FreakoutITGeek's Blog

Random IT postings from Freakz

Monthly Archives: July 2013

iPhone ideas

Further to my posting on what I would like to see in the next iOS release, I have spotted rumours about Apple allegedly approaching their Apple store staff for “out of this world” ideas for the next iPhone.

So what would I like to see?

Ability to project images. This could be used to show pictures and films at locations where there isn’t an Apple TV. The problem with this is one of the camcorder companies already used this idea (fairly unsuccessfully I believe), Also there are a lot of companies providing this as an add on for the iPhone and it may use a lot of power?!

I’d love a Virtual ‘floating’ keyboard to allow more space (would work with the iOS concept) for typing but still allowing you to read what you had typed. This would be really handy for filling in forms on websites using Pages and stuff like editing LinkedIn and WordPress postings :-). The alternative would be the laser keyboard which has been around for some time ( or keyboard keys are beamed into a work surface from the phone and it detects which key you are pressing).

For those of you that have read my posting on the future of IT will not be surprised by: 3D display and the ability to take and record 3D pictures. Think of all the extra you could see in 3D. I’m sure I read that there was a camera sensor that could record different angles when taking a picture, and the detail was supposedly really good despite having a low megapixel sensor.

This brings me to an issue with all phone cameras, they are rubbish when taking photos or movies at a music gig. Considering that Apple have always had a link to music (from the early fights with Apple Corp when Apple added sound and the sosumi sound). So why can’t we take really good gig pics and videos? Maybe the sensor I mentioned above may help or maybe it’s because the sensors can’t handle the variation in light produced at gigs (ie dark hall, bright spots in the acts and strobe / light effects flashed at the audience to
enhance the atmosphere.) There have been some recent TV adverts comparing the Nokia Lumia to the iPhone and other smart phones, these adverts compare the pictures taken in dark conditions so this gives me the impression there is a desire for a phone with a sensor that can handle varied light conditions when taking videos and photos.

I’m sure I’ll add more to this
list as I consider the issue(s) further.. keep checking back people..

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Watch is going on?

There have been a lot of rumours going around about Apple’s iWatch.

One rumour I have read is that Apple were talking to the Swiss pop watch maker Swatch.

As a fan of Swatch, back in the mid 90’s, I decided to dig out some of the catalogue a as I remembered them song some groundbreaking, amazing things with watches back then.

The first innovation I remember was in their 1996 fall/winter Collection. The Swatch Access range was a watch that included a chip that allowed skiers on the slopes to use the watch as a ski pass. After googling the product I came across the link above and an link to a PDF document where the product is called ‘SnowPass’.
Here’s an image of the 96 catalogue pages
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Below are pictures of the Swatch Access watched from the Swatch 1997 Spring Summer Collection. In addition to the ski pass Access watches, Swatch also did a Salzburg Access Swatch watch that could be used as a digital wallet to use on transport, cafes, bars, and more.

20130722-110521.jpg

20130722-110547.jpg

In the 1996 catalogue a Swatch ‘Solar’ appeared (left page in image below) with a description of “A fifteen minute charge gives you hundred hours of running reserve” and it didn’t look like the traditional solar PV crystalline cells that we are all used to seeing.

20130722-110308.jpg

So what else have Swatch done since? Unfortunately I stopped being a member of the fan club so stopped received the catalogues (and the Glasgow Swatch store closed around the same time – new ones have recently opened in the last few years ) so I don’t know what other advances they have brought forward over the past 20 years.

But if the rumours are true what are Apple talking to Swatch about? Is it the technology behind the watches I have mentioned? There have been talk about Apple using solar charging in future products and Near Field Communications (NFC) is getting big with NFC payment systems appearing in most UK stores (and on all Barclaycard credit card) and London’s Oyster card being used on busses, Tube and other forms of travel. Even Glasgow is implementing a NFC card type system after years of planning.

Or do Swatch have something else that Apple want? Is it their design ethos, their links with designers, skills in integrated design in small products? Only time will tell.

Disabling access to Apple

I can’t be the only one who has noticed the lack of facilities for disabled users at Appe Stores?

I may have missed something, or maybe Apple Stores have the facilities such as adjustable height tables or devices such as brail displays stored in Genius Bar or in the warehouse in the back. But if they are there, why are they hidden away?

I’ve had an interest in disabled access since I helped blind Windows PC users who used Jaws screen reader to navigate the screen, with a flat bed scanner and OCR (Optical Character Recodnition) software to read mail that had been sent to them, which was not in their preferred brail format.

There are such a wide range of devices that help people with accessibility issues and I’m aware that Apple include technologies such as Siri, vibration ringtones, Large print and that’s just on iOS devices. OSX has loads of options that help, but I don’t feel that these are promoted in the stores or even enabled on the devices in store to promote these options.

I even went into one of the Apple Stores to ask about the accessibility options for the iPad when a family member had issues communicating, unfortunately the staff had not received the relevant training and I never did learn what I needed to know.

I know that Apple have free “workshop” training on Accessibility for OS X and also iOS available at Apple stores, however when I’ve looked it’s always been scheduled for during the day, so it’s not convenient for me and as such I can’t advise if the training is any good.

So how accessible are Apple stores? The stores appear to have enough space for wheel chairs, but what about everything else? If anyone knows anything further, please feel free to contact me and I’ll update this article accordingly.

Apple’s iCloud – what the future holds

What are Apple’s plans for iCloud?

Could past developments with Final Cut X indicate that they will be moving to MacPro or iMacs to be used as workhorses, with iPads and iPhones as the interface?

Could this be a step towards iCloud hosting these applications?

Could it be an indication that Apple are thinking of moving away from the desktop and this was just the first step in that direction?

For many in IT, Cloud computing is seen as the next big step, with Amazon providing services for various companies, big and small, from various markets, from national and international firms looking to cut costs but increase availability, through to national and international companies providing services to their customers (ie the likes of NetFlix and Twitter).

Then there is Microsoft, providing Office 365. Adobe are moving to cloud only products like creative suite. Finally Apple with it’s iCloud, which hosts iTunes, backup services for iOS devices, calendars, to do lists, mail and the iWorks suite and the back end processing for applications like maps ( I assume).

There are always questions about the security of cloud computing systems, including the recent celebrity nude selfies hacks(?), and some people and companies get scared easily by unfounded media stories and rumours. If you consider the numerous big companies using cloud computing, the numerous customers and then consider the capabilities and amazing possibilities this concept is capable of, I think that the risks are tiny compared to the potential and substantial benefits on offer.

the cloud, be it Apple’s iCloud or any other vendors offering is here to stay and change the face of computing, moving us all into the future with the next phase of computing & the internet.

Demise of IT Support (part 2)

In my original posting on the Demise of IT Support, I mentioned how IT had become dull, grey and boring.

So what’s the future for IT support?

Well, I presently work for a Scottish council, based within a Scottish high school, and during my time within the school I have only had one approach about what it’s like to do IT support. The council department I work for have had one or two ‘works experience’ people appointed to shadow groups of colleagues each year. But my feeling is that there is little interest in the role, people aren’t interested in IT. Social networks, websites and games are what interest the kids, but none of them want to know how they work or how do they create & support the infrastructure.

As IT is becoming more user friendly, easier to use and companies like Apple make it easier to get support ( ie Genius Bar at your local Apple Store, telephone support via AppleCare and Apple’s one 2 one training) and assuming that trend continues ( looking at the current US development of Microsoft stores and Android popup support locations) then how much demand will there be for IT support in the future?

Add to that the increasing use of remote tools, that allow companies to resolve issues from their head office IT via their company network and reducing or eliminating the need for on-site IT support, or consider the low cost of the Windows PC, Android / Apple tablet etc, making such devices almost disposable. The future of IT support does not look bright.

Now, before I continue, I realise that IT constantly changes and past risks to IT support have not materialised. I’m thinking about VNC, presently used for remote support (both Apple and Intel presently use the protocol). VNC stands for Virtual Network Computing, and it was originally envisioned as a way to have a low cost, low specification PC make use of a server, with the server performing the processing, data storage etc, with the PC acting like a Graphical window, as if it was a display monitor plugged into the server, but with each PC capable of running its software independent of what other VNC connections were doing. This concept was the brainchild of the Olivetti & Oracle Research Lab in Cambridge, UK.

For those of you in the corporate world then you will recognise the concepts from VNC as Citrix, which acts in a similar method. With WISE graphical terminals, PCs and even iPads and iPhones, all able to connect to a powerful Citrix server farm then the same principal is presently possible. The older and more tech savvy will probably be visualising Unix or Linux and the tools that come with those systems. Windows users will recognise the concept as Remote Desktop or some other remote control tool such as TeamViewer, CarbonCopy, PC Anywhere and a whole host of other tools presently available on a multitude of platforms.

So the risks to IT support are present and although past risks, in the form of Centralised processing and dumb terminals (using the old Novell / unix concept / terminology ), has not come to fruition, what could the future hold ?

Personally I see the future risks being from the Internet. To be more specific Cloud Computing.

Cloud computing offers similar advantages to the centralised processing concept that VNC and Citrix offer and more.

When I think about Cloud computing I’m not thinking of Microsoft Office 365 or even the current offerings from Google Docs and Apple’s iCloud ( which I’ll probably post about another time). What I’m thinking about is Amazon’s massive server farms in central locations thought the world, each packed with instantly available virtual Linux and Microsoft Windows servers, with full resilience, fall-over, shared data, instant backup and recovery, instant scalability (automatically scalable and configurable on demand).

How can IT support survive when existing servers can be moved to this virtual Goliath. Removed is the need for companies internal Server support team as the servers are managed by Amazon, configurable automatically, instantly scalable and test systems can be up and running in seconds at a fraction of the traditional costs of even purchasing a server, never mind running, securing, supporting and maintaining it. Removed is the need for Desktop IT support as users only need internet access, cheap PCs, tablets & smart phones can be used with standard build images (possibly just the manufacturers default install), lowering the total costs of ownership.

Even network support roles could be reduced or the emphasis moved from companies to Telephone companies, Internet Service Providers ( ISP ) and organisations providing similar services ( WiMax / Satellite / fibre optics etc).

So if this is the future, where are the existing IT Support staff going to find work? Amazon appear to have automated most of their processes to minimise their costs and after years of running their on-line shopping platform, they should know what they are doing and will probably be able to hire the best staff at the lowest wages ( where else will they get the work or experience ?). Added to the scenario is the likelihood that the support is done using remote tools, reducing the need to have a large number of support staff at each site and with that many servers and server farms they probably have the servers built in bulk at low cost so hardware failure is a minor inconvenience and such hardware may just be sent for recycling instead of repaired or contracts with the manufacturer could allow for on-site, preconfigured and imaged swap out.

So Amazon is unlikely to be a likely route for future employment, so what about other avenues for support?

Hardware manufacturers are a good option, the likes of HP, Dell and Apple are all possible as they will need staff to repair desktop PCs, tablets and smart phones. The risk here is that in a highly competitive market the wages are likely to be low and highly skilled staff will probably not be the main focus, with work likely to be more assembly line, monotonous and highly repetitive, with likelihood of automation and the probable lack of growth, development or getting a chance on making a change or performing something challenging is probably slim.

My personal view is out of these options Apple is the best option. Apple appear to be the only one that stands out due to the creative nature of their customer base, their advances in technology, the varying support roles available (specialist, Genius, Creative, Family room, etc) and the overall feel of the organisation. In comparison to the other options, with all of this going for it, it’s defiantly my favourite. However the roles are primarily retail and although highly sought after at present ( at least 4 times over subscribed according to
rumour), the wages may not be comparable to existing IT support roles and they may not be suitable for some existing support staff (who are used to more back office, less experienced in customer facing roles, they may struggle with the high pressure and Retail nature of the roles).

The last option is to jump ship and either get out of IT for good or move to a programming role.

With the potential for a large number or organisations moving to the cloud there should be a demand for people to adapt existing systems to work with the new infrastructure or, for companies that are taking a leap of faith, there will be opportunities to create new software systems to replace existing back office systems with cloud ready equivalents, replacements and improved/rationalised systems developed for the future needs of the organisation.

So will IT support, as we presently know it, become obsolete in the future ? or will other changes to IT change the nature of IT support, only time will tell.

Demise of IT Support

When I began playing with computers, back in the late 80s and early 90s computing was exciting, (Basic by today’s standards I agree, but exciting non the less). In order to do anything with a computer you had to learn how it worked, but the TV was awash with adverts for weekly computer programming magazines for all the different home computers and you could even see your home computer (well I could as I had a BBC Master) on BBC TV programs such as Tomorrow’s World, with other home computers being promoted on their ability to do fancy TV graphics ( Amiga A4000 and Acorn Archimedes). [ I even found out (by accident) that the Amiga A400 did the Virtual Reality action adventure games in all the Scottish 90’s arcades]

Then I went to college and I learnt about programming Windows and Unix. Turbo Pascal was my favourite language at the time and I was desperate to learn more about Assembly language in order to take advantage of the enhanced memory and graphics capabilities of the newer XT PCs. Unfortunately instead I got maths, 4GL (4th generation languages – ie database languages such as SQL and the like) and COBOL. These boring business languages meant that I lost interest and ever completed my HND in computing (in those days there was only one HND, now there are several specialising in networking, hardware multimedia and loads more). My interest in graphics, hardware and 3D wasn’t an option unless I went to university and I wasn’t the type of kid that went that route after school.

I left college and after a while working in retail, I got my first IT role in Scotland where I got to build, repair and upgrade PCs install software, diagnose faults, run data cabling, install networking ( hubs, routers, bridges) even down to repairing printers, fax machines and purchasing consumables (floppy disks, ink, toner, [re]Writable CDs and anything else that was needed). Life was good, exciting, challenging but the boss had plans for me which conflicted with my own views, so I had to leave.

Then I worked in the grey environment of a National banking chain, my fellow staff were the only thing that got me through the high pressure but mundanity existence, until the day I left to start my life and again enjoy computing by running my own company.

Anyone who has run their own company will know it’s fun, hard work, rewarding but sometimes it doesn’t work out. Unfortunately that’s what happened to me, too many big dreams but not enough experience or money, all at a time when an internet connection cost £1k per month and the internet had not quite taken the imagination of Scotland, with businesses who could not see past the phone and the fax machine into the oncoming internet connected world.

Now, after several different roles for many different organisations, I presently find myself stuck in the horrid grey world of Windows PC hell, in an organisation that has a distrust, dislike and colleagues that have a hate of, anything and everything Apple.

My attempts to escape to somewhere more forward thinking, dynamic and creative, with an Apple slant or at least less of a corporate straight jacket, have so far failed and I wonder if it’s just me?

Or is it?

One of my close colleagues has a repeating cycle of having issues with his personal life, after which he throws himself into his work with a drive, only to return to the realisation that he is bored with IT support. Then I look at the rest of the staff, we have budding musicians & singers throughout, not many of the staff started wanting to be IT support staff, some have even had some fame before falling from grace, only to land here.

Even one of the guys that I went to high school with, has left his IT role with a bank to take up photography in order to pay his bills as he self publishes his novels on Amazon.

Even looking at my dream job, working for Apple in one of their Apple Stores. Apple openly promote that their Apple Store staff are musicians, DJs,
Artists, Photographers and much more besides, no mention of the highly
skilled IT staff that create amazing solutions for business, entertainment venues, bars, clubs etc. Apple, whilst being an amazingly creative organisation producing some astoundingly amazing and beautiful products (and I include the software not just the hardware) do not promote their support staff as being creative with IT in their work role, or maybe I’ve missed something.

So is everyone in IT support really there because they like the job or is it just a stock gap and where are the exciting IT positions, do they exist or are they just the gold at the end of the rainbow that you are always chasing but can never possibly lay your hands on?

What I’d like in a future iOS release

later this year iOS 7 will be released.

So I was thinking, what would I like to see in the next release? What improvements would I include? What would I want my iPhone 5 and iPad 2 to do?

Siri expansion. I use Siri occasionally whilst driving and it’s sometimes a pain, here are some ideas for improvement:

  • The ability to open and close apps when locked
  • If the above is not possible (security) – The ability to unlock phone using Siri
  • The ability to correct Siri’s understanding (I remember early versions of Dragon dictate [on Windows 9X] had an edit feature that allowed it to learn what you meant)
  • The ability to correct what Siri says ( British motorways [M8] or Nicola are pronounced very poorly )
  • Ability to change the volume. ie ‘change volume’ ‘increase volume’ ‘play track louder’ ‘turn up volume’
  • Understand band names like D.R.I. (strangely it pronounces DRI fine, it just doesn’t understand the band’s name ?)
  • Allow editing or reminders. You can set reminders via Siri so why not allow you to edit them (especially when Siri gets it wrong).
  • When Siri asks a question and the iPhone is on Bluetooth, start the Bluetooth connection. At present if you are using a Bluetooth hands free and Siri prompts for something (such as ‘send or cancel’ when sending a message) you have to press the Siri button on the iPhone because touching your Bluetooth cancels the request.
  • The ability to pause and restart music via Siri. At present you can pause or stop but there doesn’t appear to be an un-pause, start (from where you left off), continue playing etc. When a phone call comes in the iPhone does it so the ability is there.
  • the ability to ask for and then be able to choose from a list of playlists

Location:

  • When setting reminders, based on geofencing, the battery gets depleted very quickly (polling too often ?)
  • The ability to submit Wi-Fi details to allow more accurate location info.
  • Better way to submit map changes (after submitting a change 3 times I don’t think some of my additions have ever appeared.. Try Linwood High School, Linwood, Scotland [ if you leave off Scotland it gives you a junior school in Philadelphia US? ])
  • Adding more information for Scotland, some data appears to be limited to Glasgow (thinking 3D, which is nice), but there’s loads of tourists that would use Maps if they had more accurate information [not to mention Free Wi-Fi available]
  • Change maps routing so that it advises of lane changes before you reach the junction not as you are passing it !!?!
  • Add 3D info for Florida Please. Trying to figure out where Disney & universal parks are is a pain in 2D (or maybe it’s just me )
  • Infact just add more 3D capable areas ( with a page on apple.com advising of places done and expected soon.

Wi-Fi

  • Better signal strength indicator ( possibly a percentage rather than the present 3 semi circle indicator?)

Safari

  • Pinterest add button in Safari.
  • A setting in Safari to stop social media sites (twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest , Facebook, MySpace etc) from loading the mobile site. The mobile sites have reduced features, most or all of which are on the iOS app. I go to the sites to get the enhanced features (such as recommendations and Connection details in LinkedIn), but as soon as you click a link on the site, it takes you back to the mobile version, or they refuse to load the normal site as they have detected an iOS device. [I’ve noticed that some WordPress sites are particularly bad for this, see ifoAppleStore 😉 ] Worse still are Facebook competitions that don’t exist on the mobile version of Facebook ( Just one of many reasons I closed my Facebook account)

I’ll probably add to this list as I think of other annoyances…

UPDATE: There are rumours that Apple has approached their store staff for ideas for future iPhones. If anyone at Apple wants to include any of the above feel free..

UPDATE (19/09/2013): I upgraded my iPhone 5 this morning and so far I’m sitting in the fence. I like a lot of the features. The new keyboard is nice (although I’m using the old keyboard to write this in WordPress [which was also updated this morning] ?).
I hate that the groups are presently showing with a grey background (there must be a way to change that somewhere, maybe in an update?) it looks terrible.
Maps is has not improved much, I do like the Arrival time ( estimate) that appears, if it was in the old maps I must have missed it. The voice (taken from Siri (?) has really dropped in quality, it sounds like my speaker is broken or blocked but I know it isn’t because notifications (mail & messages) are fine [possibly better?].
Some of the animation looks really nice, ie sending a message, logging in with a PIN. I sometimes think it’s overkill but it’s such a nice addition I think I’ll get over my reservation on that very quickly.
Some things are changes that take a while to get used to, for example you no longer close running apps by holding the icon and waiting for the red X to appear, instead you see the applications screen and Icon (like you did in Safari), and you now just swipe it up and that’s it gone. This is a bit strange at first, but is so much easier and sort of makes more sense.

Since this addition is getting quite big I’m going to create a new posting on iOS7, please join me there to find out more.

When selling is not an option

Anyone that knows anything about Apple Stores know that they are different and they have always been different from the very first store.

Many people say that they are not about making sales, but is that really the case? Is there something more, hidden beneath the surface?

Before I go on, I would like to state for the record that I have never worked in an Apple Store, and considering some of my postings in here I probably never will. At one time I would have gladly worked in an Apple Store ( I even went to a few interviews ), but I can no longer see that being a possibility now and as I post more about Apple I can see my chances diminishing.

So, Apple Stores are known for being light, bright, clean & airy stores with loads of products on view and enough staff so that you can get help whenever you need it, but the staff are not there to sell, they are only to help, advise and guide. Well that’s the theory. Some postings on Yelp have said that the staff have been so ‘hands off’ that they have struggled to purchase goods in the store.

Not many people realise that what Apple are really doing is what sales people have been trained to do for years. In my past (it’s not on my CV) I was quickly trained by a TimeShare sales manager during a period of unemployment, when I was trying to help a small Glasgow company create a new line of products ( Boxed teddy bears with high quality chocolates. An experience that slowly descended into selling electrical items around pubs & small shops – not my finest hour and something I wasn’t good at).

Some people reading this are probably thinking “what are you talking about, Apple don’t sell in their stores”.. Well lets look at my training:

  • Find the customers needs and desires.
  • Find out the barriers to the user purchasing the item.
  • Get the customer to handle & use the product ( stimulates ownership).
  • Get the customer to envision how their life would be better with the product.
  • Minimise negative feelings about the product.
  • Emphasise the positives and reinforce the customers ownership of the product.

If you have been into an electrical retailer you will probably recognise some of (if not all) these steps from being ‘accosted’ by sales staff trying to reach their monthly quota. Once you know about them you learn to be distrustful of the sales guys. I know I do, which is why I don’t do sales and don’t know (or associate myself with ) anyone who does.

So if you still can’t see how Apple sell at their Apple Stores here’s the reveal.

  • Apple products are out on display and any customer can pick them up and use them (ownership [3] )
  • The products are preloaded with Apple software and high end software from other vendors ( iPhoto, iWorks, iMovie, Final Cut, Toast, etc) ( , which allows customers to envisage how they use the product [ 3 & 6])
  • iPhoto, iMovie is full of life affirming photos and movies of sunny, fun, exciting, healthy US trips, vacations. Everyday events ( Birthdays, graduations, etc) all well lit, bright and exciting. ( envision a [better] life with the product [4])
  • Apple Specialists are then on hand to help guide you, finding out what you want to do, talking you through how the product works, finding common interests [1, 2, 5, 6]
  • Then there may be concerns over repairs. Apple care is mentioned.[5]
  • If there are still concerns over how to use the product, or how to learn more about Apps then there are the Workshops or if it’s something more specific then One-to-One training is mentioned. [2, 5 & 6]

Even the store layout is geared to sales of Apple products. All the products are on the tables or at the side of the room as you walk in, no obstructions, distractions just the products. Everything is open, accessible ( unless your disabled – but that’s for another post) and ready to use. Non apple products are kept to the back of the store ( in the Mall stores that I have seen) or away from the main floor, possibly close to the Genius Bar ( on another floor like Glasgow Buchanan Street, London Covent Garden and London Regent Street)

Do you still think that Apple don’t sell ?

If you need further justification, check out the mention of A.P.P.L.E. on Five Things To Noted From Visits To Apple Stores Whilst On My Holiday and
How to be a genius: This is apple’s secret employee training manual.

Saying all this, was it really a surprise that a retail store ( after all that’s what the Apple Store is) is trying to sell to you? Personally I don’t mind, I prefer the soft sell ( or just using the Apple Store app to get what I want via EasyPay).