this was when the Palm was a big deal, and every suit you see tooling around the airport with an iPad today was tooling around the airport with a Palm Pilot back in 2000.  You could actually go to a CompUSA and buy software for the Palm Pilot – actual shrinkwrapped, boxed, on-disk software.  I think back then, they had entire aisles of software, plus all of the cases, screen protectors, cables, docks, and other add-ons you could buy.  I did a lot of reading on the Palm, a lot of eBooks (which was ten years before the eBook was invented, according to current news reports).  I also played many, many rounds of Dope Wars, and found many hits of acid on a dead dude in the subway, when I happened to actually be on the subway.  But I never really wrote much on the Palm, because the stylus and the graffiti inking language never completely jived with me.  I can barely read my own handwriting, so learning a new handwriting system was out of the question.

I did no writing on the trip – I found a Borders instead and bought an armful of Philip K. Dick books to keep me busy.  But when I got home, I saw this little keyboard at CompUSA and immediately bought it.  The thing unfolded and you plugged your Palm Pilot into the lid, sort of like a makeshift cradle, and then typed away.  This thing was an awesome novelty for me for about three days, until I got bored of trying to write on the Palm Pilot and decided to start gardening in my kitchen or trying to collect crossbow parts off of eBay or whatever the hell else I did at that point in 2000.  This keyboard looked neat, and the folding lid was nifty, but the keys were like 95% sized, and my fat fingers kept hitting the wrong things.  Plus there was some weird delay of a tenth of a microsecond that made the user experience a bit sloppy.  And there were various ergonomic issues with having the keyboard immediately under a three inch screen, and the joined assembly bouncing around as you typed, unless you had a perfectly flat and stable surface to rest the whole thing on.

So would a bluetooth keyboard and an iPhone solve any of these problems?  I’m guessing you would have the same ergo issues unless you pumped the iPhone video into a big monitor.  And it’s not like I can run emacs on my phone, so I’m not going to be writing a 300,000 word book in the notes application.  Also, there’s the issue that the 3G is not a powerhorse cpu-wise, so even my lowly netbook is going to outpace it for desktop application performance.  And then I have the various sync issues; I can’t keep all of my writing on my home computer in a phone’s tiny flash memory.  I suppose I could concoct some scheme where all of my data lived in the cloud somewhere, but that doesn’t help me much at 40,000 feet with no cell tower in sight.  (Side note: man, I hate the term “in the cloud”.  It reeks of MBAism, something that was invented by a suit to describe a long-existing service and wrap it up in some hip and smarmy term that could be resold for more money. I mean, was my VAXNotes conference back in 1989 “in the cloud”? )

Maybe the iPad is part of that solution – you have a big screen, you can haul it around easy, you can plug in that keyboard cradle thing or pair up a bluetooth keyboard and write.  And everything I write here, even though it isn’t my primary writing repository, lives in a remote server and can be accessed by any machine with a reasonable web browser and a functional connection to the internet.  Wordpress has a halfway decent app on the iPhone, and if the iPhone glass keyboard wasn’t so slow for me, I could write on there.  (It works perfectly fine for web surfing, googling things, and the occasional two-sentence email message, but I can’t hack out a thousand words on it unless you gave me like eight hours and four Ativan tablets.)  All of this is much less important starting next week when my office is my home and my Mac is always within arm’s reach.  But it might be more important the first time I have to make a trip back east for work.

Speaking of, last day of the old job is today.  I thought about writing something giant and grand to sum up my feelings about that whole situation, but it’s complicated, so maybe later.  Probably not tomorrow though, given what happened nine years ago and all.