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Rant Time: Apple iPhone, MS Exchange and Security Policies

Posted in Apple, best practices, botch by commorancy on August 7, 2017

If you’re like me, you like to use your phone device as your catch all email reader, including for your company email. Many corporate email solutions choose MS Exchange and/or Office 365 for their mail services. This article is here to inform you exactly what can happen to your iPhone when connecting to Exchange to access your corporate email. Apple has slipped this feature set in under the radar and, worse, doesn’t inform the users or request consent. Let’s explore.

Overreaching Policies and Exchange

I’ve never been one to think that Apple isn’t transparent about its technologies, but in this case, I think I have to make an exception. Apple slipped this technology change in without so much as an eye-blink. What is this change, you’re now wondering? Well, I’ll tell you.

If you connect your iOS device (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, etc) to an Active Sync Exchange mail server, the systems administrator operating that Exchange server can muck about with settings on your entire device. What mucking about can they do? We’ll, here’s a short list:

  • They can wipe your entire device through a single exchange server request
  • They can change system settings on your device to prevent using certain functions on iOS, such as disabling the ability to turn off passcodes or modifying other settings on your operating system, possibly even up to disabling iCloud entirely.
  • They can deny connection to the service if your device is set with an insecure setup or jailbroken
  • There are many other security policies they can apply to your device without your knowledge or consent.

Now, I can hear the Exchange Admins all over the world groaning right now. Well, the jig is up. You’ve had your fun for far too long. Unless the company is paying not only for the device, but for the service on the device, these changes are WAY WAY overreaching for the simple act of reading email. The only thing Exchange should be able to do is wipe the mail data left over from that Exchange server. You should not be able to set or change security settings on the entire device. Additionally, users should be able to grant or deny such overreaching settings coming from Exchange. Operating systems have had this feature for years… requesting the root password to make such sweeping changes. This same should be available on the iPhone (or any mobile device).

Mail Service Connectors modifying OS settings?

This was my question… why is this possible?

That the Exchange Service can make these global operating system changes to an iPhone is a way overreaching and abusive use of mail services. Mail applications (or any app for that matter) should NEVER be able to muck about with operating system settings at that level any more than a browser can. This is not only a security risk in itself, it leaves iOS devices open to security vulnerabilities because the mail app could become compromised and used to nefariously mess up iOS. Worse, if there are two or more Exchange Server connections to the mail app, which one rules when policies are applied? They both can’t apply differing security settings and expect them both to work properly.

Of course, the biggest problem is wiping your device. There should be no possible way a mail application should be capable of instantiating a wipe command ever. This is an amazing intentionally introduced vulnerability that I’m surprised to find exists in this day and age. Mail applications should never have this level of access to any device. In fact, the only allowed wiping should be done by the user of the device through a service such as Find My iPhone behind the user’s iCloud login and password and in no other place. I’m sorry… if corporate admins want to be able to wipe lost devices, they should do it through another method… not through the Exchange mail service protocol. Mail services should be for mail services, not for pushing extraneous other functions. This was never the purpose of a mail server and this should never be possible through a mail server connection. It should also not be possible without the user’s prior knowledge or consent.

Devices and Settings

Apple needs to quickly obsolete and remove this capability from the mail app. This was an unnecessarily overreaching decision that has no place on iOS. If corporate admins wish to apply corporate policy to devices, then whatever protocol makes this change needs to inform the user of each and every policy change that will be applied to the device and let the iPhone user make the choice of whether or not to accept those policies changes. If the corporate admins want to make global policy changes to iOS, it should be through an entirely different application and system.

Perhaps Apple needs to roll out a separate application and service that allows corporate admins to make these sweeping changes to iOS. Changes that will inform the user, that the user can track through this new app and that the user can opt out of if they wish. Right now, the only way to remove the applied global settings is to remove the Exchange connector from iOS. Even then, some of the applied settings may remain set and may require a wipe and restore to clear.

Unfortunately today, Exchange can silently push policies to your device up to and including wiping your device. When I say, “wipe the device”, I mean wipe it entirely. Yes, that means data and settings lost in an unrecoverable way. The data lost does include your photos, notes and any other personal information. This means that by connecting Exchange to the built-in Mail app, you’ve given your corporate admins control over your device simply for the convenience of reading email.

How can I protect my iPhone?

Don’t use any Exchange servers with the built-in Mail app on iOS. Instead, if you need access to Exchange email, install the Outlook app which is available on the app store. The Outlook app does not have access to modify any system settings and cannot wipe your entire phone, just as it should be. However, the Exchange server can wipe email data from inside Outlook. I’m perfectly fine with that. As long as Exchange’s modifications remain contained inside the Outlook app alone, that’s perfectly acceptable.

No mail server connection should ever be able to modify an iPhone’s global system settings in such a blatant and sweeping way. Apple, you need to fix this issue pronto. If you want to allow policy changes over the entire phone, then design and build a policy application with an API. Then, like Facebook apps, request the user to approve access to this API for any application that needs to use it and require connection to the iCloud login and password to activate it. Also, allow the user to revoke access to the API and undo all policy changes at any time. Once connected, offer an app with a UI to allow the iPhone user to see what settings are being altered on the phone. Also through this app, allow the iPhone owner to make changes (when possible) to these policy grants on the device. If those changes are incompatible with a specific service’s policies, then notify the user that that service will be removed from the device if changes are made.

Few companies pay for phones today and instead leech off of employees who pay for their own phones and services. If the company is paying for the phone and service, then they can do whatever they want with it. If I’m paying for the phone and monthly service, then it’s my decision over what happens on the device. Granting access to email should never let any mail service take control over my device in such a vulnerable way, especially when I never consented to that give that level of access.

Rant Time: Don’t ever wipe your network settings in iOS

Posted in Apple, best practices, botch by commorancy on July 15, 2017

I’ve been recently trying to solve a problem with T-Mobile which ended up a bust because of the absolute sheer uselessness of T-Mobile staff about the iPhone and Apple Watch features. I will write a separate rant about that entire disaster, but let me lead with this rant that’s a little more critical. Let’s explore.

Apple’s iCloud

What is this thing? It’s a way to store settings and various data in Apple’s network cloud storage. This seems like a great idea until you realize what Apple keeps ganging up into this storage area. Then, you might actually think twice about using this feature.

While you might realize that Apple iCloud service will backup your photos and other data stored on your iPhone, it also stores other things you might not realize, like your WiFi network passwords, your Safari logins and passwords and various other sensitive data. What that means is that if Apple’s iCloud is ever compromised, your passwords could be completely captured by a hacker. Depending on whether Apple has stored this data encrypted strongly or not (probably not), you may end up having to change every password you have ever typed and stored on your iPhone.

Now, while that is a security problem, that’s not the problem that this article is intended to address. Let’s continue.

Apple Geniuses Are Anything But

I was recently talking to an AppleCare staffer who, when trying to solve my T-Mobile problem, requested that I wipe my network settings on my iPhone. I explicitly asked this staffer if it would also wipe my iCloud passwords. She, of anyone on this planet, should have known the answer to this question working for Apple. Unfortunately, I have very quickly learned that Apple is now hiring the lowest grunts of the grunts who simply don’t give a shit nor do they even understand the technology they are hawking. Apple, train your staff. Which leads to …

Never, Ever EVER wipe your network settings on any iOS iCloud device

No matter how much anyone begs or pleads you to do this, tell them, “NO”. And, if anyone ever tries to do this to one of your devices sharing a single iCloud login, you need to grab the device back from them PRONTO and stop them.

The answer to my question I asked Apple is that wiping network settings on your phone does, in fact, indeed wipe all of your network settings in iCloud! Why is this important? If you have multiple devices sharing your iCloud ID and settings, after wiping a single device, all of your WiFi passwords are also wiped for ALL other iCloud devices. This means that every single iCloud device suddenly and explicitly drops its WiFi connection.

This also means you will need to go back to each device and manually re-type your WiFi password into each and every device. This is the only way for the device to log back into iCloud and relearn all of its knowledge of all newly recreated settings.

This is an absolute PAIN IN THE ASS, Apple! So, if anyone ever asks you to wipe your network settings on your iPhone or iPad participating in iCloud, don’t do it! Note that even signing out of iCloud and wiping may cause the same problem once you log it back in. So, I wouldn’t even try this knowing Apple’s crappy network designs. Simply tell the person asking, “Not only no, but hell no” and have them figure out another way to resolve whatever the problem is.

So, there you have it.

How to add ‘E’ explicit tag to music in iTunes

Posted in Apple, itunes, music by commorancy on March 5, 2017

I’ve been wondering for a while now how those little Explicit or E tags that show up in iTunes. It turns out it’s a relatively simple ID3 tag added to the song, but it does require some setup.

Before getting started

You’re going to need the following software packages installed:

Also, you’ll want to be aware that this tag only works if applied to AAC formatted music. iTunes does not show the icon in iTunes with MP3 formatted music even if the tag is there.

Converting to AAC

If you want to add these tags to your music so that the music shows up as E for explicit or C for clean, you will need to convert your music to the AAC format which produces an .m4a container. How do you convert your MP3s to AAC in iTunes? Here’s how you do it…

Setup

  1. In iTunes go to iTunes menu => Preferences
  2. Under General, click the Import Settings button
  3. Change the Import Using drop down to read AAC Encoder.
  4. Click OK, then click OK again to close preferences.

The above sets your import and conversion settings to AAC.

To convert a song, use these steps:

  1. Find a song you would like to convert in iTunes
  2. Click on the song so it is highlighted
  3. File menu => Convert => AAC Version
  4. Conversion will start immediately. You will see up and down arrows appear in the status bar at the top.
  5. When conversion is complete, it will be in the same folder where the original song is located.
  6. iTunes will also automatically import the song into your library (but not into the any playlists).
  7. If you wish to find the song, search in the upper right search panel and you will find two of the same songs in your library. One of them is the AAC version, probably the bottom one.

Adding the ID3 Tag

Kid3

Open up kid3 from your Applications folder (or wherever you put it). Here are the steps…

  1. In the left panel, navigate to the newly converted AAC song and click highlight it.
  2. Make sure the Tag 2 is open and you’re seeing the metadata for the track (i.e., Artist, Title, etc)
  3. Under Tag 2, click the Add button.
  4. In the Add Frame window and in the Select the Frame ID field, type in Rating (or drop down and select). Click OK
  5. When the Text panel opens next, add what rating you want from this list:
    • 1 = Explicit (E)
    • 2 = Clean (C)
      • (Meaning… from the above list type in the number ‘1’ or the number ‘2’ only)
  6. Click OK to finish adding your tag with the rating.

Note that you will need to save your tags and completely quit out of Kid3 before iTunes will play the song. Kid3 leaves the file open after editing preventing iTunes from getting access to it until kid3 is closed.

Subler

Open up the Subler app. Perform the following steps:

  1. File menu => Open…
  2. Navigate to and select the *.m4a music file, then click Open
  3. When the metadata area shows up below in the Subler window, click the + at the bottom of the window
  4. Choose Content Rating from the drop down
  5. On the highlighted Content Rating line
  6. Click on None and change it to Explicit or Clean
  7. Save the file with File menu => Save

Subler does not leave the file open after editing like kid3.

Once finished adding the tag to the file, double click the AAC version of the file in iTunes to begin playing it. iTunes automatically re-reads ID3 tags on play and the ‘E’ or ‘C’ should now appear on the song’s listing.

MP3 versus AAC

I convert all of my music to MP3 for one very good reason… compatibility. If I choose to move out of the Apple camp for another music player, I don’t have to worry about converting all of my music back or in any having any weird AAC incompatibility issues. While I like having these flags on the songs, I prefer compatibility over tying myself to Apple. I started with mp3’s in my library and I’m continuing that trend. It’s not that AAC is a bad format, it just started out badly because Apple had to create their own.

It irks me just a little that iTunes doesn’t respect this tag on MP3 files even though they could. I also don’t relish the thought of having to convert all of my music from mp3 back to AAC. That process is like copying a copy. It will degrade the music even more simply by converting an mp3 to AAC. I also don’t want to dig out all of my CDs and re-import them as AAC. That’s also not an option. It took me several months just to import my collection to mp3. So, I’m not anxious to revisit that process a second time.

For me, I will convert or use this tagging for limited one-off purposes. That is, if the song is truly explicit, I may convert it to AAC just for that song just so I can add that tag. For songs which are not explicit, it’s way too much effort just to add that little C when I already know the song is clean without it.

Please leave a comment below if you found this tutorial helpful.

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How to setup a black / blank screensaver on a Mac or Windows computer

Posted in Apple, Mac OS X by commorancy on February 18, 2017

Note, this technique should work on any desktop operating system and this technique quite easy to set up. I also realize that Windows offers a Blank screen saver that kind of negates this technique, but here it is anyway. Let’s explore.

Mac Computers

I’m starting with the Mac because it seems so much less obvious considering how ‘easy’ it should be for a Mac. One of the things you’ll notice in the screensaver area is that there is no blank or black screen saver. What people have suggested instead of a black screensaver is to enable energy saver. While this works to turn off the backlight and save it, power savings does other unfortunate things to the computer at the same time.

Energy Saver Problems

What problems do you ask? Well, Apple has taken it upon themselves to also shut down a number of other critical components when the power saver is activated. Windows may be doing this as well. Yes, it does turn off the backlight. Unfortunately, with that it also turns the WiFi and networking off.  This means that if you have a VPN running, your VPN will disconnect. If your company invests in VPN software which does not self-connect on WiFi reactivation, you’re stuck reentering your passwords and setting up your terminals all over again. Unfortunately, I have no control over the software that’s used by my company and I have to live with it. So, I avoid the energy saver system like the plague to avoid random VPN disconnection.

A Screen Saver?

A little history, a screen saver was used primarily to prevent burn-in on CRT tubes. It’s also distinctly different from power saver mode. Since the days of CRT tubes have long since passed, we are now using LCD screens with LED back or side lights. Some screens are made of OLED technology, which means that each pixel is a self-illuminated RGB LED light. With either of the LCD or OLED technologies, the chance for burn-in is almost non-existent. However, some LCD screens can show latent imagery under certain specific conditions if left sitting with the same image for too long. So, a screen saver is still useful. However, a screen saver is most useful as a screen lock indicator.

Black Screen Saver on Mac

The problem is, the Mac doesn’t offer a black screensaver. It expects to to use images to cycle through or other screen savers like a bouncing clock or a bouncing apple or similar.

However, I just want a simple black screen with no movement at all. You’re not going to burn-in your screen with a simple black surface, even though LCDs don’t really do that. To wit, you’ll notice no settings for that ..

screensaver-l

There is no screen saver above that provides a blank or black only screen. So, how do you do it?

Here are the steps:

  1. Find your current Mac’s screen resolution in Finder using applelogoascii => About This Mac. Then click on Display and look for your resolution. In the below example, you see 1440 x 900. It’ll be whatever your Mac offers.display
  2. Make note of the resolution above and jump to Creating a blank image using The Gimp section.

Blank Screensaver on other operating systems

If you find that your Windows system doesn’t offer a blank screen saver, you can follow these instructions:

Windows 7

  1. Windows Button => Control Panel => Display
  2. In Display, click Adjust Resolution
  3. Make note of screen resolution

Windows 10

  1. Windows Button => Control Panel => Appearance and Personalization => Display
  2. In Display, click Change display settings
  3. When the Settings window opens, make sure it’s still on Display. Then, scroll to the bottom of the right side panel and click Advanced display settings
  4. Make note of the screen resolution

Linux

  • Refer to your Preferences and Display settings to find the current screen resolution

Create a blank image using The Gimp

From here, what you’re going to do next is create a blank image in the resolution of your screen. It’s best to cover the entire screen’s pixels with black rather than, say some lower res image like 1024 x 768. This is the reason for discovering the resolution above. Using the full screen resolution prevents unexpected issues with the screen saver’s stretching (or not stretching) the pixels properly. This process can be used on all operating systems that have The Gimp installed.

To create a blank image in The Gimp, use the following:

  1. Open the Gimp (download it here — it’s free)
  2. Make sure your foreground and background colors look like so, with black on left top and white on right bottom:gimpcolors
  3. In the Gimp, File => New…
  4. Then, type in the resolution you found from from your operating system into the Width and Height fields (making sure to put the correct values in each field).
  5. Click Advanced Options and change Fill with: to Background Color
  6. Click, OK
  7. You should now see an image filled with black.
  8. Save the image using File => Export As… and type in a filename and change the file type from .png to .jpg to make the image smaller. Be sure to remember the folder where you are about to save your file.
  9. Click the Export button
  10. In the Export image as JPEG window, click the Export button
  11. You now have a new black image in the resolution of your screen.
  12. From the GIMP menu => Quit GIMP

Now that you have a saved blank image, you need to add it to a list of images where your screen saver looks.

Adding this image to the Mac screen saver

This is a fairly simple concept. You will now use this newly created black image as your only screen saver image. So, no matter what the cycle rate is, it will always cycle back to this same blank image all of the time.

Here’s what I did on the Mac. I created a folder called black-image under my Pictures directory. I’ve placed my newly created image into /Users/myuser/Pictures/black-image/black-image.jpg. I’ve put it in a separate folder because that’s how Mac finds images… by folder. Now, select the folder in the screen saver settings like so:

choosefolder

Where the arrow points, click that selection area, it will open a file requester and then choose the folder where your new black-image.jpg file is. Once you set it here, your screen will turn black when the screen saver activates (as in my case, in 30 minutes).

Windows or Linux

While I know that Windows has a Blank screen saver built-in, you can also use this technique by choosing the screen saver as Photos, then choose the folder where your blank-image is located. For Linux, simply perform the same setup using your preferences to select the photo folder where your save black-image.jpg exists. Once you do this, the screen saver will only show that single black image once the screen saver has activated.

This is actually the safest technique rather than relying on plugins or programs to provide a black screen. It will also continue to work should Microsoft decide, in their infinite wisdom, to be like Mac and remove the Blank screen saver in the next version of Windows.

I prefer this technique to using the power saver because of the issues mentioned above. This allows me to set up a black screen with the backlight still on which also keeps my VPN active. Of course, if you don’t deal with VPNs, then by all means use the power saver.

If this tutorial was helpful to you, please leave a comment below and let me know.

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App-casting vs Screen Casting vs Streaming

Posted in Android, Apple, computers by commorancy on October 8, 2016

A lot of people seem to be confused by these three types of broadcasting software, including using AppleTV and Chromecast for this. I’m here to help clear that up. Let’s explore.

Streaming and Buffering

What exactly is streaming? Streaming is when software takes content (music file, movie file, etc) and sends it out in small chunks from the beginning to the end of the file over a network. While streaming, there is a placeholder point in time entry point to begin watching. In other words, when you join a streaming feed, you’re watching that feed live. If you join 20 minutes in, you’ll miss the first 20 minutes that has already played. The placeholder point is the point in time that’s currently being played from the media.

What about broadcasting? Is it the same? Yes, it is a form of streaming that is used during app-casting and screen casting. So, if you join a live screen casting feed, you won’t get to see what has been in the past, you only get to see the point forward from when you joined the stream already in progress.

Streaming also uses buffering to support its actions. That means that during the streaming process, the application buffers up a bunch of content into memory (the fastest type of storage possible) so that it can grab the next chunk rapidly and send it to the streaming service for smooth continuous playback. Buffering is used to avoid access to slow devices like hard drives and other storage devices which may impair smooth playback. Because of buffering, there may be a delay in what your screen shows versus what the person watching sees.

Streaming encodes the content to a streaming format at broadcast time. It is also decoded by the client at the during streaming. Therefore, the endpoint client viewer may choose to reduce the resolution of the content to improve streaming performance. For this reason, this is why if you’re watching Netflix or Amazon, the resolution may drop to less than HD. However, if you’re watching content across a local network at home, this should never be a problem (unless your network or WiFi is just really crappy).

Note, I will use the word stream and cast interchangeably to mean the same thing within this article.

Screen Casting (i.e., Screen Mirroring)

Screen casting is broadcasting the screen of your device itself. For example, if you want to broadcast the screen of your MacBook or your Android tablet, it will broadcast at whatever resolution your screen is currently running. If your resolution is 1920×1080, then it will stream your screen at HD resolution. If your screen’s resolution is less than this, it will stream the content at less than HD. If your screen resolution is more than this, it will stream at that resolution. Though, with some streaming software, you can set a top end resolution and encoder to prevent sending out too much data.

Because screen casting or mirroring only casts in the resolution of your screen, this is not optimal for streaming movies (unless your movie is 1080p and matches your screen’s resolution). If your screen runs at a lower resolution than the content, it is not optimal for watching moves. If you want to watch UltraHD movies, this is also not possible in most cases (unless your PC has an extremely advanced graphics card).

For many mobile devices and because screen resolutions vary, it’s likely your screen resolution is far less than the content you want to watch. For this reason, app developers have created App-casting.

App-casting

What exactly is app-casting? App-casting distances itself from the screen resolution by streaming the content at the content’s resolution. App-casting is when you use AppleTV or Chromecast to stream content from an app-cast enabled application on your computer or mobile device. Because the content dictates the resolution, there are no pesky screen resolution problems to get in the way. This means content streamed through applications can present their content at full native resolutions.

For Netflix, ABC TV, NBC TV, Hulu and Amazon, this means you’ll be watching those movies and TV shows in glorious full 1080p resolution (or whatever the app-casting receiver supports and also based on the content). For example today, AppleTV and Chromecast only support up to HD resolution (i.e., 1080p). In the future, we may see UltraHD versions of AppleTV and Chromecast become available. However, for now, we’re limited to HD with these devices.

Though, once an UltraHD version of AppleTV and Chromecast arrive, it also means that streaming to these devices means heftier bandwidth requirements. So, your home network might be fine for 1080p content casting, UltraHD content streaming may not run quite as well without better bandwidth. To stream UltraHD 4k content, you may have to upgrade your wireless network.

Note that Google has recently announced an UltraHD 4k Chromecast will be available in November 2016.

Chromecast and AppleTV

These are the two leading app-streaming devices on the market. AppleTV supports iOS app streaming and Chromecast supports Android OS streaming. While these are commonly used and sold for this purpose, they are by no means the only software or hardware solutions on the market.

For example, DLNA / UPnP is common for streaming to TVs, Xbox One and PS4. This type of streaming can be found in apps available on both iOS and Android (as well as MacOS, Linux and Windows). When streaming content from a DLNA compatible app, you don’t need to have a special receiver like AppleTV or Chromecast. Many smart TVs today support DLNA streaming right out of the box. To use DLNA, your media device needs to present a list of items available. After selection, DLNA will begin streaming to your TV or other device that supports DLNA. For example, Vizio TVs offer a Multimedia app from the Via menu to start DLNA search for media servers.

Note that you do not have to buy an AppleTV or Chromecast to stream your tablet, desktop or other device. There are free and paid DLNA, Twitch and YouTube streaming apps. You can stream both your display and possibly even your apps using third party apps. You’ll need to search for DLNA streaming app in whichever app store is associated with your device.

DLNA stands for Digital Living Network Alliance. It is an organization that advocates for content streaming around the home.

App-casting compatibility

To cast from an application on any specific operating system to devices like Chromecast or AppleTV, the app must support this remote display protocol. Not all apps support it, though Apple and Google built apps do. Third party applications must build their software to support these external displays. If the app doesn’t support it, you won’t see the necessary icon to begin streaming.

For example, to stream on iOS, a specific icon appears to let you know that an Apple TV is available. For Android, a similar icon also appears if a Chromecast is available. If you don’t see the streaming icon on your application, it means that your application does not support streaming to a remote display. You will need to ask the developer of that software to support it.

There are also third party casting apps that support streaming video data to remote displays or remote services like Twitch or YouTube. You don’t necessarily need to buy an AppleTV or Chromecast to stream your display.

Third Party Streaming Apps

For computers or mobile devices, there are a number of streaming apps available. Some require special setups, some support Twitch or YouTube and others support DLNA / UPnP. If you’re looking to stream content to the Internet, then you’ll want to pick one up that supports Twitch or YouTube. If you’re wanting to stream your data just to your local network, you’ll want to find one that supports DLNA.

You’ll just need to search through the appropriate app store to find the software you need. Just search for DLNA streaming and you’ll find a number apps that support this protocol. Note that apps that don’t require the use of Chromecast or AppleTV may tend to be less robust at streaming. This means they may crash or otherwise not work as expected. Using AppleTV or Chromecast may be your best alternative if you need to rely on having perfect streaming for a project or presentation.

Basically, for stability and usability, I recommend using an AppleTV or Chromecast. But, there are other software products that may work.

Security vulnerability: Apple Watch, iPhone and Apple Pay

Posted in Apple, security by commorancy on March 6, 2016

apple-watch-passcode-screenIf you own an Apple Watch, there is a security vulnerability that could compromise your Apple Pay cards. Let’s explore.

Watch Stolen?

Let’s say you’re on vacation and you decide to visit that cute little patio coffee shop. Naturally, you’re sitting, sipping and enjoying your coffee. Your wrist adorned with your new Apple Watch is sitting on top pretty wrought iron fence. Someone comes along and grabs your Apple Watch off your wrist and runs away. What do you do? Chase after them to get it back? Oh, but they’re already gone. So then, try to disable the watch on your iPhone? So, here’s the dilemma (and the vulnerability). As soon as you unlock your iPhone, your watch is now quite vulnerable thanks to Apple.

Unlocking your iPhone

Apple has recently pushed an update that automatically and, by default, unlocks both your Apple Watch and your iPhone merely by unlocking your phone… so long as the watch is on anyone’s wrist (it doesn’t have to be your wrist). And herein lies the vulnerability.

So now, that thief who has just stolen your Apple Watch is standing close enough to still get a connection from your iPhone. The thief already knows what will happen after you unlock your phone. So, they patiently wait until you unlock your phone. Then, they get access to your stolen watch’s data until you A) Mark as Missing or B) remove all your credit cards from your wallet. It’s doubtful you can unpair the watch once they have taken it out of range of the Bluetooth/WiFi, but you can mark it as missing.

The thief will wait just long enough to get the watch unlocked and then run for it to get out of connection range. This may allow them to get access to the Apple Wallet and skim your cards from NFC. They could even still do it while in range of your phone, especially if you somehow hadn’t noticed the watch was missing (i.e., you had taken it off and placed it in your bag).

Fixing the Vulnerability

It’s quite amazing that this exists, a stupid security feature from the same company that’s trying to defend itself from unlocking a terrorist’s iPhone for a judge. Hypocritical much? No no, mustn’t unlock a phone for a judge. But, it’s perfectly okay to give thieves access to Apple Pay credit cards by enabling this dual unlock feature. First thing I’d immediately recommend is going into the Watch app on your iPhone and disabling this feature pronto! You’ll find that the Apple Watch itself also has this setting available under Passcode, but thankfully it can only be enabled or disabled on the iPhone.

However, this feature should not be available at all, Apple.

Preventative Measures

While you are still in possession of both your Apple Watch and your iPhone, you should immediately disable this feature. On the iPhone, it’s under Watch app=>My Watch (Screen)=>Passcode=>Unlock with iPhone set to OFF.

You’ll need to perform this while you are in possession of both devices, before your watch is stolen or misplaced. If you fail to make this change now, you cannot make this change after it is stolen. You can only mop up the mess.

Reactive Measures — My Apple Watch has been stolen!

If you leave the Unlock with iPhone setting enabled, anyone wearing your watch will see it unlock as soon as you unlock your iPhone if they are still in connection range (possibly 30 feet or so, but could be farther). So, you realize your watch is missing and the first thing you do is think, “I need to delete my Apple Watch from my phone”. However, merely by unlocking your phone, you may have just now given the thief access to your watch and to anything on that watch including your Apple Pay credit cards. This means they can activate the NFC on the watch and skim those card numbers off or even use them to charge in shops around the area, possibly even for the entire day until you remove the cards from the wallet. This gives the thief access to wallet and your credit cards until the watch runs out of battery or it locks again once taken off. Or, until you have taken measures to remove the cards from Apple Pay and have marked the watch as missing.

It’s very important to understand exactly how exposed you are by using the Apple Watch with the Apple Pay when enabling the Unlock with iPhone feature. But, you have to know that it’s stolen to take these measures.

Protecting Yourself

What do you do after it’s stolen?

Assuming you know that the watch has been stolen, the first thing you should do before unlocking your iPhone is disable Bluetooth and WiFi. How do you do this? At the > Slide to Unlock screen do not unlock the phone. Instead, swipe up from the bottom of the screen to the top. This will bring up the quick access menu that lets you manage items like WiFi on/off, Airplane mode on/off, Flashlight on/off and, yes, Bluetooth on/off. From the quick access menu, you need to disable both WiFi and Bluetooth before ever unlocking your iPhone. Because Apple Watch relies on Bluetooth and apparently an adhoc WiFi connection, the signal that you’ve unlocked won’t be sent to your nearby watch. It doesn’t seem to send this signal when your phone is on a carrier LTE or 4G data network. However, disabling Bluetooth or WiFi alone is not enough. The Watch can still connect to the cloud if close to a WiFi network it knows about. If you’re out on the street, that’s not likely. If you’re in or near your hotel, it might.

If you are not sure where your watch is, you should disable WiFi and Bluetooth before unlocking your iPhone. Once you’ve disabled WiFi and Bluetooth, go into Watch app=>My Watch=>Apple Watch and then Mark as Missing (making sure you have access to an LTE or 4G data network). You will not be able to disable the Unlock with iPhone feature while the watch is locked even if you reenable both WiFi and Bluetooth.  In fact, if you do enable WiFi and Bluetooth, the app seems to remember the last unlocking for some period of time and will pass that unlock to the watch to unlock it. You don’t want to do this.

Whatever you do, don’t enable WiFi and Bluetooth until you’ve selected Mark as Missing under the Apple Watch menu. The last thing you want to happen is the iPhone to send an unlock signal to your watch.

Didn’t notice the watch was missing?

If you’ve left the watch in a hotel room or at pool or on the beach, you may have inadvertently unlocked the watch for a thief while you did not know the watch was missing. In this case, you should immediately Mark as Missing (see above). The second thing you will need to do is go into Wallet and Apple Pay is remove all credit cards from this area. This will deauthorize the card from Apple Pay and prevent the watch from making any further purchases with your cards.

Because Apple Pay creates a unique new Apple Pay card ID for each card, the thief won’t get access to your actual card number. But, a thief can still skim these unique numbers from the NFC and continue to use the numbers as long as you have not removed the card from the Wallet and Apple Pay menu. See ‘Thievery at its finest’ below for a caveat on skimming of NFC Apple Pay card numbers.

You should also call all of your credit card companies and let them know the period of time the watch was lost. While replacement of the cards is not necessary due to the way that Apple Pay registers new card numbers for use, it might still be a good idea just to be safe.

Forever losing things?

If you’re one of those people who is prone to losing or misplacing your stuff (especially things like Watches), then you need to head back up to Preventative Measures and disable Unlock with iPhone while you still have both your iPhone and Apple Watch in your possession. In fact, you can do it now while I wait here… patiently… for you to open up Settings on your iPhone… and disable Unlock with iPhone. Yes, you. Go do it now.

Okay, so now that that’s done. You did go do it, right? Okay, just checking. Assuming you didn’t lie about disabling it, there is no way a thief can get access to your Apple Watch by being in proximity of your iPhone if stolen or lost (i.e., like at the beach or at a pool).

If you are the type of person who loses things regularly, you might not even want to enable Apple Pay on the watch at all. Though, if you have a credit card on file for iTunes, Apple tries to be nice and imports this card into your watch on your behalf after its first setup. You should immediately go into the Watch app on your phone and remove that card. You can always add it back if you like.

Thievery at its finest — (the thief who returns most of what is stolen)

If you take your watch off by a pool, at the beach or any place where you might not want your watch damaged, a would-be thief could ‘borrow’ your watch just long enough to NFC skim all your cards off of the device (after waiting for you to unlock your phone). Then, carefully return the watch to you. He now has all your cards and you aren’t even the wiser that the watch was even missing.

Before this happens to you, you should disable Unlock with iPhone. Though, if you’re concerned about the credit card situation at all, you might just want to delete all the cards from your Apple Watch entirely and not use the watch for Apple Pay. Even if a thief attempts to skim your card data from your watch, they won’t be able to do it if the cards aren’t even there. However, if you do choose to use Apple Pay with your watch and as a security measure, I’d suggest removing and re-adding the cards once every couple of months. Better, once a month. This forces your bank to issue a new unique Apple Pay card number for each credit card. This will invalidate old Apple Pay unique card numbers that may have skimmed from your watch.

You should always remove and re-add your cards if your Apple Watch has been out of your possession for any period of time.

The Takeaway

Hopefully, by reading this article someone doesn’t end up taking more than your Apple Watch from you. The takeaway from this article should be to secure your device by undoing stupid Apple counter-security measures. Disable Unlock by iPhone in the Apple Watch app. Remove unnecessary cards from Apple Pay. Better, don’t use Apple Pay on the watch if you’re prone to losing things. If you’re planning on wearing the watch, don’t take it off your wrist.

I can’t even believe that Apple would stoop to putting in such an obvious security hole onto a device capable of storing credit card information (even if the numbers are unique to Apple Pay). If an Apple Watch could identify my wrist differently from someone else’s reliably 100% of the time, then this feature might be worthwhile. Because the Apple Watch can’t detect who’s wrist it is currently sitting on, this is a security compromise just waiting to happen.

Review: Apple Watch

Posted in Apple by commorancy on December 3, 2015

apple-watch-aluminum-goldYou might have noticed that I like to write review and tip articles for Apple’s product line. Recently, I’ve picked up an Apple Watch Sport. It’s time for a rundown. Let’s explore.

Watch Functionality

It’s called the Apple Watch for a reason, because it is first and foremost a watch. You’re probably wondering just how good a watch it really is? Let’s just put it this way, the old square iPod that could be used as a watch has better watch faces than the Apple Watch. There are effectively 5 different faces. Two ‘analog’ style faces, one huge number version, a mickey mouse watch and a smaller digital face (that is used in multiple different versions).

Because the faces are so limited and there are so few of them, I’m quite disappointed in what’s here. Instead of providing a large number of faces, what Apple focuses on is customizability of a few faces. So, even though you can customize limited aspects of the watch faces, there’s only so much Apple actually lets you do. This is a little disappointing.

For example, if you want a custom background, you can do that so long as you can live with a digital watch version. This can’t be done with an ‘analog’ dial display. This is unfortunate. Though, there’s still time for Apple to add this in an update.

On the upside, when you flip your wrist up to look at your watch, the face automatically turns on. No need to press buttons.

Watch Face Sizes

There are two sizes available from Apple. There is the 38mm and the 42mm sizes (so far). To be perfectly fair, there’s very little difference between these two sizes as far as utility goes. So, don’t expect miracles from buying the bigger size. Both screens are small and having a slightly larger screen here really doesn’t help much at all. I’m sure Apple may offer more sizes in the future, but for now these are two sizes offered.

What I will say about the sizes is that they work well for a watch face, but for using for anything other than a watch is mostly uncomfortable. Though, using the Apple Watch for any period of time makes you appreciate just how big your iPhone’s display is even if you’re using the iPhone 5.

Remote Control

This is primarily where the Apple Watch shines brightest… being a remote control for your iPhone. That is, playing music, as a speakerphone, answering simple text messages or even just asking Siri basic questions. Not having to pull your phone out of your pocket for simple and basic activities is nice enough. But, is this one feature really worth the price so far? Let’s continue to explore.

Watch Band

The one cool thing that Apple has rethought is the watch band. Instead of being a standard belt type closure, the band has been reinvented. I know a lot of people don’t really like the sport band, but I actually like it for a lot of reasons. The biggest reason is that a standard band is like a belt… which means that the band has that little tail that sticks out and catches on things and is generally frustrating.

Apple’s sport band rethinks this. Now the clasp pops onto a peg that sticks up easily, which makes putting it on one-handed a snap (literally) and then the end of the band tucks into and inside of the band leaving no little flap to hang out and catch on things. I know this piece is a little hard to describe, but once you try it out, you’ll understand why the line of this band is hard to beat. Changing watch bands is pretty much a snap. You press the release button and slide out the band. Then slide in the new one. Repeat the process on the other side. It’s far simpler than trying to depress those tiny little pins from most watch bands.

Again, does this make the Apple Watch worth the money? Let’s keep going.

Applications

As I talked about above, the Apple Watch is primarily a remote controller for the iPhone… and applications are no exception. What that means is to use am application on the watch, it must also have a corresponding iPhone version before a watch version can be loaded. Additionally, the app has to support a watch interface version before you can even use it on the Apple Watch. This also means that there are limited applications that currently even support the Apple Watch. The few that are there range from clumsy to elegant with most falling towards the clumsy side.

Mail

Yes, you can receive notifications of email on your watch. Unfortunately, there is really no HTML rendering piece for the phone. So, many emails that arrive won’t allow for proper viewing on the watch interface. So, don’t expect miracles in this department.

Fitness

If you are fitbit user, you might find the fitness pieces of the Apple Watch useful in that it can keep up with your fitness goals through the built in wrist monitor. So, pop it on and away you go. You just have to fill in all of your details into the fitness app to get started.

News

Here’s where the watch shines once again. If you’re interested in keeping up with the latest news events, there are a number of iPhone apps that support the Apple Watch. This means you can keep up with the latest trending news through alerts on the watch. This is another bright spot for the watch.

It also has a stopwatch, timers and alarms. You can easily set the alarms through Siri.

Siri and Haptic Feedback

This is one of the better features here. I always hated Siri’s voices. They’re unnatural and annoying. So, when the watch remains silent of voice in lieu of haptic feedback after a Siri query, that made me smile. I love this feature. I’d rather the watch (or any device) respond with haptic feedback over using a voice to talk back.

Sounds

There are limited sounds. However, the Apple Watch combines haptic feedback (shaking) to let you know when it’s done something. In combination with haptic feedback, the phone plays a small chime. Like expensive analog watches, some come with small chimes and bells. The Apple Watch mimics that sound whenever notifications are made. So, it makes the Apple Watch feel like an expensive Tourbillion or some other very expensive watch when it chimes after an alert or when an alarm goes off. It’s not some cloying and silly frog or other digital sound effect.  In combination with the haptic feedback, the chime feels and sounds real when on the wrist. It’s as though there’s a little bell inside of the unit. It’s an uncanny sensation. Apple definitely got this right. Though, I would also like a little more customizability in the sounds for alerts, but I’m guessing we’ll see that in WatchOS 3 or 4 or sometime later down the road.

The Crown

Think of the crown’s use on this as a scroll wheel on the mouse. Effectively, that’s how it’s used on the watch interface. You can scroll through email messages, through lists, through settings, etc. Because the touch screen can be clumsy because of its size, the crown’s scrolling feature makes up for that clumsiness making the device a bit more elegant to use. Unfortunately, even with WatchOS 2.0, the crown is not utilized nearly enough. There are a lot of settings areas and other locations that are perfect candidates for using the crown to scroll. Unfortunately, you’ll find that you’ll still be flicking through lists with your finger on the touch surface.

The Touch Screen

One of the things Apple included is that not only is it a touch screen, it is pressure sensitive. So, the harder you press, you can get into different modes or activate features. While this pressure sensitive nature is a cool addition to the watch, it is also well underutilized. In fact, the only real place where it’s used is in customizing the watch faces.

The Charger

Here’s easily the most clumsy piece included with the watch. Not only is the somewhat concave disk shaped charger goofy, the magnet is not nearly strong enough. What that means is that the watch falls away from the charger by simple movement of the watch on the table. It’s frustrating and clumsy all at the same time. I don’t really understand why the magnet isn’t a whole lot stronger. However, having purchased the more expensive Apple flying saucer charger, the magnet on this unit is much much stronger. In fact, it’s the strength that should have been included on the included clumsy disc charger.

Storing Music

Yes, you can store a single playlist on the Apple Watch itself. How exactly you play that music back without the phone, I’m not entirely sure. I’m assuming you can pair a bluetooth headset and listen that way or maybe it plays out of the tiny speaker on the watch. Whatever way it happens, the watch itself has no ports, so it must playback wireless. It seems that the watch may have about 8GB of memory storage. This is the same as the base model of the previous square iPod that could also be used as a watch.

Screen Type

The screen is an AMOLED display. What that means is inky blacks and vibrant whites. You don’t get that annoying bright grey cast you get with backlit units. It also means that it is not backlit. This enhances the watch look and feel and reduces battery life to only those pixels that happen to be lit.

Battery Life

On the 42mm version, I have been pleasantly surprised that when I get home, it’s still no less than 50%. Most times, it’s still in the 80% area. However, this is still a mostly brand new watch. So, I need to set it up with a few charge cycles to get how the battery will really last. As for battery replacement, it doesn’t appear user replaceable. So, I’m guessing you’ll need to make an appointment with Apple’s Genius bar and have them replace it.

Home Screen

The home screen for the watch is, you guessed it, a watch face. Everything else pretty much revolves around this screen. You pull down from the top for notifications. You pull up from the bottom to bring up running apps (music remote control, battery life, fitness, etc… by swiping left or right).

App Screen

While I understand the purpose behind this horrid mess of round icons screen, it’s ugly and hard to get to the things you need. This is the screen with small circle icons arranged into a geometric shape. When you drag it around, the edge circles shrink. While I understand the utility of this on the tiny watch screen, it’s hard to navigate the icons because they have no labels. So, unless you happen to know what the icon is, you’re lost. There are times where icons can be similar to one another which can make it confusing to find the app you want. I personally find this screen a little ugly and tiresome. But, for what it is, I don’t know how to offer Apple a better solution than this. So, it is what is.

Apple Pay

If you have an iPhone 5 that doesn’t support Apple Pay, here’s a way to get this feature without replacing your phone. You can load up your cards on to the Apple Watch and then use the watch to pay with Apple Pay by putting it into Apple Pay mode and touching the watch to the payment terminal. Admittedly, I’ve used it a few times (even at the Apple store). It’s handy and prevents the need to pull out your credit card from your wallet. It works with both credit cards and combo credit/debit cards.

Wrist Detection

This piece goes hand-in-hand with Apple Pay. By electing to put your cards onto the device to use with Apple Pay, you automatically enable certain security mechanisms. One of them being wrist detection and passwords. This means that as long as you’re wearing the watch, you don’t have to enter your password. As soon as you take the watch off and put it back on, you’ll be prompted to enter the password again. The thinking is that if someone rips it off of your wrist and steals it, they can’t get into it because it’s automatically passworded as soon as it’s removed. This is a good feature, but at the same time it also offers some unnecessary annoyances in other parts of the operating system.

Overall

The Apple Watch is a somewhat interesting device, but it is pricey. It starts at $349 and goes up from there. The 38mm version is $349 and the 42mm version is $399 for the sport series. The prices only go up from here. For a watch, I guess this an okay price for the sport model. When you get into the pricier versions, the difference is just in the materials.

For the sport version, you only get some kind of tempered glass over the touch surface. If you move up to the $549-$599 price point, you get sapphire. Though apparently the sapphire saps some of the brightness from the screen. So, you’ll want to be prepared for that.

Apple also shot themselves in the foot by doing away with skeuomorphism in iOS. In fact, for the watch faces, the flat colors are just too boring. If there’s justification for using skeuomorphism, watch hands are the place to do it. The flat watch hand colors are, well, drab and boring. I’d rather have a watch face that looks like a watch face with roman numerals and hands that look like metal. Instead, we get flat pointy hands that don’t look real at all. The double whammy here is that there are so few watch faces from which to choose, it’s really a less than ideal situation for the Apple Watch. In fact, there were better looking watch faces on the older square iPod that also doubled as a watch.

If you’re looking for a watch that doubles as an interface to your iPhone, the Apple Watch might be worth the money. But, don’t be disappointed at how sparse the app landscape is right now. There’s really not a ton of apps available. But, don’t go into this purchase thinking it will be the perfect app companion to your iPhone. It won’t and isn’t. It is still too new for that.

The one and only reason to consider the purchase of an Apple Watch is for the watch functionality. Though, you should use it and play with it before you make the decision to buy. There are plenty of watches on the market and having the Apple Watch may not be the smartest of choices if the watch is the most important aspect. Also, the limited faces of the watch means it’s not as flexible as one would hope. It is a small computer after all. So, it should be able to mimic the look of any watch face. Unfortunately, Apple has intentionally limited this functionality to date. Until this piece is fully realized, owning this as a watch may not be the best of choices. Though, the sport watch band is comfortable and easily one of the best innovations here.

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Rant Time: iOS 9.1 and iCloud Backup == Fail

Posted in Apple, botch, business by commorancy on October 27, 2015

icloud_icon_brokenThis rant will be relatively short and sweet. I recently upgraded my iPhone to iOS 9.1. Not only were there some stupid issues around their new and improved upgrade process, iCloud backup is entirely broken. Let’s explore.

Pre-upgrade problems

Apple has introduced an upgrade after-hours process. What that means is that you need to agree to some terms and then the iPhone will upgrade between 2AM and 4AM as long as your phone is plugged in. I thought, “yay” until I got the agreement screen at which time I promptly yelled, “what the hell?”. Let me explain…

Apple forces on top of all else this automated upgrade agreement screen. It even disables the home button so you can’t get out of that screen by accidentally pressing the home button (like that would ever happen). That means you’re firmly planted on that screen (or so it seems). Anyway, on the agreement screen, you have to type in your Apple login credentials to verify you and to help you with that process, the iPhone conveniently pops up an on-screen keyboard like it typically does. Except, the Apple developers forgot one crucial detail. They forgot to give you a way to get rid of the keyboard when you’re done. Pressing the Enter button at the bottom right of the keyboard does absolutely nothing. The keyboard remains firmly planted on top of, you guessed it, the submit button. This means you cannot press the submit button… and, you can’t press the home button… and, you can’t do anything else.

So, now you’re literally stuck. You can’t press the submit button to complete the action and you can’t get out of this screen, or so it seems. I decided to take matters into my own hands. I pressed and held the power button until the Slide to Power Off slider appeared. Lo and behold, doing this actually made that screen go away. This entire debacle should have been my warning. But noooo. I didn’t listen to that little voice saying not to upgrade now.

Can’t use Automated Update

So now that I forced my way out of that screen with the power button, there is no way to go back in and resume the process. You’re probably wondering why I might want to do that? I had planned on hooking up a bluetooth keyboard to the phone so that on screen keyboard would not present. This would allow me to enter the data and then have access to the submit button, but noooo. Can’t make it that easy now can we Apple? So, I performed the upgrade in the normal way, by going into Settings=>General=>Software Update and used the standard method.

iCloud backup and 9.1 fail

Turn Off & DeleteTo a lesser degree, I had this same problem in 9.0.4 (or whatever the last 9.0 version was). When I attempted to backup my phone to iCloud, for whatever reason the iPhone decides to back up every app on your phone by default. Mind you, I have several gigs worth of apps on my phone on top of the 15G or so of images/videos in my library. I spent a good day working on getting my iCloud backup working on 9.0.x. It took me the better part of several hours working through stupid Settings app bugs just to get all of my apps excluded from backups. Let’s understand that Apple requires you to manually disable each and every app separately from being backed up. Let’s also understand that in order to do so, each time you click to green slider to the OFF position, you have confirm a popup that asks ‘Turn Off and Delete’ for every single app separately. Let’s consider that my phone has hundreds of apps installed. So many apps, in fact, that Settings crashes about 1/4 of the way through the ‘Turn Off and Delete’ confirmation banners. It’s an arduous task at best and it’s frustrating and aggravating at worst.

IMG_1821Yet, rolling into 9.1, Apple promptly reverts everything I spent 1-2 hours doing and now defaults back to turning every app ON (see left image) for backup yet again. How do I know? I get that very annoying ‘Not Enough Storage’ notification on my lock screen. I spent valuable time setting all of that up and Apple promptly forgets my settings. The very definition of bad user experience (UX). Instead, this time I can’t even stop the backups of any apps. Apple only gives 5GB of data storage for free. I had all of my devices comfortably making backups on iCloud using maybe 3.1GB total (4 devices), after the excruciatingly aggravating task of finally excluding all of the unnecessary crap that Apple insists on including. Perfect… until 9.1.

Now, I’m in a catch 22. I can’t make a successful backup because iOS continually resets all of my apps and forces me to back up everything to the iCloud the first time. Yet, iOS won’t allow me to change settings to deselect the apps because it must have a successful backup first. FAIL. You can go try to deselect apps, but that’s all for show. It doesn’t actually work. Oh sure, the green ON buttons turn OFF, but it’s not as if that actually works. It doesn’t respect that those apps are now OFF and the backup fails. Once it fails, all of those buttons you’ve spent tons of times clicking to OFF will all be automatically reenabled after the backup failure.

I have no idea what Apple was thinking here, but they clearly had their heads in the iClouds. This problem has gotten progressively worse with each release and has culminated in iCloud backup being entirely unusable unless you feel the urge to spend at least $1/mo for 50GB of storage so you can work around Apple’s stupid bugs. I have no intention of working around any developers bugs by spending money. Either provide workable functionality or don’t. But, there is no way I will ever spend money to a company to work around bugs in software. Apple, if you really want to force us to pay you to get more than 5GB, then just charge us up front for any space issued. Don’t beat around the bush by introducing bugs that make the freebie you’ve given become worthless. Let’s just be honest here.

If this is about spending yet more money with you to get people to buy into your iCloud storage, then just tell us that’s what you want. Don’t force us to go buy more because you want to force everything on our phones to back up. That’s not how you do it. Just change the terms and send everyone a notice that the 5GB storage you’ve issued us is no longer free and at the end of the month you lose it or you pay for it. Just tell the consumers what you want. You don’t need to do it by introduction of bugs that forces phone owners to backup everything on their phone.

Seriously… 5GB?

In this day and age when Google is giving practically terabytes of storage for free, Apple can only afford 5GB a month? Really? How much money does Apple make off of their products and they’re going to be that stingy with storage? On top of that, they force you to backup your entire 16/32/64GB phone over to iCloud. Not only is that stupid from the 5GB free perspective, it’s just asinine that I can’t control my bandwidth to this service. Seriously, I don’t want to send over 10-20GB of data across my network bandwidth. I want to control what I send and how much I send. Since I can no longer do that…

Buh Bye iCloud Backup.. it was nice knowing ya!

I’m done with iCloud backup. Not only is it stupidly designed, what real purpose does it serve at 5GB? I can backup my entire phone’s contents on iTunes on my local machine(s) as many times as I wish. There are no bandwidth constraints or disk space issues. Yet, I can barely backup my contacts on iCloud at 5GB. I have no intention of dropping $1/mo to get to 50GB, which is still only a pittance, let alone $10/mo for 1TB. Who knows how secure the data really is in iCloud? One breach and Apple will be run out of town on a rail.

I’m tired of dealing with Apple’s stupid developers who can no longer code their way out of a paper bag. I’m tired of dealing with bugs that shouldn’t even exist on a device that used to be the most intuitive device built. Now it’s a device that is merely following behind Android’s, ahem, innovation. So, I’ll happily head back to the time before iCloud existed. I’m done with that service for backups. I prefer to keep my backups local anyway. Buh Bye iCloud backups.

Apple, figure it out !

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How to stop Mac dock icon bouncing

Posted in Apple, botch, computers by commorancy on September 28, 2015

AppleWhen an application starts up in MacOS X Yosemite, it bounces the application dock icon a few times, then stops bouncing once the application has started. For me, this is perfectly fine because at least there’s a positive response. Positive response is never a bad thing in operating system design.

Unfortunately, Apple decided to overloaded this same bouncing behavior for notifications to get your attention by bouncing a dock icon. For me, this is definitely not wanted. Not only is it extremely annoying, it never stops until you go touch that icon. It also performs this bouncing way too frequently. There are much better ways to get user attention than by bouncing the dock icon. Thankfully, there’s a way to stop this annoying and unwanted UI behavior. Let’s explore.

Defaults Database

Apple has what’s known as the user defaults database. It is a database of settings not unlike the old UNIX .files system, but much more extended. Unfortunately, most developers don’t document which settings can go into the defaults database and many of the settings may be hidden. However, you can easily find them by reading the values by opening terminal.app and then typing:

$ defaults read com.apple.dock | more

This command will spew out a lot of stuff, so you’ll want to pipe it to more to page through it. Each app has its own namespace similar in format to com.apple.dock that you can review. Not all apps support changing settings this way. For other apps, simply replace com.apple.dock with the appropriate application namespace and you can read up the settings for that application. If you decide to change any of the values, you may have to kill and restart the application or log out and log back in.

In short, there is a way to stop the bouncing using the defaults command. To do this, you will need to update the defaults database for com.apple.dock with the correct setting to stop it.

Stop the Bouncing
BounceIconTo stop the bouncing of dock icons, open a terminal shell and at a command prompt, type the following:

$ defaults write com.apple.dock no-bouncing -bool TRUE
$ killall Dock

Keep in mind that this is a global setting. This stops the dock icon bouncing for every application on your system for all notifications. The launch icon bouncing is not controlled by this setting. For that, you should visit the preferences area.

You can always reenable the bouncing at any time by opening terminal and then typing:

$ defaults write com.apple.dock no-bouncing -bool FALSE
$ killall Dock

Note that the defaults database is stored locally in each user account. So, if you log into several different accounts on your Mac, you’ll need to do this for each of your accounts.

Please leave me a comment below if this doesn’t work for you.

Apple’s newest MacBook: Simply Unsatisfying

Posted in Apple, botch, business, california by commorancy on March 12, 2015

macbook_largeIt’s not a MacBook Air. It’s not a MacBook Pro. It’s simply being called the MacBook. Clever name for a computer, eh? It’s not like we haven’t seen this brand before. What’s the real trouble with this system? A single USB-C connector. Let’s explore.

Simplifying Things

There’s an art to simplification, but it seems Apple has lost its ability to rationally understand this fundamental concept. Jobs got it. Oh man, did Jobs get the concept of simplification in spades. Granted, not all of Jobs’s meddling in simplification worked. Like, a computer with only a mouse and no keyboard. Great concept, but you really don’t want to enter text through an on-screen keyboard. This is the reason the iPad is so problematic for anything other than one-liners. At least, not unless there’s some kind of audio dictation system. At the time, the Macintosh didn’t have such a system. With Siri, however, we do. Though, I’m not necessarily endorsing that Apple bring back the concept of a keyboard-less computer. Though, in fact, with a slight modification to Siri’s dictation capabilities, it would be possible.

Instead, the new MacBook has taken things away from the case design. More specifically, it has replaced all of those, you know, clunky, annoying and confusing USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt port connectors that mar the case experience. Apple’s engineers have now taken this old and clunky experience and ‘simplified’ it down to exactly one USB-C port (excluding the headphone jack.. and why do we even need this jack again).

The big question, “Is this really simplification?”

New Case Design

Instead of the full complement of ports we previously had, such as the clever magsafe power port, one or two Thunderbolt ports, two USB 3.0 ports and an SD card slot, now we have exactly one USB-C port. And, it’s not even a well known or widely used port style yet.usb_macbook

Smart. Adopt a port that literally no one is using and then center your entire computer’s universe around this untried technology. It’s a bold if not risky maneuver for Apple. No one has ever said Apple isn’t up for risky business ideas. It’s just odd that they centered it on an open standard rather than something custom designed by Apple. Let’s hope that Apple has massively tested plugging and unplugging this connector. If it breaks, you better hope your AppleCare service is active. And since the unplugging and plugging activity falls under wear-and-tear, it might not even be covered. Expect to spend more time at the Genius bar arguing over whether your computer is covered when this port breaks. On the other hand, we know the magsafe connector is almost impossible to break. How about this unknown USB-C connector? Does it also have the same functional lifespan? My guess is no.

I also understand that the USB-C technology automatically inherits the 10 Gbps bandwidth standard and has a no-confusion-plug-in-either-way connector style. But, it’s not as if Thunderbolt didn’t already offer the same transfer speed, though not the plug-in-either-way cable. So, I’m guessing that this means Thunderbolt is officially dead?

What about the Lightning cable? Apple recently designed and introduced the Lightning connector for charging and data transfer. Why not use the Lightning connector by adding on a faster data transfer standard? Apple spent all this time and effort on this cool new cable for charging and data transfer, but what the hell? Let’s just abandon that too and go with USB-C? Is it all about throwing out the baby with the bathwater over at Apple?

I guess the fundamental question is… Really, how important is this plug-in-either-way connector? Is Apple insinuating that general public is so dumb that it can’t figure out how to plug in a cable? Yes, trying to get the microUSB connectors inserted in the dark (because they only go in one direction) can be a hassle. The real problem isn’t that it’s a hassle, the real problem is that the connector itself was engineered all wrong. So, trying to fit in a microUSB cable into a port is only a problem because it’s metal on metal. Even when you do manage to get it lined up in the right direction, it sometimes still won’t go in. That’s just a fundamental flaw in the port connector design. It has nothing to do with directionality of it. I digress.

Fundamentally, the importance of a plug-in-either-way cable should be the lowest idea on the agenda. What should be the highest idea is simplifying to give a better user experience overall and not to hobble the computer to the point of being unnecessarily problematic.

Simply Unsatisfying

Let’s get into the meat of this whole USB-C deal. While the case now looks sleek and minimal, it doesn’t really simplify the user experience. It merely changes it. It’s basically a shell game. It moves the ball from one cup to another, but fundamentally doesn’t change the ball itself. So, instead of carrying only a power adapter and the computer, you are now being forced to carry a computer, power adapter and a dock. I fail to see exactly how this simplifies the user experience at all? I left docks behind when I walked away from using Dell Notebooks. Now, we’re being asked to use a dock again by, of all companies, Apple?

The point to making changes in any hardware (or software) design is to help improve the usability and user experience. Changing the case to offer a single USB-C port doesn’t enhance the usability or user experience. This is merely a cost cutting measure by Apple. Apple no longer needs to add pay for all of these arguably ‘extra’ (and costly) ports to the case. Removing all of those ‘extraneous’ ports now means less cost for the motherboard and die-cuts on the case, but at the expense that the user must carry around more things to support that computer. That doesn’t simplify anything for the user. It also burdens the user by forcing the user to pay more money for things that were previously included in the system itself. Not to mention, requiring the user to carry around yet more dongles. I’ve never ever known Apple to foist less of an experience on the user as a simultaneous cost cutting and accessory money making measure. This is most definitely a first for Apple, but not a first for which they want to become known. Is Apple now taking pages from Dell’s playbook?

Instead of walking out of the store with a computer ready in hand, now you have to immediately run to the accessory isle and spend another $100-200 (or more) on these ‘extras’. Extras, I might add, that were previously included in the cost of the previous gen computers. But now, they cost extra. So, that formerly $999 computer you bought that already had everything you needed will now cost you $1100-1200 or more (once you consider you now need a bag to carry all of these extras).

Apple’s Backward Thinking?

I’m sure Apple is thinking that eventually that’s all we’ll need. No more SD cards, no more Thunderbolt devices, no more USB 3 connectors. We just do everything wirelessly. After all, you have the (ahem) Apple TV for a wireless remote display (which would be great if only that technology didn’t suck so bad for latency and suffer from horrible mpeg artifacting because the bit rate is too low).

Apple likes to think they are thinking about the future. But, by the time the future arrives, what they have chosen is already outdated because they realized no one is actually using that technology other than them. So, then they have to resort to a new connector design or a new industry standard because no other computers have adopted what Apple is pushing.

For example, Thunderbolt is a tremendous idea. By today, this port should have been widely used and widely supported, yet it isn’t. There are few hard drives that use it. There are few extras that support it. Other than Apple’s use of this port to drive extra displays, that’s about the extent of how this port is used. It’s effectively a dead port on the computer. Worse, just about the time where Thunderbolt might actually be picking up steam, Apple dumps it in lieu of USB-C which offers the same transfer speeds. At best, a lateral move technologically speaking. If this port had offered 100 Gbps, I might not have even written this article.

Early Adopter Pain

What this all means is that those users who buy into this new USB-C only computer (I intentionally forget the headphone jack because it’s still pointless), will suffer early adopter pains with this computer. Not only will you be almost immediately tied to buying Apple gear, Apple has likely set up the USB-C connector to require licensed and ID’d cables and peripherals. This means that if you buy a third party unlicensed cable or device, Apple is likely to prevent it from working, just as they did with unlicensed Lightning cables on iOS.

This also means that, for at least 1-2 years, you’re at the mercy of Apple to provide you with that dongle. If you need VGA and there’s no dongle, you’re outta luck. If you need a 10/100 network adapter, outta luck. This means that until or unless a specific situational adapter becomes available, you’re stuck. Expect some level of pain when you buy into this computer.

Single Port

In addition to all of the above, let’s just fundamentally understand what a single port means. If you have your power brick plugged in, that’s it. You can’t plug anything else in. Oh, you need to run 2 monitors, read from an SD card, plug in an external hard drive and charge your computer? Good luck with that. That is, unless you buy a dock that offers all of these ports.

It’s a single port being used for everything. That means it has a single 10 Gbps path into the computer. So, if you plug in a hard drive that consumes 5 Gbps and a 4k monitor that consumes 2 Gbps, you’re already topping out that connector’s entire bandwidth into the computer. Or, what if you need a 10 Gbps Ethernet cable? Well, that pretty much consumes the entire bandwidth on this single USB-C connector. Good luck with trying to run a hard drive and monitor with that setup.

Where an older MacBook Air or Pro had two 5 Gbps USB3 ports and one or two 10 Gbps Thunderbolt ports (offering greater than 10 Gbps paths into the computer), the new MacBook only supports a max of 10 Gbps input rate over that single port. Not exactly the best trade off for performance. Of course, the reality is that the current Apple motherboards may not actually be capable of handling 30 Gbps input rate, but it was at least there to try. Though, I would expect that motherboard to handle an input rate greater than 10.

With the new MacBook, you are firmly stuck to a maximum input speed of 10 Gbps because it is a single port. Again, an inconvenience to the user. Apple once again makes the assumption that 10 Gbps is perfectly fine for all use cases. I’m guessing that Apple hopes the users simply won’t notice. Technologically, this is a step backward, not forward.

Overall

In among the early adopter problems and the relevancy problems that USB-C has to overcome, this computer now offers a more convoluted user experience. Additionally, instead of offering something that would be truly more useful and enhance the usability, such as a touch screen to use with an exclusive Spotlight mode, they opted to take this computer in a questionable direction.

Sure, the case colors are cool and the idea of a single port is intriguing, it’s only when you delve deep into the usefulness of this single port does the design quickly unravel.

Apple needs a whole lot of help in this department. I’m quite sure had Jobs been alive that while he might have introduced the simplified case design, it would have been overshadowed by the computer’s feature set (i.e., touch screen, better input device, better dictation, etc). Instead of trying to wow people with a single USB-C port (which offers more befuddlement than wow), Apple should have fundamentally improved the actual usability of this computer by enhancing the integration between the OS and the computer.

The case design doesn’t ultimately much matter, the usability of the computer itself matters. Until Apple understands that we don’t really much care what the case looks like as long as it provides what we need to compute without added hassles, weight and costs, Apple’s designers will continue running off on these tangents spending useless cycles attempting to redesign minimalist cases that really don’t benefit from it. At least, Apple needs to understand that there is a point of diminishing returns when trying to rethink minimalist designs…. and with this MacBook design, the Apple designers have gone well beyond the point of diminishing returns.

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