tapCompendium

Last week, I quietly launched tapCompendium: a dedicated resource of tips and tricks for iOS, Apple Watch, and Apple TV. Posts are concise, accessible for users of all skill levels, and cover both Apple’s system software and third-party apps.

There are many Apple-centric websites that produce this type of content, but it’s often intermixed with news, rumors, or other unrelated topics. tapCompendium only publishes useful tips and tricks that help you get the most from your iOS, watchOS, and tvOS devices.

Along with the site, I’ve also launched the tapCompendium Membership. If you’d like to support the site, you can subscribe and become a member for just $2/month. Members receive a monthly ePub-formatted eBook of all published content. I’ll be adding more membership perks as the site grows, so members can expect even more in the future.

Some Methods for Removing AirPods From Their Case

John Gruber posted a video on YouTube with a suggestion on a way to easily remove the AirPods from their case.

While it’s a good tip, I find this method too fiddly—especially with gloves on. The AirPods are easily removed from the case, but you’re still having to twist them around and maneuver them with your fingers before you can place them in your ear.

Instead, I prefer the following method, which I’ve also posted on YouTube, of gently applying pressure on the earpiece part of the AirPods, causing them to pivot and rise up out of the case slightly. When picking up the AirPods, they’re already at the right positioning for you to place them straight into your ear.

iPhone

Like many others in the Apple community, I vividly remember where I was when Steve Jobs launched the iPhone, 10 years ago today. Back then, I was an a Mac Genius in one of the UK Apple Stores (Trafford Centre). A group of us were sat in a crowded break room, huddled around the screen of a 17” iMac as we watched the event, and history, unfold.

As Steve introduces the three revolutionary products, this small room of ten or so people felt like a 40,000 seat stadium at maximum occupancy.

The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls.

Applause!

The second is a revolutionary mobile phone.

Applause intensifies!

And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device.

Bewildered clapping and an audible confusion

Like many people in the audience, we weren’t entirely sure what we were applauding with an “Internet communications device”, and remembering the confused reaction from the room still makes me laugh. But despite how vague it sounded, this aspect of the iPhone was to be the most fundamentally important one for the vast majority of us. The iPhone was the first mobile device that was truly built with the Internet in mind. By comparison, mobile phones at the time were primarily a phone, with web browsing and email treated almost as an afterthought.

Watching the tech demos of the iPhone in action felt like looking into the future, as though someone had traveled back in time to show us what people in the future would be using. The demo of Safari, in particular, blew me away and the thought that I could browse the real web with a mobile phone was mind-blowing. It was actually difficult to believe that this was not only a real device, but it was one people would be able to buy relatively soon.

The launch of the iPhone is one of the defining moments in technology. Happy 10th birthday, iPhone, and I look forward to many happy returns.

The elago W3 Apple Watch Stand

This arrived earlier today and it’s adorable.

It’s made from silicone, is very solid, and the charging cable fits perfectly. The Apple Watch is nice and stable when on the stand. The screen not only adds to the aesthetic but has been designed to keep the Watch firmly in place—it won’t fall or be accidentally knocked off. Between this and the TwelveSouth HiRise stand it replaces, I much prefer this.

The elago W3 stand is available for around $15 on Amazon. It’s also available in black.

AirPods: One Week Later

Before receiving my AirPods last week, I had previously been using a combination of three different sets of headphones, depending upon the activity:

  • Bose QuietComfort 15 noise-canceling headphones for when I’m working at my desk
  • JLab Epic2 Bluetooth headphones for workouts
  • EarPods for listening to podcasts and music on the go

I think the AirPods are fantastic. They’re one of the best sets of headphones I’ve ever owned and are worth every penny. They’ve already replaced both my EarPods and JLab Bluetooth headphones entirely, and I’m even using them at my desk from time to time. The AirPods aren’t perfect, but they’re pretty damn close. Here are a few thoughts and observations from my experience with them.

The word “magical” genuinely applies

The “W” in W1 must be short for “Wizard” because pairing the AirPods is witchcraft. It’s as close as you can get to doing away with pairing entirely. After pairing, they were immediately available for use on all my other devices and switching between devices was seamless.

When used indoors, they work over distances far greater than the limits of Bluetooth. I don’t have any problems wandering around the apartment while using the AirPods, something that other Bluetooth headphones have struggled with.

The charging case is a stroke of genius

I love this case. It’s light, well made, and small enough that if you need to carry it, it’ll fit into the smallest of pockets. Having a useful carry case that also doubles as a charger is inspired, and it fits quite nicely onto Apple’s iPhone dock for easy charging.

Far superior to traditional Bluetooth headphones, but not without imperfections

My JLab Epic2 headphones, like most Bluetooth headphones, are completely hit-or-miss. The audio cuts out frequently and the connection is unreliable at best. I’m actually surprised these are a top pick by The Wirecutter, which makes makes me wonder how bad the others must’ve been. I’m even on my third set due to warranty replacements for connection issues.

I don’t dispute that there are many people who have had a good experience of Bluetooth audio–I have an AmazonBasics Bluetooth audio receiver that works perfectly with the Amazon Echo Dot we have at home–but my experience of Bluetooth headphones has been terrible.

With AirPods, however, I finally have a set of wireless headphones that aren’t garbage. I sometimes forget that AirPods are wireless, and I’ve even tried to find the remote buttons on a nonexistent cable out of habit.

But every now and again, there’s a little hiccup.

I live in a dense area of the city and, on certain streets, turning my head to the right (seriously) causes the audio to completely cut out. This happens even if my iPhone is in the breast pocket of my coat and the distance between AirPods and iPhone is literally inches away from one another. It’s completely reproducible, but can go unnoticed.

This is possibly due to the many wireless signals bouncing around the buildings, causing all manner of interference, though it is interesting that turning my head in one particular direction causes the connection issues. None of this is specifically a fault of the AirPods and it’s far less of a problem when compared to other Bluetooth headphones, which would just crap out entirely. But if you’re expecting them to have none of the trouble that Bluetooth experiences, you’ll need to be a little forgiving.

Where the AirPods far exceed my expectations, however, is how well they work directly with my Apple Watch-it’s practically faultless. Trying to use Bluetooth headphones with the Apple Watch required many hours of therapy afterwards, so it was never worth the hassle. This meant taking my iPhone (or iPod shuffle) along if I wanted to listen to music. When you have a computer strapped to your wrist that supposedly works with Bluetooth headphones, it’s somewhat ridiculous that another device is needed.

But with the AirPods, I can finally leave those devices at home. Music plays perfectly from the Apple Watch and the connection process is simply a swipe and a tap.

They’re as comfortable as EarPods

This might be a benefit or a drawback, depending on your own experience with EarPods. I regularly use them and like how they fit. While there are certainly more comfortable headphones on the market, I don’t find EarPods uncomfortable, nor do they fall out. The fact the AirPods are basically the same is something I consider a benefit.

Having worn the AirPods at the gym, I have no concerns that they’ll fall out mid-workout. Although they’re very light, the fit feels firm and secure. They’ve stayed in place during some pretty vigorous exercise and perspiration doesn’t seem to degrade the fit. However, I do wonder how well they’ll handle perspiration over time.

Audio quality is better than EarPods, but not by much

If you’re shopping for a premium set of headphones, go wired. You’re not going to find a great-sounding set of wireless headphones for $159, let alone from Apple.

AirPods have a bit more bass than EarPods (which is a benefit) but the quality isn’t measurably better. They do seem be louder than EarPods, making them a lot more useful on crowded subway trains.

The double-tap for Siri functionality works as expected, but you might feel embarrassed to use it

It’s pretty cold here in New Jersey right now. The AirPods respond to double-taps but do need a little more force when wearing a winter hat. I’ve had a few strange looks when I’m repeatedly tapping the side of my head with some vigor and saying “next track”.

That said, I do find the double-tap to be similar to Siri, in that I don’t feel comfortable using it in public. This isn’t a criticism of the AirPods, this is just my own social awkwardness. If you’re not a fan of talking to Siri in public either, you may find the double-tap is a feature you don’t often use.

Using Siri to control playback is frustrating

Speaking of the AirPod’s controls, it’s frustrating that the only way to control playback through the AirPods is with Siri, especially as it frequently doesn’t understand my commands. This method also needs an internet connection, so if you’re on a plane or deep underground, there’s no way to control playback without looking at your iPhone (or Apple Watch). I’ve changed the double-tap behavior so it just play/pauses music–removing Siri entirely.

I do have an Apple Watch so I try and use that to control music playback with AirPods. But with gloves and a thick winter jacket, I end up needing to dig out the iPhone. This is a minor annoyance, and one that’ll dissipate as the weather improves and I have easier access to my Apple Watch.

All things considered, I’m somewhat surprised that Apple didn’t incorporate an option to use taps that align with button presses on EarPods so a single tap play or pauses, double-tap skips, and a triple-tap rewinds. At the very least, that’d make it much easier to control playback.

The Dock Connector Accessories That Are Still Available From Apple

It’s been more than two years since Apple last sold a device with a 30-pin dock connector in the US. Despite this, you can still find a few compatible accessories, surprisingly, on Apple’s online store.

30-pin to USB Cable

Composite AV Cable

30-pin Digital AV Adapter

30-pin to VGA Adapter

iPhone Bluetooth Travel Cable

Belkin 30-pin Secure Wired Keyboard for iPad

At first, it seem odd that Apple is still selling these types of products. After all, they aren’t still selling iPod classic or iPhone 4/4s cases, so why continue to sell this particular range of dock connector accessories?

It’s not unreasonable to assume that it’s simply an oversight, or that Apple has a warehouse full of old accessories that they’re trying to clear. But that isn’t how Apple does things. Back in my days working at the Apple Store, I saw entire lines of third-party products pulled off the shelves because they became redundant–no longer compatible with the latest Apple devices.

Apple tends to have a reason for doing things, whether it’s a reason we agree with or not. Continuing to sell these products isn’t likely to be accidental and Apple certainly doesn’t need to worry about P&L. If it was simply a case of having a stock surplus of outdated accessories, it’s likely they’d just offload them to a wholesale distributor and absorb the loss. It stands to reason that there’s a purpose for keeping these particular accessories around.

Perhaps there’s simply still demand for them, even if it’s miniscule. For instance, corporate or educational IT doesn’t evolve at a pace as brisk as Apple’s product line refreshes (insert Mac Pro sick burn here). It wouldn’t surprise me if many K-12 institutions that purchased a large number of iPad 2 devices, along with certain accessories, are still using them. After all, cables break and adapters are lost. Similarly, TVs and projectors last a long time, so it’s not uncommon to find those that only offer VGA or Composite Video connections.

When it comes to the dock connector USB cable, there’s another factor that comes into play: the iPhone 4s. Although it was mostly discontinued over two years ago, it was still available for sale in India until February 2016. India is a market Apple has strong desires for, but hasn’t been fully successful in. Since Apple had been selling a dock connector-equipped device in 2016, it’s in their interest to continue offering this USB cable.

When you take all this into consideration, Apple’s continued offering of certain older accessories starts to make some sense.

The exception to all of this is, of course, the Bluetooth travel cable which was first available back when the original iPhone launched. I can’t imagine anyone buying this, considering the Bluetooth Headset was discontinued in 2009.

Unpresidented!

With the inauguration almost upon us, I launched this Teespring campaign yesterday with a design I created using Graphic on an iPad Pro:

Purchase this t-shirt and contribute to Planned Parenthood.

Now you can have the best word… and wear it in style! Celebrate the ever-increasing vocabulary of a man who is so smart, he doesn’t need to have daily intelligence briefings.

This shirt also symbolizes the close relationship between our next President and the country he ultimately serves. Wear it proudly, comrade!

Because no-one respects women more than our President Elect, all of the proceeds go directly to Planned Parenthood.

It’s a worthy cause, especially when you consider who the Vice President is going to be, and the t-shirt starts at just $18. The campaign goal is 50, so please consider purchasing one.

So Long, and Thanks for All the Workflows →

Me, over at the Workflow Directory blog, announcing the end of Workflow Directory:

I always knew that the [Workflow] gallery could be updated at any time, making Workflow Directory redundant. In fact, I have always hoped it would, which is why I’m not in the least bit sad or disappointed about this announcement. Like all workarounds, Workflow Directory was something I only considered as temporary. Now that the limitations the gallery have been addressed, there’s no further need for a workaround.

The Painful Process of Replacing a Damaged Apple Watch

Earlier this week, my Apple Watch met an unfortunate end when I dropped it onto the kitchen floor. Sod’s law was in full effect as it landed face-down, shattering the glass instantly. This was less than a week after reading about Stephen Hackett’s own Apple Watch coming to a similar end.

Unlike Stephen, I (for reasons I still cannot fathom) had not purchased AppleCare+ for it. This meant replacing it at the Genius Bar would cost $199. Considering that the Series 1 starts at just $269 and is much faster, I decided to pay a little more and bought the Series 1 Space Gray 42mm at the West 14th Street Apple Store–this time with AppleCare.

Replacing an Apple Watch is, in theory, no different than transferring an Apple Watch from one iPhone to another. It should have been simple and straightforward. Unfortunately, and what is becoming a trend at Apple, that wasn’t the case. The process should have been as follows:

  1. Unpair the old Apple Watch from your iPhone, creating a backup in the process
  2. Pair the new Apple Watch to the iPhone
  3. When prompted, select the backup to restore from

What I actually had to do was reminiscent of a usability issue that once plagued iOS. A backup can only be restored to an Apple Watch that is running the same version OS (or earlier). While that isn’t necessarily an issue in itself, the way this is handled by the Watch app is kind of ridiculous.

Once I unpaired my damaged Apple Watch, I began the pairing process with the new one. When prompted to select a backup to restore from, the only options I had were a backup from September and one from last year. The backup from my just-unpaired Apple Watch was nowhere to be seen. Without any context, it simply appeared that the backup didn’t happen. Perhaps something had gone wrong during the unpairing process that prevented a backup from being made?

After a few expletive-filled minutes, I realized that this must be because my old watch was running watchOS 3.1, whereas the new one from the Apple Store was still running 3.0. I tested this by setting up my old watch again and restoring it from backup to see what options I had. As I had hoped, the recent backup did appear.

This backup ambiguity used to be a common issue in iOS and one that resulted in many headaches. If you backed up a device running a version of iOS that’s newer than the new device to restore to, you couldn’t restore a backup. Instead, you’d have to set up the device as new, update it, then restore it and try again. This isn’t the case anymore as it was finally fixed earlier this year and iOS now offers to update your device before doing anything else if it detects the backup was made with a newer version of iOS.

Alas, this doesn’t apply to the process of setting up an Apple Watch. In fact, there’s no information at all that you might need to update the watch before you can restore a newer backup. As far as the Watch app was concerned, I could either set up my watch as new or restore from one of the two older backups. Only after performing the following steps was I able to restore the recent backup to my new watch:

  1. Unpair the old Apple Watch from your iPhone, creating a backup in the process
  2. Pair the new Apple Watch to the iPhone
  3. Set up the watch as a new Apple Watch
  4. Go through all of the various confirmation screens
  5. Perform a software update
  6. Unpair the watch
  7. Pair the watch again, this time being able to restore from the recent backup

I worry about how many people have not been able to restore a recent backup to a new watch because their replacement watch wasn’t running the same software as the previous one. I only knew about this workaround because I’d experienced it before with iOS–and I’m an Apple nerd.

The watch is essentially a companion to the iPhone so there isn’t much data that the watch itself contains, but being able to restore from a backup is the best way to keep the disruption to a minimum. Considering how long it takes to set up, update, or unpair a watch, the whole process was an experience almost as painful as smashing the watch in the first place.

AssistiveTouch and iPhone Armbands

Because I’ve yet to find a set of Bluetooth headphones that reliably pair with my Apple Watch, I sometimes take my iPhone 7 with me when going for a run. I use an Incase armband that I originally purchased for my iPhone 6 which fits the iPhone 7 perfectly. Although the screen cover doesn’t interfere with taps and clicks, it also covers the Home button, rendering it useless.

While this isn’t too much of an issue because I still use my Apple Watch to track activity and control music playback, there are times when I need to do something on the iPhone. This means stopping, taking it out of the armband, and then unlocking it. As a workaround, I make use of AssistiveTouch to display an alternative Home button on the screen which I can use instead, avoiding the need to expose the iPhone and risk dropping it out of my sweaty hands.

The Home button isn't necessary to unlock the iPhone when using AssistiveTouch

AssistiveTouch is enabled in Settings > General > Accessibility > AssistiveTouch. For quicker access, the Accessibility Shortcut (also within the Accessibility settings) can be set to toggle AssistiveTouch so it can be enabled or disabled by triple-clicking the Home button.

This works great before, and after, a run. All I need to do is triple-click the Home button before I place the iPhone into the armband. Then, if I ever need to unlock the phone, I tap the on-screen Home button and unlock the iPhone with its PIN. Once I’ve finished a workout, I triple-click the button again to disable AssistiveTouch.