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What does Reset Network Settings in iOS do?

Posted in Apple, botch, business, california by commorancy on October 25, 2018

apple-cracked-3.0-noderivsIf you’ve experienced networking issues with your iPad or iPhone, you may have called Apple for support. Many times they recommend that you “Reset Network Settings.” But, what exactly does this operation do? Let’s explore.

What’s included in this Reset Network Settings process?

This is a complicated answer and how it affects you depends on several factors. What this process does, in addition to resetting a bunch of locally stored device settings on the iOS device itself, it also deletes network settings stored in your iCloud Keychain. If you have only an iPhone and own no other devices (i.e., no iPads, no Macs, no iPods, no Apple Watches, no Apple TVs, nothing else), resetting these settings will likely work just fine for you.

However, if you own or use multiple Apple devices and these devices participate in iCloud Keychain, things can get complicated… very, very complicated. The “or use” statement is the one that makes this process much more complicated. If you have a work Mac computer that’s hooked up to your Apple ID and is participating in iCloud Keychain, performing “Reset Network Settings” on an iPhone can become problematic for your work computer. How? First, let’s find out more about iCloud Keychain.

iCloud Keychain

What is iCloud Keychain? This is an iCloud network service that stores sensitive passwords and credit card information in a secure way. This iCloud service also lets multiple iOS, MacOS, tvOS and WatchOS devices participate and use this data as part of your Apple ID. If you own multiple Apple devices, they can all share and use this same set of sensitive data without having to enter it individually on each device (convenience).

Your iCloud Keychain is specific to your Apple ID which is protected by your Apple ID login and password. The iCloud Keychain was created as both a convenience (all devices can share data), but also secure in that this data is protected behind your Apple ID credentials.

When you “Reset Network Settings” on any iOS (or possibly even MacOS, tvOS or even WatchOS) device and your devices participate in iCloud Keychain synchronization, a “Reset Network Settings” can cause networking issues for all of your devices. Why?

The iCloud Keychain stores WiFi access point names (SSIDs) and passwords. Not only that, it also stores credit cards that you might use with Apple Pay (this becomes important later). When you run “Reset Network Settings” on any iOS device, it will wipe all access point SSIDs and Passwords from your iCloud Keychain.

You might be asking, “Why is this a problem?” This will become a problem for all devices participating in iCloud Keychain. All of your Apple devices share in using this SSID and password data from your iCloud Keychain. This important to understand.  Because of this level of sharing, it only takes one device to learn of an access point for all Apple devices to use that network when in range. For example, if you bring your Mac to a convention and log it into an access point at the convention, your Mac logs this access point data to the iCloud Keychain. Your phone will immediately pick up on this new access point addition and also connect to that access point using the newly stored password as soon as it finds it… automagically.

Likewise, it only takes one device to wipe an access point and all devices lose access to it. It’s a single shared location for this networking data. One device adds it, all can use it. One device deletes it, all devices forget about it. Is this a good idea? You decide.

Reset Network Settings and Multiple Devices

Here’s where things get complicated with iCloud Keychain. If you are having network troubles with your iPhone, you might be requested by Apple Support to “Reset Network Settings”.

If all of your MacOS, tvOS, iOS and WatchOS devices participate in iCloud Keychain and you actually perform “Reset Network Settings” on your iPhone, it will wipe not only the current access point, but every access point that every device is aware of. It returns your network settings on iOS (and in iCloud Keychain) to a clean slate to start it over. It does this to try and clear out any problematic network settings. It also deletes known access points from the iCloud Keychain. This wipes access to this data for ALL of your Apple devices, not just the one you performed “Reset Network Settings” on.

What this means is that every device participating in iCloud Keychain will lose access to ALL access points that had previously been known because they have been deleted as part of “Reset Network Settings”. If your iOS device knew of all access points, they will ALL be wiped from iCloud Keychain. This means that every device will immediately lose access to its current access point. It also means that every Apple device you own must now be touched to reselect a new access point requiring you to reenter the password for that access point… On. Every. Apple. Device!

For example, I own two Macs, two iPads, three iPhones and two iPod Touches. A “Reset Network Settings” from a single device means I will need to go and manually touch 9 different devices to reconnect them to WiFi after a single iOS device performs a “Reset Network Settings” operation. It requires this because every device has lost access to even its home network which means no access to iCloud Keychain… which means, touching every device to get them back onto a WiFi network.

For me, it was even more complicated than the mere hassle of setting up WiFi on every device. It wiped known access points created by my employer on my Mac which were put into my iCloud Keychain… access points where I didn’t know the name or passwords. Thankfully, I was able to recover this data from another co-worker’s Mac and get back onto my corporate network. Otherwise, I’d have been down at my IT team’s desk asking for them to fix my Mac… and all as a result of performing “Reset Network Settings” on my iPhone.

Horrible, horrible design.

Avoiding This Problem

Can this problem be avoided? Possibly. If you turn off iCloud Keychain on your iOS device BEFORE you perform “Reset Network Settings”, it may avoid wiping the data in the iCloud Keychain. I say “may” because after you take the device out of iCloud Keychain, then reset the network settings and then rejoin it to iCloud Keychain, it may propagate the differences at the time the device rejoins. Hopefully, not. Hopefully, the newly reset device will ONLY download the existing data in the iCloud Keychain without making any modifications to it. With Apple, you never know.

The secondary issue is that removing your iPhone from iCloud Keychain may remove stored credit cards. This may mean reentry of all of your credit cards after you have “Reset Network Settings” and after you have rejoined your device to the iCloud Keychain. This may also depend on iOS version. I just tried removing iCloud Keychain, then performed “Reset Network Settings”, then rejoined iCloud Keychain and all my cards are still intact on the device. If you’re on iOS 11 or iOS 10, your results may vary.

Why is this a problem?

First off, I don’t want to have to go touch many devices after a single device reset. That’s just stupid. Second, removing the device from iCloud Keychain to perform “Reset Network Settings” will wipe all of your current credit card data from the device and likely from the iCloud Keychain. Third, Apple needs to fix their shit to allow more granularity in what it wipes with “Reset Network Settings”. In fact, it shouldn’t even touch iCloud Keychain data. It should wipe only locally stored information on the device and then see if that works. If that doesn’t work, then wipe the data on iCloud Keychain, but only as a LAST RESORT!

I understand that Apple seems to think that wiping all network data (including what’s in iCloud Keychain) might solve “whatever the problem is”, but that’s just a sledgehammer. If what’s stored in iCloud Keychain were a problem, my 8 other devices should be experiencing the same issue as well. It’s basically, stupid Apple troubleshooting logic.

As I mentioned, disabling iCloud Keychain may unregister your credit cards from your device (and from the Keychain). I know this was the case in iOS 11, but in iOS 12 it seems to not require this any longer. I definitely don’t want to have to rescan all of my credit cards again onto my iOS device to restore them. It takes at least 30 minutes to do this with the number of cards I have to input. With the Apple Watch, this process is horribly unreliable and lengthy. It can sometimes take over an hour diddling with Bluetooth timeouts and silly unreliability problems to finally get all of my cards back onto the Watch (in addition to the iPhone).

Such time wasting problems over a single troubleshooting thing that should be extremely straightforward and easy. Horrible, horrible design.

Representatives and Suggestions

If you’re taking to an Apple representative about a networking problem and they suggest for you to “Reset Network Settings”, you should refer them to this article so they can better understand what it is they are asking you to do.

Neither Apple Support, nor will any of your phone carrier support teams warn you of this iCloud Keychain problem when requesting “Reset Network Settings.” They will ask you to perform this step as though it’s some simple little step. It’s not!

Whenever Apple asks me to perform the “Reset Network Settings” troubleshooting step, I always decline citing this exact problem. Perhaps someone at Apple will finally wake up and fix this issue once and for all. Until then, you should always question Apple’s troubleshooting methods before blindly following them.

How to disable iCloud Keychain

To disable the iCloud Keychain on your iOS device, go to …

Settings=>Your Name=>iCloud=>Keychain

… and toggle it off. Your Name is actually your name. It is located at the very top of settings. Once toggled off, it will likely unregister your credit cards stored on your iOS device, but I guess it’s a small price to pay if you really need to reset these network settings to your restore networking to 100% functionality. Of course, there’s no guarantee that “Reset Network Settings” or jumping through any of these hoops will solve this problem. There’s also the possibility that “Reset Network Settings” could still screw with your iCloud Keychain even if you disable it before performing “Reset Network Settings”.

With Apple, your mileage may vary.

How to Reset Network Settings

Settings=>General=>Reset=>Reset Network Settings

If you own multiple Apple devices and they are using iCloud Keychain, don’t perform this step first. Instead, disable iCloud Keychain first (above), then perform this step. If you only own one Apple device, there is no need to disable iCloud Keychain.

Network Problems and Quick Fixes

In my most recent case of being prompted to “Reset Network Settings”, my phone’s Wi-Fi calling feature simply stopped working. I first called T-Mobile and they referred me to “Reset Network Settings” (based on Apple’s documentation) and they also referred me to Apple Support. Because I already knew about the iCloud Keychain problem from a previous inadvertent wipe of all of my network access points, this time I opted to turn off iCloud Keychain before attempting “Reset Network Settings.” Suffice it to say that “Reset Network Settings” didn’t do a damned thing, as I full well expected.

In fact, I tried many options prior to “Reset Network Settings”. These included:

  • Disabling and enabling Wi-Fi calling
  • Joining a different access point
  • Restarting my Comcast modem
  • Restarting my network router
  • Restarting my Apple Airport
  • Restarting my phone
  • Hard restarting my phone
  • Disabling and enabling Wi-Fi
  • Dumping Sysdiagnose logs and digging through them
  • Killing and restarting the Phone app

I tried all of the above and nothing resolved the issue. No, not even “Reset Network Settings”.

I recall reading a year or two back that sometimes Airplane Mode can resolve some network connectivity issues. I’m not sure exactly what Airplane Mode actually does under the hood in detail, but it appears to modify a bunch of configs and disable all networking including Cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and anything else that performs networking.

Once Airplane Mode was enabled, I allowed the phone to sit for 30 seconds to make sure all components recognized Airplane Mode. Then, I disabled Airplane Mode. Almost immediately, the phone’s menu bar now says ‘T-Mobile Wi-Fi’. Wow, that actually worked.

If you’re having networking problems on your iPhone, try enabling then disabling Airplane Mode instead of “Reset Network Settings”. At least, it’s worth a try before resorting to disabling iCloud Keychain followed by “Reset Network Settings”.

iOS 11 vs 12

The first time I experienced my issue with the iCloud Keychain and “Reset Network Settings”, I was using iOS 11. I’m firmly of, “Once Bitten, Twice Shy.” This means, I haven’t tested this on iOS 12 to see if Apple has changed their ways. It’s very doubtful they have and very likely this problem still persists even in the most current version of iOS.

Design Rant Mode On

Apple seems to be under the delusion that we’re still living in a one-device-ownership-world. We’re not. We now own Macs, Apple TVs, Watches, iPhones and iPads that all rely on their multi-device services, such as iCloud Keychain. To design a feature that can wipe the entire data shared by multiple devices is not only the very definition of shit software, it’s also the very definition of a shit company that hasn’t the first clue of what the hell they’ve actually built.


If this article is helpful to you, please leave a comment below.

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How to iCloud unlock an iPad or iPhone?

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on October 21, 2018

apple-cracked-3.0-noderivsA lot of people seem to be asking this question. So, let’s explore if there are any solutions to the iCloud unlock problem.

Apple’s iCloud Lock: What is it?

Let’s examine what exactly is an iCloud lock. When you use an iPhone or iPad, a big part of that experience is using iCloud. You may not even know it. You may not know how much iCloud you are actually using (which is how Apple likes it) as it is heavily integrated into every Apple device. The iCloud service uses your Apple ID to gain access. Your Apple ID consists of your username (an email address) and a password. You can enable extended security features like two factor authentication, but for simplicity, I will discuss devices using only a standard login ID and password… nothing fancy.

iCloud is Apple’s cloud network services layer that support service synchronization between devices like calendaring, email contacts, phone data, iMessage, iCloud Drive, Apple Music, iTunes Playlists, etc. As long as your Apple ID remains logged into these services, you will have access to the same data across all of your devices. Note, your devices don’t have to use iCloud at all. You can disable it and not use any of it. However, Apple makes it terribly convenient to use iCloud’s services including such features as Find my iPhone, which allows you to lock or erase your iPhone if it’s ever lost or stolen.

One feature that automatically comes along for the ride when using iCloud services is an iCloud lock. If you have ever logged your iPhone or iPad into iCloud, your device is now locked to your Apple ID. This means that if it’s ever lost or stolen, no one can use your device because it is locked to your iCloud Apple ID and locked to Find my iPhone for that user (which I believe is now enabled by default upon logging into iCloud).

This also means that any recipient of such an iCloud locked device cannot use that device as their own without first disassociating that device from the previous Apple ID. This lock type is known as an iCloud lock. This type of Apple lock is separate from a phone carrier lock which limits with which carriers a phone can be used. Don’t confuse or conflate the two.

I should further qualify what “use your device” actually means after an iCloud lock is in place. A thief cannot clean off your device and then log it into their own Apple ID and use the phone for themselves. Because the phone is iCloud locked to your account, it’s locked to your account forever (or until you manually disassociate it). This means that unless you explicitly remove the association between your Apple ID and that specific device, no one can use that device again on Apple’s network. The best a would-be thief can do with your stolen phone is open it up and break it down for limited parts. Or, they can sell the iCloud locked device to an unsuspecting buyer before the buyer has a chance to notice that it’s iCloud locked.

Buying Used Devices

If you’re thinking of buying a used iPhone from an individual or any online business who is not Apple and because the iCloud lock is an implicit and automatic feature enabled simply by using iCloud services, you will always need to ask any seller if the device is iCloud unlocked before you pay. Or, more specifically, you will need to ask if the previous owner of the device has logged out and removed the device from Find my iPhone services and all other iCloud and Apple ID services. If this action has not been performed, then the device will remain iCloud locked to that specific Apple ID. You should also avoid the purchase and look for a reputable seller.

What this means to you as a would-be buyer of used Apple product is that you need to check for this problem immediately before you walk away from the seller. If the battery on the device is dead, walk away from the sale. If you’re buying a device sight unseen over the Internet, you should be extremely wary before clicking ‘Submit’. In fact, I’d recommend not buying used Apple equipment from eBay or Craigslist because of how easy it is to buy bricked equipment and lose your money. Anything you buy from Apple shouldn’t be a problem. Anything you buy from a random third party, particularly if they’re in China, might be a scam.

Can iCloud Lock be Removed?

Technically yes, but none of the solutions are terribly easy or in some cases practical. Here is a possible list of solutions:

1) This one requires technical skills, equipment and repair of the device. With this solution, you must take the device apart, unsolder a flash RAM chip, reflash it with a new serial number, then reassemble the unit.

Pros: This will fix the iPad or iPhone and allow it to work
Cons: May not work forever if Apple notices the faked and changed serial number. If the soldering job was performed poorly, the device hardware could fail.

Let’s watch a video of this one in action:

2) Ask the original owner of the device, if you know who they are, to disassociate the iDevice from their account. This will unlock it.

Pros: Makes the device 100% functional. No soldering.
Cons: Requires knowing the original owner and asking them to disassociate the device.

3) Contact Apple with your original purchase receipt and give Apple all of the necessary information from the device. Ask them to remove the iCloud lock. They can iCloud unlock the device if they so choose and if they deem your device purchase as valid.

Pros: Makes the device 100% functional.
Cons: Unlocking Apple devices through Apple Support can be difficult, if not impossible. Your mileage may vary.

4) Replace the logic board in the iPad / iPhone with one from another. Again, this one requires repair knowledge, tools, experience and necessary parts.

Pros: May restore most functionality to the device.
Cons: Certain features, like the touch ID button and other internal systems may not work 100% after a logic board replacement.

As you can see, none of these are particularly easy, but none are all that impossible either. If you’re not comfortable cracking open your gear, you might need to ask a repair center if they can do any of this for you. However, reflashing a new serial number might raise eyebrows at some repair centers with the assumption that your device is stolen. Be careful when asking a repair center to perform #1 above for you.

iCloud Locking

It seems that the reason the iCloud Lock came into existence is to thwart thieves. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually solve that problem. Instead, it creates a whole new set of consumer problems. Now, not only are would-be thieves stealing iPads still, they’re selling these devices iCloud locked to unsuspecting buyers and scamming them out of their money. The thieves don’t care. The only thing this feature does is screw used device consumers out of their money.

Thieves

That Apple thought they could stop thievery by implementing the iCloud lock shows just how idealistically naïve Apple’s technical team really is. Instead, they created a whole new scamming market for iCloud locked Apple devices. In fact, the whole reason this article exists is to explain this problem.

For the former owner of an iPad which was stolen, there’s likely no hope of ever getting it back. The iCloud lock feature does nothing to identify the thief or return stolen property to its rightful owner. The iCloud lock simply makes it a tiny nuisance to the thief and would-be scammer. As long as they can get $100 or $200 for selling an iCloud locked iPad, they don’t care if it’s iCloud locked. In fact, the fact that this feature exists makes no difference at all to a thief.

It may reduce the “value” of the stolen property some, but not enough to worry about. If it was five finger discounted, then any money had is money gained, even if it’s a smaller amount than anticipated. For thieves, the iCloud lock does absolutely nothing to stop thievery.

Buyers

Here’s the place where the iCloud lock technology hurts the most. Instead of thwarting would-be thieves, it ends up placing the burden of the iCloud lock squarely on the consumer. If you are considering buying a used device, which should be a simple straightforward transaction, you now have to worry about whether the device is iCloud locked.

It also means that buying an iPhone or iPad used could scam you out of your money if you’re not careful. It’s very easy to buy these used devices sight unseen from online sellers. Yet, when you get the box open, you may find the device is iCloud locked to an existing Apple ID. At that point, unless you’re willing to jump through one of the four hoops listed above, you may have just been scammed.

If you can’t return the device, then you’re out money. The only organization that stands to benefit from the iCloud lock is Apple and that’s only because they’ll claim you should have bought your device new from them. If this is Apple’s attempt at thwarting or reducing used hardware sales, it doesn’t seem to be working. For the consumer, the iCloud lock seems intent on harming consumer satisfaction for device purchases of used Apple equipment… a market that Apple should want to exist because it helps them sell more software product (their highest grossing product).

Sellers

For actually honest sellers, an iCloud lock makes selling used iPad and iPhone devices a small problem. For unscrupulous sellers, then there is no problem here at all. An honest seller must make sure that the device has been disassociated from its former Apple ID before putting the item up for sale. If an honest seller doesn’t know the original owner and the device is locked, it should not be sold. For the unscrupulous sellers, the situation then becomes the scammer selling locked gear and potentially trafficking stolen goods.

It should be said that it is naturally assumed that an iCloud locked device is stolen. It makes sense. If the owner had really wanted the item sold as used, they would have removed the device from iCloud services… except that Apple doesn’t make this process at all easy to understand.

Here’s where Apple fails would-be sellers. Apple doesn’t make it perfectly clear that selling the device requires removing the Apple ID information fully and completely from the device. Even wiping the device doesn’t always do this as there are many silent errors in the reset process. Many owners think that doing a wipe and reset of the device is enough to iCloud unlock the device. It isn’t.

As a would-be seller and before wiping it, you must go into your iPad or iPhone and manually remove the device from Find my iPhone and log the phone out of all Apple ID services. This includes not only logging it out of iCloud, but also logging out out of iTunes and Email and every other place where Apple requires you to enter your Apple ID credentials. Because iOS requires logging in multiple times separately to each of these services, you must log out of these services separately on the device. Then, wipe the device. Even after all of that, you should double check Find my iPhone from another device to make sure the old device no longer shows up there. In fact, you should walk through the setup process once to the point where it asks you for your Apple ID to confirm the device is not locked to your Apple ID.

This is where it’s easy to sell a device thinking you’ve cleared it all out, but you actually haven’t. It also means that this device was legitimately sold as used, but wasn’t properly removed from iCloud implying that it’s now stolen. Instead, Apple needs to offer a ‘Prep for Resell’ setting in Settings. This means this setting will not only wipe the device in the end, but it will also 100% ensure an iCloud unlock of the device and log it out of all logged Apple ID services. This setting will truly wipe the device clean as though it were an unregistered, brand new device. If it’s phone device, it should also carrier unlock the phone so that it can accept a SIM card from any carrier.

Apple makes it very easy to set up brand new devices, but Apple makes it equally difficult to properly clear off a device for resale. Apple should make this part a whole lot easier for would-be sellers. If need be, maybe Apple needs to sell a reseller toolkit to scan and ensure devices are not only iCloud unlocked, but run diagnostic checks to ensure they are worthy of being sold.


 

If you like what you’ve just read, please leave a comment below and give me your experiences.

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How To: Killing Apps on iOS and Android

Posted in Android, Apple, best practices, howto by commorancy on September 4, 2018

Kill_AppsHere’s a quick how-to tutorial. This tutorial will show you how to kill running applications on your Apple or Android phone or tablet device. Let’s explore.

Killing Apps

You might be asking, “Well, why would I want to do that?” There are times where apps misbehave or hang leaving a dead app on your phone or tablet. These can drag down the performance of your phone. For this reason, killing an app allows you to restart them to get them working again. Without further adieu, let’s get started…

Apple iOS

To kill apps on iOS 11, it’s simple. For Apple devices that have a home button (this excludes iPhone X), double click the home button. The home button is the button located at the bottom or side of your device (depending on orientation). It’s the only front facing button on the bezel. With the device logged in, double click this home button.

For the iPhone X, the line at the bottom kind of acts like a home button. From the line at the bottom, with your finger drag upwards to minimize the apps into a stacked list. This is similar to double clicking the home button.

Once in the stacked list, kill any specific app or all apps as follows:

  • Press and hold your finger on top of one of the stacked app screens and with a fluid motion, drag your finger to the top of the screen.
    • If you perform this motion correctly, the screen will disappear. The app is now killed.
    • If you notice the screen moving side to side and not up and down, you dragged sideways.
    • Scrolling side to side lets you selectively choose which app to kill. Try again to pull the app screen upwards.
    • If you touch the app screen once, it will bring that app to the foreground.
    • If you touch the background outside of the app, it will bring you to your home screen of icons.
  • To kill all apps, perform this motion on each and every stack app screen until there are no more left.
  • No, iOS does not provide a ‘kill all’ feature. You must kill app separately. Note, you can’t hear the double-clicking of the home button. Here’s an iOS demonstration:

Android

To kill apps on Android 6.x or above, you’ll need to locate the double rectangle button either on the bezel of your phone or on the display of your phone (at the bottom). This double-rectangle button drops you into the screen that shows you all of your currently running apps.

Click this button, then follow along based on the videos:

Obvious isn’t always

Because Apple and Android have both hidden this feature behind cryptic buttons, it isn’t sometimes obvious how to do this. Also note that even if you reboot your device, the apps may still continue to run from the state where they formerly were. To kill an app and start it fresh (particularly on iOS), the only way is to kill the app as described above. I find that, for example, I regularly have to kill Hulu as it likes to hang.

Good Luck!

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How to fix Touch ID purchasing after Apple ID unlock

Posted in Apple, botch, california by commorancy on August 14, 2018

Touch ID App store purchasing no longer works after your Apple ID is unlocked? How do you get it working again? Let’s explore.

Apple ID Locked

I’ve recently begun having problems with Apple locking my Apple ID account about every 3 weeks with no explanation. After I’ve unlocked my account, I find that the App store app refuses to use Touch ID and forces entry of my password to download an app. Hey Apple, I set up Touch ID so I don’t have to type in a password.

I’ve called Apple twice about this problem and they are of no help. I had to figure this one out on my own. Thanks Apple… not!

Not only does Apple have no logs to determine why the account is locked, they simply don’t care about this problem. Their login system has become shit in the last few months beginning in June of 2018. I have no explanation for this lockout problem except that Apple needs to get their shit together. I’ve never had this problem before this point. Anyway, once an Apple ID is locked, you’ll need to unlock it to proceed cleaning up the mess Apple leaves behind.

Note, I have no problems unlocking my account. In fact, it takes about 5 minutes or less. However, there’s a bunch of crap to do to clean up Apple’s mess.

Unlocking an Apple ID

To unlock your account, go to appleid.apple.com. Note, I have chosen not to linkify in the address in this article for security reasons. This is why it’s not clickable in this paragraph.

Instead, simply select the text => appleid.apple.com . Then copy and paste it into your browser’s address bar. Or better, type it into your browser’s address bar manually. Next, browse to this destination. Because this is Apple’s security site which manages your Apple ID security settings, I urge you to make sure you type it in exactly and carefully. If you mistype this address, it’s possible that you could land on a malicious web site that looks identical to Apple’s site and which could collect your Apple ID and password. Alway be cautious, alert and careful when visiting sites which manage the security of your account(s). Here are the steps to get you started:

  • Once you’re on the Apple ID site, under the ‘Manage your Apple account’ text, enter your Apple ID username and click the arrow pointing right →
  • Now enter your current password and click the arrow →
  • It will tell you your account is locked
  • At this point, follow the prompts to unlock your account

You’ll need to need to know the following info (as of 2018) to unlock your account:

  • Birthdate
  • Answers to the security questions you set up previously

This section assumes you have not set up two-factor authentication. You can choose to unlock by email or by answering security questions. It’s up to you which path to follow. Whichever path you choose, complete the process to unlock your Apple ID. After unlocking, here’s where the fun begins. /sarc

If you can’t remember your security questions or birthdate, you’ll need to contact Apple Support and request for them to help you with unlocking your Apple ID. If you have set up two-factor authentication (2FA), you will need to know your recovery key. If you’ve lost you recovery key and access to your trusted device after setting up 2FA, you’re out of luck. If you have access to your trusted device, Apple can send you a text to finish the unlocking process. You cannot recover your Apple ID when using 2FA if you have lost the recovery key and lost access to your trusted device. For this reason alone, I cannot recommend setting up 2FA on your Apple ID. Stick with a strong password and avoid 2FA.

Note, I strongly recommend unlocking your account via this web browser method only. Even if your iPhone or iPad prompts to unlock your account directly on your device, don’t. Do not rely on the methods built into iOS devices as I have found them to be problematic and unreliable. Using the browser method, you will have no troubles.

Account Unlocked / Touch ID problems

Once your account is unlocked, you’ll find that all devices that were formerly logged into this account will have been force logged out. This force logout method is different than the method you would use to logout on the device. If you log out of the device, you will be prompted for both the account name and the password. With Apple’s force logout due to a lock, you are only required to reenter your password. Your login ID will be remembered and cached.

An account lockout wreaks havoc on certain features in iOS like Touch ID. Because the account was force logged out, then unlocked, Touch ID will fail to work on both the Music and the App store app. As I said above, you’ll find that the App store now prompts you to enter your password rather than using Touch ID.

Worse, you can go to settings and clearly see that Touch ID is still enabled for the App store app, but it is not working. This is demonstrably a bug that Apple simply won’t fix. How do we resolve this? Let’s continue.

Fixing Touch ID in the iTunes and App store app after a lockout

Here are the steps to fix this problem:

  • Kill the Music and App store apps on your iOS device. DON’T SKIP THIS STEP. You do this by double clicking the home button. Then scroll through the apps running, then drag the app up to the top of the screen with your finger until it disappears from the list. This will kill that app. It’s always a good idea to periodically kill all running apps on your phone to improve performance. Be sure to kill the App store app before proceeding. If you have many apps in the list to scroll through, you can bring the app to the front of the list easily by launching the app before trying to kill it.
  • Once the apps are killed, proceed to the Home screen and touch the Settings app
  • Scroll down to Touch ID & Passcode and touch it
  • Enter your pincode (if requested)
  • This is the screen you’ll see next
  • On this screen, you’ll see the iTunes & App store is already enabled (green). This setting is a lie. After a force lock and unlock, Apple automatically disables this feature internally even though the button shows green and enabled. That this button remains enabled is a bug and is the reason Touch ID doesn’t work.
  • Click the green slider button next to iTunes & App Store to disable this setting.
  • Wait for a moment for this to register and turn grey, like so 
  • Now, click it a second time to re-enable it. This time, it will prompt you for your Apple ID password.
  • Enter your current Apple ID password in the password prompt
  • Wait for the button to do a little jig before leaving this screen. The jig is described like so: the button starts off green, then turns grey for a moment, then slides back to green. This jig confirms that Touch ID for the App store is now truly enabled
  • Exit to the home screen and launch the App store app
  • Browse to any free app in the store and click ‘Get’. Touch ID should now prompt you for your fingerprint instead of prompting for your password.

If you skip killing the apps where I asked you to do that, you’ll find that the App store app still prompts for a password. The reason for this is that the App has cached the forced logout. To break that cache, you perform all of the steps described above. Following the order of these steps is important.

If you leave the App store app running when you reset the Touch ID settings, you’ll find that the password prompt problem remains. You may find that killing and relaunching the app even after resetting the Touch ID after-the-fact also won’t work. That’s why the order the steps is important.

Stupid Problems, Debugging and Network Settings

Problems this stupid shouldn’t exist on iOS devices, but here we are. I’ve already discussed this issue with Apple Support, but they simply won’t do anything about it. In fact, because this problem was formerly a rare occurrence, Apple Support isn’t even aware of this workaround.

In fact, while on the phone, Apple Support “recommended” that I reset my network settings. Never reset network settings as a first step. Resetting network settings should be the absolute last step and only when nothing else resolves a problem. The difficulty with resetting network settings is that it wipes all iCloud stored network passwords and access point information, like WiFi passwords. Not only does it wipe all WiFi networks and passwords on iCloud for the device where you wiped network settings, it wipes it for every device also using iCloud. This means if your Apple ID is being used on a MacBook, an iPhone, an iPad, an iPod or any combination of several of these devices, you’ll have to reinter the password on every device manually. It will also have forgotten all of the access points that iCloud formerly knew. Each new device will need to relearn them all.

You can somewhat solve this problem by first signing your device out of iCloud before wiping network settings. However, when you log your device back into iCloud, it might still wipe some settings from iCloud once logged back in and synced with iCloud. Be cautious with doing this.

I’ve been there and done that. This is a pain-in-the-ass. If Apple Support ever requests you to wipe network settings, tell them politely but firmly, “No.” Then state, “I only wipe network settings as a last ditch effort. Let’s exhaust all other workarounds and possibilities first.”

Wiping network settings usually only resolves actual networking problems, such as the phone refusing to connect to a WiFi access point. Touch ID has nothing to do with networking. Be wary of Support Team members requesting you to wipe network settings to help resolve non-network problems. The last thing you want to do is spend hours fixing all of your other devices in addition to not resolving the original problem. The Apple Support team is very good at causing more problems without actually solving the original problem. It is up to you to always exercise your best judgement to prevent Apple Support slip ups.

I really wish that Apple would just fix these stupid bugs. I also wish that they would tell me why my account keeps getting locked out.

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ffmpeg: A recipe for HD video on portables

Posted in video conversion by commorancy on May 17, 2015

The first thing people are likely to ask about this article is how to rip a blu-ray disk. Unfortunately, I’ll have to leave that task for you to figure out. There are plenty of places on the net to find this information. I’d suggest you visit www.doom9.org and poke around there to find your answer. Once you have your HD video ripped, that’s where this article will help you produce a high quality portable video experience for your tablet or phone.

What is ffmpeg?

I’ll start with an analogy. What sox is to audio, ffmpeg is to video (and audio). Sox is a great tool if you need to manage wave files, mp3s or au files. But, these audio formats are not so great when you want to use it as a soundtrack in a video. That’s where ffmpeg shines.

Ffmpeg is a tool that converts one video + audio format into another. For example, a blu-ray disk contains a file format known as m2ts. This is a type of container that holds various types of video, audio, chapter and subtitle information (many times, several of these). However, the m2ts file, while playable with VLC, is not so playable on an iPad, iPod or a Samsung Galaxy Tab. In fact, portables won’t play the formats contained in an m2ts container. Of course, it’s not that you’d want to play this format on your tablet because an m2ts file can be 25G-40G in size. Considering an iPad has, at most, 128GB, you’d only be able to store about 3 of these honking videos.. not that you’d actually be able to play them as the format is incompatible. To the rescue, ffmpeg.

ffmpeg and video containers

The format of choice that Apple prefers is H264 + AAC. The first thing I will say about this is that the libraries needed to get ffmpeg to produce this format are not in the pre-compiled version. Instead, you’ll need to set aside a weekend to compile up the latest version of ffmpeg with the non-free libraries. By ‘non-free’, that means these libraries are potentially encumbered by copyrighted or patented code. For this reason, the pre-compiled versions do not contain such code. Therefore, it’s impossible to produce an H264 + AAC mp4 video file with the pre-compiled versions. This means you have to compile it yourself.

Explaining how to compile ffmpeg is a bit beyond the scope of this article. If you are interested in this topic, please leave a comment below and let me know that you’re interested in such an article. I will state, of compiling this, that the –enable-free option when running configure on ffmpeg is only half the battle. You first need to go get the non-free libraries and compile them up separately. Then, when compiling ffmpeg, reference the already compiled non-free AAC shared libraries so that ffmpeg can link with them. ‘Nuf said about compiling it.

The good thing about ffmpeg is that this tool understands nearly every video container type out there. This includes VOB (DVD format) and m2ts (blu-ray format). For what it’s worth, it also understands HD-DVD format even though this format is long dead.

Converting with ffmpeg

There are what seem like a ton of options when you type in ‘ffmpeg –help’. In fact, the help is so daunting as to turn off many beginners who might look for something else. Yes, there are tons of options that can tweak the resulting video file output. That’s why this article is here. I have found what I believe to be the perfect video conversion method from 30GB m2ts format to around 3GB files that fit quite comfortably on an iPad or Galaxy TabS and still retain HD quality. Without further adieu, let’s get to the recipe:

Pass 1

/usr/local/bin/ffmpeg -y -i “/path/to/input.m2ts” -f mp4 -metadata title=”movie_title” -vcodec libx264 -level 31 -s 1920×1080 -vf crop=1920:800:0:140 -b:v 3600k -bt 1024k -bufsize 10M -maxrate 10M -g 250 -coder 0 -partitions 0 -me_method dia -subq 1 -trellis 0 -refs 1 -flags +loop -cmp +chroma -me_range 16 -keyint_min 25 -sc_threshold 40 -i_qfactor 0.71 -qcomp 0.6 -qmin $qmin -qmax $qmax -qdiff 4 number_of_cpu_cores -pass 1 -acodec libfdk_aac -cutoff 20000 -ab 192k -ac 2 “/path/to/output.mp4

Pass 2

/usr/local/bin/ffmpeg -y -i “/path/to/input.m2ts” -f mp4 -metadata title=”movie_title” -vcodec libx264 -level 31 -s 1920×1080 -vf crop=1920:800:0:140 -b:v 3600k -bt 1024k -bufsize 10M -maxrate 10M -g 250 -coder 0 -partitions 0 -me_method dia -subq 1 -trellis 0 -refs 1 -flags +loop -cmp +chroma -me_range 16 -keyint_min 25 -sc_threshold 40 -i_qfactor 0.71 -qcomp 0.6 -qmin $qmin -qmax $qmax -qdiff 4 number_of_cpu_cores -pass 2 -acodec libfdk_aac -cutoff 20000 -ab 192k -ac 2 10 “/path/to/output.mp4

Note that the libfdk_aac is a non-free library which will not be in the free and pre-compiled version.

Two Passes? Doesn’t that take longer? 

Yes, it does. Two passes are necessary to provide the best motion quality in the video. The first pass retrieves statistics about each frame transition of the film and stores it in a statistics file. The second pass reads this very large first-pass-created (~2 GB) statistic file and uses it to creates smooth transitions between each frame of the output video. For this reason, you need to make sure to have plenty of disk space free. This two-pass system removes the herky-jerky video experience (especially with horizontal camera pans). Ultimately, what you’ll find is that the recipe above gives the absolute best quality and size I’ve yet to find from any conversion. For a 90-120 minute film, you’re looking at around a 2.5G-4G resulting mp4 for full 1080p + stereo audio. This file is compatible with the iPad and the Samsung Galaxy series.

Conversion of 90-120 minute films can take anywhere between 40 to 70 minutes for each movie conversion. You can run them in parallel on your system, but you’ll need to run them in separate directories to keep the statistics files in the first pass separate.

Stereo audio? Why Stereo?

I always convert down to stereo for good reason. These videos are intended to be used on portable devices. I’ve yet to see any tablet, computer or phone support 5.1 or 7.1 audio with the built-in audio hardware. Leaving the multi-channel audio intact is basically pointless and consumes extra disk space. Sure, if you want to export the video and audio to something like the Apple TV, it might be handy to have. But then, you’d probably want to stream the m2ts file rather than a slightly more sucky mp4. After all, converting to mp4 is equivalent to ripping a CD audio to mp3. It makes the size of the file much smaller, but is also lossy. However, in this case, sucky isn’t sucky at all and most portable devices support stereo.

In other words, the output is stereo because portable devices don’t support multichannel audio. At least, not yet.

How good is the video quality?

Excellent. It’s will not be exactly the same quality as the m2ts file (that’s not possible considering it is being compressed), but when viewing on a portable, it’s practically like watching a blu-ray disk. The video is still 1080p. It’s that good, all in about 3GB size. Note the crop size above. It is designed to remove the black bars from the top and bottom. When blu-rays are encoded, they are encoded full 16:9 even when the video may be wide screen. This means that the black bars are stored as extra video information in the video file. Removing this unnecessary black space eliminates encoding this blank video, thus reducing the size of the output file. Because these black bars are totally unnecessary, it also makes for a better viewing experience when watching the video in a picture-in-picture style window.

However, the crop value given is intended to be used with widescreen 2.35:1 and 2.39:1 films that have been produced since the mid-1970s. Widescreen films produced in the 1960s and before have a different aspect ratio and using this crop value will cut off pieces of the top and bottom. There are also some films that use unique and creative aspect ratios that may not work with that crop value. Also, many animated films are full 16:9, so you’ll want to remove the -vf crop=1920:800:0:140 argument entirely to prevent ffmpeg from cropping.

Calculate Crop

To calculate crop, here’s how to do it. The arguments are crop=:::. Here’s the table:

  • hwidth = horizontal width of input video
  • vheight = vertical height of video
  • hoffset = how much to move the video horizontally (into frame)
  • voffset = how much to move the video vertically (into frame)

Note that my crop recipe above does no horizontal cropping, but it can be done just as vertical cropping. For the vertical cropping, note that I’ve reduced the frame canvas size from 1080 to 800 to make the frame the proper aspect ratio. But, reducing the frame size from 1080 to 800 only changes the size of the video canvas. It doesn’t move the content back into frame, yet. To do that, you need hoffset and voffset. To calculate the voffset value and move the video into the newly sized canvas, you need to fill in the voffset value. To do that, subtract 800 from 1080. So, 1080 – 800 = 280. Then, divide that subtracted value by 2. So, 280 / 2 = 140. The voffset value is 140.  About cropping, one thing is important to note. If you divide the value and get floating point number like 141.2222. You can’t use this. You need to adjust the voffset value so that it is always a whole number. To do this, ensure when you subtract your vertical size from 1080, it always results in an even number so that the division by 2 also results in a whole number.

VBV underflow warnings?

Note that when converting some content, the conversion output may occasionally show VBV underflow. This is intentional. While it is possible to get rid of these warnings by raising or removing the -bufsize and -maxrate options, raising this value may also increase the size of the output movie file. This underflow warning means that there’s just too much input to be stored in the requested output bitrate. That’s why I say this video won’t be exactly identical to the input file. This selected settings given provide the perfect marriage between size, quality and functionality. If you raise or eliminate the -maxrate option to get rid of the warnings, so too will the size increase of the output video file. Because I prefer the mp4 file sizes to remain in the 2.5-4GB size range and because the VBV underflow warnings do not materially impact the resulting output file, I have chosen not fix this issue. However, if you would like to get rid of these warnings, you can remove the arguments -bufsize 10M -maxrate 10M or increase these values as you see fit. However, you might want to read this wiki article describing the interrelationships between -b:v, -bufsize and -maxrate.

Because I also want the final videos to have the most steady bitrate possible (very important for any kind of streaming), I allow the VBV underflow warnings. Removing the -maxrate and -bufsize options (to get rid of the warnings) will allow the bitrate to vary wildly at times. This can cause unsteady or choppy playback in some players, especially when network streaming. To avoid wild variability in the bitrate, I intentionally force -bufsize and -maxrate to be a specific size.

Enjoy the recipe. Hopefully, it’s helpful. If you get good results from these ffmpeg recipes, please leave a comment below. Also, feel free to tweak the recipes with however you see fit. If you find something even better than what I show above, please post a comment below and let me know what you did. I’m always interested in seeing what people can do with ffmpeg.

iPad 3: First Thoughts

Posted in Apple, ipad, technologies by commorancy on March 17, 2012

So, while I originally wrote that I didn’t see the purpose in the iPad, I have since changed my tune. But, from really only one perspective: multimedia. It’s a great portable movie and entertainment device. I also use it for a replacement for pen and paper at work in meetings, for quick email reads. web surfing and I use it as an ‘in a pinch’ workstation for systems administration. These are my primary use cases. Clearly, though, watching movies and listening to music is where this device shines most. And now, taking movies and photos with the 5 megapixel camera… all I can say with the iPad 3 is, “Wow”. The screen resolution and camera are worth the price. Apple has finally created a device that, in my estimation, probably costs more to make than the price for which it sells.

If you have an iPad 1, this is definitely worth the upgrade. If you have an iPad 2, you pretty much have everything except the great camera and the Retina display. The Retina display is definitely worth the money. The lack of visible pixels definitely makes the whole iPad experience so much clearer and cleaner. This is what the iPad 1 should have been out of the gate. Had Apple pushed the envelope for the iPad 1, this device would have been so much more so much faster. Too bad it took Apple 3 tries to get it here, but we’re finally here.

WiFi only for me

I didn’t buy the 4G LTE edition. First, I don’t like the service plan costs and the limited data from the carriers. If the mobile carriers could actually be reasonable in pricing and charge rates similar to ISPs like Comcast (both price and speed), I might consider the mobile carriers. Second, the mobile carriers need to change their business models and they don’t want to do this. The whole 2 year contract commitment with capped ceilings and high overage rates is for the birds. The carriers finally need to do away with the contract model and go with a standard monthly commitment like Comcast or any other ISP on planet. Suffice it to say, I’m ranting about the carriers rather than talking about the iPad 3. See, now that’s the whole reason I bought the WiFi only edition. Everywhere I need to use it, I can use it on WiFi with no carrier hassles. I don’t have to deal with crappy carrier service, crappy rate costs, bad connectivity, stupid contracts, dead spots or any other silly carrier BS.

If I want to buy a MiFi device (which I have), I can use this to connect my iPad to the Internet, which is the best of all worlds. With a MiFi, I can use it with multiple devices, including my iPad 3, iPod Touch, my LG phone and my notebook and even my home computer when Comcast decides to have outages.

I also find the WiFi speeds are far superior to using LTE anyway, so that’s why I bought the WiFi edition. That, and it’s cheaper on the wallet, both in the iPad cost and that there’s no monthly recurring service fees.

Entertainment

The iPad 3 is definitely my entertainment device of choice (other than my 46″ flat panel display when at home). For portable entertainment, the iPad 3 is it. It is now simply the device of choice for watching movies, playing music or playing games. It is now officially the Sony gaming killer. It may not kill the Xbox, yet. But, Apple has the upper hand now. If they could woo over some big gaming companies like Ubisoft to put Assassin’s Creed on there and, at the same time, release an Apple bluetooth video game controller, this would easily become my gaming platform of choice. Perhaps even over the Xbox. Of course, Apple would need a gaming network including chat and whatnot. So, there’s some hurdles for Apple to overcome. But, the iPad 3 has the beginnings to kill the gaming market if they go after it.

For watching movies, 1080p images flow fluidly on the 2048×1536 pixel display and the images are literally stunning. There is no other portable device on the market that can do what the iPad 3 does for watching movies. The other tablets have a huge leap to make to get where the iPad 3 is for entertainment.

Now if we can get movie studios to start releasing their films in at least 2048 pixel widths on blu-ray (or even iTunes store) so we can actually take advantage of this new resolution.

Camera

Ok, so I’ll let this section speak for itself… Here’s an image I took with the iPad 3 earlier. Note, size below is 688×922. Click the image to see it full iPad 3 screen size. The fact that it produced depth of field with that tiny lens in this semi-macro shot is amazing.

I haven’t yet tried the video camera, but that’s on my list of things to try out. So far, this is a very impressive device and, for me, well worth the money. Now I need to determine what to do with my old iPad 1. It’s over a year old at this point. Amazing how technology gets obsolete so quickly. But, I got my money’s worth from the iPad 1 considering that it was mostly a gift.

If you’re on the fence about getting an iPad 3, don’t be. It’s definitely worth the money to get the resolution on the device. The camera is amazing and watching 1080p movies on it is stunning. Now if we can get Hollywood to catch up to this device and release movies in at least 2048 pixel widths, 1920×1080 seems old and outdated.

Gaming

I haven’t yet tried much gaming on the device, so this section will have to wait to be written. Suffice it to say that the iPad 3 tremendously enhances the look of all apps, though. So, games should look stunning on this display. The thing I will say, though, is that this device has tremendous potential to take over the gaming market with the right level of support.

iPhone apps

This is one thing I didn’t expect. When running iPhone apps on the iPad, the 2x scaling finally works properly. No longer does it scale up this low res tiny display and make it look all pixelated. IOS now actually scales up the fonts, buttons, text and all scalable aspects and retains the screen resolution. So, even though it’s still a small real-estate app, the 2x scaling remains high-res. So, apps from places like Redbox (who refuse to write iPad versions) finally look good when scaled up on the iPad 3. All I can say here is, impressive and long awaited.

20120317-171400.jpg

Verdict

The iPad 3 is definitely worth the money if nothing else than for the screen resolution. The camera is also quite amazing. The device is a tiny bit thicker and heavier than the iPad 2, so it may not fit all iPad 2 cases on the market. But, the smart cover works quite well. As well, the restore process from my iPad 1 was so smooth, automated and reasonably fast, I walked away and came back and it was done. Apple has definitely made this part of the process much much better than previous versions.

If you own an iPad 2 and are thinking of upgrading, you should stop by and play with one first. You might want to wait until the iPad 4 to get a bit more life out of your iPad 2 before discarding it. It is worth the upgrade, however, if you are an avid movie watcher.

If you own an iPad 1 or any other tablet, upgrading to this tablet is a no-brainer. The speed and power of the iPad 3 is apparent right from turning it on.

There is only one thing that Apple missed to really support this screen resolution properly. Apple should have produced a 128 (or 256) GB edition of the iPad 3. With this resolution comes much more space needed by 1080p movies. So, we really need at least a 128 GB version of the iPad 3. I’m guessing we’ll see this with the iPad 4 or possibly a refresh of the iPad 3 later this year (as it’s not really worth a full version release just to double the memory on the unit). However, if you do plan on using it for movies, you will do yourself a favor to buy the 64GB edition as you will need this space to store your movies and music. In fact, as I said, 64GB really isn’t enough for all of the movies I want to carry around with me, so for a heavy movie watcher, 64GB is definitely not enough.

Apple, if you’re reading, we want at least a 128GB model. I’d personally want a 256GB model and I’d be willing to pay the added cost for that amount of memory on the iPad.

iPad: One year later…

Posted in Apple, cloud computing, computers, ipad by commorancy on May 8, 2011

The iPad was introduced very close to this time last year.  Now the iPad 2 is out, let’s see how it’s well it’s going for Apple and for this platform as a whole.

Tablet Format

The tablet format seems like it should be a well-adopted platform. But, does the iPad (or any tablet) really have many use cases?  Yes, but not where you think. I’m not sure Apple even knew the potential use cases for a tablet format before releasing it. Apple just saw that they needed a netbook competitor, so they decided to go with the iPad. I am speculating that Apple released it with as wide an array of software and development tools to see exactly where it could go. After all, they likely had no idea if it would even take off.

Yes, the iPad has had a widely and wildly accepted adoption rate.  Although, market saturation is probably close at hand with the numbers of iPads sold combined with the Android tablet entries (Samsung’s Galaxy S, Toshiba’s tablet and other tablets out or about to be released).  That is, those people who want a tablet now can have one. But, the main question is, what are most people using a tablet for?

My Usage

I received an iPad as a gift (the original iPad, not the iPad 2). I find myself using it at work to take notes first and foremost. I can also use it as a systems admin tool in a pinch. However, instead of carrying paper and pencil into a meeting, I take notes in the notepad app. This is actually a very good app for taking quick notes. Tap typing is nearly silent, so no clicky key noises or distracting pencils. The good thing, though, is that these notes will sync with Gmail and you can read all your notes in Gmail. You can’t modify the notes on Gmail, but at least you have them there. You can modify them on the iPad, though.  You can also sync your notes to other places as well.

My second use case is watching movies. So, I have put nearly my entire collection of movies on the iPad. Of course, they don’t all fit in 32GB, so I have to pick and choose which ones get loaded. The one thing the iPad needs, for this purpose, is more local storage. I’d like to have a 128GB or 256GB storage system for the iPad. With that amount of space, I could probably carry around my entire movie collection. In fact, I’d forgo the thinness of the iPad 2 by adding thickness to support a solid state 256GB drive.

The rest of my use cases involve reading email and searching and, sometimes, listening to music… although, I have an iPod touch for that.  I might listen to music more if it had a 256GB solid state drive.

Cloud Computing and Google

This article would be remiss by not discussing competition to the iPad.  There is one thing about Google’s Android platform that should be said.  Android is completely integrated with Google’s platform.  Apple’s iPad isn’t.  Google has a huge array of already functional and soon-to-be-released cloud apps that Android can take advantage of.  Apple, on the other hand, is extremely weak on cloud apps.  The only cloud app they have is the iTunes store.   That, in fact, is really a store and not a cloud app.  So, excluding iTunes, there really isn’t any cloud platforms for Apple’s devices.  That’s not to say that the iPad is excluded from Google, it’s just not nearly as integrated as an Android tablet.

Eventually, Android may exceed the capabilities of Apple’s IOS platform.  In some ways, it already has (at least in cloud computing offerings).  However, Android is still quite a bit more buggy when compared to IOS. IOS’s interface is much more streamlined, slick and consistent.  The touch typing system is far easier to use on an iPad than on Android. Finally, the graphics performance on Android is incredibly bad. With Android, the scrolling and movement is choppy using an extremely slow frame rate.  Apple’s interface is much more fluid and smooth and uses a high framerate.  The transitions between various apps is clean and smooth in IOS, but not in Android.  This graphics performance issue Google must address in Android.  A choppy slow interface is not pretty and makes the platform seem cheap and underpowered.  Worse, the platform is inconsistent from manufacturer to manufacturer (icons are different between manufacturers).  Google has to addresses these performance and consistency issues to bring Android to the level where it must be.

Apple’s Blinders

That said, the iPad (or more specifically Apple) needs to strengthen its cloud offerings.  If that means partnering with Google, then so be it.  Apple needs something like Google Docs and Google Voice.  It also needs cloud storage.  It needs to create these offerings that are Apple branded that integrate with the iPad natively, not as third party add-ons through the app store.  This is what Apple needs to work on.  Apple is so focused on its hardware and making the next device that it’s forgetting that it needs to support its current devices with more and better cloud offerings.  This is what may lead Apple out of the tablet race. This may also be what makes Google the leader in this space.

So, what things do you use your iPad for?

Let’s Find Out

Poll 1 Poll 2
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Useless excess: Fashion Victim Edition

Posted in Apple, computers, iphone, ipod by commorancy on December 8, 2010

For whatever reason today, a lot of people can’t seem to temper their purchasing of useless things.  I have to admit that I’ve been guilty of this on occasion myself, but I try to exercise restraint with purchases by asking, “Do I have a real need?”

Purchasing excess

I see lots of people buying things where they haven’t really justified a need in their lives.  I’d say the most egregious example of this useless excess is the iPad.  So many people walked into the purchase of this device not knowing how it would enrich their lives, how they might use it or what it benefits it might offer.  Is the iPad useless excess?  I’d say so.  I still haven’t yet fully justified the purchase of this device for myself.  The only justification I have right now is the larger screen and reading email in a portable way.  Those are the justifications I’ve been able to come up with.  Since a I don’t avidly read digital books, that part isn’t really overall that useful me.  I do have an iPod Touch and have found this device to immensely enrich my life, though.  It solved my portable music need, it has a browser, a Kindle app and email and a few admin apps for in-a-pinch situations. It has a long battery life so I have something to use pretty much anywhere, again, in-a-pinch.   So, the cost and use for this isn’t useless excess for me.  On the other hand, the iPad isn’t that portable, so really doesn’t work for things like portable music.

Is an iPad worth $500?  Not yet for me. However, there are times where I’m walking around the office and having an iPad in hand could come in handy for spot email reading or forwarding an email.  Since it also supports some administrative tools, I might even be able to justify it for the use of those tools. On the other hand, a netbook is a more powerful hardware tool (i.e., usb ports, networking ports, SD card slot, etc).  So, hardware-wise, a Netbook is much more justified for what I do. They’re just a bit more cumbersome to use than an iPad.  On the other hand, composing email on an iPad is basically useless.  I’d much rather have a real keyboard, so I’d definitely need a dock for extended use of an iPad.

Keeping up with the Jones’

A lot of useless excess stems from ‘social’ reasons.  Some people just want to show off their money.  The reality is, I find this disturbing.  Why would you want to buy something just to walk around and flaunt it?  I really don’t relish the thought of being robbed or mugged. I mean, I can somewhat understand fashion.  Not so much fashion excess (i.e., diamond studded bling), but wearing fashion to accentuate yourself we have become accustomed to.  I don’t personally go for high fashionista, though.  Useful fashion yes, excess fashion no.  Unfortuantely, an iPad is not a fashion accessory.  No computer or electronic device is (other than those trashy flashing earrings). So, why must people treat Apple products (and some computers and phones) as fashion when it clearly isn’t.  You should always buy a computer for a need in your life, not because your next door neighbor has one or you ‘think’ it might be useful.

Coffee table paperweights

Now that the iPad has been out for about 9 months, I’m still not finding a solid use for the iPad in my personal life. For business use, I have a couple reasons (cited above), but these reasons are not yet enough to justify a $500 expense.  In fact, I would think there’s going to be a growing used market for iPads very quickly here.  People will realize they don’t need or use them and will need the money more.   Especially when it is no longer the ‘chic’ device (and that’s quickly approaching).  Right now is also the prime time to get rid of your iPad, not before it goes out of ‘fashion’.  Additionally, it’s almost guaranteed that by spring 2011, Apple will have a new model iPad ready to ship.   This will majorly devalue the resale value of the 2010 iPad.  So, if you want to sell your iPad for any decent amount of change, you should consider doing it now.  Otherwise, sitting on it will only devalue it down to probably the $150-200 range by end of 2011 and less then that by 2012.

By now, people should really know if the iPad has a use in their life.  Only you can answer that question, but if the most you do is turn it on once a week (or less), it’s a paperweight.  You should probably consider selling it now before the new iPad is released if you want any return on your investment.  Granted, you may have paid $500, but you’re likely only to get about $200-250 (16GB version) depending on where you sell.  If you put it on eBay as an auction, you might get more money out of it ($450, if you’re lucky).  By this time next year, though, you probably won’t get half that amount on eBay.

As another example, see the Wii.  Now that the Wii has been out for several years, it is no longer the ‘chic’ thing to own.  Today, people are likely purchasing it because they want to play a specific game title.  And, that’s how it should be.  You should always buy computer gear for the software it runs, not because it’s the ‘thing to have’.  Wii consoles are now in a glut and easy to find.  So, if you want one today, it’s very easy to get them.

Gift excess

I know people who buy gift items not because it’s a useful gift, but because it’s the thing to have.  Worse, though, is that the person who receives the gift doesn’t even use it or carry it.  In this example case, it’s an iPad 64GB version.  Yet, this person doesn’t carry it around or, indeed, even use it.  Instead, they prefer to use their 2-3 year old notebook.  What does that say about the usefulness of such useless excess?

Is the iPad considered useless excess? At the moment, yes.  There may be certain professions that have found a way to use the iPad as something more than a novelty, but I’ve yet to see a business convert to using iPads as their sole means of corporate management.  For example, it would say something if FedEx would adopt the iPad is their means of doing business.  Instead of the small hand scanners, they could carry around the iPad to do this work.  Oh, that’s right, there’s no camera on the iPad, so scanning isn’t even useful.

While this article may seem to specifically bash the iPad, it isn’t intended to focus solely on them.  The iPhone is another example of useless excess.  You pay $200 just to get the phone, you’re locked into a 2-4 year contract with at least $80 a month.  And, the worst part, the iPhone isn’t even a very good phone.  Dare I say, Nokia and Motorola still make better quality phone electronics than Apple ever has.  Apple is a computer maker, not a phone maker.  So, they still haven’t the experience with phone innards.  So, when talking to people on the iPhone, the voice quality, call quality and clarity suffer over better made handsets.  Again, people justify the purchase of an iPhone 4 because of the ‘Apps’, not because of quality.  Worse, though, is that many people buying iPhones are doing so because it’s ‘the thing to have’, not because it’s actually useful in their lives.  If the only thing you find yourself doing with the iPhone is talking on the phone, then you’re a victim of useless excess.

How to curb useless excess

Ask yourself, ‘How will this thing make me more productive, or solve a problem?’  If you cannot come up with an answer, it’s useless excess.  Once you find at least one real need for a device, then the purchase is justified.  If you just want it to have it, that’s useless excess.  Just having something because you can doesn’t make you a better person.  It just makes you a victim of useless excess.  Simply because you can afford something doesn’t mean you should.

How do you justify an iPad purchase?  For example, if you intend to mount it into a door of your kitchen as an internet recipe retrieval device and you bake or cook every day, that would be one way it could enrich your life.  Although, it’s also not impervious to water or other wet ingredients, so you might want to cover it to avoid those issues.  In other words, for a computer to not be considered useless excess, it would need to be used every day to provide you with useful information you can’t otherwise get.

If you’re looking for a holiday gift, don’t just buy an iPad because you can, buy it because the person will actually use and actually needs it to solve a problem.

Create custom ringtones from mp3s in iTunes

Posted in itunes by commorancy on October 10, 2010

You might think that creating ringtones from imported music in iTunes is complex.  It’s not.  It’s pretty simple and it’s free.  Assuming that you’ve imported your music from CD as mp3, it’s easy.  Note, this doesn’t work for AAC files (files downloaded from the iTunes store).  For this reason, it’s really a better idea to rip your music as mp3 format.  I recommend this anyway strictly because not all mp3 players can play AAC.  Yes, AAC may be a slightly better format, but it’s less compatible across the board.  There are no digital music  players that I’m aware of that don’t understand mp3 files.  Should you decide to get rid of your iPhone or iPod and go with another digital player, your AAC files may not work on your new player.  Worse, if you’ve purchased any DRM protected AAC files, these definitely won’t play.  So, buying music from the iTunes store basically locks you into an Apple music player. Anyway,  I digress.

Steps to creating ringtones

  1. Identify the music files you want to convert and ensure they are not in AAC format (use right-click Get Info and look at Where under the summary tab)
  2. Listen to the track and determine the start and end points you want for your ringtone.  You might want to choose the chorus of the song, but make sure it totals less than 40 seconds.
  3. Use right-click Get Info and then under the Options tab, type in the start and end times.  Times are mm:ss.frame format.  If you supply mm:ss only, it assumes the frame is 0 (zero).
  4. Click OK to save your start and end settings on the song.  Double click the song to ensure proper start and end.
  5. Right-click the song again and this time choose ‘Create AAC version’.  If this option is missing from the menu, you will need to change your import settings to import as AAC (to allow creation of ringtones) through the iTunes’ Preferences menu (Edit->Preferences).
  6. Once iTunes is done creating the AAC version, drag the song from iTunes and drop it on the Desktop
  7. Now, rename the song from song.m4a to song.m4r
  8. Move song.m4r into a ringtones folder somewhere on your hard drive where you remember.  Place all your created ringtones here.  From that folder, drag and drop ‘song.m4r’ onto iTunes.
  9. A ‘Ringtones’ folder will now appear in iTunes.  This ringtone will now be available on your iPhone or iPod Touch under ‘Custom’ once you sync.

For example, to create Aqua’s Barbie Girl ringtone, you would set the start to 0:26.2 and ending to 0:41.  Note the .2 frame.  The frame part allows you to fine tune exactly where the ringtone begins and ends.  This part is a little bit fiddly if you want an exact start and end. Note, after you have set the start and end times, you should double click to listen to ensure the ringtone is starting and ending exactly where you want before you convert and rename the file and before syncing with your device.

When you’re done creating the AAC file, renaming it and dropping it on iTunes, be sure to right-click the original song (not the ringtone) and choose ‘Get Info’. Under options, uncheck start and end so the track goes back to the song’s real beginning and ending. You’ll want to do this before syncing your device again. Otherwise, your music will end up clipped on your device as well.  So, don’t forget to reset the start and end times. Yeah, there’s more than a few steps, but it’s easy once you’ve done it a few times and it’s also a whole lot cheaper than buying ringtones.

If you import CDs regularly, don’t forget to change your Preferences back to mp3 when you go to import.  Otherwise, the music will import as AAC.

That’s pretty much it.  If you have questions, please leave a comment below.

iPad or iPod?

Posted in Apple by commorancy on May 12, 2010

If you’re considering an iPad purchase, you’ll want to contemplate the following before you buy. The iPad has several ergonomic design problems that really prevent it from being truly hand and body friendly. Let’s explore and then compare that with the iPod Touch.

Curved back

All of Apple’s mobile products tend to have a curved back (excluding notebooks). I guess they like this design because they keep producing it. In the iPod, this isn’t so much of an issue. With the iPad, however, the curved back is a problem. If you lay it down, it wobbles and spins. So, if you want to put it on a surface, it will have to be a soft surface (a pillow, rug or other conforming surface). If you place it onto a hard surface, you’ll need to be prepared for the wobble. You will have a similar problem with an iPod, but if you add a case, you can somewhat manage this issue.

Higher power requirements

To operate an iPad, it needs a higher power requirement to charge and use it when plugged in. So, you may find that some notebooks cannot charge the iPad when docked. You may have to plug it into an outlet to adequately charge the iPad. With the iPod, however, it requires a much smaller power footprint, so charging off of a USB port is not a problem.

Weight

The iPad is heavy. It may only weigh in at 1.5 or 1.6 pounds with 3G, but when you’re holding that in your hand for a while, it does start to get heavy. So, don’t expect for this weight to remain comfortable in your hand for long. That means, for a book reading experience where you might want to hold it for several hours, you’re going to have to find a way to prop it up. The iPod touch is a comfortable weight and fits in the hand nicely.

Kickstand (or lack thereof)

It’s quite clear that due to the curvature of the back and the weight of this device, it desperately needs a kickstand to hold it in a proper position and still allow it to be touchable. Without such an accessory, the iPad quickly becomes unwieldy and clumsy (as if it wasn’t clumsy already).

Design

Some people think the design is sleek and simple. I’m not really convinced of that. The thick black border looks dated. The curved back prevents it from sitting flat. The weight of it is too heavy. The battery only lasts 10 hours and requires a higher power charging adapter. So, don’t expect to plug it into your old iPhone or iPod chargers and have it work on the iPad. It might power it, but it’s not going to charge it.

The touch interface is both at once sleek and cumbersome. It works, but in some cases it doesn’t (when wearing gloves). The glossy screen looks slick until you have thousands of smeary fingerprints and oil all over it. Then it’s just gross.

It’s not truly a portable device. The physical size of the device precludes putting it in your pocket. So, you have to carry it around in a case. It may look cool when you take it out to use it, but it’s still clumsy and big. If I’m going to carry around a device of this size, I would prefer to carry around a netbook with a real keyboard and real mouse pad.

Price

The iPad is effectively Apple’s netbook. They didn’t want to do a netbook, so they compromised by producing a large iPod touch (the iPad). This device has a larger screen and bigger touch surface, but that also means it has more chances of breakage if bumped, jarred or dropped. So, if you buy one, you need a case for it.

Overall

The iPad’s design is a bit clumsy. It tries to improve on the iPod touch, but the only thing that is really an improvement is the screen size. If Apple would release a 3G iPod Touch or a paperback book sized iPad with 3G, I might actually consider one. The iPad’s current size is too big and needs to be scaled back. The weight needs to be about a quarter of the iPad (or less). A smaller screen means that it’s probably harder to break. Finally, the price needs to get down to $250 or so. Right now, the price is too high at $629 with 3G for a glorified iPod touch. If it had a full Mac OS X system on it, then it could be worth it.

Apple’s got a lot of work to be done before the next iteration of the iPad. Let’s hope the device actually succeeds. I’m just not so sure of that with past tablet device successes.

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