February 27, 2015 12:16 PM PT
Yesterday, I decried the lack of certain features in iOS’s Contacts app, but a Twitter follower pointed out that I wasn’t quite correct about one of those. It turns out there is a way to “merge” contacts via iOS.
I put “merge” in quotes, because unlike the OS X feature, the contacts in question don’t seem to permanently meld together; the feature simply unites the cards as one for the purposes of viewing. Unlike OS X’s solution, iOS’s solution is non-destructive; you can separate the records at any time. Hence why it’s called “link” contacts instead of “merge.”
To link two contacts, open up any contact record on your iOS device and tap Edit. All the way at the bottom you’ll find a header for “Linked Contacts”; tap the “link contacts” entry and pick another contact record. The two cards will now be displayed as one entry, pulling all the information from both records.
You can see all the linked contacts on an entry—and yes, you can link more than just two contacts—by scrolling to the bottom of the contact record; tapping on any of those contacts will show you just the information from those cards. Perhaps most usefully, if you have multiple accounts from which you draw contacts—say iCloud and Google, or even Microsoft Exchange—and you have John Smith’s contact info in both places, you can link both of his cards across those services.
I couldn’t quite figure out what rubric it uses to determine which name or photo to display for the joint card, but if you tap on the linked contacts in edit mode, you can tell it which card’s info to use (see right).
To unlink an entry, go into edit mode again, scroll down to linked contacts, and hit the red icon to its left. That record’s info will once again be split off into a separate card.
Weirdly, this appears to be an iOS-specific feature. When I linked two versions of my own contact record, only iOS’s Contacts app showed them as one—they still showed up as two separate records on both my Mac and iCloud. And if you actually have duplicate records that you want to merge into one forever and ever, OS X is still the only way to go.
Thanks to Animesh Gupta for pointing out this feature.
February 27, 2015 9:24 AM PT
Leonard Nimoy died today. There is no single creative work that more influenced me as a child than “Star Trek.” Not only can I not remember life before “Star Trek,” I can’t remember life before knowing every episode of “Star Trek” by heart.
I really do believe that Spock, and Leonard Nimoy, was the biggest single reason for the show’s success—in the ’60s and through all the reruns that I saw in the ’70s. As Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn’s remarkable “Star Trek” history “These Are The Voyages” makes clear, Spock was a huge hit with audiences—despite the fact that NBC was initially cold on the character.
The famous Spock neck pinch—actually referred to in “Star Trek” scripts as the FSNP—was invented by Nimoy on the spot as a way to quickly resolve a scene when filming was running over time. The Vulcan “live long and prosper” hand sign was another Nimoy invention, adapted from hand gestures from his Orthodox Jewish upbringing.
The episode “This Side of Paradise,” written by Dorothy Fontana and featuring a blissed-out Spock under the influence of some wacky space spores, sealed the deal for many fans.
Spock’s death in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” reduced me to uncontrollable crying in a movie theater. Nimoy directed two Trek movies, guested on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” appeared in the two new J.J. Abrams features, and even guested (in retirement!) on “Fringe.”
Leonard Nimoy and my father were born the same year, 1931. Both were smokers and, as a result, struggled with COPD late in life. It contributed to their deaths. I took some solace knowing that Nimoy (and William Shatner, another 1931 birth) were still walking around out there, even though my dad was not. But… so it goes.
I leave you with some Vulcan philosophy.
Peace, and long life.
I have been, and always shall be, your friend.
Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.
The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.
Live long and prosper.
February 26, 2015 9:14 AM PT
On Thursday Apple invited members of the media to an event at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater on Monday, March 9 at 10 a.m. The invitation, headed with colorful petal-shaped images, is titled “Spring forward.”
Six Colors will be on hand to report from the event and send you all the details.
February 26, 2015 8:46 AM PT
Personally, I find Apple’s Contacts app on iOS a necessary, well, if not “evil,” then at least a necessary “meh.” It syncs with my Mac, it stores contact data, and is accessible systemwide and to third-party apps. All great, but the Contacts app itself needs some work.
There are two places in particular where I think Contacts falls down, but both those features can be grouped loosely under one heading: contact management.
If you want to access contact information on iOS, it’s easy enough: search via Spotlight or the app’s internal search, and tap on any of the contact information to send an email, text, or so on. Even entering contact info isn’t too hard.
But let’s take a slightly more complicated task. Say, creating a group of contacts. Ha ha! Trick question. You can’t create a group of contacts on iOS. Nor can you delete groups. Or assign people to groups. Pretty much the only thing you can do with groups on iOS is toggle whether or not contacts from specific groups are displayed.
If you want to do anything else with groups, you have to turn to Contacts on your Mac, or, if you don’t have a Mac, the Contacts web app on iCloud.com.
Now, I don’t use contact groups that much—but I’ll posit that’s in part because support for them on iOS is so shoddy. Yeah, I could spend more time creating them on my Mac—which even has the ability to make Smart Groups—but I can’t easily send an email or a text to a group, so what’s the point?
I hesitate to say “axe groups entirely” because I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there who use the feature. But Apple’s haphazard implementation isn’t doing any favors: it seems like the company should either go all-in or all-out.
Speaking of contact management, there’s a second capability that falls into this same gap. Contacts on OS X has a very handy feature that lets it not only look for duplicates automatically, but also manually merge contacts. None of those options exist in Contacts on iOS—and they’re not available in the iCloud web app either.
Duplicate-finding on iOS is, I think, not a pressing need. It’s a feature that gets used only occasionally, when you’re cleaning up your contacts—although an automatic process that notices when I’m adding a new contact that I already have some information for and offers to merge them would not go amiss.
But manual merging of contacts on iOS would be useful, not least because I sometimes find that iCloud has decided to create two separate records for someone, seemingly on its own. (Update: Though you can’t permanently merge contacts on iOS, you can link them together. Here’s how.)
Contacts is one of those areas that probably isn’t going to blow most people’s hair back, but it’s a feature that almost all of us use every single day. In fact, it’s so central that Apple itself has devoted an entire physical button to it on the Apple Watch. I’m hopeful that signals an increase in interest from the company, but I also know the merits of not holding my breath. We’ll have to see what iOS 9 brings.
February 26, 2015 7:07 AM PT
I may have gotten a little caught up in Alto’s Adventure.1 In my quest to improve my (and more importantly, dear reader, your) virtual snowboarding skills, I reached out to Snowman’s own Ryan Cash for some tips on upping your game. So whether you’re a beginner hitting the slopes for the first time or an experienced triple-backflip artist, there just might be something that you can take away from these suggestions.2
- Land backflips to pick up speed
- Landing tricks gives you a “sonic boost” that lets you smash through rocks
- String tricks together for big combos
- Grind longer for a special grind boost
- Double-backflip when you get lots of air
- Beat goals to unlock cool new characters
- Buy the wingsuit from Izel’s workshop for an entirely new gameplay mechanic
- Proximity backflips (when your head is close to the ground) are worth extra points!
- Fly close to the ground with the wingsuit to earn extra points!
- Bounce off rocks to reach grind rails
- Double-tap with Felipe/Tupa to double-jump
- Upgrade the hover feather so it lasts longer
- Upgrade the coin magnet to earn coins faster
- If you land on your head while hover-boarding you won’t die
- Use grind rails to clear big chasms
Now, if you’ll pardon me, I need to do a backflip over a sleeping elder if I’m ever going to move up in this world.
February 25, 2015 12:24 PM PT
Did you hear the one about Apple getting into the car business? Pretty funny, right?
I thought it was a joke. People link Apple to all sorts of crazy things. Bad reporting on Apple is a cottage industry.
But then the reports piled on. The Financial Times. The Wall Street Journal. 9to5’s quite reliable Mark Gurman tweeted “the car is happening” while linking to a Jordan Kahn story about Apple’s many auto-industry hires.
Could the joke actually be true?
Apple, like Google, has massive resources and a keen awareness that the graveyard of the tech industry is full of companies that were utterly dominant in an area that became irrelevant. IBM used to be the go-to example here, but now it’s probably Microsoft, a company whose dominance in operating systems is unstoppable and increasingly irrelevant1.
A smart, self-aware tech company that understands its current sources of revenue may fade away someday would be wise—especially if it’s rolling in dough—to spend some time investigating future areas of opportunity and threat. Better to be your own replacement than resist the inevitability of change and become irrelevant.
I believe this is what Google is doing with all of its wacky secret and not-so-secret programs, from self-driving cars to mysterious robotics endeavors. Google’s got all the money right now, but it has to know that its current revenue streams won’t last forever. So while part of Google focuses on squeezing as much money out of the market as possible, the other part is placing bets on possible future directions where Google could dominate.
Apple does this sort of thing, too, but it doesn’t do it in public like Google. The company prefers to do it all behind the scenes, with nobody knowing anything until the product is unveiled—though with the amount of scrutiny that Apple gets, that’s basically impossible.
So if you’re an Apple executive, and you know that the only constant is change, you’re probably constantly asking yourself and your colleagues what areas of future technology are worth investigating. The Apple Watch has been on the drawing boards for years and is now finally on the verge of being released. But what’s next? Apple’s assets are visible in its current products: hardware design, including all the components that go into building computers and mobile devices; design; tight integration of hardware and software. In which areas could those skills be applied in a way that would allow Apple to create a product that stands out from the crowd?
Already the auto industry is increasingly reliant on software, sensors, batteries, and user-interface design. It’s entirely reasonable that an Apple executive would try to imagine the auto industry of 20 or 30 years from now and see those trends lead to a logical conclusion: A fleet of vehicles with electric engines that feature deep integration of hardware and software, possibly up to the point of being self-driving or at least with optional auto-drive capabilities in some circumstances.
It’s not a big jump to assume that hypothetical Apple executive would then look at the competition in that industry—a bunch of legacy car companies that are struggling to transform to this new reality, and Tesla—and think that there’s really an opportunity for Apple to do something.
The next step in this process isn’t hiring a thousand people and planning a release date. It’s probably setting up a team to investigate all the issues involved in entering this field. Is there something here? What are the issues with entering a new industry? What do we need to create ourselves and what do we buy from suppliers? Do we do this ourselves or with partners? Should we buy someone or invest in someone? Are we really building a car, or just subsystems for a car? And is this all a bad idea that we should forget ever happened?
Now, the reports we’re seeing about Apple hiring loads of people could be an indication that this investigation phase is happening, or it could mean that the investigation is over and they’re gearing up a much larger team to make things happen.
What’s the need?
If I perform that same visualization exercise and try to imagine the auto industry in 20 years, I have concerns. It seems to me that cars are going to need to become much smarter, much faster, and that the auto industry doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to a lot of this stuff. I’ve never seen a car whose interior control interfaces felt integrated. Car entertainment systems are usually afterthoughts from a separate vendor. My mother’s late-model sedan has several different power buttons on the dash, all turning off totally separate systems.
Then there’s the future of sensors and intelligence that affects how our cars drive. We’ve already got self-parking cars, and smart cruise control, and more powerful autodrive features are inevitable. Will the automakers be able to evolve and innovate as quickly as a new entrant into the field? It’s not impossible, but I’m skeptical. As someone who worked for a print media company that struggled for decades to transition to digital, let me tell you—you can have incredibly talented people and an organization-wide understanding of which way the wind is blowing and still not make it. That’s the gravitational pull felt by most companies with long histories.
But the automotive industry isn’t alone. There are probably very few categories of consumer product that couldn’t be improved by a company entering with an Apple-like focus on usability and design2. Apple can’t solve everything or be everywhere. It needs to pick its spots.
And that’s my biggest concern about these rumors: Even a company such as Apple only has so many bets that it can place. A hundred billion dollars in cash buys a lot, but the attention span and focus of Apple’s executives are still a limited resource. Does Apple really think it can revolutionize cars? Are Apple’s skills well matched for the auto industry of 2020 or 2035, or a mismatch?
I suspect there are whole groups at Apple working on figuring out the answer to that question. And the answer may well end up being “no.” The iPhone emerged after a team inside Apple tried to make a touchscreen tablet, and discovered it was just too early to make it happen. The lessons Apple learns in investigating the car market might lead to a strategic partnership, or an unintended product, or an investment, or an outright purchase. Or they might lead to a quiet disbanding of the team after a realization that it’s just not the right move.
If that happens, the information will inevitably leak out and it’ll undoubtedly be spun as a failure on Apple’s part. But looking hard at a potential product category and deciding it’s not for you isn’t failure—it’s success. Releasing a product that doesn’t make any sense, that’s failure.
I come to bury Microsoft, not to praise it, but after years of denial under Steve Ballmer, today’s Microsoft is trying very hard to transform itself into a different business—just as IBM did. ↩
Oxo and Breville have impressed me in the houseware category. There are some companies out there who have some nice, Apple-like touches, but too few. ↩
February 24, 2015 9:16 AM PT
In 2013 I reviewed the TiVo Roamio and liked it so much that I switched from satellite to cable and bought one. Not only am I still happy with the purchase, but I’ve actually become more enthusiastic about it as time has gone along.
The TiVo Roamio Plus DVR is itself a box with a giant hard drive and the ability to record up to six programs at one time1. I find the TiVo interface superior to any other DVRs I’ve tried, and I’ve tried many of them2. It probably helps that I was an owner of the original TiVo model, so the menus and sound effects feel like home to me. I missed them for the years I was using DirecTV’s own proprietary DVR.
I managed to skip entirely over the generation of TiVo models that frustrated John Siracusa with their sluggish interfaces—the Roamio is fast and responsive. So the core DVR experience has been great, but what’s really propelled it over the top has been a whole bunch of ancillary features.
Streaming support. TiVo’s not just a DVR for recording shows off of cable, it’s also a box that supports streaming services, including Hulu Plus, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, YouTube, MLB.tv, and more. My family and I watch many YouTube videos on the TiVo, and all of my Netflix viewing these days is via the TiVo. The only thing it doesn’t do—at least so far as I can tell—is connect with my Mac Mini server to stream videos from its hard drive.
Integrated streaming interface. TiVo’s streaming-service support comes in the form of HTML 5 apps, which you launch from TiVo’s menus. They work fine, but they’re not what you’d call integrated. Fortunately, TiVo has worked to improve integration of some of these services into the proper TiVo interface. If I browse a show’s past episodes, I can see if an episode is available on Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu, and one click will launch the appropriate app and begin playing that episode.
With a recent software update, TiVo also relaunched its Season Pass feature, which automatically records every episode of a given show, as OnePass, which is basically a Season Pass that also integrates streaming. It’s a bit of a weird feature, but it allows me to take a show I’m currently binge watching—in this case, it’s “Arrow”—and place it directly in my main list of TiVo shows. OnePass knows what season I’m watching, and what episode. And it’s also recording new episodes of “Arrow,” so that when I finish my prowl through the back catalog I’m ready to watch the new stuff that’s being shown on TV.
OnePass is a bit of a work in progress, but I like the integration a lot. My TiVo has become the place I go to find and watch stuff, whether it’s on standard television or one of the streaming services I subscribe to. (I’ve also rented movies from Vudu and Amazon via the TiVo.) I appreciate the simplicity of it all.
TiVo Mini remote boxes. I’ve got two other televisions in my house, not attached to the TiVo Roamio. But they’re not left out because of the TiVo Mini—a remote box that uses my home Ethernet network to connect back to the Roamio. The TiVo Mini behaves almost identically to the Roamio. I have access to the entire DVR’s catalog of shows, to streaming services, and to live TV. There’s no lag. I never feel like I’m waiting for a video stream to arrive from a DVR in another room.
TiVo iOS app. The TiVo iOS app is good and keeps getting better. Yes, I can do things like use it to tell my DVR to record a show that I just heard about, even when I’m away from home. But it also lets me use my iPhone or iPad as a TV—I can stream a soccer match from one of my DVR’s tuners to my iPad when I’m making breakfast in the kitchen on a Saturday morning. I can download shows stored on the DVR for offline viewing, so I can fill up my iPad with entertainment before I get on an airplane. I just watched the opening musical number of the Oscars on my iPhone while I was writing this paragraph.
Is TiVo for everyone? Of course not. You’ve basically got to be in the U.S. and have cable TV to use it. (Though there’s also a clever lower-cost over-the-air model for cord cutters who can get TV signals via antenna.) You’ve got to buy hardware and then pay a monthly service fee. But as someone who bought the TiVo Roamio in 2013 because I liked what was there and love its potential, I have to say: It’s grown into its potential. I love it.
No, there’s never that much on, though at one point last fall I did manage to have every tuner on the DVR set to a different college football game. ↩
No, this is not a comprehensive review of DVRs. No, I probably haven’t tried that latest-and-greatest DVR model that your cable or satellite company is selling. All I can write about is my experience with this product. ↩
February 23, 2015 8:43 PM PT
Two weeks ago I was having some frustrating problems with my Internet connection. I ended up pulling up a Terminal window and keeping
ping running in the corner of my screen so I could see if the connection was up, down, or just insanely delayed.
A couple of days into this frustration I had the realization that there’s probably an app that solves this problem with a little more elegance than my Terminal window, and of course there is, and it’s called autoping, and it’s free, and it does exactly what I want—put my network status in my menu bar and alert me when the connection drops.
This is hardly a mainstream need, but if you’re someone who is constantly checking to see if your connection to the Internet is up or down or incredibly slow, autoping does the job without getting in the way.
February 20, 2015 5:14 PM PT
It’s an endless downhill ski/snowboard game with gorgeous backgrounds and textures, a nice soundtrack, and even a growing scarf that’s got to be a nod to Journey.
Still not convinced? Watch the video.
February 20, 2015 6:00 AM PT
Honestly, I didn’t think it would happen, but it has: the Amazon Fire TV has taken over my living room.
And I don’t mean in a creepy, mind control, conspiracy-theorish way—much to my own surprise. But over the last month or two, it’s proved itself useful in ways that my previous set-top box of choice, the Apple TV, has not.
I like the Apple TV, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just been sitting there stagnating for a while now. Its last remaining advantages—AirPlay and the iTunes Store—have lost some of their luster, thanks to the breadth of content available on the Fire TV.
But the kicker here is that the Fire TV actually works. My Apple TV has been plagued by poor performance and repeated crashes—sometimes right in the middle of a show. Every time that’s happened, it’s been faster to switch inputs to my Fire TV and resume the video there than it has been to wait for the Apple TV to finish its glacial restarting process.
The other major advantage of the Fire TV remains its access to Plex. I have a Mac mini that acts as a server and a media center, but in the latter capacity it’s become less and less useful as content options in other places, like Hulu, have expanded. There are still a few things I use Plex for, but it’s proven to be a pain to navigate my Mac mini with either my Harmony remote or my iPhone.
I long wanted there to be a Plex app for the Apple TV, and while a workaround does exist, the Fire TV makes it a lot easier, with a very nice Plex app that works smashingly. Which means that the Fire TV has, in essence, replaced two of the devices connected to my TV.1
The Fire TV isn’t perfect. It won’t work with my Harmony universal remote, because its remote relies on Bluetooth instead of infrared, I often don’t love the user interface choices (the Hulu app seems particularly ugly, but that may not be Amazon’s fault), and I wish content from other services was integrated a little better. But it’s hard to argue with something that works, and most of the time the Fire TV works quite well.
Either way, though, there’s still a lot of room for improvement in the set-top box market, and Apple’s hopefully had the time to devote to turning out something truly great. In other words, the ball is in Apple’s court.
I don’t think that it will replace the Xbox 360, aka the dedicated Destiny-playing machine, anytime soon, however. ↩
February 19, 2015 10:50 AM PT
This time next year, we’ll probably all be wondering how we got by without our Apple Watches, but here and now there’s still plenty that we don’t know about the device Cupertino wants to put on your wrist. The crack Six Colors team (Jason Snell and Dan Moren) has assembled the sum total of human knowledge about Apple’s wearable device, or at least a reasonable facsimile. We’ll keep this document updated as more information is revealed.