Categorized: Technology

Apple, Lithium-Ion Batteries, and the Slowdown Conspiracy

I have few friends and family members that marvel at how I always seem to have the newest iPhone. That’s not actually true. I only get a new phone, usually on launch day, every two years, and I certainly didn’t get an iPhone X this year. I suspect that they think I’m always going to get a new phone because some of those friends keep their trusty iPhones around for a while. Case in point: I have a friend with an iPhone 5s, a phone released in 2013. Four years is a couple of epochs in the history of smartphones.

That same friend who carries a four-year old iPhone is constantly searching for a free power outlet to charge her phone or using a portable battery pack to keep it going throughout the day. She reports that the battery level will quickly go from 50% to 40% to 20% to dead in a short amount of time. She insists that she will buy a new phone soon so she can stop worrying about this. However, I insist that if she’s never replaced the battery inside her phone, her phone powers off because the battery is four years old and can’t hold a charge like it did when a year ago, much less like it did when it was new.

The lithium-ion batteries in our devices offer the best mass-produced, battery technology around, but it is often the first thing to fail on our devices. A lithium-ion battery will last between 500-1000 charge cycles. If you run down your battery every day and charge it at night, that is one charge cycle. Many of us do this multiple times per day. That means that we’re likely running our phone batteries through 500 charge cycles in a single year. Replacing a battery—something that costs between $40 and $80 and takes about an hour of time—will give the device a whole new life.

Earlier this month, Apple publicly admitted that it slows down the processor in older phones with aging batteries to prevent the sudden shutdowns that my friend—and many others—experience every day, especially in cold weather. The processor slow down, I suspect, is like what happens when a user turns on Power Save mode. Operations on the phone get slower but not so much so that the phone becomes unusable. In fact, I’ve seen many users keep their phones on Power Save mode almost all of the time, ostensibly to run their phones longer without needing to charge it throughout the day.

Conspiracy theorists believe that Apple slows down older iPhones to get people to buy a new iPhone. There are many reasons why this is not a credible theory, including:

  • it’s unlikely that Apple software engineers are adding code to slow down iPhones when they reach a certain age because it seems antithetical to what Apple as a company does.
  • a lot of these older phones are still for sale as new phones, including the 2015 iPhone 6s and presumably will still support for another two years.
  • if people feel their iPhones get prematurely slow, why would they buy another iPhone instead of ditching Apple altogether?

The irony of this conspiracy theory is that Apple slowing down the phones was an attempt to get people to use their phones longer, not to buy new ones. The slowdown was designed to stop this very process:

  1. Aging iPhone either suddenly shuts down or runs down in battery level, e.g., from 20% to dead, in a short amount of time.
  2. User gets frustrated and begins to consider buying a new phone.
  3. User buys a new phone.

Yes, this solves the battery problem, but if your got a flat tire on a bike or a dead car battery, you wouldn’t buy a new bike or a new car, would you?

Instead, if a user updated her iPhone 5s to 10.2.1 or iPhone 7 to 11.2, her phone with a depleted battery would slow down to maintain a charge longer and prevent those sudden shutdowns or rundowns. And given how most smartphone users under-utilize their phones, it’s likely this decrease in performance would go unnoticed. The benchmarking scores, which show a 50% decrease in performance, push the iPhones much harder than ordinary users do.

Anecdotally, I ran my iPhone battery down to 20% yesterday in less than six hours, which is likely the topic for another post. But during its last twenty percent charge, while in Power Save mode, the phone lasted for another three hours. I was still able to use the phone without it performing significantly slower.

It wouldn’t surprise me that people were using a perceived slowdown as a reason to buy a new phone, not because it actually was any slower but because they simply want a new phone. Or, they wanted to buy a new phone because, like a sell-by date on a packaged food item, they felt it had gone bad, even if it still passed the smell test and was still safe to eat.

Apple’s fault here was in not telling its users that this was how they fixed the sudden shutdown problem in iPhone 6s earlier this year by not showing the battery’s health and the number of charge cycles it has undergone in iOS. I hope the promised software update in 2018 will do just that: allow the user to determine whether their battery health is low and know that replacing the battery will bring the phone back to life.

And Then They Repealed Net Neutrality

Today, as expected, the Federal Communications Commission has voted to repeal its own net neutrality rules along partisan lines, by a vote of 3-2. And that wasn’t even the biggest news story in US media industries. Earlier today, Disney agreed to buy the movie and television assets of 21st Century Fox for over $66 billion in cash and stock. This deal has now pared down Rupert Murdoch’s one labyrinthine News Corp. media empire to a bunch of broadcast TV stations, the broadcast television network, and several cable TV networks. These moves have emerged in a climate of technological change but also of deregulatory moves ushered by Donald Trump’s FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

Net Neutrality Rules Repealed

As I’ve mentioned before in a series of posts on this site, this is one of several deregulatory measures that this FCC, led by Chairman Pai, to give broadcasters and Internet service providers more power at the expense of consumer protections and the interest of the public.

Repealing the FCC’s net neutrality rules will make it possible for Internet service providers—your “beloved” cable and telephone company—to turn the Internet to something that could look like what we had with AOL in the 1990s: a closed network with curated content with limited access to the open Internet. The latter is what doomed AOL and its 2000 merger with Time Warner.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that AT&T is attempting to acquire Time Warner and its vast library of media properties and content. With net neutrality rules out of the way, a provider like AT&T can realize its vision to dominate the Internet. Tim Wu, who coined the term “net neutrality” predicted as much in his 2010 book The Master Switch. Wu writes:

it doesn’t take a genius to realize that if AT&T and the cable companies exercised broad discretion to speed up the business of some firms and slow down that of others, they would gain the power of life and death over the Internet.

The telecommunications companies can do this because repealing net neutrality rules reclassifies broadband Internet service providers from common carriers to information services. The days of Internet-as-we-know-it might be numbered. At worst, it will be something like AOL in the 1990s. Or it will be something like cable TV and its curated 500-channel universe. Both were information services.

Centralize All Broadcast Activities

But it’s not just the Internet that Chairman Pai’s FCC has given over to the major corporate interests; he’s also cleared the way for broadcast station owners to expand their reach through out the United States.

Back in April, Chairman Pai led the FCC to restore the UHF discount rule, allowing owners of all-UHF stations to reach as much as 78% of all US households. As I wrote earlier, the UHF discount rule was developed in an era when US TV households mostly watched VHF channels 2-13 over UHF channels 14-69. The Obama-era FCC eliminated that discount on the grounds that the rule was deprecated. There is no difference in terms of VHF and UHF stations in today’s multichannel TV environment.

Also today, at the same Commissioners meeting to vote down the net neutrality rules, the FCC voted to review eliminating the 39% TV station ownership cap rule. This rule, designed to keep one station owner from reaching too many people through broadcasting, was already a relaxed version of the FCC’s original seven-station rule. But Chairman Pai apparently wants to allow broadcast station owners to reach even more American households and further reduce the diversity of voices using the public airwaves.

Both the UHF discount and the give Sinclair Broadcasting and the “New Fox” the opportunity to grow the number of broadcast TV stations they can own and expand their reach to US households. Not only could this have some competitive implications, it also forebodes some chilling ideological consequences. It’s not unlike what the Nazi’s chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels wrote in 1933:

Above all, it is necessary to centralize all radio activities to place spiritual tasks ahead of technical ones, to introduce the leadership principle, to provide a clear worldview, and to present this worldview in flexible ways.

Both Sinclair’s and Fox’s owners are both staunch conservatives and supporters of Chairman Pat’s boss Donald Trump and their news coverage has consistently supported Trump’s policies.

Take Action on Net Neutrality

Although I realize that the tone of this post is downright dreary, we the public can still take action to restore net neutrality rules. Basically, it comes down to fighting Chairman Pai on two fronts:

  1. We can lobby Congress to pass “net neutrality” legislation. Any action the FCC takes on classifying Internet service providers—as common carriers or information services—can be rendered moot through legislation. It might take until after the 2018 midterm elections to get this done, but legislation is the only way to guarantee an open Internet for the long term.
  2. Take the FCC to court. This is less than ideal because it must protect net neutrality rules within the current legal framework, which is not very specific about net neutrality. Nonetheless, Free Press plans to file a lawsuit against the FCC. I don’t know their legal strategy, but it might be on the grounds that the FCC has unlawfully abdicated its authority over the Internet. A lawsuit would likely lead to an injunction to keep the current net-neutrality rules in place. After that, prevailing in court could keep the Internet open, but as I wrote above, legislation is the best way to do it.

Now get going! It is only our freedom of speech and a robust marketplace of ideas that is at stake. Otherwise, we might as well be China.

When Google Calendar’s Appointment Slots Displays the Wrong Timezone

I’ve been a reluctant user of G Suite for Education—or Google Apps for Education, as it used to be known—for a few years. There have been a few headaches teaching classes with Google over the years, but because I so despise full-service learning management systems, such as Moodle and Blackboard, I’ve integrated G Suite and Google Classroom with my own vanilla HTML website to manage my courses.

About a year ago, I learned that Google Calendar supports self-scheduling appointment slots. It basically works like this:

  1. I create blocks of time in my Google Calendar where I’m available to meet with my students, either in person or through Google Hangouts. For regularly scheduled office hours, I make those slots a repeating event.
  2. I share the appointment slots event page link with my students, both on the course syllabus and on my own website.
  3. Students book an appointment through the link, after signing in with a valid Google account.
  4. I get notified of the appointment date and time, and I see who booked the appointment. Because I configured the appointment slots to alert me in advance of the appointment, I get an alarm at five and ten minutes before the appointment starts.

Yesterday, I learned about a bug in the system. Some students see the wrong appointment time. In one instance, Google Calendar showed a student the available appointment slots in UTC, not New York time. She booked an appointment for 3:00 PM on the appointment slots event page, but inadvertently scheduled it for UTC time. When she showed up for our appointment at 3:00 PM New York time, she had missed it. My calendar app saw that the appointment was made for 3:00 PM UTC and correctly displayed and notified me that it was at 10:00 AM Eastern Time.

Reading through the Google Calendar support forums, it seems to happen to a lot of other users. The conventional wisdom about this problem is that I have my Google Calendar set to GMT-5 (America/New York) while my student may have her Google Calendar set to UTC. However, many people insist that the college, university, or organization sets everyone’s calendar to their local time ( GMT-5 in my case). However, my students will often use their personal Gmail accounts instead of their university issued G Suite for Education account. There’s no guarantee that their calendar is set to their own local time. It might be set to UTC. My intuition says this is what likely causes the timezone display bug and why it’s not consistent.

Good news, though! I did find a workaround that worked for me. I had to override the timezone Google Calendar displays by appending my own timezone to the appointment slot URL. Here’s how I did that:

  1. I created appointment slots in Google Calendar as I normally would.
  2. I copied the appointment page URL that Google Calendar provides to share with my constituents. It should look something like this:
    https://calendar.google.com/calendar/selfsched?sstoken=2AHtwhQ0cknZcpXB1vwH (except perhaps a bit longer).
  3. I pasted that URL to where I could share it with my students.
  4. I added the following text: &ctz= and my timezone. In my case, it’s America/New_York. You can find out your own timezone, organized by country, by browsing this list. Be sure you include the underscore if your location includes a compound name.

This will force the appointment slots event page to display in the timezone you indicated. If you and your students are in the same time zone, then both of you should be scheduling appointment as you would without anyone seeing a timezone in UTC time.

I do however foresee one potential limitation for my workaround: online classes where teachers and students might be scattered across different time zones. In those cases, I might want to indicate that the appointment will be in the timezone of our home institution, regardless of whether the student or I is actually in that particular timezone.

You Have a Choice, But It’s Basically AOL or Nothing

Right after I published my previous post about Chairman Pai’s FCC’s plan to kill net neutrality rules governing internet service providers, the FCC released details about the proposal the Commission plans to bring to a vote in December.

It’s even worse that I had thought. It looks like Chairman Pai’s FCC is setting up to allow Internet Service Providers to decide what content and websites its customers can visit and which ones it cannot. For anyone following the fortunes of Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T over the last few years will note that these companies have each acquired or are in the process of acquiring content companies. Most recently, AT&T plans to absorb Time Warner, ostensibly for the content it can provide the broadband and wireless service provider. Verizon did something similar when it acquired AOL and Yahoo and rebranded them Oath.

We’ve been expecting the single, unlimited broadband package to go away someday—either through throttling your connection speed or by capping the amount of data you send and receive each month. What might happen now is there could be at least two tiers of broadband service:

  1. a discounted AOL-type service where you get unlimited access to the content on that service
  2. a prohibitively expensive rate for a somewhat open service, like what we have now

At any rate, Chairman Pai is basically giving the monopolistic Internet service providers the opportunity to become all-in-one information services. Remember most of America has no choice in Internet service providers and unlike in the past, when there was a national telephone monopoly and local cable TV monopoly, the government provided some level of protections against monopolistic behavior. Not anymore.

It really seems like the Internet will again be like AOL. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Lapdogs and the Carcass of Net Neutrality

The corporate lapdogs at the Federal Communications Commission are to announce this week—the week of the Thanksgiving holiday the United States—their scheduled vote on December 15 to eliminate the “net neutrality” rules that govern wired broadband Internet providers.

The timing of the announcement and of the scheduled vote is not accidental. The FCC is trying to sneak the announcement during a holiday week when the country is distracted and will take the vote on a Friday before the FCC commissioners presumably adjourn for 2017. As we know, because of Donald Trump, the FCC has three business-friendly Republican commissioners that will out vote the two Democratic commissioners. There’s every reason to expect the vote to be a mere formality.

Karl Bode posted a great essay on Techdirt about the vote predicting a strong public backlash against the FCC’s vote to kill net neutrality rules. I won’t reproduce his argument here, but I want to draw attention to the two reasons he foresees a revolt. First, the public overwhelming supports these rules because, as with the broadband consumer privacy protections the Senate killed earlier this year, this is not a partisan issue. Hardcore lefties and righties want these protective rules. Second, these rules will largely benefit broadband Internet providers: i.e., the deep-pocketed cable and telephone companies that rank among the most hated companies in America. Much like the Republican tax plans currently debated in both chambers of Congress, the benefits will go to the wealthiest and most powerful segments in our country. The rest of us will get screwed.

However, unlike Bode, I am less optimistic about a coming public revolt against this FCC and the broadband companies they are supposed to protect the public against. A lot of people don’t understand what net neutrality even is, much less other related concepts such as common carriage that are arguably more meaningful and noticeable to people on a day-to-day basis. The most immediate effect of ending net neutrality will be preferential treatment of partner services. As we’ve already seen, Netflix is fine with partnering with ISPs to ensure a clear path for its streaming video service. As long as people can still stream video on Netflix and Amazon, no one will really notice that their Internet will no longer be an open-platform.

Of course, the long-term effect will be much greater, even if its harder to identify. That’s because the next generation of Internet companies will have a harder time emerging. Someone might develop something we can’t even imagine yet that could threaten Netflix and Amazon’s dominance the same way each company all but eliminated the Blockbuster Video stores that profited with usurious late fees and the major chain bookstores that forced many independents out of business decades. But we won’t probably will never see those competitors emerge and, even worse, we may never even know they existed in the first place.

The votes that Chairman Pai has brought to the FCC over his first year as the Commission’s chairman benefit incumbents over future innovative upstarts. While this may have a short-term benefit for the large companies that employ thousands of workers and trade on the Dow Jones stock exchange, as Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T do, these actions will cost us in the long-term in lost innovation. The Internet communications revolution in the United States didn’t come from incumbent telecommunications companies. It originated from military, government, and university researchers working together—often in their spare time. Had we left it up to AT&T or RCA, our Internet would basically be AOL and what Sprint called the “wireless web.” As someone who remembers both these versions of the “Internet,” I wish I had never known they existed in the first place.

The 2016 Mac Notebooks Can’t Take “Crumbs in the Keyboard”

It’s been a year since Apple released the 2016 models of the current MacBook Pro and MacBook notebooks, and it looks like the new butterfly-switch keyboard suffers from a major design flaw that allows a piece of dust—or a crumb in the keyboard—to render it useless.

This is not something I’ve experienced firsthand, as I own a 2015 MacBook Pro. That was the first one to offer the new 3D Touch Trackpad, but it still used the legacy scissor-switch keyboard.

Apple blogger John Gruber has taken up this cause and rightly argues that a notebook computer keyboard should be “totally reliable. So reliable that it’s confusing when something does go wrong.” He also notes that Apple laptop keyboards have been “totally reliable” until the release of the 2016 notebooks, although I can point out a different experience with my second Apple laptop—a 15-inch Aluminum PowerBook G4, released in early 2005.

This was a great laptop, and I used it from 2005 to about 2009, when I sprung for a unibody MacBook Pro that I used for another six years. One major part of its longevity was that I was able to upgrade the RAM after a couple of years, and after running out storage, I was able to replace the hard drive with a larger one. Waiting a couple of years for these upgrades allowed the price of memory and storage to drop.

But this particular laptop did have one notable flaw: the keyboard. The keys were a bit spongy, and they lacked a satisfyingly quick “tap.” This was more or less typical of Apple keyboards before the Aluminum keyboard from the late-2000s. Another issue with this keyboard is that the key caps would break.

I experienced this on multiple occasions, but at the time, I could take my Powerbook to any Apple Store, and a Genius would replace the key cap at no charge. This took about ten minutes. As with the easy upgradability of the memory and the storage, the easy repairability of this Powerbook model made this a very long-lasting machine.

This was also true of my 2009 MacBook Pro. Because I could open the case and remove parts as needed, I was able to rescue it after I spilled seltzer on it by opening the case. And when I broke the fan cable in trying another repair, I was able to solder it back on to the logic board.

However, this is not true of the current MacBook and MacBook Pro lineup. Apparently, if a single piece of dust or a crumb gets underneath the key cap, you won’t be able to type. And removing the offending scrap of food could require replacing the entire top case.

Over the last decade, Apple has made their laptops much harder to repair in order to shrink their size and weight. Many of these steps offered other benefits. For example, when Apple stopped making batteries that you could remove and swap with a spare battery, the life of the new built-in battery increased: from three hours to about seven. Yes, the laptop became thinner, but it offered such a dramatic improvement in battery life that no one missed carrying (and charging) a spare battery.

However, these steps have now gone too far. Apple has prioritized the lightweight and thinness of their notebooks over the repairability and upgradability. At first, they made the memory permanent. Whatever memory you have for your MacBook or MacBook Pro notebook is basically all you will ever have. Upgrading the storage is also next to impossible. But those are solid-state components, and it’s unlikely that you will need to replace those under normal circumstances. As my dad told me when I was kid, solid-state parts don’t break, but moving parts do.

Curiously, the keyboard is the only part of the MacBook and MacBook Pro that moves and it is just as important as the memory and the storage. For that reason, it needs to be both functional and serviceable. Sadly, should you be eating lunch while working on your MacBook Pro might be render the keyboard to be neither functional nor serviceable.

Distrust and Verify: Your ISP and Choosing a VPN

Earlier this year, I noted that the Senate had eliminated consumer protections for broadband customers. This change could result in Internet Service Providers sniffing your broadband data to potentially sell your browsing history to marketers. Yes, it sucks.

I also noted that one way to counter this practice would be to mask your broadband traffic through a Virtual Private Network (VPN). When you tunnel your traffic through a VPN, your ISP can’t tell what websites or Internet hosts you are visiting. All it can see is that you’re transmitting and receiving encrypted data to your VPN provider.

However, tunneling all your traffic through a VPN is not an ideal solution because the performance of your broadband connection will suffer. There are still perfectly good reasons for using a VPN:

  1. You’re connected to an untrusted network, such as a public WiFi hotspot in a cafe, hotel, or airport.
  2. You’re trying to access geofenced content, such as information that is not available in your country but is in another.
  3. You don’t trust your Internet connection because you’re in a foreign country or on the premises of a business competitor.

But a VPN doesn’t provide you with 100% security or privacy. Instead you’re simply replacing the ISP you might distrust with a VPN provider that you might trust a bit more. Your VPN provider will “know” every website that you visit while you are connected to it. And just as your ISP does, some VPN providers keep logs of what sites their users are visiting.

Boni Satani recently coauthored a guide on The Best VPN that surveys 118 VPNs and their policies that indicate that they do not keep logs of their subscribers’ activity. If you’re considering subscribing to a VPN, I would recommend reviewing this guide to help find a VPN that does not log your traffic. Of course, you’re the final arbiter of what is the best VPN for you. Do your homework and choose widely.

Personally, I use TunnelBear for occasions when I’m at an untrusted public WiFi network and don’t want someone to “sniff” my data. Their privacy policy states that they do not “store users originating IP addresses when connected to our service and thus cannot identify users when provided IP addresses of our servers.” They may log what site you visit but they cannot associate that information with you. And they have those cute bears.

Update: I should reiterate that using a VPN doesn’t guarantee complete privacy or anonymity. For example, the FBI was able to use PureVPN’s IP address logs to determine that a PureVPN user was allegedly cyberstalking a former roommate and her friends. PureVPN was listed in the Best VPN survey of VPNs that do not keep logs. They apparently do.

Panic over the Bluetooth and WiFi Buttons in iOS 11

iOS 11 came out yesterday. iOS 11 release day is an exciting occasion for many people. Hardcore users anxiously await 10:00 AM Pacific Time after which they can download and install the update. Developers push updated versions of their apps to take advantage of new features available to iPhone and iPad users. (The feature that developers seemed most excited to utilize was drag-and-drop.) And then, the tech press gets crazy trying to find something wrong so they can write headline-grabbing warnings about some supposedly fatal flaw in the operating system.

One such iOS 11 “flaw” that has been getting some panicked attention is the Bluetooth and WiFi buttons in Control Center. In previous versions of iOS, turning off either of these radios from Control Center completely disabled these radios. However, in iOS 11, they remain active to allow connections with Apple devices and services, such as “AirDrop, AirPlay, Apple Pencil, Apple Watch, Location Services, and other features.” You can see that the Bluetooth button in Control Center does not disable Bluetooth in Settings in this video.

Writing for VICE Motherboard, Lorenzo Francheschi-Bicchierai notes that turning off WiFi or Bluetooth has a lot of utility for security reasons because it “reduces your exposure to potential attacks.” The new Bluetooth and WiFi buttons in Control Center interface will not quarantine you from such an attack.

However, none of these pieces mention that you can disable WiFi and Bluetooth with one tap: you can activate Airplane Mode.

I tested this myself when I saw that AirDrop still works when I turn off Bluetooth and WiFi in Control Center. However, AirDrop didn’t work after I turned on Airplane Mode from that Control Center button.

While turning off WiFi and Bluetooth might seem like a way to disable to radios in your phone there are at least two others that are still running, independent of WiFi or Bluetooth:

  1. Cellular radios. You can still connect to your cellular network without WiFi or Bluetooth and those radios still operate.
  2. GPS. I learned this when I turned off Bluetooth and WiFI on an airplane, and a photo I snapped while airborne had geolocation data. Apparently, sitting near the window was enough to receive a GPS signal.

As with Bluetooth and WiFi, you can disable these radios with a single tap of the Airplane Mode icon.

Dear Cousin, Here’s What I Think About Apple’s September 2017 Event

Apple Watch Series 3

Of all the products introduced at Tuesday’s Apple Event, I’m most excited about the new Apple Watch Series 3.

After the September 2016 Apple Event, where Apple introduced the iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, AirPods and other things that I already forgot about, one of my cousins went to this site looking for my opinions about the then-new iPhone 7 family. I never got around to posting anything.

Sorry, Denise.

But if you still care what I think a year later here are my takeaways from what Apple introduced in September 2016:

  1. The iPhone 7 was basically an iterative improvement over the iPhone 6S, which itself was an iterative improvement over the iPhone 6. In fact, I almost wanted to call the iPhone 7 the iPhone 6SS. If you had anything older than an iPhone 6, then I hope you got an iPhone 7! In fact, in 2017, you still can.
  2. The AirPods are really cool, no matter what you hear about them. I have been using them since March, and I really like them. They work great with Apple products, and they sound just as good as the EarPods. If you can wear EarPods and like their sound quality, you’ll never go back to your wired EarPods. I haven’t!

This year, however, I couldn’t bear to let my cousin down and wait another year to post my thoughts on the new products introduced at the September 12, 2017, event. So, cuz, here are my thoughts on the stuff Apple introduced last week.

Apple Watch

I bought the first Apple Watch, even though I had mixed feelings about whole idea of a smartwatch in the first place. Although I eventually caved and bought one, I still have mixed feelings about Apple Watch in general.

First, it didn’t work like I expected. I was hoping to have apps on my wrist that would in many cases replace the need for my iPhone. However, the first-generation, which nerds mockingly refer to as the “Series 0,” Apple Watch is too darn slow for that. The recent improvements in watchOS made it a little better, but it’s maddeningly slow to open an app and get the information I need.

Second, while I found only a limited amount of utility with Apple Watch, I can’t go a day without wearing it. Part of this is because it tells time, and, it turns out, that I find that glancing at my wrist to check the time to be very useful. Also, some apps work really well as complications. For example, Dark Sky gives me the current temperature and the likelihood for rain. Also, Fantistical has a really cool complication that tells me about my current or upcoming appointments. And because I color-code my calendars, I can tell what kind of event it is: red for teaching, green for softball and cycling, blue for leisure and cultural events, yellow for travel, etc.

Third, like many others, I’ve enjoyed using Apple Watch for fitness, even if I loathe the idea of self-tracking. Apple Watch has been cool for tracking my physical activity, especially to compare my active days to my inactive days.

However, the new Series 3 watches look like really compelling upgrades. Not only does the improved processor sound like a worthwhile upgrade, perhaps making Apple Watch work like the app watch I always wanted, having a real GPS and an altimeter would be cool for outdoor adventures. The only question I have is whether I would care to spend an extra $70, plus $10 each month, for LTE.

Yes! I’m going to upgrade from my current, first-generation Series 0 to a Series 3, but I might wait until I can get a refurbished one… or one as a Christmas gift (hint, hint).

Apple TV 4K

I don’t have a 4K TV, and I already have an Apple TV that I got “free” when I signed up for DirecTV Now last year. Nonetheless, $179 seems like a lot to spend on a streaming box, even if it’s a premium one from Apple.

No. If you have a 4K TV and can get a good deal on a Apple TV 4K down the line, this might be something for you. But at the moment, it’s not for me.

iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus

Note: I’m not in the market for a new iPhone so I don’t have much to say about this or the iPhone X.

If the iPhone 7 was really the iPhone 6SS, as I quipped earlier, the iPhone 8 is certainly more than an iPhone 7S (or if you prefer, the iPhone 6SSS). However, there are some nifty new features that you can’t deny:

  • True Tone display.
  • All-glass body, kind of like the iPhone 4, which was my favorite of all the iPhone designs.
  • A better camera, as you expect from a new iPhone each year
  • The A11 Bionic chip that might not excite many people, but the idea of six cores working together—instead of just two or four—will make this phone scream in terms of performance.
  • The new, really cool Gold color!

Certainly, these are all great improvements, and I like the new storage tiers: 64 and 256 GB are great. Power users will appreciate having a quarter-terabyte in their hand, and casual users will be fine with only 64 GB. It’s hard to believe that the original iPhone could only store 4 and 8 GB!

However, as I am still really happy with my iPhone 7, and the 4.7-inch iPhone 8 lacks the dual-camera to power the computational photography features of the iPhone 8 Plus, I’m saving my money for another year.

No. The iPhone 8 represents the maturation of the 6-6S-7 form factor. But that does not warrant me to upgrade my iPhone 7. In fact, I would pause before upgrading even an iPhone 6S, unless that phone feels especially sluggish to you.

iPhone X

Finally, there’s the iPhone X. If you notice, I didn’t consider the Plus-sized phones. That’s because I don’t like the 5.5-inch phones. They’re too big, and I derisively call them “Dad Phones,” to associate them with “dad jokes” and “dad jeans.”

That’s why I like that Apple brought the features and the display of the big, 5.5-inch phone to smaller, 4.7-inch form factor. The bezel-less design looks great. Face ID is a pretty significant technological breakthrough, and I am confident that someday we will see this is in every Apple product—like we did with Retina Displays and with Touch ID.

Bravo, Apple!

Although I’m very impressed with all the engineering that went into making iPhone X possible, there are two things I don’t like about this phone:

  1. That unsightly notch! I understand that the notch is where the camera, speakers and microphone live, but it looks ugly. It makes the display look like a dog-eared file folder, which seems like a strange design metaphor to use for a “future” phone.
  2. While I applaud the decision to get rid of the home button, I am skeptical how great the phone will work without it. The new swipe gesture to go home and to switch apps appears to be a great solution because it relies on the decade-long muscle memory we’ve developed for pressing that button. However, that feature only seems to work when the phone is awake, much like it does on the Apple Watch. That might pose a problem: Raise to Wake doesn’t reliably work for me so pressing the screen, as I do on Apple Watch, will have to be the new default gesture. Or maybe Raise to Wake will work 100% of the time now… who knows?

These are admittedly minor quibbles. But then again the advantages of this particular phone also appear similarly trivial. It’s cool, but I still don’t see this as a fully baked product, as I do see with Apple Watch Series 3 or with iPhone 7 and 8.

No… Not yet. We all know this will not be the only bezel-less iPhone Apple will ever make. I certainly look forward to what they will introduce in the coming years because while we’ve seen the evolution of the iPhone mature in the 6-6s-7-8 and series, iPhone X looks to be beginning of a revolution for Apple’s smartphone.

Software

That’s not to say that you won’t get anything new from Apple without spending money this fall. Every Apple product noted above, and even ones not mentioned such as the Mac and iPad lines, are due to receive really compelling software upgrades.

Software Upgrade Target Hardware Release Date
iOS 11 iPhone and iPad September 19
tvOS 11 Apple TV September 19
watchOS 4 Apple Watch September 19
macOS High Sierra Mac September 25

I am planning on upgrading the software on my devices as soon as they are released, except that I might wait to upgrade my Mac to High Sierra and APFS.

But, dear Cousin, I should offer this warning first: between download time and the painfully long amount of time it takes to update the software on Apple Watch, you might spend a good part of the day doing these upgrades.

Once these upgrades are done, however, it might feel like you got all-new devices. Or they might start running slow and make you wish you bought new ones.

Square Cash, You’ve Changed

Square Cash, the peer-to-peer payment service by Square, has undergone some changes over the years, and some of them I do not like. However, the final straw came when they required me to verify my account by connecting to Facebook to add funds to my Square Cash balance. To echo the sentiment that John Gruber holds towards Facebook, I’d like to tell Square Cash… we can’t be friends!

I was a fan of Square Cash for years, and I even defended it against my friend’s protestations. In fact, I preferred using it to other peer-to-peer services such as Paypal or Venmo, which are incidentally owned by the same company but do slightly different things. Venmo, for example, has emoji.

Square Cash was better than either of these peer-to-peer services because:

  1. You could send money via email. This was so simple. You emailed your friend and cc’ed cash@square.com and put the amount in the subject line. After a quick setup, the money was transferred between user’s bank accounts.
  2. Square Cash used debit cards to process transactions, instead of ABA routing and account numbers. This made signing up a lot faster and, also, most banks offers some fraud protection with debit card purchases. I don’t believe they offer such protection with these ABA transfers. How secure can an ABA transfer be, considering that it was developed in 1910?
  3. Most payments were free and instantaneous. When you sent money, it would charge your debit card as a purchase and then withdraw the funds from your checking account. When you would receive funds, it would add the funds to your checking account, as if you had returned a purchase.

But over the years, many of these advantages have gone away.

  1. Most transfers over email fail so you have to use the mobile app or login to your account on a browser to send someone money.
  2. New users reports that they must provide an ABA routing and account numbers when sending money over a certain amount.
  3. Transfers from one bank account to another are no longer instant. Now, you must “cash out” to transfer the money to your bank account. Also, instant transfers to your bank account are no longer free. You can opt for an instant transfer, but Square will deduct 1% of the amount as a fee. Next business day transfers, however, remain free.

I don’t mind that last one because as I wrote years ago, they need to make money somehow, which is why they made a virtual debit card that you can add to your Apple Wallet and pay anywhere Apple Pay is accepted. The card withdraws from your Square Cash balance. I liked this feature because it allows Square to make money from the merchant via the interchange fee, and it doesn’t directly cost me anything.

When AT&T revamped their unlimited wireless plans earlier this year, they offered a $10 discount to customers who signed up for auto-pay with a debit card or a bank account. (Credit cards are excluded presumably because it costs AT&T more to process these payments.) When I changed to the new unlimited wireless plan, I added my Square Cash virtual card as the payment method for my AT&T Wireless account. This made sense because two other people pay me for their share of the wireless bill through Square Cash, and it was more convenient for AT&T to just bill against my Square Cash balance instead of transferring that balance to a bank account and then paying AT&T there.

Billing against that Square Cash virtual card, however, has been painful.

For the first month, I didn’t have enough funds in my Square Cash balance to cover the transaction so it failed due to insufficient funds. This seemed counter intuitive. If I initiate a peer-to-peer payment and don’t have enough funds, Square Cash will charge my debit card to cover the transaction. This was not expected behavior.

To get around this, I had to add funds from my checking account. Since my bill is about $200, I tried to add $100, but when I did, I was surprised to see a request to connect my Square Cash account with Facebook.

No, Square Cash! We can’t be friends.

Dammit, Square! I don’t have a Facebook account! Well, I do have an account, but I deactivated it almost three years ago after Sarah and I split up. While I have long ago recovered from that break up, I really enjoy not having a Facebook account, and I don’t see adding $100 to my Square Cash account as the reason to reactivate it.

There’s no way around this. There are only two options: selecting “Continue,” which takes me to a Facebook login page, or tapping on an “x,” which only returns me to the previous screen. If I tap on that “x,” I’m back trying to add $100 to my Square Cash balance, thus requiring me to connect a Facebook account. I’m caught in a loop.

I asked Square on Twitter about this. However, I forgot to include a screenshot, although I did link to Gruber’s post about Facebook.

To their credit, they did reply.

But I am not starting out. I’ve been using Square Cash for several years and have transacted thousands of dollars in that time.

The ironic part of all this is that I am encountering this problem because I am trying to let Square Cash make money. Assuming a 1.5% debit card processing fee, Square stands to make about $3 from my nearly $200 monthly wireless bill.

I did find a workaround. Like a criminal, I have to “structure” my transfers, adding small amounts, around $50, each day to build up enough of a balance to cover my wireless bill. That avoids the requirement to connect my Facebook account to my Square Cash account.

But I’m not doing this again. I am switching my payment method over to my bank’s debit card. I’m certainly not reactivating my Facebook account just to make Square a few bucks.