Did Siri or dictation stop working for you on your iOS device? Try this.

Did Siri or dictation stop working for you on your iOS device? Try this.

I noticed a few days ago that both Siri and keyboard dictation stopped working for me.  However, they both would still work in my car (over bluetooth).  This initially led me to believe that maybe my iPhone 6+’s microphone was starting to fail.  I launched Voice Memos, and recorded a new memo, and that worked fine.  Plus, I’d had conversations with family recently, so I knew my mic was still working.  I figured it must have been something in the new 8.3 update, so I did a full-reset and restore in hopes that starting “fresh” would squash the gremlin.  It didn’t work.

This one had me stumped for a few days, and then after some GoogleBinging I remembered that the iPhone (6+, in this case, though this has been true for a while) has multiple microphones, and I distinctly remember Apple mentioning in one of their keynotes that the iPhone 6 /+ will use different microphones to pick up audio, depending on the situation.  I already knew my main mic (for voice calls and memos) worked, but what if Siri and dictation used a different mic?  And how do I test it?  As luck will have it, there is a simple test:

How to test your iPhone’s alternate (secondary) mic:

  1. Launch the Camera app
  2. If necessary, touch the ‘flip camera’ icon to use the FaceTime camera (selfie cam)
  3. Start recording a video of yourself talking
  4. Stop the recording, go to your camera roll, and watch the video
  5. If you don’t hear any talking, or you hear a bunch of static, your alternate mic is BROKEN

My video was full of garbled static… thus, my alternate mic was broken!  Lucky for me, the phone was still under warranty, and AppleCare took care of it.  This perhaps brings me to the moral of the story: if you plan on keeping your devices for longer than a year… get the extended AppleCare!

Just in case it was unclear above, here is how to test your main microphone as well:

  1. Launch Voice Memos
  2. Record a new memo
  3. Watch the read-out as you record, you should see voice ‘waves’ appearing as it records
  4. Stop the recording, play it back, and make sure it sounds good, clear, and without static

Happy debugging!

The only legitimate iOS 8 privacy concern: iMessage group naming

The only legitimate iOS 8 privacy concern: iMessage group naming

Achtung! Warning! Caveat emptor!  This isn’t a bug, so much as an ill-advised feature.  I’m sure kids will have fun with it, but if you are even somewhat of a responsible adult, this ‘feature’ may get you in trouble.  I personally think its fun, but there is a legitimate gripe to be made in terms of exposing thoughts you may not want exposed.  Read on…

The iOS 8 Messages app (the default texting app that we all use for SMS, iMessages, etc.) allows you to name group conversations that have multiple people in them.  If you are messaging 2 or more friends at once, a ‘group’ is formed.  When scrolling through all the various messaging sessions you may have stored on your phone, group chats are identified by the list of names of the people that are participating in it, which quickly truncates since there simply isn’t much room to display the names of everyone in the thread.  In iOS 8, if you click on the ‘Details’ of the group conversation, it allows you to rename the group to something shorter and more recognizable:

Conveniently rename the group!
Conveniently rename the group!

This is a tremendously helpful feature for when you are trying to keep your various group conversations organized, etc.  But there is a problem.  Whatever you name the group gets broadcasted to everybody in the chat (if they have iOS 8 installed as well)!!!:

2014-11-04_20-13-25

Yikes!!!  Be sure to name your group conversations something flattering, otherwise you will have some ‘splainin to do, Lucy…

On the flip side, your group-mates can rename this group to whatever they want, and not only does it get broadcasted to you (as seen above), it also shows up on your phone Messages list!:

Touché, co-workers!
Touché, co-workers!

As you can imagine, this can lead to some fun games.  Or utter embarrassment.  The choice is yours… just be aware of it!

Hopefully Apple adds the option to make your personalized group names private in the future!

Annoying iOS 8 bugs

Here are some things that bug me about iOS 8:

Spotlight crashes.  Ever drag the screen down so you can start searching for an app, or an email, etc.?  iOS Spotlight is a tremendously useful feature.  If you have pages and pages of apps, you can’t live without it.  But often, you are forced to, because it crashes.  A lot:

Spotlight... crashed.  Dead. Useless.
Spotlight… crashed. Dead. Useless.

You have little recourse when this happens.  You can restart your phone, or alternatively, you can just wait a few moments for Spotlight to ‘restart’ itself and start working again.  When you are in a hurry, it’s painful.

Inconsistent Reachability.  Speaking of Spotlight (and numerous other areas in iOS 8), when you double tap the home button (not pressing, just tapping), the whole interface slides down so that you can reach items at the top of the screen with one hand (that you normally would not be able to reach one-handed).  Again, another great and useful feature that I use quite a bit on-the-go.  Problem is, it doesn’t work in all areas consistently in the way you think it would.  Returning to Spotlight as an example:

Only certain things are reachable.
Only certain things are reachable.

Searching in Spotlight (if it isn’t crashed-out), brings up a handy list of items.  Double-tapping home slides them down for easy one-hand tapping, but what if you want to alter your search terms?  Break out that other hand.  In other apps, the entire top interface slides down, including the info bar:

properReachability
proper reachability

I’m not hating, but why the inconsistency?

That damn U2 album.  Do not get me wrong, I actually appreciate the U2 album, and I think it was a nice gesture.  Unlike the rest of the internet, the fact that the album showed up in my purchase history didn’t twist my panties.  But what did is the subsequent error I am still constantly assailed by every few minutes (or every few hours… it’s random!):

This.  Constantly.  Modal.
This. Constantly. Modal.

Ever since that album was ‘given’ out, my phone has constantly been barraged with this lovely piece of buggary. This message pops up at random intervals throughout the day, and it completely interrupts whatever you are doing until you tap ‘Done’, only for it to come back at a random interval sometime later.  No, ‘Retry’ doesn’t do shit, other than make it pop back up faster.

Let me tell you, when you are trying to quickly snap a photo of something cool, and this shit pops up, it makes you want to break your phone in half.

The best that I can trace this problem to is the U2 album.  Not the music tracks themselves, but the ‘Digital Booklet’ that came with the tracks.  iTunes (on the phone) doesn’t know how to download the booklet, so it tries over and over to get it, failing each time, prompting this message.  Some people have tried launching iTunes on their desktop machines, going to ‘Account’, logging in, and then bringing up the Account screen.  From there, a prompt will show up for any un-downloaded purchased items.  For me, the booklet was listed as the sole item that I had not yet downloaded (yet purchased…. even though I really didn’t, of course).  I clicked ‘download’, and the booklet is now on my iMac, and hence cleared from my account screen, but this shitty error still pops up on my phone from time to time.  I give up.

At least now I understand why the rest of the internet is pissed about ‘purchasing’ this album (for free), even if my reasons are slightly (and much more annoyingly) different.

There are other aspects of iOS 8 I find annoying, such as Continuity having all 500 of my Apple devices ring or ding at once anytime I get a call or message, flaky Airdrop, with its hit-or-miss file transfers, but those types of things will be ironed out in time, along with these I hope.

Until then, iOS 8.2 can’t come fast enough.

No early upgrade pricing from AT&T for the iPhone 4S*

*unless you are within 6 months of the end of your current contract.  Read on:

Looks like I won’t be qualifying for early upgrade pricing from AT&T until at least a month after the new iPhone 4S launches.  This is due to AT&T’s policy of not allowing special (and by ‘special’ I mean slightly less ass-rape-free-money-for-at&t-fee) pricing until you are within 6 months of the end of your contract.

Even though the iPhone 4S took a little longer to bake in the oven (putting us closer to end-of-term for the iPhone 4’s 2 year contract), all of us original iPhone 4 adopters still aren’t eligible for the cheaper upgrade price until November 25th (and that’s if you bought the iPhone 4 on launch day):

$250 extra if you want the iPhone 4S on launch day.  Well, that sucks.  And, it’s a total bonehead move from AT&T.  You can never capitalize on launch day fever if you make people wait an extra month to buy a product.  Why make us wait AT&T?  All you are going to do is make people salivate over other carriers, or worse, your customers cool off so much they decide they don’t need to upgrade at all… and then in 6 months they are free from your artificial shackles.

If AT&T were smart, they’d move that early upgrade date to October 7… the day the iPhone 4S is up for pre-order.  There is only upside in doing that, and you don’t need an MBA to know why.  You lock in your customers for another 2 years, you kill any chance of buyers remorse, and you don’t give customers the opportunity to think about early termination.

But as it stands right now, all AT&T can do is lose customers.  And with Sprint and Verizon waiting for AT&T refugees (especially now that the iPhone 4S is a world phone), it really makes you wonder what genius is guiding AT&T’s decisions.

ElementCase Vapor for iPhone 4 review

After an excruciatingly long wait period for ElementCase to start shipping their iPhone 4 Vapor case ($100 after tax/shipping charges), mine finally arrived in the mail!  The Vapor comes in two parts (essentially right and left sides, that are screwed together using a tiny allen wrench and 4 bolts).  The case comes with two extra bolts (in case you lose a couple of them) and an allen wrench for assembling the case around your iPhone 4.

The case has thin little pads taped around the inside edges to keep the aluminum case from directly resting on your iPhone edges, and also yields a very precise and snug fit.  In tightening the screws, you instantly get a feeling of a solid bonding between case and iPhone… it all feels like one solid mass, which is a good feeling.

The case adds a little heft and bulk to the iPhone 4, but nothing too crazy (this case is about .5 oz heavier than Apple’s own bumper, for example).  On the right side, there are two protrusions near the corners of the case (around where the bolts are screwed in) that add a unique look while serving to protect the bolts from snagging on anything that otherwise might have snagged on more exposed bolts.  The protrusions also have the added benefit of giving you a very satisfying grip on the iPhone 4 when holding it in the landscape orientation.

The entire package screams quality, and it is, and I think it looks and feels magnificent.  Even better, because of the solid aluminum and snug fit, when your phone is on vibrate mode, the case becomes an extension of the phone itself and you really feel the vibration through the case (as if no case were there at all).  There is no “softening” effect that sometimes happens with other cases, so you won’t miss any more messages and phone calls with the Vapor installed – a great thing!  Finally, there is a case that is as solidly built as your iPhone 4!

Alas, it is not all rainbows and roses…  There is one significant problem with the ElementCase Vapor 4:  You iPhone loses 1 – 2 bars of signal strength with it installed.

YIKES!  This thing was supposed to save us from the iPhone 4 attenuation problem, not solidify it!  In fairness, it obviously does stop you from bridging the gap between iPhone 4’s two antennas, however you are essentially trading one problem for another.  Wrapping your entire outer antenna in solid aluminum has the net effect of reducing your signal by 1 – 2 bars, and for many people this is simply going to be a deal breaker.

It sucks because it is such a gorgeous case and natural fit for the iPhone 4.  The jury is still out on whether I can live with the reduced signal.  So far it hasn’t posed too much of a problem, but we’ll see as the week goes on.  If it becomes a frustrating issue, I’ll have no choice but to eBay this bad boy and go back to my trusty Apple Bumper… all the while missing the good looks and feel of the gorgeous Vapor case.

What a shame…

edit – Yeah… the signal issue was too much for me to handle.  It was just too frustrating.  I’m back to the Apple bumper case and my phone is much more usable.  Sorry guys and gals, I simply cannot recommend this case to anybody who appreciates their signal strength.

The best response to Apple’s Reality Distortion Field that surrounds the iPhone 4…

… came from none other than the likes of RIM.  Crackberry has the whole story.

Much like a sole person drowning in a sea of swimmers, Steve Jobs attempted to bring down the rest of the smartphone manufacturing community with broad strokes of misdirection during Apple’s press conference regarding the iPhone 4’s unnatural signal attenuation woes.  When Steve Jobs completely dodged Ryan Block’s very pointed question regarding the mere touching of the iPhone 4’s danger spot vs. gripping, it was clear the entire press conference was a smokescreen (as if showing the giant blue test room wasn’t enough to prove that already… but I digress).

Of course we can’t blame Jobs for merely protecting Apple’s stock price while attempting to keep sales moving throughout the rest of Q3 (looking at you, arbitrary deadline on the free bumpers), however it’s also obvious that Apple will alter manufacturing to eliminate the attenuation that occurs when bridging the two antennas on the iPhone 4.

In fact, I bet they have a fix ready right now, and it should be rolling off of the assembly line by… say, around September 30th?