Apple Music is good

As I write this to you, it’s about 5am and I realise I’m not in the mood to listen to any music. More often, though, if I’m here working away on my own and most especially when I have to really concentrate on the job, I will be playing music – and now I think that means I will be playing Apple Music.

Certainly for the next three months while it’s free, anyway.

Apple Music is like Spotify, Pandora, Rdio and many other services: you can listen to just about any music you like, just about whenever you like. Streaming music should be a familiar concept to me because that’s surely what radio has always been yet somehow I find it hard to get used to the idea. I’m so used to buying music, whether that is on vinyl, CD or download, there is the choosing and the buying and the playing.

Now there’s really just the playing as you don’t buy an album per se and I think you don’t choose in quite the same way. You explore, you sample, you don’t think about whether to invest some cash in this artist or that album.

I’ve liked the idea enough that I got a free Spotify account to try it all out and for over a year I’ve been playing it a lot in the car. Only, Spotify defaults to trying to recommend music to you and I always disliked or even loathed its choices. They made me feel very old and I don’t need any help feeling very old.

Spotify stops recommending stuff if you create a big enough playlist of favourite choices. I created such a playlist: 50 or so tracks that I like a lot. Only, I’ve ended up playing just those 50 over and over. I’m not unhappy: sometimes it’s perfect, sometimes it’s not.

It’s not as if I play the same 50 in the same order: unless you pay for a Spotify account, you can only play things on shuffle. It did just feel that some days Spotify got my mood exactly right and other days it didn’t.

You also get ads on Spotify every three songs or so. I got very used to those and, I don’t know, maybe I got close to paying for an account. That would remove the ads, that would allow me to play the song I wanted when I wanted, it would let me play an album in sequence.

I’ll never know how close I came, not now. For if I do end up paying for a streaming music service, it will not be Spotify. Not any more. It will be Apple Music.

I’m just trying to define why. Writing for about it, I concluded that I and we like it a lot:

We’d say love, but come on, the paint’s still wet, let’s take this affair a little slow for a time: we’ve got three months of dating before we have to make a commitment.

Hands On: Apple Music (iOS, OS X, Windows) – William Gallagher, MacNN (30 June 2015)

Read the full piece for more specifics about how it works and what’s good but after a night’s reflection, I think it comes down to two things that will help me while I work.

I think.

There’s the way I could just leave it running playing fairly random tracks but generally ones I like or am going to like: you give it some nudges about what you’re into as you set it up and it seems to do rather well with that information. That’s good.

But there is no question: the ability to just say aloud “Hey, Siri, play ‘Life is a Celebration’ by the Kids from Fame” and have it do that, that is startlingly great. Siri doesn’t work on Macs, which is going to be an issue as that’s where I spend most of my day, but using it via my iPhone and iPad for one day, I’ve become addicted to this feature.

They used to do this on Star Trek: “Computer, play some Bix Beiderbecke”. And it’s here.

My iMac returns home later today from having a repair done: when it’s here and I’ve updated iTunes, I’m going to see if I can use Siri to control it via my Apple Watch. My entire working day may change if it works.

NOTE: To play Apple Music, you need iTunes on your Mac or Windows PC, or an iPhone or iPad. Android stuff coming later.

Talk to your phone and have it whisper back one task at a time

I was going to point this Harvard Business Review article out to you because it’s about using your phone to capture all those stray thoughts you have. I do this constantly. Especially when driving, I will now many, many, many times per drive say aloud “Hey, Siri, remind me to…”. Sometimes I’ll tell it to remind me at a certain time or a certain place. And I knew I wasn’t alone in this but I wanted you to hear someone else saying it, hence:

Throughout the day, I tell my phone to “remind me to follow up with Sarah about the Warren account next Tuesday morning,” “remind me to pack my phone charger when I get home,” or even “remind me to buy gum tonight at 9.” Yes, I come in for a certain amount of mockery (as when a friend overheard me dictating that gum reminder), but I’d rather be mocked for my voice dictation than for my tendency to forget commitments.

Conquer Your To-Do List with Your Phone – Alexandra Samuel, Harvard Business Review (1 December 2014)

However, Samuel makes a hell of a good point that I had not thought of.

Creating reminders on your phone also means that you’ll be triggered to act on the tasks you’ve captured at a certain time, wherever you are. I’ve never been diligent about reviewing to-do lists, largely because they quickly get so daunting that I can’t bear to look at them. Instead, I now rely on reminders that feed me one thing at a time – instead of facing the long list of everything I have on my plate.

She’s right, isn’t she? Read the full piece.

The first thing you’ll say is: “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”

It won’t work, but you’ll say it. For Amazon has released the Amazon Echo, a product simultaneously so naff you will never buy it and so right that you soon will. Maybe a couple of generations down the road.

For speaking of generations and actually also speaking of speaking, the Amazon Echo is another Star Trek-style invention. Just as you talk to Siri on your iPhone, you chat to Echo in your house. Here’s how Amazon sees this happening but stick around for an alternative view:

Naturally, that video has been parodied and naturally some of the parodies are very good – most especially this quite subtle, underplayed one. The funny thing is, I’m more persuaded by this than Amazon’s original. Mind you, that is partly because it’s also edited better.

You can’t buy the Amazon Echo yet: it’s only in the USA and currently not really on sale. Instead, you have to request an invitation to have Amazon try to sell you it. More details and the start of non-stop pressure to buy on the official site – which says it will cost $199 or $99 for Amazon Prime users.

Funny. It’s just a couple of days since we saw the Onyx OnBeep go on sale: the chunky new wearable technology that looks like it will one day become the communicator pins from Star Trek: The Next Generation. If we get a Trek invention next week, cross your fingers for warp drive.

Tip: returning Siri to navigation

Here’s the thing. You’re driving using Siri as a Satnav on your iPhone. Since the phone is plugged into the car and therefore thinks it’s on mains, you can just say “Hey Siri” and ask it what you like, when you like. It is great.


You’re navigating along and you get a text. “Hey Siri, read my texts”, you say. And it does. That’s nice.

What’s a lot less nice is that your iPhone then sits on that grey-black Siri page waiting for you to press the button to ask it something else.

Don’t. Do this instead. Say: “Hey, Siri, what’s our ETA?”

Siri will tell you. Many people don’t realise you can do this at all but the trick is not that you can do it but that Siri reacts in a certain way. It tells you the ETA – and then it goes back to navigating. It goes back to the map and its turn by turn directions instead of the grey-black emptiness of the Siri page.

There will be other questions that work but the ETA one seems to do the job because it is related to navigating. Somehow iOS 8 knows to pop you back to navigating after you’ve asked this.

Bonus: when you do this a lot, as I do, you get to ask the ETA many times and you get to learn what your ETA is. I rarely care but now I’m very familiar with distances on the motorway.

It should be “If Siri Were a Waitress”, not Was

I love Siri and the ability now to just say “Hey, Siri” and have it listen is tremendous. When I’m driving or it’s on the nightstand, whenever my iPhone is on mains power really, then it is so handy and convenient. So handy that when my iPhone isn’t on mains, it now seems a right chore having to press the button and wait.


It’s as if Siri has off days. There are times when it just ain’t on the same page as me. Sometimes I can be astounded at what it gets right and then bemused at what it gets wrong. It’s infuriating. On balance I’d say I have a love/like relationship with Siri.

Doesn’t stop me enjoy this, though:

But this is better:

And for another wrong but good take on the was/were issue, there’s this:

The good, the great and the bad of iOS 8

Bad things first, since you’re wondering.

Initially I thought it was running visibly slower than iOS 7 on my iPhone 5. It was. There was definite lag, even when swiping between home screens. But I’ve been running iOS 8 since last night and now, about an hour after I last grumbled at that lag, it’s gone. The phone feels fast again. But it really had been bad enough that I was going to suggest you hold off unless you have a new iPhone.

I’m going to suggest that anyway. Let everyone else work through this. But when you do update on an older iPhone, and it is worth it, be prepared for it to take a few hours to get back up to speed.

On my iPad Air, by the way, it was immediately perfect. Fast and responsive, not one single pixel of a doubt that if you have an iPad Air you should upgrade to iOS 8 now.

On both machines, though, Safari was irritating. There’s this thing called Private Mode – if you were fussed about nobody seeing who you bank with online, you switch to Private Mode and Safari doesn’t track the address, it doesn’t keep the details in its history. When you’re done, come out of Private Mode and nobody can see that you’ve been to Offshore Islands Dodgy Bank Co. Fine. I didn’t realise I’d switched into it but I had, on both machines, before upgrading. After the upgrade, all existing tabs were considered to be in Private Mode and there is no way to say no, hang on, I want this one to be un-private. I had to swipe-to-remove each separate tab. And to keep important ones, it was copy-and-paste on the address. It won’t be an issue again but it was a pain today.

So was setting up 1Password. The only part that was iOS 8’s fault is the way you have to set up the ability to use 1Password extensions, to be able to be there in Safari and say oi, 1Password, pop my username and password in here. It’s just slightly confusing how you do it, and since I’d been through a very similar but not identical process adding Pocket, it was more confusing still trying to fathom the difference. (Pocket isn’t a lot better: it gives you the error message ‘not logged in’ when you first try to use it but you’re on your own figuring out how you therefore log in.)

Generally I’ve found that 1Password is a marvellous app in every single possible way bar anything to do with upgrading to new versions. It’s just a bag of frustration. The company goes to lengths to make it all automatic but since it goes wrong every time, the automation becomes a barrier to trying to fix it. Less an upgrade cycle, more alchemy. I sweat through it every time because the app is worth it, but I do also file bug reports every time.

So this is 1Password’s fault rather than iOS 8’s per se and actually it worked perfectly on my iPad Air. But I had to delete and reinstall it on my iPhone to get it to stop crashing.

Other annoyances that aren’t really iOS 8’s fault: TextExpander is a paid upgrade. It’s only £2.99 and it’s of course fair to charge for the new functionality that I will use a lot, but there was no mention of this before so it was annoying. Also, the new keyboard that TextExpander provides is simply ugly. That doesn’t help. But the functionality, that’s great.

One part that is iOS 8’s fault: setting up TextExpander as a new keyboard could be more straightforward. It is pretty straightforward but there is a final option called ‘Allow Full Access’ and you can’t even see that option until you’ve been in, set up the keyboard, come out and gone back in again.

One last minor annoyance. This is the most unfair thing of me but OmniFocus needs an New Task button in the Today notifications.

But let me use that to segue on to the good and the great. The good to very, very good is this Today notification. Pick up your phone and without even unlocking it, just swipe down. We’ve had this for a time and I’ve rarely used it as much as I expected to, but now it’s got my choice of extras. I’ve chosen OmniFocus: it shows me my current tasks for the day and I can tap them as done, when necessary. I’ve also chosen Evernote, though, and that gives me buttons to create new notes.

I want both. I want OmniFocus to include a New Task button and I want Evernote to show me my recent notes. I think you can bet these will both come, but it’s oddly hampering today.

I really like the Today view though. And I really, really like the ability to get 1Password to pop in my details on sites. Apparently it won’t do credit cards yet, only logins. That’s a shame but also hopefully something we can expect changed soon. The number of times I book tickets or buy things online is exactly equal to the number of times I get 1Password to pop all that stuff in for me. So I want that too.

For all that I said Safari was irritating, in normal use after you’ve got past that Private Mode tick, it is really superb. Very fast, responsive, and I like how a pinch brings up all your current tabs and you can see what you’re doing, where you’re going.

The sharing extension in Pocket and Evernote is pretty close to fabulous. Again, once you’ve set it up. But to be on any website and tap to send it to Pocket or to Evernote, wallop, done, sold, I will be using this all the time.

The only reason I don’t call that full-on fabulous is that there is something else that is. Siri. When it’s plugged in to mains power, you can say aloud “Hey, Siri” and ask it whatever you want to ask it. At any time. Without pausing. I reckoned I would use this all the time in the car where I think of tasks I’ll need reminding of, but this morning I had an entire conversation with Siri without pressing the button once. Because it’s plugged in to mains by my bed while I charge it.

I need to say that Angela is away, I wouldn’t have a natter with Siri at 5am if she weren’t. So maybe I won’t use that all the time. But it is freaky fabulous.

Overall, now it’s setup, I think iOS 8 is pretty freaky fabulous. And yes, the first thing I did after installing it was buy OmniFocus 2 for iPad. Happy now.

Staring at my iPhone and iPad screens waiting for tomorrow to start

Tomorrow sees the public release of iOS 8. I’m actually blanking on why I’m so keen; it’s ages since I saw what it would bring – wait, there’s one definite thing, there’s a great change to Siri that I want.

Specifically this: when I’m driving and the iPhone is plugged in, I will be able to talk to Siri without pressing a button first. I talk to Siri a lot. I mean, a lot. It’s like I have no friends.

Or at least no friends in the car with me who will also remember everything I tell it to. I add reminders to OmniFocus via Siri about once a minute when I’m driving. I think that driving just frees up part of my brain and let’s these things out.

Now I’m thinking that I’m not very safe on the roads.

But I’m also thinking of OmniFocus. It’s been confirmed that the new version for the iPad has been approved by Apple and will be released on the App Store tomorrow.

So just as it was with iOS 7 and OmniFocus 2 for iPhone, I will be updating to iOS 8 and instantly going to the App Store to buy OmniFocus 2 for iPad.

I’m just telling you this because I’m enthused and I’ll alone, not even Siri to talk to. Sob..

You can be Siri-ous

Hand on heart, I love Siri. I use it continually for setting timers when I’m cooking, for scheduling or rearranging meetings, for sending text messages and always, forever, constantly for adding tasks to OmniFocus.

Hand on heart 2, though, it is as if Siri has good days and bad days. There are times it just won’t work for me and they are exasperating. So far the days it has worked well have outnumbered the problem ones and the new discovery of something else Siri can do has kept me using it a huge amount.

I use it so much that there isn’t anything in Re/code’s top ten Siri tips that I haven’t used but still it’s a fine list and if you’re only ever aggravated by Siri, take a look at their full article for ideas big and small.

And as much of a Siri fan as I am, I can’t resist this:

This I might jailbreak for: always-on Siri

I’ve never jailbroken my iPhones: never worked around Apple’s software to get other, unsanctioned apps onto my phones. I look at the whole idea of hot-wiring your iPhone, of tweaking settings and having to exploit undocumented holes in the system and I just think to bollocks with it all.

If you want to get your hands that dirty just to install some game or something, go get yourself an Android phone.

Jailbreaking fans argue that it’s worth the effort because you get much better apps this way. You get all these fantastic apps that Apple won’t allow on iPhones for, you know, minor reasons like security.

Name one app that’s actually worth the trouble.

And while you do, let’s remember that this trouble is not a one-time deal. It is at least every time there is a new update to the iOS software – any update, not just the biggies like moving from iOS 7 to iOS 8. Anything. Get an update, go back to your screwdrivers. And hope that Apple hasn’t closed this particular loophole.


If I had to name one app that was worth it, I’d pick this. OkSiri brings an Android feature (not available everywhere, not a regular Android feature but available on at least one Android phone) that I would like to see on iPhone. It makes Siri listen all the time. No pressing a button and waiting a mo before speaking to Siri, it is listening all the time. And specifically it is listening for a phrase such as “OK, Siri” that it then recognises as its cue to work.

The website 9to5 Mac that reported on this also reports that it’s flaky and the execution isn’t as good as the idea. But that’s Android and that’s jailbreaking to me.

“Siri, cancel my appointment…”

I’ve already lost the ability to check the weather on my iPhone in any way other than asking Siri. I already add more reminders to OmniFocus via Siri than I do through typing. And I have some days when Siri is worthless. But I have more days when it is great and sometimes, just sometimes, it is astonishing. A friend had to pull out of a coffee chat and, partly because I had my hands full, partly because I wondered if it would work, I said to Siri:

Cancel my appointment with Steph

And it did.

Took it off my calendar.

As ever when a gap comes up, other events can shuffle about to fill it so I tried saying:

Move my 4pm meeting to 2pm.

And it did.

It genuinely is becoming faster and handier to talk to my phone than to type. Never thought that would happen – and I’m struggling to believe that it has. I remember years of promises that voice control was coming and here it is. If only Siri were consistent.