Sunday, September 24, 2017

How Long to Keep a Favorite iPhone?

Late September welcomes in not only Fall, but New iPhone Season. However, the prices of the new iPhones gives one pause: $700+ for the iPhone 8 and $1000+ for the iPhoneX. 

My first inclination is my iPhone 5S remains perfectly fine for now – what if I just kept it until that's no longer the case? After all, we've had PCs for well over five years before replacing them. Maybe the same could be the case for iPhones?

However, keeping iPhones for years and years is not feasible. And Apple has a lot to do with this. The main culprits: annual iOS new versions and rapidly advancing technology.

Like clockwork, Apple releases a new IOS version every year in the Fall. We welcome new features and function that come along with each new version. However, these new features come at a price: each iOS requires more and more hardware and memory to run smoothly. Old phones gradually get slower and slower.

Each new iPhone release showcases faster chips, more storage and memory. Alas, your phone become slower and slower in relation to the current model. My iPhone 5S, state-of-the art at its 2013 release, now lags behind, only 25% as fast as the current models.

Typically after five years, Apple declares your iPhone "obsolete". It is no longer on the List of Compatible Devices and will not run the new version of iOS. The recently released iOS 11 will not run on iPhone 5, which was released in 2012, five years ago.

If you want to keep your iPhone longer than five years, it will have to run on a non-supported version of iOS. Is this a big deal?

One big concern: Apple will not make security updates for older versions of iOS. Knowing your phone is vulnerable to an ongoing open season for hackers is not a pleasant thought.

The other concern: the apps that are part of your daily life – Facebook, Netflix, messaging, financial apps, etc. – may no longer be available to you. Mainstream apps typically support one prior generation of iOS, i.e. if version 11 is current, they typically require devices that support version 10. The Apple App Store will not allow you to download an older version of the app that your phone may support. There is a clever workaround for this issue, but it won't suffice forever.

Battery life is another issue. Your Apple Store will tell you the batteries perform optimally up to 300 charge cycles. Very old batteries start to act weird: my son's 3-year-old iPhone 6 – with 600 charges under its belt – was powering down several times a day without warning. New batteries are available ($79 at the Apple Store; they will change it) but is that money better invested in a new phone?

There is no need to do the annual iPhone upgrade if you lack the resources. But the clock is ticking, and bit-by-bit your belle-of-the-ball phone is evolving into a pumpkin.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

"Hey Siri"...[No answer]

One of the cool features of iOS 8/9 is that if your device is plugged in, you can invoke Siri hands-free by saying "Hey Siri".  You can wake up and get the weather without getting out of bed!

But I felt like an idiot when I tried if for the first time and repeated "Hey Siri's" fell on deaf ears.  So much for impressing the wife.

Duh.  The "Hey Siri" feature has to be configured; it's not turned on by default. 

Go into Settings->General->Siri.  Then turn on Hey Siri:

You then go through a few screens so Siri learns your voice and you're good. Yep.  Works a little better if you turn it on...

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Compatible HDMI Switch for Apple TV 4

As described in a prior post, my HDMI Switch was incompatible with the new Apple TV 4. I had to directly connect my TV's HDMI cable to Apple TV before everything worked. As a result, if I wanted to switch from Apple TV to playing a Blu-Ray movie, I had to manually swich/replug the cable. Not good!

Why was my HDMI Switcher, which had worked fine with Apple TV 3, a total fail with Apple TV 4? Researching this, I discovered the HDCP specification has evolved, the current version being HDCP 1.4. I suspected Apple TV 4, a brand-new device, might not play nice with devices not HDCP 1.4 compatible.

Using an excellent HDMI Switch comparison I found, I purchased the Etekcity 3x1 HDMI Switch from Amazon, one of the few that was specifically noted as supporting HDCP 1.4. 

Crossing my fingers, I set up the new Etekcity switch, turned on Apple TV, and...yes! It worked! I had found a compatible HDMI Switch for the picky Apple TV 4. As before, I could now switch between Apple TV and the Blu-Ray player instantly from across the room -- no more messing with cables!

Still, I'm upset with Apple. HDMI devices should be downwardly compatible; i.e. they should be smart enough to adjust and communicate with earlier devices. For whatever reason Apple chose not to do this.

So in addition to paying for a new version of Apple TV, many of us will also have to buy a new HDMI Switch. This adds 15 to 20% more to the cost. Thank you Apple.


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Apple TV 4 Setup Fails? Check your HDMI Switcher

I was very excited a few days back when my new Apple TV 4 arrived. I've been a big fan of Apple TV and have had the v3 Apple TV for a couple years now. In fact, I've had Apple TV before I even made the move to a widescreen TV -- it worked with my old Sony Trinitron TV.

I wasn't concerned about the setup for the new Apple TV at all -- child's play. Swap out the old Apple TV, plug in the new power cord, plug in the HDMI cable, and...nothing. Literally nothing: a blank screen, and the "no signal" message, the same screen/message I see when I switch from HDMI 1 to HDMI 2 and I haven't yet turned on Apple TV or the Blu-Ray (the two share the HDMI 2 port).

Hmm. Very odd. I tried hitting the Apple TV remote buttons to turn it on (there's no power button on Apple TV itself, but typically pressing the remote button "wakes it up"). I tried the old standby of unplugging/replugging Apple TV. Nothing.

According to Apple TV4 setup instructions I shouldn't have to do anything. Simply connecting it should bring up the Apple TV setup screen. Alas, a big fail for Apple TV setup. I had depressing thoughts of a visit to the Apple store to remedy this.

But then I thought of something. I do not have a direct connection between my TV and my Apple TV. Instead, my HDMI signal routes through a small box, an HDMI Switcher. This way the one HDMI port on my Samsung TV can be shared by my Blu-Ray and Apple TV without yanking out cables all the time.

I connected the TV's HDMI cable directly to the Apple TV's HDMI port, bypassing the HDMI Switcher. Lo and behold -- I got the Apple TV setup screen. My Apple TV works!

I had found the culprit. My trusty HDMI Switcher, which worked fine with the old Apple TV 3, is incompatible with Apple TV 4. Either the version of HDMI produced by the new Apple TV4, or something in the way it initiates the signal, has changed from v3 and is incompatible with my HDMI Switcher.

Temporarily I have been cast back in the dark ages of cable yanking to switch from Apple TV to Blu-Ray at home. The search is on for an HDMI Switch that is compatible with Apple TV4. I will post when I find such an animal.(Update: an Apple TV 4 compatible HDMI Switch has been found!).

The morale of the story: check your HDMI Switch if your new Apple TV 4 setup fails.
An HDMI Switcher - some are incompatible with Apple TV 4

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Restart Apple TV Without Pulling the Plug

Apple TV has been a great addition to our household: streaming Netflix to our TV wirelessly; streaming content on our Apple iPad or iPhone to the big screen - it's been well worth the $99.
But it's not perfect. As with any computing device, on occasion it can hang. We'll be starting up a Netflix movie, only to see it keep loading… loading… loading. Finally an error message. After trying one more time, and getting the same thing, we know the problem: Apple TV is hung.

The problem: how to restart a device that has no keyboard?  Apple TV is just a black hockey puck-like sealed device.  Ah, no problem.  When in doubt, pull the plug!  And sure enough, that works.  Replug it after 60 seconds, wait for the Apple logo for a minute or two, and problem solved.
Well yeah, it works, but it's a bit of a pain reaching into the bowels of the entertainment center, unplugging the Apple TV, and especially trying to replug the cord without being able to see what you’re doing (your entertainment center is probably less cluttered). There must be a better way.
So after doing this for almost a year, it turns out there is an easy way to restart Apple TV – with just the Apple remote.  For Gen 3 Apple TV simply hold down Menu and the Down arrow on the remote for a few seconds to initiate an Apple TV restart. (For Gen 4 Apple TV it is different: hold down the Menu and Home buttons and release once the white LED starts flashing on/off.  Yes!  But, um…how is anyone supposed to figure that out?  C’mon Apple: a tiny little restart button on the remote – is that too much to ask?
But I guess beggars can't be choosers.  You can restart Apple TV from the comfort of your couch just using the remote: no unplugging required!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Apple TV with PC Monitor

Apple TV is a great option for high-def video streaming to your TV.  We have it and love it.  But often forgotten is that Apple TV is a computer in and of itself.  What can Apple TV do if you untether it from your TV and get a little creative?

Apple TV on its own can handle the streaming and wifi connectivity part of the equation.  So if you take away the TV, you need display and sound capability, and a way to connect these to your Apple TV device.

Hmm.  Would Apple TV work with only a PC monitor? To test this,  I took my Dell monitor, connected it to Apple TV with an HDMI cable.  Turned on the Apple TV remote, and big as life the Apple TV start screen showed on the monitor!  The remote worked just like with a TV display, I could start up Netflix and stream a movie.

Now for the sound.  If your monitor has built-in speakers, your hdmi cable connection will bring both video and audio and you're set.  But my monitor does not have speakers.  However, looking at the back of the monitor, it did have a 3.5 audio out port.    Took a pair of PC speakers, plugged the green ourput 3.5 male plug into the monitor's audio out port, and tada: sound!

Here's my working bare-bones Apple TV configuration:

  • Apple TV
  • HDMI cable
  • PC Monitor
  • PC speakers (with audio out cable)

What if your monitor does not have an HDMI input?  Although I did not test it, using an HDMI-to-VGA cable should do the trick.

A little trickier is if your monitor doesn't support sound at all, i.e. no audio output. In this case, you have to connect speakers directly to the Apple TV device.  Not easy, because Apple TV only supports Digital Audio output. You need:

I have tested the above sound configuration and it works fine with Apple TV and PC speakers.

Where might a minimalist Apple TV setup come in handy? It could bring video streaming to rooms in your house where it would normally be impractical. Obviously, you don't want to be carting a 50 inch TV around the house - but moving a 24 inch PC monitor is no big deal. For example you could set up temporary video streaming for party purposes in non-TV rooms or outside.

Apple Airplay and mirroring works fine with this altered Apple TV setup. By adding an iPad or iPhone you could stream selected photos, videos or apps. Again, great for parties or other temporary setups.

Old PC that doesn't really handle video streaming?  Apple TV and a monitor could be a stopgap alternative.

Of course, Wifi is needed for all these options.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

iTunes Video Streaming: One Option

Having recently canceled our Netflix DVD subscription, our family has gone all in on streaming video. Mostly we stream TV shows, which Netflix is ideal for, which we do through Apple TV. But what about new movies? This is where Netflix is somewhat weak, so I figured I could stream rental movies from iTunes through my iPad to the TV big screen.

Renting my first iTunes movie, I just could not believe there was no streaming option. Seriously? But sure enough, my only choice was to download the movie to my iPad before being able to view it. Since the HD download ended up taking 2+ hours, there went our Saturday night movie. We were bummed.

Well, it's not obvious, but it turns out there is a way to stream iTunes movies. One Apple device will let you do it. But not the iPhone. Nor the iPad. Or the iPod touch. You can stream iTunes movies through Apple TV! Apple TV has only very limited storage - it couldn't hold a downloaded movie - hence the grudgingly-provided streaming option.

I needed to test this streaming option out before getting too excited. Sure enough, going into iTunes through Apple TV and choosing a rental, iTunes will stream the video to your TV.  It worked great, streaming was error-free with no hiccups.  No more super-long downloads before watching an iTunes movie rental!

Ah, think you're clever, and will start the stream on Apple TV and then switch to another device, say your iPad? Nope they thought of that. The rental is in "Apple TV format" and can only be watched through Apple TV.

Still, beggars can't be choosers. Once you rent the movie, you have 30 days to watch it. This doesn't mean you can watch part of it tonight, and the rest of it anytime before the 30 days are up. No, once you start the movie, you have to finish it in 24 hours. So the 30 days is really only procrastination time prior to starting the movie.

If it's within the 24 hours, technically you can watch the movie as much as you want. If you get to the end, and wanted to re-watch portions of the movie, no problem. Another family member could re-watch the entire movie as long as it was within the 24 hours.  And it seemed, once we were bumping up against the 24-hour deadline, if you were in the middle of the movie it wouldn't cut you off. But you might run into trouble if you exited iTunes; I believe we saw a warning message that that was the point of no return: you exit you're done.

A small loophole, but it's there: you can stream iTunes movies. But only through Apple TV.

Older TV?  Apple TV Works with That!