TidBITS#1149/05-Nov-2012

Mountain Lion’s Messages app gets attention this week as we announce the release of Glenn Fleishman’s new “Take Control of Messages in Mountain Lion” ebook and our next live TidBITS Presents event on 14 November 2012, when Glenn will explain the top three confusions people have been having with Messages. Also this week, don’t miss our coverage of iOS 6.0.1, the 50-percent DealBITS discount on BeLight Software’s Art Text, and Adam Engst’s look at the recent Apple management shakeup. Plus, Glenn shares his experience of being on the Jeopardy TV show and throws cold water on Apple’s claim of “doubled” Wi-Fi throughput in the iPad mini and fourth-generation iPad. Lastly, we’ve finally found room in an issue for Steve McCabe’s lengthy iPhone 5 review, if you’re still pondering a purchase. Notable software releases this week include Parallels Desktop 8.0.18314, Screenflow 4.0.1, Sandvox 2.7, Safari 6.0.2, iPhoto 9.4.2, Aperture 3.4.2, and PDFpen and PDFpenPro 5.9.
 
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iOS 6.0.1 Fixes Bugs, but Does It Prevent Excessive Data Usage?

  by Agen G. N. Schmitz: agen@tidbits.com
  4 comments

Apple has released iOS 6.0.1 with fixes for a grab bag of connectivity bugs. While no single fix in the list seems to take aim at correcting the unexplained hoovering of data through cellular networks (for more on this, see Matt Neuburg’s “Mysterious iOS 6 Cellular Data Usage: A Deeper Look,” 24 October 2012), perhaps this collective group of fixes will help to mitigate the problem.

Connectivity issues addressed include improved reliability when connecting to encrypted WPA2 Wi-Fi networks using the iPhone 5 and fifth-generation iPod touch, the addition of a consolidated Use Cellular Data switch for iTunes Match, and resolution for an issue that prevented the iPhone from accessing a cellular network. On Adam Engst’s iPhone 5, however, Wi-Fi (which had been working fine under iOS 6.0) failed to work at all under 6.0.1 until the device was powered down and rebooted.

The update also fixes a problem where horizontal lines could be displayed across the keyboard, a bug affecting Exchange meetings, a bug that prevented the camera flash from operating, and a Passcode Lock bug that could allow Passbook pass details to be viewed from the lock screen. A couple of WebKit security vulnerabilities were also closed. It does not fix a bug that causes previously played audio (such as an iTunes U lecture) to start playing again unexpectedly after iOS uses other audio (such as playing an alarm sound).

iOS 6.0.1 is compatible with the following models: iPhone 5, iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, third-generation iPad, iPad 2, fifth-generation iPod touch, and fourth-generation iPod touch. We presume the iPad mini and fourth-generation iPad will either ship with iOS 6.0.1, or will update to it immediately.

You can download the 43.3 MB update either via iTunes on a computer or via an over-the-air update on compatible iOS devices — initiate the update in Settings > General > Software Update. However, iPhone 5 owners looking to update wirelessly will first need to download another app called Updater for iPhone 5 before downloading iOS 6.0.1, since the iPhone 5 is unable to install software updates over the air under iOS 6.0. This app, which shows up as iOS Updater on the Home screen, disappears once 6.0.1 is installed.

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Communicate Better with “Take Control of Messages in Mountain Lion”

  by Adam C. Engst: ace@tidbits.com, @adamengst

In OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, Apple replaced the long-standing iChat program with Messages, which takes its interface cues from the iPad version of the program. Although Messages looks easy, many people have had trouble understanding how to integrate different chat services and Apple devices, now that messages can appear on Macs, iPhones, and iPads.

For instance, should you use iMessage or AIM to chat with your friend? What if he’s home on his Mac or out while using his iPhone? Can you add someone else to the chat? What if you want to switch to an audio chat? To video? For video, should you use Google Talk or FaceTime? And so on. The mechanics may be simple, but the setup and human interactions can be anything but simple.

To bring some sense to the situation, we asked networking guru Glenn Fleishman to explain how you can bend Messages to your will, and the fruits of his labor are now available for only $10 in the 113-page “Take Control of Messages in Mountain Lion.”

As noted, the basics of using Messages aren’t difficult, but we’ve found all sorts of confusions and gotchas that the book explains. With it in hand, you’ll discover:

If you’ve found Messages awkward, “Take Control of Messages in Mountain Lion” has the explanations you need to make Messages work for you (or, in a few cases, to say, “Sorry, that’s just not possible”).

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TidBITS Presents “Explaining the Big 3 Confusions with Messages”

  by Adam C. Engst: ace@tidbits.com, @adamengst

With the introduction of Messages in OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, Apple took a large step toward unifying the messaging experience between OS X and iOS. But because Messages in Mountain Lion had to integrate the instant messaging functionality of iChat with the iMessage/FaceTime capabilities of Messages in iOS, it’s easy to get confused.

While writing “Take Control of Messages in Mountain Lion,” Glenn Fleishman poked and prodded at every part of Messages, and he’s heard from numerous people (including me!) who have had trouble with many different aspects of Messages. In this live TidBITS Presents event on Wednesday, 14 November 2012, at 12:00 PM Eastern, he’ll be explaining the three most-common confusions:

So please join us live on Wednesday, 14 November 2012, at 12:00 PM Eastern (9 AM Pacific) at the TidBITS Presents page (if you’re in another time zone, check out the Every Time Zone site to convert to local time). You’ll see the event on the public TidBITS Events calendar (for more details, see “Subscribe to the TidBITS Events Calendar,” 15 October 2012). The presentation is open to everyone. We’ll be trying to keep the main discussion to 15 minutes, and we’ll take questions from the live chat at the end for another 15 minutes. If you can’t make it live, you’ll be able to watch the recorded presentation afterwards at your leisure. For additional details about Messages, check out the full 113-page “Take Control of Messages in Mountain Lion.”

We continue to learn about the best ways to use Google Hangouts On Air, so be sure to scroll down and read the FAQ at the bottom of the TidBITS Presents page before the presentation. See you at noon on Wednesday the 14th!

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DealBITS Discount: Save 50% on Art Text 2.4.2

  by Adam C. Engst: ace@tidbits.com, @adamengst

Congratulations to Dirk Paul Flach at gmail.com, David Miller at mac.com, J. Sulcer at mac.com, Brent Wiese at sungecko.com, and Jane Stein at gmail.com, whose entries were chosen randomly in the last DealBITS drawing and who each received a copy of Art Text 2.4.2, worth $39.95. But don’t fret if you didn’t win, since BeLight Software is offering a 50-percent-off discount to all TidBITS readers through 4 December 2012. To take advantage of this offer, which drops the $39.95 list price to $19.99, use this special link to purchase from the Mac App Store. Thanks to the 408 people who entered this DealBITS drawing, and we hope you’ll continue to participate in the future!

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Apple Management Shakeup Aimed at Improving Collaboration

  by Adam C. Engst: ace@tidbits.com, @adamengst
  6 comments

It can feel like inside baseball to talk about Apple management changes. After all, who heads up any given division at Apple likely won’t affect your immediate experience with Apple products. Over a longer term, though, those managers do make their marks, for good and for ill, and I suspect that Apple’s management shakeup last week may indeed be noticeable to us hoi polloi.

Leaving Apple immediately is John Browett, who took over Apple’s retail operations seven months ago. His short tenure was marked with controversy, since he brought a cost-cutting philosophy from UK giant Dixons Retail that prompted outrage from store employees, limiting hours for part-time employees and under-staffing Apple stores (Ars Technica looked in more depth at Browett’s missteps).

Particularly with Apple’s consistently massive profits and $123 billion in cash, nickel-and-diming retail store employees seems both unpleasant and unnecessary, especially given the reputation Apple stores had garnered for excellent customer service over the years. (The New York Times has an interesting article on how employers in general are turning to sophisticated software packages to juggle numerous part-time employees rather than hire them on full time.) Tim Cook is taking over Browett’s responsibilities until a replacement can be found. If you’ve found service lacking at your local Apple store (a theme that has popped up recently in my email), hopefully you’ll see support improving with increased staffing levels and hours for part-time employees.

More important is the departure of Scott Forstall, head of iOS Software, who is staying on as an adviser to Tim Cook before leaving next year (translation: Forstall is likely out except on paper, likely to fulfill stock option grants and ensure a smooth transition of duties). Apple’s press release announcing the shakeup was titled “Apple Announces Changes to Increase Collaboration Across Hardware, Software & Services,” and I think it’s worth taking that statement at face value. Over the last week, stories have emerged from Apple about other senior vice presidents — Jonathan Ive and Bob Mansfield in particular — refusing to be in the same room with Forstall, citing his confrontational style.

The straw that may have broken the camel’s back was Forstall’s reported refusal to sign the public apology surrounding the new Maps app in iOS 6, which was roundly criticized at launch. Whether or not the problem was as severe as initially suggested, Apple’s focus on the new Maps, when it either was known — or should have been known — that rough edges remained, was a mistake (see “Examining Maps in the Wake of Tim Cook’s Apology,” 28 September 2012). Cook’s apology was classic public relations, and the fact the Forstall refused to go along with it may have indicated his unwillingness or inability to be a team player.

How will this make a difference to you? With our perspective watching Apple over the last few years, we’ve been getting the feeling that there has been little communication between Apple’s different divisions, with a resultant lack of coordination and reduced quality. That has been especially evident of late, as the company has returned to a scheduled approach to shipping products that forces technologies into the open before they’re fully ready — witness Maps. Freedom from scheduled releases was one of the reasons Jobs pulled Apple out of Macworld Expo; it was difficult to get everything ready for the July and January keynotes. Instead, Jobs set Apple on a course to ship when a product or technology was ready and unveil it at an Apple-controlled media event. That general approach has continued, but with the number of products Apple bundles into a single event, not everything can be ready at once. Most recently, you can see that in the delayed ship date of the iMac, creating a situation where Apple’s best-selling desktop computer can’t be purchased right now because the new models won’t be ready for a month or more after the announcement — which coincides with the holiday shopping season. Apple needed to unveil the iMac in what is surely the company’s last product introduction event before the new year, or wait until January or later.

Even more troubling has been what has happened on the software side. The high-profile iTunes 11 has slipped from its promised October 2012 ship date and is now expected sometime before the end of November. Productivity software like Pages, Keynote, and Numbers hasn’t seen a significant update in three years, perhaps due to their teams putting out iOS versions. Small updates to Mac OS X have introduced significant problems that Apple then has to scramble to fix, but not before causing untold hours of lost work for users.

Apple possesses essentially unlimited funds at this point, but it is absolutely true that you can’t just throw more resources at problems. So if we assume that the various development teams have the resources they need, the best explanation for the recent troubles is lack of communication and coordination between Apple’s various divisions. Apple’s management shakeup supports that theory, both explicitly in the press release’s title, and with the way that each of the remaining senior vice presidents gets more responsibility. Craig Federighi takes over iOS and Mac OS X. Jonathan Ive oversees Human Interface and Industrial Design. Eddy Cue adds Siri and Maps to the rest of his online services group. And Bob Mansfield heads up a new group, Technologies, that combines all of Apple’s wireless and semiconductor teams.

Assuming that these four men work well together and with CEO Tim Cook, this move could help Apple improve software quality, coordinate launches better, and bring a unified approach to software and hardware design.

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Winning and Losing on Jeopardy

  by Glenn Fleishman: glenn@tidbits.com, @glennf
  6 comments

I lost on Jeopardy, baby, but after winning twice. After a lifelong interest in all things trivial, I took the screening test for the long-running TV show in 2011, was called to an in-person audition that August, and then was tapped to tape shows in August 2012 that aired in October. (I wrote up a more complete behind-the-scenes tale for BoingBoing and my strategy for studying at The Economist. I also talked about the show on The Incomparable podcast.)


It is a fascinating thing to be sucked into a mainstream cultural phenomenon, but it also tells you something about what “broadcast” television has become. When I alerted folks a few days before my first appearance, the outcome of which I kept secret, that I would be on Jeopardy, the near-universal response among most of my friends and colleagues was, “I used to watch that show all the time!” It turns out that, like my household, many people I know have cut the cable and satellite TV “cord,” and either don’t live in broadcast range or never considered installing an indoor or outdoor ATSC antenna for digital television broadcasts.

Jeopardy is a syndicated program carried by hundreds of American television stations; it used to have a worldwide reach, but in recent years that has contracted back to our shores. In syndication, the show sells advertising and sponsorships that appear nationally as part of the program, and local stations in turn sell advertisements as well. Stations pay Sony Pictures Television, the production company, to air the show in their local market.

Jeopardy isn’t streamed, sold as digital downloads, or made available on DVD or Blu-ray except for a handful of episodes from several years ago in a small collection. It’s a strange phenomenon in the Internet era to have a program that not only must be watched via a broadcast station, but can never be viewed again once it’s aired unless it’s re-run. A few clips are on YouTube — including the last few minutes of my first win — but the company clearly monitors the Internet carefully, as I have found it impossible to find complete episodes anywhere. (Jeopardy reruns are fairly popular. In some markets, a station may show two reruns each day plus a new episode. In others, such as Seattle, new episodes air on weeknights and a rerun appears on Saturdays.)

As a result, I had a huge cheering squad on Twitter and Facebook, but only a subset of those people could watch any of the episodes. I threw a viewing party and invited quite a few local friends and family, partly so they’d get to see my first episode on Thursday, 18 October 2012. (My shows were aired Thursday, Friday, and Monday. The program tapes five shows a day, typically on two successive days every two weeks. So I taped two episodes as the last two of the day on a Tuesday, and came back to lose first thing Wednesday morning.)

Other broadcast events also prevented the show from being seen on schedule or at all. On Thursday, for instance, a football game preempted Jeopardy in the San Francisco Bay Area, which prevented a large number of technology friends from seeing the show. In other places, Jeopardy aired later that night. On Monday, the presidential debates bumped or delayed the airing of my ignominious defeat. Good! (I made an excessive wager on a Daily Double near the end, lost everything, and came back with $2000 into the final round, where I had the right answer, but wagered $0 since I couldn’t beat the leader. This assured me a second-place finish, which comes with $2000 rather than the $1000 that third-place contestants receive.)

Jeopardy currently has about 9 million nightly viewers and about 25 million different people across a viewing week. It once had 50 million viewers, according to one of several books on the show. Ken Jennings, the winner of 74 consecutive episodes of the show, said he was recognized on the street for quite a while after his run in 2004, but nowadays, only 70-year-olds notice him. This is close to the center demographic on the show, which I can testify to given my popularity at my in-laws’ retirement home after two episodes were aired.

Given the intense interest in trivia among younger people, it’s odd that Jeopardy hasn’t reinvented itself completely for a new generation. While the show has a Web site, it’s mostly devoted to information about the broadcast show. Its Twitter feed, with 20,000 followers, just posts clues and little else. There’s a Facebook game, but it’s only similar in form, not nature, to the TV program.

Jeopardy is in its 29th season of its run with Alex Trebek in the current format, and I would hate to think that it’s petering out. The show is exciting, well designed, and fun to play at home. My kids have developed an addiction even though they know few of the right “questions.” But unless Sony figures out a way to thread a path into a world of streaming, deferred, and on-demand post-broadcast watching, I worry that I’ll be among the last group of champions instead of part of an ongoing tradition.

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How Apple “Doubled” iPad Wi-Fi Throughput

  by Glenn Fleishman: glenn@tidbits.com, @glennf
  5 comments

During the launch of the fourth-generation iPad and iPad mini on 23 October 2012, I couldn’t help but prick up my ears when I heard Phil Schiller state, at least twice, that these new models had Wi-Fi that was “up to twice as fast” as earlier models.

My immediate supposition was that Apple had upgraded the 802.11n chips to models that could handle two “spatial streams.” One of the speed boosts in 802.11n over earlier versions was its capability, using multiple antennas (known as MIMO for “multiple in, multiple out”), to send unique streams of wireless data that take different paths through space. All iOS devices were single stream (really, SISO: “single in, single out”), because that requires a simpler radio system and simpler antenna architecture.

But, no, Apple actually chose a course that doesn’t truly provide “up to twice” the throughput except in limited circumstances. The company’s iPad features page trumpets “advanced Wi-Fi technology,” which is odd, as it would mean that Apple has upgraded to technology it has offered since 2006 in Macs! Apple writes, “With dual-band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) 802.11n Wi-Fi and support for channel bonding, download speeds can reach up to 150 Mbps.”

There are problems with that statement, as clear as it might seem. Channel bonding uses what Apple previously called “wide” channels: it takes two separate 802.11n channels and treats them as one. This feature has been in all Macs that were sold with 802.11n (whether initially or through a later firmware update in 2007), and is offered in all 802.11n Apple base stations, too. The raw single-stream data rate for 802.11n is 75 Mbps; double the channel width and you can get a raw rate of 150 Mbps. In practice, the improvement is never quite that much. In my testing, I have often seen 30 to 35 Mbps for an interference-free short-range connection using a single stream, and more like 50 Mbps with a wide channel.

But beyond the raw rate is where wide channels may be used. Although the IEEE 802.11 committee that approved 802.11n allows wide channels in 2.4 GHz, and the Wi-Fi Alliance that certifies gear with the Wi-Fi label offers it as well, it’s rarely used. The 2.4 GHz band is crowded with baby monitors, cordless phones, Bluetooth, and other Wi-Fi networks. The algorithm that enables wide channels has three separate tests in 2.4 GHz to make sure it’s not “talking over” another network by bonding channels.

In most cases, circumstances don’t allow wide channels to kick in with 2.4 GHz networks, and the Wi-Fi Alliance has been making it harder to use in 2.4 GHz. Further, Apple never enabled wide channels for 2.4 GHz in any 802.11n base station it has sold. (There used to be a switch to disable channel bonding in 5 GHz, but that has been removed in AirPort Utility 6.)

So the wide channels are typically available only for use on base stations in the 5 GHz band, where there are more channels in most countries than with 2.4 GHz, and where the channels are more spread out. But even though that frequency space is available, 802.11n still employs a few mechanisms in the 5 GHz band (less restrictively than in 2.4 GHz) that prevent bonding channels in many cases, too. So long as there are other 5 GHz networks nearby, it’s unlikely that wide channels will be available. (The ugly technical details are in a 2007 post to my defunct Wi-Fi Networking News site.)

In the end, the “up to 150 Mbps” or “2x” improvement is a sort of silly marketing point that should have been confined as a note in the tech specs and not trumpeted as “advanced,” “new” or, in fact, in any way special during the launch event. Adding two-stream or even three-stream support to future iOS devices would have a greater impact on improving throughput than this channel bonding tweak affords.

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iPhone 5: The Best Yet, But Still an iPhone

  by Steve McCabe: steve@stevemccabe.net

The Web site of Telecom, one of the two cellphone networks in New Zealand offering Apple’s new iPhone 5, advertises the device as “the thinnest, lightest iPhone yet.” Could this really be the best they could manage to say about the latest release of the most successful smartphone in the short history of smartphones? I had to find out.

I wanted so badly to be impressed by the iPhone 5. I remember well — it was only five years ago — the excitement that surrounded the unveiling, and eventually the release, of the original iPhone. I remember bringing mine home from the Apple Store where I used to work, the unwrapping, the anticipation as I opened the box to reveal the elegant packaging — the entire process was almost sacramental.

Since then, I’ve owned three more iPhone models (I skipped the iPhone 4). Even now, every time a new iPhone lands on my desk, there remains something a little special about the act of opening it — there is, after all, a reason why unboxing videos proliferate across the internet. The iPhone 5 continues this tradition, its packaging crafted almost as carefully as the device itself.

Out of the Box and into the Hand -- This time, a review unit of the iPhone 5 arrived courtesy of Apple New Zealand. The packaging, I noticed, was a bit longer and deeper than previous boxes have been. One look at the iPhone 5 suggests a possible reason. It’s tall. Placed next to my iPhone 4S, it looks noticeably longer, and its height also makes it look narrower, despite having the same width.

At any rate, its appearance is something of a departure from its predecessor’s. From the front, it looks quite similar, dimensions notwithstanding, but from the side the differences start to show up. The metal bezel that surrounds the iPhone 4 and 4S models has been, at least in the black model Apple sent me, coated with black powder; there have been reports of the iPhone 5 looking scuffed and with powder missing out of the box, but my sample has no such flaws. As we would expect from Apple, it looks, and feels in the hand, rather elegant. The iPhone 4S’s glass back has been replaced with aluminum, again quite stylishly powder-coated, with two black glass strips, one at the top and another at the bottom, to provide radio transparency for the iPhone 5’s various antennae.

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In the hand, it feels very light — almost insubstantial. While Apple did the right thing in abandoning the plasticky feel of the iPhones 3G and 3GS, the thinness and lack of heft of the later models leaves them feeling slight. If the iPhones 4 and 4S felt lightweight, the iPhone 5 is positively sylph-like. That said, the impression of lightness doesn’t really last — you become accustomed to it quickly.

Lightning Strikes -- Next out of the box is the new eight-pin Lightning cable, and here again is a major change. Since 2003 and the third generation of the iPod, a proprietary 30-pin dock connector has become standard across not just Apple’s range of iDevices, but also across an entire universe of third-party accessories. Apple’s decision to abandon this entrenched technology in favour of the new Lightning connector has upset a large number of people who have invested in docking stations, speakers, and cradles that use the old 30-pin connector.

The new Lightning connector is surprisingly small, comparable in width to a micro-USB plug, but rather thinner and flatter. Its primary benefit to the user is reversibility; it can be inserted either way round, makes for easier insertion in the dark or without looking. I presume the benefit to Apple lies in freeing up the internal and external space previously occupied by the dock connector and related electronics when designing iOS devices. (At least with devices like the new iPod nano, the small Lightning connector feels worthwhile, as opposed to the minimally different MagSafe 2 connector used in the last generation of MacBooks.) It’s also likely that the new connector will make possible other capabilities, such as USB 3.0 speeds (the iPhone 5 is still limited to USB 2.0 performance).


This is a major change for the entire Apple ecosystem. Anyone who owns a speaker system, a dock, or even a charging cable for an existing iPhone and who hopes to use it with a new iPhone 5 will either have to buy an adapter from Apple (useful for chargers, perhaps; less useful for in-car systems and cradle-type devices), or replace said kit, which may not even be possible for some time, given that even Apple is having trouble keeping up with demand for the standard Lightning-to-USB cables, along with the $29 Lightning-to-30-pin adapter and $39 Lightning-to-30-pin cable adapter, plus the $49 HDMI and VGA adapters. Since there’s an authentication chip in Lightning cables, there will likely be no unlicensed Lightning options that provide full functionality.

In the end, the 30-pin connector had a long run, but it’s not surprising either that Apple would want to move to something smaller or that Apple would create a custom connector in favor of using something standard, like micro USB. (A $19 Lightning-to-micro-USB adapter is available as a separate purchase, in part to comply with European laws that require all phones to be able to charge using that plug format.) Nor is it surprising that Apple would cut over so completely, even when the benefit to users is relatively small. The main misstep seems to have been Apple’s inability to provide sufficient quantity of the various cables and adapters, and the lack of even licensed third-party accessories for the iPhone 5.

The smaller Lightning connector enabled Apple to move the headphone jack to the bottom of the iPhone 5. I have yet to see an explanation of this change; it seems entirely gratuitous, at least from the user perspective. Having the headphone jack on the top of the iPhone made sense to me at least. When my iPhone 4S is in my shirt pocket, its usual out-and-about home, I can plug in a headset and still have the phone right-way-up in my pocket, and when an alert calls for my attention, reading the display is quite easy. Similarly, when I’m driving, the iPhone 4S sits in a cupholder, connected to my car stereo via the top of the phone. The relocation of the audio jack to the bottom means that the iPhone 5 sits inverted in the holder, which isn’t as convenient as I’d like. The main use case I can think of that might support the bottom position is dropping the iPhone 5 into a trouser pocket, where it makes sense to have it top-down and face-in (thus exposing the bottom-located headphone jack), so it is properly oriented in your hand when you pull it out. I suppose there may also be people who make FaceTime calls while using earbuds; the bottom position might be better if you’re holding the iPhone 5 out in front of you.

The remaining item on the bottom of the iPhone 5 is the speaker, which is a bit louder than the iPhone 4S. Whether or not it’s noticeably better sounding is a different matter but the amount of sound it can pump out is impressive.

More Pixels, Scotty! -- So let’s turn the iPhone 5 on, and see how it works. Well, it’s an iPhone. All the traditional iPhone features I’ve come to expect are present. The screen, of course, is the first major difference, and it looks good. The colours are richer, more saturated, than they were even on the iPhone 4S — a screen that still looks very good. But the major draw is the size of the screen. Apple has extended it vertically, enough to add an extra row of app icons on the iOS home screen. This is certainly welcome, but it’s not exactly revolutionary.

In fact, another row of app icons, and folders being able to hold more apps, does help the significantly overloaded home screen interface, but seeing an extra email message in a list, or being able to read a bit more of an ebook before I swipe to the next page, hasn’t made that much of a difference to my user experience. Watching video is likely the main reason for the change — the screen’s proportions now match HD video, and videos can be viewed full-screen, without letterboxing, a notable improvement.

Letterboxing is precisely what happens when an app’s developer hasn’t yet caught up with the new hardware. Many apps have already been updated to take advantage of the larger screen, but there are plenty that still think they’re running on an iPhone 4S; the iPhone 5 simply displays these apps in the centre of the screen, with black bars above and below. The black bars are black enough that you seldom notice, and regardless, all apps in active development undoubtedly will be updated for the new screen size soon.

The larger hardware, for me at least, is quite comfortable to use. I tend to use my iPhone two-handed, supporting it in my left hand while operating it with the fingers of my right; for me, then, there is no significant difference between this iPhone and the last. Some women I know have complained that the iPhone 4 form factor was hard enough to fit into the pockets of women’s clothes; the iPhone 5’s extra height will make that all the harder. And of course, all iPhone 5 owners who want cases will have to purchase new ones; there will be a plethora soon.

Camera, Network, and Battery -- By the time I had charged and synced the phone, the weather had cleared up, so I went outside to play with the camera. The camera on the iPhone 4S has been very well-received, and Apple wisely refrained from tampering with the 4S’s camera; the iPhone 5 sports basically the same hardware. I took a couple of photos of my wife’s cat, holding my iPhone 4S in one hand and Apple’s loaner iPhone 5 in the other for a literal side-by-side comparison.


On the iPhones’ screens, the iPhone 5’s images were noticeably richer, but when I compared the photos from both devices in iPhoto on my laptop, there was little appreciable difference. The iPhone 4S’s camera was very good; the iPhone 5’s essentially identical camera is every bit as good. Video, similarly, is comparable in quality, with the addition of somewhat improved stabilisation, thanks to the iPhone 5’s beefier A6 chip.

I have so far avoided mention of Long-Term Evolution, or LTE, the absurdly fast cellular-data connectivity protocol that Apple finally incorporated into the iPhone 5. (LTE is often referred to as 4G, though “4G” is now somewhat meaningless from a technical standpoint.) That is, alas, because I have no way to test it. I have the enormous good fortune to live in New Zealand, but paradise is not perfect. As I have whinged about previously (see “Paying by the Bit: Internet Access in New Zealand,” 15 January 2010), Internet connectivity in New Zealand is not all it might be, and LTE is no exception. Neither Telecom nor Vodafone, Apple’s two resale partners and the two main cellphone networks in New Zealand, nor indeed 2 Degrees, their only rival, have, or have plans to build, a 4G network in New Zealand. Thus fast networking remains a feature available only to those users who happen to live in markets — the United States, the UK, even Australia! — that happen to have 4G connectivity. That said, I’m told that when you combine the iPhone 5 with an LTE-enabled carrier with sufficient backhaul bandwidth and not too many other users, the performance is quite impressive. In the tests of Wi-Fi and 3G cellular data I was able to perform, the iPhone 5 and 4S performed identically.

At the end of all this testing, there was one more thing to look at. My iPhone 4S has, for all its many fine features, one serious weakness: its battery life. I complained about this in “Apple’s International Obfuscation” (28 June 2012), and I was hopeful that the iPhone 5 might have the solution.

I question iOS’s usage reports because while watching it today, it reported 6 hours and 14 minutes of use since last full charge, but it hasn’t even been that long since I unplugged it after waking up this morning. Nevertheless, with what seems like reasonable usage, mostly on Wi-Fi, with Location Services on for a few apps, but Bluetooth off, I’m down to 28 percent capacity remaining. From those who have been living with the iPhone 5 for some time, it sounds as though battery life is roughly similar to the iPhone 4S — sometimes a little better, sometimes a bit worse. For some it has been much worse, but that’s iOS 6’s fault (see “Solving iOS 6 Battery Drain Problems,” 28 September 2012).

If I don’t sound entirely enthusiastic so far, then perhaps I should find something I can unreservedly endorse about the iPhone 5. There is one outstanding enhancement that I can wholeheartedly praise, and that’s the new EarPods. They are, at least in my ears, quite considerably more comfortable than previous iPhone and iPod earbuds — I hardly notice their presence. Their sound, too, is a marked improvement. While they’re not quite up to the quality of my favourite Sony studio monitor headphones, they do reproduce a degree of detail and range that I have never heard — that I have never even expected — from iPhone earbuds. As I write this, I’m listening to the Rolling Stones’ “Stupid Girl,” from the 1966 album Aftermath, and I’m hearing details of Brian Jones’ acoustic guitar in my right ear that I don’t remember hearing before.


The EarPods come in their own little plastic carrying case inside the iPhone 5’s box, although I suspect few users will have the patience to wrap them carefully back into the case after each use. The case is also their retail packaging; yes, one of the most attractive and appealing parts of the new iPhone isn’t even part of the iPhone, but an accessory that can be bought separately for $29.

Worth Upgrading? -- I’ll be returning the iPhone 5 to Apple soon — sadly, they want it back. It’s always fun to have the latest, shiniest kit, and I’ll miss it for sure, but going back to my own iPhone 4S hasn’t been at all troubling. If I didn’t have another year left on my Vodafone service contract, I might consider upgrading, but I simply don’t find enough in this new release to make it a compelling upgrade from the iPhone 4S at this stage.

Were I upgrading from an iPhone 4, which lacks Siri and doesn’t have as good a camera, the iPhone 5 would be more attractive, and moving up from an iPhone 3GS or earlier model would be even more compelling. For anyone in the market for their first iPhone, or replacing a broken iPhone, the iPhone 5 is hard to beat, with the main competition coming from the $99 iPhone 4S and the free iPhone 4. Put simply, the iPhone 5 is the best iPhone Apple has ever produced, but its improvements are worth only $100 (the price difference to the iPhone 4S, which does have a comparable camera and Siri).

That’s entirely intentional on Apple’s part, as Glenn Fleishman noted in “Incremental Change Wins Apple Big Gains” (29 March 2012). Despite what many seem to think (and a bit of what Apple implies in its marketing), Apple seldom releases new products that are revolutionary, and the iPhone 5 is no exception. It’s a great smartphone, and the best iPhone ever, but, at the end of the day, it still looks, walks, and quacks like any other recent iPhone.

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TidBITS Watchlist: Notable Software Updates for 5 November 2012

  by TidBITS Staff: editors@tidbits.com

Parallels Desktop 8.0.18314 -- Improving support for Windows 8, Parallels Desktop has been updated to version 8.0.18314 with full-speed support for USB 3.0 devices, easier access to Mac OS X applications from the Windows 8 Start Screen, the capability to launch Windows 8 applications from the shared applications folder in the Dock, and support for the Windows 8 single-finger swipe gesture to display the application menu, list of running applications, and Charm Bar. The update also adds download access to Kaspersky Internet Security 2013 from within Parallels Desktop and improves the visual process of switching Windows to Coherence. Additionally, you can now assign up to 16 GB of memory to a single virtual machine and support has been added for Windows Server 2012. ($79.99 new, $49.99 upgrade, free update, 343 MB, release notes)

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ScreenFlow 4.0.1 -- Telestream has released ScreenFlow 4.0 with a profusion of new organization and workflow features added to its popular screencast recording app. Among the new features, the release adds the capability to merge multiple elements into a single nested clip on the timeline (as well as apply filters and video actions to nested clips), plus new organization tools to search for specific clips and arrange them by name, duration, or type. It also adds support for closed captioning, support for the x264 codec to export higher quality MPEG-4 files, a recording timer, and a variety of video effects (including advanced color adjustments, distortion effects, blurring, alpha mask, color effects, and more). ScreenFlow 4.0 also enables dynamic updating and reloading of imported assets directly into the library, timeline, and canvas — however, this feature is not available in the Mac App Store version. For a complete rundown of the new features, download the PDF release notes from Telestream’s support page.

Shortly after the initial release, Telestream issued a version 4.0.1 update with fixes for an issue with keystrokes displaying, a bug that caused error message and sound problems when Remove Background Noise was checked, a recording problem caused by disabled color correction on Radeon X1xxx hardware, and an issue with performance regression created by decoding video on a separate queue from audio.

Owners of previous versions can upgrade to ScreenFlow 4.0.1 for $29 (without a new serial number, saved projects will contain a watermark), and those who purchased ScreenFlow 3.x between 1 October 2012 and 25 October 2012 are eligible for a free upgrade to version 4.0.1. Note that ScreenFlow hasn’t yet been updated to version 4.0.1 in the Mac App Store as of this writing. ($99 new from Telestream, $29 upgrade from 3.x, 2.x, or 1.x, 26.5 MB)

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Sandvox 2.7 -- Updating its Web publishing tool to make it compatible with a variety of features in OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, Karelia has released Sandvox 2.7 with support for Notifications and Sharing. Additionally, the update saves documents more quickly when the Versions feature is enabled, and it has been optimized for Retina displays. A Google +1 sharing option has also been added to enable site visitors to share content by clicking on a Google +1 button and logging in directly, and this feature offers several configuration options for displaying the number of Google+ shares. Other changes include support for custom private SSH keys and a revamped Host Setup Assistant that simplifies entry of hosting details and enables live testing and diagnostics. ($79.99 new from Karelia or the Mac App Store, free update, 31.1 MB)

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Safari 6.0.2 -- Apple fixed a couple of WebKit security vulnerabilities with the release of Safari 6.0.2. Specifically, the update patches two problems that could lead to application termination or arbitrary code execution — one due to the handling of JavaScript arrays that was addressed with additional validation (CVE-2012-3748) and another due to the implementation of scalable vector graphic (SVG) images that was addressed through improved memory handling (CVE-2012-5112). There are no new features or other bug fixes. The update is available for OS X 10.8.2 Mountain Lion via the App Store app and for 10.7.5 Lion via Software Update. (Free, 44.8 MB)

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iPhoto 9.4.2 -- Apple has updated iPhoto to version 9.4.2, adding several improvements to how Photo works with iCloud’s Photo Stream feature. You can now add photos to either My Photo Stream or a shared stream by dragging them to Photo Stream in the source list, and you can add all photos contained within a shared photo stream to your iPhoto library using a new Import command in the contextual menu. The update also enables you to paste multiple email addresses into the “Shared with” field for shared streams, and it ensures that names are correctly displayed should more than five subscribers “like” a photo in a shared stream. Additionally, iPhoto 9.4.2 improves reliability of shared photo streams when switching to Aperture with the same library, fixes an issue with Microsoft Outlook that prevented it from being used to email photos, and updates national holidays for use in printed photo calendars. ($14.99 new from the Mac App Store, free update through the Mac App Store or Software Update, 758.58 MB direct download via Apple’s support page)

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Aperture 3.4.2 -- Apple has also released Aperture 3.4.2 with a number of improvements to how the professional photo organizer works with iCloud’s Photo Stream feature. Like the recently released iPhoto 9.4.2, the update enables you to paste multiple email addresses into the “Shared with” field for shared streams, ensures that names are correctly displayed should more than five subscribers “like” a photo in a shared stream, and improves reliability of shared photo streams when switching to iPhoto with the same library. Aperture 3.4.2 also enables you to add photos from My Photo Stream or a shared stream to other shared streams, and it improves face detection after importing photos into a library from a shared stream. The toolstrip’s status line now displays the number of new photos added to a shared stream, adjusted photos are published to shared streams with EXIF metadata preserved, and a shared stream’s Info panel now includes an Unsubscribe button.

Beyond Photo Stream-related additions, the update ensures that custom keyboard shortcuts are preserved when upgrading from earlier versions of Aperture, fixes a bug where duplicate detection failed when the Auto-Split Projects option was enabled, addresses an issue where the correct color might not display after applying Auto White Balance and Auto Enhance, and improves stability when working with AVCHD video files (be sure to check the release notes for the full rundown of changes). ($79.99 new from the Mac App Store, free update through the Mac App Store or Software Update, 550.73 MB direct download via Apple’s support page)

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PDFpen and PDFpenPro 5.9 -- Smile has updated both PDFpen and PDFpenPro to version 5.9, which improves overall performance by reducing memory usage and adds the OAuth secure authorization method for those using PDFpen’s Save to Evernote capability. Additionally, both editions now use Apple’s sandboxing for improved security and compatibility with the Mac App Store, though neither PDFpen nor PDFpenPro has been updated to version 5.9 in the Mac App Store as of this writing. ($59.95/$99.95 new with a 20-percent discount for TidBITS members, free update, 47.4/48.4 MB)

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