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Tabor Consulting Group
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Comparing and Contrasting Android Auto and CarPlay

While the age old fight rages on about Android vs iOS, I thought I might share some perspectives on my (brief) experience using the two platform’s vehicle initiatives. 

I want to stress this is in no way a full review, just some thoughts after plugging in two devices while at a big box electronics retailer.

First, my general comparison of the two platforms seems to hold true into the vehicle space. Android is less polished, someone more clunky, but has better access to data, faster iterations, and overall has greater potential. iOS just seems to always have a clearer fit and finish when it comes to the OS (other apps, not so much), but because Apple is way behind Google in terms of volume of information and the ability to present it in a useful way, iOS just seems less “useful” even if it is more “user friendly”. 

Another thing about the two platforms is “clunkiness”. Apple and iOS seem to work out of the box, first time, 99% of the time. Android, not so much. For example, when testing CarPlay, it worked the first time. Android Auto however took rebooting both my phone and the head unit to get the interface to come up. Even then, my phone through I was connected, but the head unit didn’t at first. Now, you could fault the head unit for part of that fail, but really, that sort of thing happens a lot on my Android devices. My HTC or Nexus will eventually work, but often it takes a couple of tries. 

Information access is a huge divider between these platforms. Google Maps on Android Auto has a really, REALLY, good interface. I can quickly search for nearby points of interest, ask questions like “when does it close”, and start navigating very quickly.

In contrast, Apple Maps is a bit like the last kid you pick for the kick-ball team. There just isn’t a lot of useful information inside of Apple Maps. So, yes, I can search, ask questions, and start navigating just as fast as Google Maps. However, out of a test of 10 known nearby points of interest, Google Maps knew about all 10, Apple Maps only 6. For what it’s worth, Apple Map’s interface was no where near as nice as Google Maps. 

I’m in the Google Music ecosystem, so it’s not possible to fully test that as CarPlay doesn't have a Google Music App (nore do I expect one anytime soon). However, iTunes does have “Radio”, and access to music stored on my phone, which isn’t much. I think this is just a leftover iPod mentality on the part of Apple.  I did have access to PocketCast on Android Auto, but only the native Apple Podcast player in CarPlay, though if you are in that ecosystem, the native Podcast player does a good job. There does not seem to be an Audiobook player for Android Auto yet, and iOS 8.4 is supposed to bring a separate player app to both CarPlay and the devices itself. To it’s credit, I could listen to Audiobooks via the iTunes app in CarPlay. TuneIn is on both platforms for live audio streaming. 

Messaging is also a point of some difference. Apple and iOS do a much better job with messaging than Android, and that comes across in the vehicle interface as well. With iMessage, I could dictate messages and have inbound messages read to me. Because iMessage is integrated, I could use SMS or desktop messaging seamlessly. Android on the other hand is a messaging mess. Hangouts vs SMS, and even then do you want SMS over your SIM card’s number or your Google Voice Number… I spent well over a minute trying to send a message on Android Auto and never could. Google knew WHAT I wanted to say, and for the most part knew WHO I wanted to say it to, but the system seem to choke out trying to decide HOW to send it. 

Finally, general knowledge graph questions, Android did better than iOS. However, iOS was better at some personal information management stuff like “make an appointment” (total google fail), and “remind me to”. Both systems took my reminder, but only iOS seem to do anything meaningful with it, I’ve yet to find where Google put my reminders and notes. (They are not in Keep and I have no ideal where reminders go.)

Like I said, this was not a full review, just a quick look at the systems. My final impressions were these. If I am going somewhere I’m not familiar with, give me Android Auto and Google Maps, Apple Maps is a death trap. If I want to play music or Podcasts, Android Auto. If I want Audiobooks, CarPlay. Live streaming is a draw. If I’m driving around and need to communicate or make appointments, CarPlay. If I’m driving around and need to find out some bit of information, Android Auto. So my personal score is: Android Auto 4, CarPlay 3… My only problem is that I want all these functions to work from a single device. :)

Hands and Eyes Free User Experience (HEFUX)

Developers really need to start thinking about designing applications that include a Hands and Eyes Free User Experience. Just like developers think about designing for the small screen vs the large screen or portrait vs landscape orientations, we need to start considering how to use apps without even having to touch or look at a screen. 

Going all the way back to when Douglas Rain gave voice to the HAL 9000 or Majel Barrett gave voice to the computers on Star Trek, the dream has been computers that we interact with via natural speech. Computer Scientist and Futurist have been saying that dream is just around the corner... for the past 50 years.

But now in 2015 it really does look like we are closer than ever real natural speech interactions with machines. The groundwork in terms of near universal speech recognition has been laid. The work now will be in programmatically and algrymiticly parsing the words recognized into commands.

A major component to this will be context, and gracefully handling errors and exceptions within a context framework. Google has this function in search. So when you ask "What is the capital of Tennessee?", you get the Knowledge Graph answer of "Nashville". If you follow that question/answer with "What's its population?", you get "609,644". In this case, Google knew the context that "its" meant "Nashville". (To be fair though, if you asked "What is its population", Google fails, and gives you the worlds population or just the definition of the word "population". So the system's no where near perfect.)

Just like any modern User Interface, a Hands and Eyes Free User interface should start with the operating system, and provide easy hooks and apis that allow developers to write their own apps on top of it.

Currently the only 100% Hands and Eyes Free User interface is the Amazon echo, though it still leans heavily on a smartphone app.

Apple's Siri Eyes Free is perhaps the current best blend of touch interfaces with a Hands and Eyes Free User interface. When Siri is initialized in Eyes Free mode, there is no need to look at or touch a screen, all of the functions are 100% by voice command with spoken and audio prompts and feedback. However, the system goes off the rails sometimes because of poor exception handling, and some commands like "Where is my wife?", still want to try and bring up a visual component even though the Eyes Free mode prohibits this, (thus nothing is displayed and no audio response is given. fail)

Sadly Google is behind Apple in voice interface. The reason is that while many functions can be "started" via a spoken voice command, it still takes looking at, and touching, a screen to complete the action. Also, because Google is a search company before anything else, error handling is done by just executing a Google Search based on the words it thought it heard. Which is why the command "Schedule an Appointment for tomorrow at 2 PM with Bob Smith titled Web Meeting", just returns a search who's top hit is a forum post complaining about why Google Voice Search sucks at calendar functions. (Incidentally, that exact same command on Siri Eye's Free works almost 100% of the time, and even if it misunderstands part of it, there are voice prompts to correct the various constituent parts of the command.)  

The Quest for Android Auto...

I'm on a quest to get Android Auto in my car. Like many mobile professionals with large service areas in rural America, I spend an inordinate amount of time behind the wheel of a vehicle. In my case a 2013 Honda Accord. 

Like most IT guys, I get most of my in car infotainment from a smartphone. By "infotainment" I mean both my mobile entertainment from Podcasts, Pandora, Google Music, and Audiobooks, and information such as navigation, communication, scheduling, and note taking. 

I'll start off with a provocative (or obvious) statement: Car Manufacture (OEM) navigation systems suck. They are clunky to use, outdated from the moment you buy the car, and have ever staling points of interests. Their only good point is that they tend to be better physically and programmatically integrated with their vehicle, but even that is cold comfort in the face of outdated data. Third party navigation systems are a bit better on the data obsolescence front, but they stick out like windshield warts, and never really integrate.

Far and away the best devices for navigation, information, and entertainment are already in our pockets, the smartphone. However, like third party navigation systems, smartphones in cars often become the payload of dinky plastic cradles and holders that we have to find ways to wedge into existing dashboards or windshields. Somehow it feels wrong to entrust a nearly $700 Nexus 6 to a $30 cradle that clamps into an air vent and deal with one or more cables. dangling to a power outlet who's original design was for the igniting of cancer sticks.

Plus, there is something to be said about the dangers of distracted driving when your full smartphone interface is right there in-your-face, and we've all been conditioned to respond to notifications like mice hitting a bar to get a food pellet.  

There has got to be a better way, and thankfully Google has it, Android Auto. It holds the promise of being that elegant integrated solution that gives us information and entertainment in a way that (hopefully) minimizes driver distractions. 

So for my 10,000 foot view, here are my strategic objectives:

1. Android Auto on a large screen neatly embedded in my dash. 
2. The ability to answer and end calls with steering wheel buttons. 
3. The ability to trigger voice commands from a steering wheel button.  
   a. Navigation
   b. Lookup Points on Interest
   c. Get the Weather
   d. Have email/sms/hangouts messages read to me
   e. Dictate and send email/sms/hangouts messages
   f. Schedule events, invite people to those events.
   g. Take Notes
   h. Set reminders
   i. Select and start playing music/podcasts/audiobooks
   j. Make calls from Contacts, POI lookups, or by speaking a number
   k. General Information (knowledge graph) queries.
Do these functions 100% without having to touch or look at a screen. (safety third) 

Over the next few weeks I'll be making posts about my Quest, what I have learned, and my progres. I'm also asking for feedback on other peoples experiences and ideals. Finally, because I'm fully bi-tech-ual, I'll be testing Apple CarPlay alongside Android Auto.  

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I just reinstalled "Prowl" on an iOS device that I have. "Prowl" is a "notification" app which is highly scriptable. This means that I can write simple shell scripts to send notification text alerts to my device from anything from a server down to an tiny embedded device like a Arduino or DSL Modem. Notification Apps are great because as an IT guy I can write little scripts to alert me if there is trouble on even the smallest device.

Sadly though there is not a good cross platform Notification App between Android and iOS. When I switched over to Android 2 years ago, I rewrote all of my notification scripts to use a program called "Notify my Android".

All the technical mumbo jumbo aside, I got a little surprise when I reinstalled Prowl. Apparently I failed to convert ALL of my notification scripts two years ago, and a single embedded system has been sending out alerts for all that time. It just so happens this embedded system is installed outdoors in a rural environment. 

So, for the past two years, this little device has been hanging on a tree in the deep dark woods, screaming into the void, begging me to come help it.....

This could be the beginning of a horror movie script, or a straight to DVD film about a snake handling cult...

TCG Statement on Windows XP -

As many of you have noted, Microsoft is ending “support” and “security updates” for Windows XP on April 8, 2014. 

First, despite what you may have seen on TV or Facebook, this does not mean that your computer will stop working on April 9th. Microsoft is simply no longer going to be providing help-desk support AND will no longer be creating security patches for the Operating System. Of these two, the second one is the more concerning, given that practically no one calls Microsoft for support. The end of security patches means that in the future if a security hole is discovered in Windows XP, Microsoft will NOT release a fix for it as they have been doing for the past 12 years. 

If you are running an Antivirus (such as AVG, Microsoft Security Essentials, Avast, ClamAV, Norton, etc, etc) your computer should be ok for a while. However this is not a long term solution. At some point a flaw will be discovered, and hackers will find a way to exploit it.

You must learn to let go…. Windows XP was a good operating system for it’s time, but the world has moved on.

So here are some helpful options…

1. DO NOT BUY WINDOWS 8!!! It’s difficult to describe the mess that is Microsoft’s current Flagship OS. While on a technical level it is an “ok” operating system, most people find the User Interface prohibitively frustrating. 

Microsoft was trying to create a single User Interface for Tablets, Touch Screen Laptops, and Traditional Desktops. While it works better as a OS for Tablets, Microsoft is three years behind Apple in the current Tablet race, and their hardware offering was over-priced and under-preforming when compared to there iPad and Android competitors. 

While Windows 8 on Tablets is passible, on Desktops it is a mess. There is a vast difference between a “Touch” interface which uses fingers and swiping to a “point and click” interface which uses a mouse and scroll wheel. Windows 8 was created with a Touch interface, and Desktop users are forced to emulate fingers with a mouse.

For people who have never used a Computer, Windows 8 is easier to learn than previous versions of Windows, but when you are bringing a decade of experience to Windows 8, the transition is difficult. 

Aside from the User Interface frustrations, Windows 8 also has had some software compatibility problems which makes running old software on that platform difficult. 

Lastly, Business users who are working in a Managed Windows Server Environment should stay away from Windows 8 completely. Starting in Windows XP, Microsoft has offered two “paths” of their Operating System, a Business centric path and a Home centric path. The versions of Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8 that were Business centric had the ability to easily work with Windows Servers, and Windows Shared Folders in a server-less Workgroup. The Home centric versions left these features out, Microsoft opting instead to promote a less secure and less reliable “home sharing” network scheme. 

Prior two Windows 8, most of the Home centric versions could be shoehorned into working in server-less workgroup environments, this was because many of the “sharing” features of Printers and Network Storage Drives used these businesslike server-less workgroup sharing methods. However Windows 8 Home centric versions have made this type of shoehorning much more difficult and much less reliable. This is a problem because 99% of the computers that can be bought from Wal-Mart, an Office Supply store like Staples, or a big-box retailer like Best-Buy will have a version of Windows 8 that is Home centric. Small business owners may find that they will have bought a computer that can not be integrated into their network.  

I confess that I feel a bit of schadenfreude when I get a call from a business owner who through impatiens or bad planing bought a computer from Staples only to find that it had a Home Centric version of Windows. They wind up spending more money and taking more time to refit that system to work in their network than if they had call an IT professional in the first place. 

In the end, if you want to stay with Windows, for home or business use, TCG recommends Windows 7. 

2. If you have a computer that is less than 5 years old (meaning you bought a machine with XP during the Vista debacle), your computer should be able to run Windows 7. Windows 7 is currently the go-to standard for IT people, and it can still be found, though not through retail outlets. We have found that Windows 7 runs fine on a Core2 Duo 1.8 GHz System with 2GB of Ram or better. We have even made it run on P4 (single core) system running at 2.5Ghz with 2GB. 

If you really want to keep your current hardware, we strongly recommend a format and “fresh” install of the OS and all of your Software. This process is not easy, and requires a comprehensive backup of your data, but it does give you the best option for running Windows 7 on your current hardware. 

3. Take a moment and ask yourself what you really do with a computer. If you find your self saying “i don’t use the computer for that much”, you may not even need a computer at all. If you are a type of home user who only uses a computer to surf the Internet, get on Facebook, play music/movies, read and write some light email, check your banking/pay bills online, chat with friends, etc, then a Tablet may fill your needs. 

Modern Tablet computers like the iPad can give many users all the functionality that they need in a computing device. Tablets of course do not have the same functionality as a desktop or laptop computer, but is that lack of functionality something that will hold you back? Perhaps the only major drawback for a tablet for most home users is the lack of a physical keyboard. One function that many home users do with a computer is writing long form documents such a letters, emails, or other personal writings. There are bluetooth keyboards for Tablets, but tablets like the iPad or Google Android Nexus 7 have easy to use voice dictation that translate your speech into text. 

4. Have you thought about a Mac? If you are going to be moving from Windows XP to something else, there is going to be a learning curve. Even Windows 7, which is fairly close to Windows XP in terms of usability, is still a very different experience and does take some time to learn.

If you are going to have to put yourself through having to learn of new Operating System, you may want to investigate switching to Apple’s Macintosh OS. Apple’s OSX is a easier OS to use than anything from Microsoft, and the build quality of an iMac or MacMini computer is better than a typical HP or Dell. Because of the way Apple’s OSX is designed, it is far less susceptible to Viruses and Malware than Windows. Because Apple controls both the hardware and software, there is really no concern over drivers, or an update from Apple not working. 

Owning a computer is a bit like owning a lawn-mower, it’s a tool that you need to do a job. With Apple, you cut the grass, with Windows, you tend to spend a lot of time working on the mower before cutting the grass. The phrase that most people use to describe Apple products and experiences is that “it just works”. 

While there are some software packages that are not available for Mac, these are typically specialized things that most home users never encounter. Even for Business users, there are easy ways to run Windows 7 INSIDE your Macintosh computer, giving you the best of both worlds. 

In short, all of the business and development systems here at TCG are running Apple’s OSX Operating System, and that’s perhaps the best endorsement we could give to it. 

Dear Google Android Development Team… 

For the love of everything good, We, the users of Android, beseech you to please, Please, PLEASE, fix media playback in the Android OS. 

Rewrite the Bluetooth stack to allow multiple A2DP, AVRCP, HSP, and HFP devices to be connected to an Android device at once. Then give us an easily accessed UI to switch audio targets from headphones, to speakers, or to any connected Bluetooth device and then back again. 

Improve audio playback controls by giving us a single UI that controls all audio. We are tired of being unable to start and stop audio from the Bluetooth controls or from non-uniform Notification drop downs. 

Rethink Chromcast. Sure a $35 HDMI dongle that plays back content from the web is very “Googly”, but we need a device that will mirror the Android display and audio in real time on a second screen wirelessly. We need a way for Apps to access a second wireless screen that isn’t a mirror, but is part of a larger experience such as Slide presentations. Finally WE ABSOLUTELY must have a way to play back media, (both video and audio, and just audio) originating from the device itself to a network device such as a Chromcast, or software running on a PC. Switching playback to these network devices must be done in the same way as switching audio targets is describe above.

I suppose it's good that Google has reduced the cost of their drive product, but I seriously doubt if it will change many minds about it. The problem with Google Drive has never been the price, from its debut it was already lower than the other major competing services. The problem with Google Drive has been the way synchronization has been implemented (no block level syncing), the complete lack of Linux support, and no real low level access to integrate the product into other applications. This last part has always struck me as odd given that Google has been touting it's “Cloud Storage Service” for web applications. It always struck me as a nice dovetail to Google Drive. Web apps could write into cloud storage and those files be synchronized on servers in the backend.

Sadly, until Google addresses the lack of Linux and server support, and the compulsive need to synchronize the entire file when only a tiny part of it is changed, Google Drive will never be a serious player. 

I will also toss in that the integration between “Google Docs” and “Google Drive” is a serious deal breaking flaw. Google Docs centers around office documents created and stored in data structures online. Google Drive centers around the cloud storage of actual files in a bona fide file structure. These two concepts are not compatible, and the way Google has tried to stitch them together is fraught with the potential for serious data loss. 

As it stands now when a “Google Doc” is “synchronized” with your local machine over Google Drive only a tiny link file is there representing a hook back into the data structures where your document really lives. If you happen to move a folder containing a mix of Google Docs and real files from your Google Drive synchronization folder to another folder on your computer you in effect are moving those Google Docs into the “trash” in their etherial data structure. If you are like most people and empty your “trash” you delete all the information contained in those Google Docs.

I very much enjoyed Google Docs and collaborative document editing, right up until I deleted almost 200 of them because I was trying to reorganize my Google Drive folders by moving files around on my local machines synchronization folder. At this point I would not trust Google Drive or Google Docs even if Google paid me to use them, and I happily pay Dropbox 4 times the amount Google is asking for. With Dropbox I get Linux support, server support, block level syncing, and a healthy eco system of compatible apps. Yes I have to go back to using Word and Excel, and yes I'll lose the cool collaborative editing features, but in the end I can live without collaborative editing, I can't live with lost data because Google is trying to impose an ideal of storage that is incompatible with reality.

I will only go back to using Google Docs (and begrudgingly Google Drive) when Google abandons the use of online data structure storage for documents created in Google Docs and starts to write real separate files, that can be opened in off-line programs like OpenOffice, into the Google drive filesystem.

After having been away from iOS for two years, living exclusively with Android, I have dipped a toe back into Apple's mobile waters.

Aside from my general professional curiosity, the thing that most attracted me back to iOS was media playback. In most other respects the Android and iOS have reached a sort of parity. Most day-to-day functions are available on both platforms and with only a few exceptions, new “hot” apps are now released in parallel on both platforms.

However, media playback on the Android platform is abysmal. Both camps have their own media stores, and if you are ok with being locked-in, those media stores have good integration between the cloud and the device. But Apple's media advantage doesn't come from the iTunes store, it comes from the quality of the experience when media is being played on the device itself.

I, like most people, use my phone to playback music, audiobooks, podcasts, and sometimes video, while I am out and about. For me this often means that audio being played is sometimes played from the devices onboard speakers, wired headphones, wired external speakers, a bluetooth headset, bluetooth stereo headphones, or a bluetooth car head unit. The means by which I listen to audio changes based on my physical location throughout the day. 

For example I listen to NPR in the mornings as I'm getting ready for my day. My shower has a water-proof bluetooth speaker, because obviously taking my phone in the shower is not an option. This of course means that I transfer audio playback from the phone to this Bluetooth speaker. After bathing I have breakfast, which means transferring the audio back from the Bluetooth speaker to playback on the local device. I may keep listening on the device as I walk out to the car, but once in the car, I change over to playing the the audio through the car’s bluetooth head unit. Being a safe driver, I want to make sure that playback control can be done “hands-free” via steering wheel controls and not having to mess with the phone itself.

As a I run my morning errands outside of the car, I will often times playback audio through a mono Bluetooth headset. To be honest, this is more of a stylistic choice as I have nice bluetooth over-the-ear headphones. I find the mono bluetooth headset to be slightly less pretentious than over-the-ear headphones or wired ear-buds and of course the bluetooth headset can take calls if they come in. (and let's face it, Steve Inskeep sounds about the same in mono as he doesn't stereo.)

When I reach my office I will sometimes change over and play Pandora or Google Music through bluetooth speakers at my desk, my bluetooth headphones if I have to work in the noisy server room, or plug them into a set of wired speakers if I happened to be in another part of the office.

Lunch by myself is Leo Laporte's podcast empire back in my mono Bluetooth headset. Driving during the day, or coming home at night, the car’s Bluetooth head unit is catching the latest Off the Hook or Real Time episodes.

In the evening the family might gather around the TV for a Netflix, or something from our Plex Library, both are controled from our mobile devices.

Finally I wind down my evening with an audiobook, sometimes it’s a classic, sometimes it’s just ear candy. 

I outline my day-in-the-life-of-media not just to name drop, but to try and illustrate that “media” can be a big part of our lives, and can be a fairly complex topic.

For the past two years what I described above has been an ongoing source of frustration. Not one single problem, but dozens of minor irritation that even among themselves are not consistent.

Switching the playback target on an Android device is awkward at best. I have found that the best solution is to power on and power off the various Bluetooth devices as they are needed. This is because for whatever reason you can only have ONE Bluetooth audio device connected with Android at a time. But this power cycling option is merely a workaround, requiring some finesse in terms of timing. Once one of the Bluetooth devices has been turned off, it takes several moments for the phone to realize that the device is gone and makea itself available for another device to connect. If the second device is turned on too soon, it's connection attempt will be rejected by the phone and you're left with either manually connecting through the Bluetooth menu or power cycling the second device again. While switching from the device’s speakers to a Bluetooth audio target is more or less seamless, transitioning from a Bluetooth audio target back to playback on the device is far from it. The easiest method is to again Power off the Bluetooth audio target, which of course cuts the sound instantly, but the phone still believes for several moments that it's playing to a Bluetooth audio target. After timing out, audio playback stops on the phone and can be resumed for local playback but often times with the volume completely high or completely off. Furthermore any time a Bluetooth audio target is disconnected playback on the device stops. This seems like a feature rather than a bug, but when you're listening to a live stream, the stream must be re-buffered when playback is started again. This can result in a loss of 90 to 120 seconds depending on buffering conditions.

Also, Bluetooth is not perfect. I have lost connections between the phone and the Bluetooth audio target merely by turning my head in the case of the headset, or putting my body in between the phone and a set of Bluetooth speakers that are within arms reach. Disconnections are the nature of all things wireless and the fact that they happen is not the problem. The problem is a Bluetooth audio stack and audio playback subsystem that does not properly compensate for disconnects when they happen.

The problems with Android media playback are not merely limited to Bluetooth stack issues. Even with audio playing exclusively through the devices speakers, streaming media can be interrupted by alert tones. This means that you will suffer from the same 90 to 120 seconds of program loss due to rebuffering every time if you get a text message or email. 

Finally, once you are connected to a audio target, be it Bluetooth or through the headphone jack, all phone audio is committed to that target for playback. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have missed text messages, important e-mails, and even whole phone calls, because I forgot to turn off my Bluetooth headset when I put it back into my pocket. Worse yet, is the inability to designate call audio separate from media audio. While my cars Bluetooth Head unit is technically capable of making Bluetooth phone calls the audio quality due to microphone positions and road noise is subpar. However when a phone call comes in while I'm in the car listening to audio through the cars Bluetooth stereo, I have to scramble to quickly change the phone audio from the car head unit to the handset. This IS an unsafe driving condition, and to add to the unsafeness, because you cannot hook two Bluetooth devices to a phone at the same time, I cannot have my headset on my ear ready to safely take calls AND listen to music through the car’s head unit.

This is been an ongoing gripe of mine about Android, and while some may look at the above situation as simply one man's unsolvable problem, the fact is that Apple iOS have elegantly had the audio target switching problem solved since iOS version 3. 

In iOS, you can hook multiple Bluetooth playback targets to the same phone or tablet. Apple gives you a wonderful Interface to pick where you want media to playback to. You can select whatever Bluetooth audio target you have connected, the iPhone or iPad itself, and even AirPlay targets that work over a network.

In my first week back with iOS all of the frustrations that I had with media playback melted away. I had forgotten how seamless the ability to transition from room to room and situation to situation was on iOS. AirPlay is exactly how we want network playback of media to happen: the ability to take whatever audio or video is on your devices screen right now and display that on another larger screen, or the ability to use that larger airplay target as a second screen for games or presentations.

When Apple this week introduced CarPlay, it was the first time in two years I was genuinely excited about Apple and its products. Because for years I have envisioned the potential to extend the power of a phone or tablet into a vehicle, and replace the manufacturers navigation and infotainment options (which quite frankly are never any good) with apps on a phone. This is a no-brainer and a win-win for automakers and aftermarket head unit manufacturers. Currently major automakers spend countless fortunes trying to build in navigation and infotainment into their vehicles which are obsolete the day the car rolls off the assembly line. Providing a universal interface to steering wheel controls and in-dash displays means that auto manufacturers can forget having to build their own substandard systems and let people like Apple, and the armies of app developers, take care of it for them. A new car is always shiny and fresh it's first year. What Apple has done means that a 2014 Mercedes with CarPlay should have the same cutting edge navigation and infotainment in 2024 as it does today.

Despite my complete enthrallment with iOS over media and Carplay, the honeymoon for this rebound relationship was rather short.

The first tingle of annoyance with iOS came when I saw the IOS 7 keyboard. I dimly remember there being some complaints about it when it debuted, but to actually use it, I can see those complaints being fully justified. I seem to remember my old iPhone having a keyboard that let me know when the shift key was down by doing something obvious, like changing the case of the letters displayed. This apparently is no longer the case. (no pun intended)

I had also forgotten just how much of a lock-in iOS has with iTunes. My Apple TV, iPad, and iTunes all work very well together, but over the past two years I have migrated my media completely away from iTunes and into the Plex Media Server. This migration pretty much renders an Apple TV useless for anything except a Netflix player and an AirPlay target. But the Plex app on iOS will send media to Airplay, so the Apple TV lives on. 

The next iOS letdown came as a one-two punch in the same evening. I was on my iPad and realized I needed to submit a file via a web form. This was not a problem as the file I needed to submit was in Dropbox, and I could see it from the Dropbox app. However, when I click on the “select file” button from the website I was treated to a dialog for iOS asking which picture I wanted to upload. This is when I remembered that iOS has no shared storage between apps. This bizarre lack of functionality was one of the two main reasons I abandoned iOS two years ago. (The other was Apple’s draconian app store policies). Strangely in my infatuation with media playback I had forgoten this. Apple has made the situation somewhat better. You can “open” a file from one app to another and there is an option in iTunes to transfer files to a specific app, but these are no replacement for having shared storage space where an app can save a file and another app can retrieve that file.

While I was quickly remembering the anguish of this inane feature oversight, I made my way to my desktop to complete this simple task of uploading a file to a website. While on my desktop I noticed an Apple friendly M4B audiobook I created recently from a set of audio CDs. This was in fact the book I wanted to start listening too that very evening. I was then suddenly confronted with the question of how do I transfer this audiobook from my desktop to my new iPad. I had chosen to establish syncing with iTunes on my office MacBook Pro. However, the audiobook of my desire was on my home Mac Mini. Furthermore, because of the iPads amazing battery life, I had neglected to bring home the Lightning/USB cable, believing that I only really needed it to charge the battery. I spent over an hour trying, in various ways, to get that audiobook from my desktop to the iPad. At first I thought I might use the new “Airdrop” feature, but apparently it is not possible yet to “AirDrop” between IOS and OSX. 
I reasoned that I might be able to use a file transfer program on the iPad to retrieve the file from the desktop, then use the “open with” feature to move the audiobook into my iPads library. After trial and error with 4 or 5 apps, I did eventually succeed in moving the data of the audiobook from my Mac Mini to the iPad. But, I found that it was impossible to move the audiobook from the file transfer program into the audio library on the iPad from which to play it. I tried downloading a dedicated audiobook program (BookMobile) but never could add the audiobook in question to it. 

When I was just at the point of getting in my car to drive back to the office to get my lightning cable, I looked down at my HTC One. Using A free file transfer program on my Android phone, I quickly downloaded the audiobook from my Mac Mini and dropped it into a folder on the devices user storage. My existing audiobook player, Akimbo, picked up the book without issue. From start to finish I was listening to the audiobook within four minutes.

This incident reminded me of something my brother told me years ago about Apple. He said that in the Windows or Linux world, if you have a problem, you can keep hacking at it until you find a solution. The solution may not be very functional or elegant, but eventually it does work. In the Apple world, you do things Apple’s way or not at all.

There is one final intangible element to being back in iOS. For reasons that I simply can't explain, despite my annoyances with the keyboard, the lack of shared storage, and the complete dependence on iTunes for basic functionality, it somehow feels “good” to own an iPad. This isn't just from the elegance of the media playback, but when you own an iDevice you feel like you're connected to something bigger than yourself, like you are member of some club. I know this is totally irrational, and every logical part of me rejects that belief, but still when I hold it in my hand I can't help but admire all of the good things about this iPad.

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We were VERY please this morning the learn that the Blackphone from our friends at SilentCircle is now on sale.
The uber-secure Blackphone is now on sale. 

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Behold! The Tabor Consulting Group office carbonator. Frizzy iced coffee anyone?
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