Apple’s iOS Apps

Utter the words “I use the stock apps on my iPhone” in a group of nerds and you will surely be flooded with all the reasons you are “doing it wrong”. In the not too distant past of iOS this was absolutely deserved by all rights. With every new year that rolls around, we see another update to iOS, and along with that overall update, we get updated versions of each of the default Apple apps that come as part of the OS. This year is no exception with the upcoming iOS 9. Most of Apple’s apps get minor updates with each release, but with iOS 9 we are going to see a pretty major revision to a lot of the Apple properties.

With each revision to iOS, I like to go back and check out all the stock apps to see how they have changed and to see if they meet my needs for the particular task they are designed for. There are so many amazing third party apps written by talented developers on iOS, but no matter how good they are, there are always small things that the apps are simply not allowed to do. The integration of Apple’s apps will always be that little bit more. The truth is, if a stock app does what I need, I am more than happy to use it – and sometimes prefer it – due to that extra bit of integration. I will even occasionally put up with some deficiencies in the app because I do get that extra integration benefit as a trade off.

Siri is an area of iOS where this extra integration really pays off. Siri is able to interact with Apple’s apps on a much deeper level than third party apps. This may not always be the case, and hopefully will change in upcoming versions of iOS; but, as it is still the case within iOS 9, we can assume it will be at least another year before Siri can interact at this level with third party apps. Siri, as a service, continuously improves and enables more hands free use of our devices, which is a great direction for users. With Siri on the Apple Watch and combined with HomeKit, we are enabled to become more detached physically from our devices without losing the connected benefits they provide.

Notes is not an app I seriously used until very recently. When notes was a yellow legal pad with a felt tip marker font, I wanted nothing to do with it. With the iOS 7 UI refresh, the app became at least approachable to most. I have used many different note taking solutions through the years, and recently grew tired of fighting with the solution I was using. I decided to give Apple Notes a try. A month later, I am still using it full time as my main bucket for notes. The update to Notes for iOS 9 is going to really make this switch worth it, I believe. The new features of iOS 9 will make it a real contender for most people who currently use other solutions that don’t offer the same level of integration. When it comes down to it, I need my notes to be with me on all devices and Notes is doing that for me. I do have the occastional sync issue, but it tends to fail pretty gracefully, and I end up with duplicate notes rather than missing notes. This I feel will improve as more things move to iCloud syncing.

Reminders is another app that I have used on and off. When it comes to getting stuff done, I have gone through the entire spectrum on solutions and workflows. Omnifocus > Things > Omnifocus 2 > Todoist. What do I use now? I actually use Reminders as my full time single “GTD bucket”. This would blow most people’s minds, but its effectiveness is in its simplicity. I need to capture stuff and then do it. Reminders does this and has all the scheduling options I need. I am not at all saying this would work for everyone, but it certainly works for me. Using Siri to add new items to my lists is really great. The backend sync could be improved, and I believe it is going to be with the upcoming iOS 9, as more things switch to iCloud sync rather than the old IMAP standard. UPDATE: I am back on Todoist and happier than ever! Reminders is great, but when it get’s complicated, it breaks down pretty quickly.

Calendar has not always been my calendar of choice. There are plenty of other great calendar apps, but there were two things that made me decide to switch to iOS’ default. For one, the icon date. I am one of the people who looks at the icon for the current date. The default Calendar’s icon updates with the current date, while others cannot. Like Siri, this is another area where I would like to see APIs opened up for third parties. Second is the fact that it supports all calendar types, so I can use a single app. Using two calendar apps is not a great solution for me, so I just use the one and it does what I need. The Calendar app on my phone is mostly a viewing app, whereas the majority of event editing and creation I do on my Mac with or Fantastical’s great natural language parser. Being that I use the calendar app on my phone in this way, I don’t need a lot of the bells and whistles of other calendar apps when I am on the go.

Mail is another app that has a ton of great alternatives on iOS. Most of these apps have clever ways for dealing with email while on the go. Most of those features are also for email services I don’t use, so they are of no benefit to me. No matter what email app you use, when you send from a link, it will use the Apple Mail app. This means you need to have all your accounts in Apple Mail anyway, so why not just use it. Again, I don’t find using multiple apps for the same purpose to be helpful to me. The majority of my mail handling happens before it gets to my device (Sanebox & Mail rules) anyway, so the on-device tools become less necessary.

Podcasts is the one area where I am going the other way. Plain and simple, it does not work. The sync does not work at all and there seems to be reason for it. No matter the setup, it doesn’t sync reliably. Between mobile and mobile, computer and mobile… nothing. I have had instances where it won’t even keep things straight on a single device. Quite literally, every time there is any update to iOS, I immediately go and check to see if sync works. As of 8.4, it still doesn’t. I need this app to do 2 things: play audio and sync. That’s it. Until it can do that, I cannot give it the honor of being in the primary position for its task. Fingers crossed for iOS 9. UPDATE 2015-10-19: Sync works now and everything is going great with now!

Maps has gotten a lot of negative reviews since its launch, but for me I have not really had any overall problems with it. It has given me erroneous directions occasionally, and had some crashing issues at one point, but overall, it does what it is supposed to do. I am not saying this is the perfect app for everyone; again, for my particular limited use case, it’s fine. If you rely on public transit, you will hopefully be in luck with iOS 9. Once again, the Siri integration makes Maps super easy to use.

Camera is arguably one of the most important iOS apps to me. This is another area where there are a ton of really awesome applications for taking and manipulating photos, but every single one of them has the same small thing that they cannot do, and that is to be a shortcut on the lockscreen. When you want to take a photo, you more than likely want to do it quickly. There is no quicker way to take a photo with the iPhone than sliding up from the bottom on the lockscreen. Until the lockscreen is opened up to third parties for shortcuts, the Apple Camera app will be my main camera for capturing. With the new extensions available in Photos for iOS 9, it opens up a great world for editing more seamlessly, which I cannot wait for! I also have to say that the iCloud Photo Library has been really great and works without any issues for me. Having my entire library of photos on all of my devices is a dream come true.

User.Space | Sony RX100 III Camera

2014-12-28 15.48.48I love taking photos whenever I can, and that means a wide variety of scenes that could come up. If I am going out for a walk/hike/outing with the specific intent of taking photos, I will bring my beloved Sony A7 body (talked about a few episodes back) with a fixed lens and maybe a zoom to accompany. Although this camera is insanely small for being a full frame mirrorless, there are still times when it is just too big to carry around for the day, or perhaps a larger camera may draw unwanted attention. Generally my second camera is whatever iPhone I have at the time (currently the iPhone 6), and this is often my primary as I never go anywhere without. The iPhone camera really is amazing considering how small it is and integrated into my already being carried phone. There are times however, when a phone camera just doesn’t quite cut it. This is where the mid level camera comes in, these cameras generally fit into the “point and shoot” category”.

Improvements Of Note Through The Model Revisions
RX100 I
– Initial launch of the model.
– 28-100MM Focal Range
– f/1.8 – 4.9
– Max Video Bit Rate: 28Mbps (AVCHD)

RX100 II
– 90/40 degree Tilting Screen
– Optional Electronic View Finder
– WiFi / NFC

– Upgraded Bionz X Processor
– 180/45 degree Tilting Screen
– Slightly Less Focal Range: 24-70mm
– Much improved Aperture Range: f/1.8-2.8!
– Max Video Bit Rate: 50MBps (XAVC S)
– Built in Electronic View Finder
– Built in Neutral Density Filter

New, it retails for just shy of $800. You can find great used ones in the $600-$650 range however. I bought mine used and got a great deal on it! Buying camera gear used is a really great way to save a ton of money and potentially even get an upgraded piece of equipment from what you were looking to spend.

Check out used prices on Amazon-=Episode 0005=-

D600-licious! (I bought a Nikon D600)

Six or seven months ago, rumors began to pop up on various photo blogs concerning a new camera coming up from Nikon. This by itself is nothing special, there are rumors about new cameras all the time. Two things made this rumor more exciting than most, however: it was said to have an FX sensor and be “affordable” (this, of course, was relative). You may or may not know that Nikon sells dSLR camera bodies with 2 different sensor sizes: DX and FX. FX equates to a “Full Frame”, 35mm size sensor. This sensor size has historically only been available in “Pro” level camera bodies, keeping it far out of reach for the majority of us. This is why the rumors of this mysterious new camera body got me so excited!

When I made the switch from using dSLR’s to smaller form factor bodies like micro four thirds and Sony’s NEX line, I knew the only thing that could get me to come back would be an affordable FX body from Nikon. Well, it’s that time! The D600 brought it, and brought it hard! As soon as this body was released I jumped right in asap to purchase. I have to admit that as great as the micro four thirds and NEX cameras are, I always felt I missed looking through a viewfinder and actually seeing through the lens.

It has only been a couple weeks of light use so far, but this camera is really performing well. The feel of a Nikon in my hand again really feels great. The quality and level of features they packed into this camera is extraordinary; from the dual SD card slots, to the little touches like rubber coated command dials. And yes, the command dials are in the right place, unlike Cannon 😉 The image quality this camera produces is staggering. I have never owned a camera that could produce images near this level of quality.

Since I have not owned a Nikon SLR in a number of years, I had no previous lenses. So of course I have to start rebuilding an arsenal. Not that this makes much difference, as all my old lenses were DX lenses anyway. I started off this time around with the super awesome and very solid 50mm f/1.4G. What a beautiful lens this is. Wonderfully sharp, and the fall off at 1.4 is like a dream!

Do I love this camera? Yes
Do I recommend this camera? YES!

Feel free to buy it using these sweet Amazon affiliate links! 😉

The NEX(t) Big Thing

I have to give Sony huge props for getting this camera right. I have never been a Sony brand fan, but they have made me a fan of their Alpha line of cameras. After leaving SLR land and moving to Micro Four Thirds, I was very happy with the move and didn’t regret it at all. After about a year of shooting with Micro Four Thirds, I began to need just a few things that didn’t seem to be offerred with Micro Four Thirds, namely speed. From shot to shot the speed was just not there. I began doing a little camera research to see if there were any new options out there for compact cameras with interchangeable lenses. Most of what I kept finding were SLRs, one of which was the Sony Alpha A77. This camera looked very interesting, as it had what they were calling “translucent mirror technology”. After researching the A77 quite extensively, I finally caught myself and stopped altogether. The last thing I should do is go back to a big bulky DSLR. This path turned out to not be a total waste, however; a tangent from the A77 was the NEX-7. This camera got me really exited. Small form factor, interchangeable lenses, and get this, the same sensor that was in the big SLR A77! “The same sensor!? But the NEX-7 is so small!” I know! This is what really got me rallying in the Sony camp. The NEX series of cameras have the same APS-C size sensor that you find in all DSLRs which are not full frame. This meant I could have a DLSR quality image from a point and shoot size camera. I was sold! I bought the NEX-5N.

So what were the negatives? So far I haven’t found any negatives. The camera is amazing! The quality of the build is top notch, the feature set is massive, and the price was very reasonable. I got the NEX-5N body, 18-55mm lens, and an additional 16mm f/2.8 lens for right at $800. That is a good bit less than retail, but who pays retail!? 🙂 If you rely heavily on strobes for your shooting, then this camera is not for you, as it does not have a traditional hot shoe or a wide variety of high output flashes.

“Why didn’t you get the NEX-7??” Well, right about the time these new cameras and lenses were going to be released, the terribly devastating flood happened in Thailand. This is where the majority of the NEX line is made, so many of the lenses and the NEX-7 were delayed. As of this writing, the NEX-7 is still not widely available and neither are many of the lenses. Overall, the NEX-7 does have features I very much want, like dual user assignable control knobs. But, with a body price tag that is nearly double that of the 5N, I am not 100% sure it is worth it. The NEX-7 has the same size sensor, but is 24MP vs. the 5N having 16MP. I don’t really need or want 24MP, so the 5N was the best fit for me.

Almost forgot to mention one last awesome feature of the NEX series. The NEX cameras use the Sony E-mount lenes. But, and this is a big one, the NEX line can use ANY of the Sony Alpha A-mount lenses as well! Want to use a giant 70-200mm f/2.8 lens? Go right ahead!


Amazon Link: Sony NEX-5N

iPhone Camera Accessory – olloclip

It’s no secret that the iPhone has a really great camera in it. In fact, the latest iPhone, the 4S, has a really great camera! If I was forced to come up with a complaint about the camera in the iPhone 4S, I think the best I would be able to come up with would be interchangeable lenses. But come on, it’s a phone! Fortunately, because the iPhone is so popular, there are an almost infinite number of accessories for the it. To fix the “problem” I mentioned above, you can also get lenses that can be attached to the iPhone. I recently purchased a really cool new accessory for my iPhone 4S camera: the ōlloclip. This neat little lens attachement is actually 3 lenses in 1 so it is very versatile. The lens set consists of a Wide Angle, Fisheye, and Macro. The ōlloclip is super easy to use and built very well. The quality and ease of use make it well worth the $69.99 price tag!Here are some example photos I took to demonstrate the various lenses. All the photos were taken on a tripod (using the glif+).

Standard shot using just the iPhone 4S.

Same shot using the Wide Angle lens in the ōlloclip.

Same shot using the Fisheye lens in the ōlloclip.

2 Macro shots. 1) The “O” key on my keyboard. 2) A $20 bill.