Do we really want longer battery life in our phones?

Christopher Mims over at the Wall Street Journal ($) argues that Apple, Samsung, et al. should stop worrying about making smart phones so thin. Instead, he says, give us longer battery life.

I agree. I’d love to have batteries that last longer in my phone.

Mims points to a survey of consumers which found that improved battery life is the “No. 1 thing on their wish list.”

Maybe, maybe not.

I’m reminded of a study I read about years ago. A manufacturer of washing machines surveyed consumers to ask what was important to them. The company wanted to know whether consumers wanted a more basic, inexpensive machine or a full-featured one with a higher price tag. The survey results overwhelmingly said a more basic, inexpensive machine was more desired among consumers. So the company built lots of those.

The company nearly went broke due to poor sales. It turns out that consumers answering the survey wanted to appear to be responsible, frugal stewards of their household resources. But in reality, they wanted the machine that would do it all, even at a higher price.

It seems to me the analysis offered by Mims is on target. We don’t need thinner phones—we can live with the current thicknesses offered by the manufacturers. (Do we really want a phone so thin it could be dropped down into the window space inside your car door? You just know that would happen to someone.) But we do want improved battery life.

It’s probably too late for Apple to make big changes in the iPhone 7 that I expect this fall. That design work is done. Better battery life in the present form factor of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus would be a big win. But Apple’s engineering and  design teams may have already been told “thin is in,” and have created another sleeker, mind-blowingly thin device.

I would happily trade a few grams (or more than a few) and a bit larger form factor if the battery life is noticeably better. Let’s hope the reviewers out there start clamoring for the same and that the phone designers hear them.

Apple Pay v. CurrentC

Paying for merchandise at a store can be a pain. You go up to the counter, watch as your items are rung up, dig in your wallet for a credit card or debit card, and hand it to the cashier. After your purchases are bagged, you head out the door—left to wonder whether the retailer you just visited will be hacked as Target was earlier this year.

Convenience and security are the two selling points behind Apple Pay. If you have one of the new iPhone 6 or 6 Plus phones, you can simply pull it out, put it near the reader while touching the Touch ID sensor, and voila—you’ve paid for your purchase. I must admit, I do not fully understand the security details that purportedly protect your credit card number. Apple’s Tim Cook has bragged about the tough security, but that doesn’t mean the system is secure.

News came out last week that major retailers like Wal-Mart, CVS, and Best Buy were not going to use Apple Pay (or Google Wallet) since they were signed onto a retailer-developed system known as CurrentC. But the news has broken this week that CurrentC has been hacked. It’s not a major security breach because the hackers only got email addresses of users. But this doesn’t do much to bolster consumer confidence in the system.

In the past year, I’ve had to have new account numbers issued for at least three credit cards. The little I understand about Apple’s system tells me that it doesn’t actually transmit your credit card number to the retailer but instead uses some kind of “burnable” temporary number. That’s appealing, but since I do not have an iPhone 6 (my wife got the upgrade this year) Apple Pay is not going to be anything I use anytime soon. All I know is, I want something more secure than we have now.

Security is hard, and the type of security that Apple and its competitors are trying to implement is very, very hard. Breaches will be inevitable in any system, just as a determined burglar will get into any home regardless of the security systems in place. Heck, prisons are among the most secure places in the U.S., and we cannot keep weapons and other contraband from being smuggled in. Apple, CurrentC, and other providers are going to have to get things right and hope to stay one step ahead of the hackers. That will be no easy task.

Best case for your iPhone 5/5s?

When I purchased my iPhone 5s back in September, I also purchased the Apple leather case to go with it. The leather case offers a nice, tight fit, and it looks great. After a couple of months, though, I decided that a different case is needed. Usually I don’t think about reviewing things like cases here since there are so many of them on the market. But I’ve found one I’m liking quite a bit.

My basic gripe about the Apple case is that whenever I want to plug my iPhone into something using the headphone jack, it’s more likely than not I’ll have to remove the case. Why? Because the case has a small hole around the headphone jack, and just about anything other than ear buds gets blocked from making a secure fit. The case simply gets in the way. So, I end up leaving the Apple case off.

Now, putting the iPhone 5 in a case is a bit of a struggle for me. The iPhone 5s I have is simply beautiful on its own. You can tell the design team at Apple worked very hard at creating a work of art that happens to be a smart phone. There’s a big part of me that chafes at the idea of putting this beauty in any case at all.

On the other hand, a case is all but mandatory when I consider how easily I can drop the thing. When I consider that my four-year-old son’s dexterity can be worse than mine, I have to resign myself to covering up the gorgeous design. The Apple case appealed to me originally because of its small form factor. It barely adds anything to the iPhone’s dimensions. The problem with this case (aside from the headphone jack issue) is that it offers very little in the way of shock absorption. Indeed, it may offer no protection against drops onto hard surfaces.

Last week I was listening to a podcast, Security Now. The presenter, Steve Gibson, was raving about the iPhone 5 case he settled on. (He also struck a chord with me when he talked about admiring the design of the phone.) I was intrigued enough to go check the case out, and I’m glad I did.

Steve’s recommendation (after going through, he claims, about 50 different cases) is the Incipio DualPro. The case features a hard shell exterior with an interior of silicone. The combination of the two protects the phone from impacts and scratches. The case adds a little bulk to the phone, but not too much. It’s smaller than some of the other rugged cases out there. It’s a nice compromise of the need for protection and the need to keep the device size at a reasonable one.

The Incipio DualPro comes in a variety of colors and color combinations. I went with black on black, but there are enough combinations of fun and serious colors to satisfy most aesthetic interests.

The MSRP on this case is $29.99, but Amazon has them for $14.18 as of this writing [non-affiliate link]. It’s hard to beat that price. The DualPro just might be the best case out there. I’d be interested in hearing from others about their case selections. I won’t go the Steve Gibson route of trying 50-some cases, but I’m always happy to look at better options.

Did Apple just make a huge mistake with its users?

People know I’m generally an Apple fan boy. I love my Macs, my iPhone, my iPad. But I’m not blind to the reality that Apple, like any other company, can screw up. And it seems to me that Apple has really screwed up this month.

Amid all the fanfare about new iPads and OS X Mavericks, Apple also released new versions of its iWork suite: Pages (for word processing), Numbers (for spreadsheets), and Keynote (for presentations). I’ve been using the iWork applications since they were first released back in the mid-2000s. Each new revision brought helpful features and improvements.

Until now.

If you take a look at the Pages discussions going on over at the Apple Support Communities, it isn’t pretty. The discussions about Numbers and Keynote are also looking bad.

From what I can tell, Apple decided to make the Mac versions of its iWork apps function “better” with the iOS versions of the same apps. In doing so, Apple took a lot of functionality out of the Mac apps. It’s one thing when an upgrade “moves” a feature so you can’t find it immediately, but it’s completely different when the upgrade deletes a feature—like the Styles drawer in Pages.

I’m a heavy user of Pages, working with it almost daily. I get into Numbers a couple of times a month, and I use Keynote on occasion. This upgrade, however, has left me gobsmacked. Just as iWork was beginning to become a serious replacement (not merely alternative) to the MS Office suite, Apple has hobbled it.

So, take some advice from me. If you use iWork apps on your Mac, and you haven’t updated to the new versions—DON’T. At least not until you put copies of those apps in a safe place. (I am SO thankful that I use the Mac OS X Time Machine. I just went back a couple of weeks and restored the prior versions of the apps. So far all seems to be well.) If you have installed the new versions, check your backups to see if you can restore the prior ones.

This is an “interesting time” for Apple (in the sense of the ancient Chinese curse). Is this going to turn out to be a moment like where Apple basically said, “No one is going to use floppy disks anymore. We’re not putting them in new Macs any longer”? Or will this turn out to be a moment like the Apple Maps iOS app disaster? I’m hoping it’s the latter and that some serious fixes are on the way.

Turn off automatic app updates in iOS 7?

When Apple announced iOS 7, I was intrigued by the idea of having apps update automatically in the background. At last, no more red badges on the App Store icon to tell me things needed to be updated.

Having had the release version of iOS 7 for a little while now, I’ve turned that feature off. Why? So I can find out when there’s a new version of an app with new features. Most app updates are incremental, containing bug fixes and the like. But some app updates include new features that I might not know about for a while.

By turning off the automatic updates, I know when an app has new features and I can decide whether to go play with them.