Why Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program is Problematic in the UK

The iPhone Upgrade problem is a great way to get a new iPhone every year, without the hassle of re-selling your old phone. I used to do the latter, but it’s really problematic selling an iPhone on eBay, or through other services. You get targeted by scammers as soon as you list a new iPhone on eBay, and I don’t really trust the company to resolve, in my favor, if a buyer pretends that I didn’t send them the phone. You can also trade in your old iPhone to Apple, and I did that last year, but it’s not very advantageous.

So last year I got on the iPhone upgrade program. You pay £69 up front, then the remainder of the cost of the phone over 20 months. After twelve months, you’re eligible for an upgrade. The amount you pay includes AppleCare+, so you are protected in case of damage, or any issues covered by warranty.

The problem in the UK is that you have to go to an Apple Store each year to use the upgrade program. I understand why this is necessary the first year, as they need to identify you, but in subsequent years this shouldn’t be the case. (However, I took out a 12-month, zero-interest loan for my last MacBook Pro online; I didn’t need anyone to physically identify me.) In the US, after the first year, you reserve a phone online, Apple ships it to you, and a few days later they ship you a box to return your old phone.

This difference is problematic for a couple of reasons.

First, there aren’t many Apple Stores in the UK. I have to drive about an hour to get to my nearest Apple Store. Second, when you get there, you enter Apple Store Hell: that noisy, crowded atmosphere which is everything a retail outlet should be. I really hate the Apple Store environment, and only go where when I have no choice.

But there is a more important issue regarding the data on your iPhone. Getting your new phone this way means you cannot transfer your data from the old phone. (I assume this is the case; given how long it takes, I can’t imagine that someone is going to stay with me in the Apple Store as this happens.) So you need to back up your device and you cannot restore it until you have wi-fi, or until you return home. (The former if you back up your device to iCloud; the latter if you do it to your computer.)

In addition, for people who don’t back up their device to a computer via iTunes, they need to have enough storage available on their iCloud account to make a full backup. What happens to some people is that they have to temporarily up their storage to the next tier to be able to make the backup, restore the device, then downgrade the storage plan. This is clunky and Apple should provide a temporary storage bump when someone buys a new iPhone.

Since this process is a lot smoother in the US, I hope that Apple will extend the same process to other countries where the iPhone Upgrade program is available. As things stand, it’s a lot of work to use the program, and it should be smoother, especially when they are dealing with committed, repeat customers who want to get a new iPhone every year.

The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode 51: Questions, Answers, and Geotagged Flowers

We solicited photography questions from the great folks in the PhotoActive Facebook group, and now we have answers! All the answers. Or maybe just the most interesting ones. But definitely some answers. Panoramas, shooting photos in public places, revealing edits, and more.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at the PhotoActive website. You can follow The PhotoActive on Twitter at @PhotoActiveCast to keep up to date with new episodes, and join our Facebook group to chat with other listeners and participate in photo challenges and more.

Intego Mac Podcast, Episode 100: Apple’s New iPhone, and More

Josh and Kirk celebrate episode 100 of the Intego Mac Podcast with special guest Dave Hamilton and discuss Apple’s new iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad, Apple Arcade, and Apple TV+. And we discuss changes to Apple’s AppleCare extended warranty and insurance plan.

Check out the latest episode of The Intego Mac Podcast, which I co-host with Josh Long. We talk about Macs and iOS devices, and how to keep them secure.

My Personal Apple Music Radio Station Is Broken

Update: I heard from Apple that this was caused by a bug on their servers, and it has been resolved.


One of my favorite ways to listen to music is my personal Apple Music radio station. Apple added this feature, which it initially called “Personal DJ,” about two years ago. (See this article.)

To create it, just ask Siri, on any device, to “Play some music.” A new station is created using whatever image you have attached to your Apple Music profile (if any). (Read this article to learn how to set up an Apple Music profile.)

Personal radio station

I often go back to this station because it generally plays a good cross section of my music. It includes purchases, music I’ve added to my iCloud Music Library, music that I’ve loved, and other music that I’ve played recently or a lot. So if I’m in the car, and I don’t want to spend time deciding what to listen to, I put this on, and skip what I don’t want to hear, but am never really disappointed.

But since yesterday, it’s been broken. It only plays two songs: I Must Have That Man, by Adelaide Hall, and Bengali Blue, by Bobo Stenson and Lennart Åberg. Until just a few minutes ago, when I was about to start writing this article, it only played the first song, and since then, a second song has been added. Sometimes the first song only plays a second or two then stops; sometimes it plays, then the second song plays, then the first one comes back again for a few seconds. And this has happened to other people; I found a number of people posting on Apple’s forums, and on Reddit, who had similar issues: sometimes with a single song, sometimes with two or three.

Feel free to try it out: you can share links to your personal Apple Music Radio station.

But I don’t know how this can be fixed. Some algorithm has gone all William Gibson, and the only way to correct this would be for someone with the keys to the kingdom to reset something in the Apple Music database. It’s unlikely that any first- or second-level Apple Care technician would be able to do that. So I can’t use this personal radio station any more, unless somehow the algorithm figures out that there’s an issue.

Because you cannot delete Apple Music radio stations. Not this one, not any that you create based on songs, albums, artists, or genres. This has long been an annoying, but in most cases, you just shrug it off and move on. They pile up in your Recently Played list, but you can ignore them, because you can just create others with other songs, artists, or genres. But this radio station is special.

If I could delete it, then I could recreate it, and that might fix the logjam – or, the broken record – and it would work as it should again. So, for now, I will no longer have one of the best features of Apple Music at my disposal. This makes me sad.

Why Is It So Difficult to Listen to Audiobooks on the Apple Watch?

I listen to audiobooks often, and sometimes I would like to be able to listen to them on my Apple Watch, via AirPods, rather than have to have my iPhone with me when I go walking. Audible’s app for the Apple Watch is pathetically bad; not only is it nearly impossible to sync audiobooks to the device (I discuss that in this article), but if do you manage to do so, it doesn’t correctly sync its position, so if you go back to another device to listen, you lose your place. (See this Reddit thread.)

In watchOS 6, which will be released on September 19, and for which the golden master (the final version released to developers) is now available, there is a new Audiobooks app. But this app can only play audiobooks you’ve purchased from Apple. Even if you sync audiobooks from Audible or audiobooks you may have ripped from CDs, you cannot sync them to the Apple Watch.

I would think that most regular audiobook listeners are Audible subscribers, since their subscription model makes books much cheaper than what Apple charges. Since you can sync them to the Books app on the iPhone, it’s odd that you cannot put them on the Apple Watch. This might have something to do with the different DRM that is used for Audible content, but if Apple can play these books in their app on iOS, it shouldn’t be any different on watchOS. It’s worth noting that the Audible app on iOS can see and play books in the Books app, if they are from Audible.

The new Audiobooks app says it syncs up to five hours of a book to the Apple Watch, which is problematic. I understand that most people won’t be listening to, say, an eight-hour audiobook on their watch, but some might want to, such as if they’re on a long flight. Since the new Apple Watch contains 32 GB storage, it should be able to hold more than this. (The Series 4 which I have currently has 16 GB.)

Audiobooks are just audio content, and should be easy enough to sync to the Apple Watch. Apple has had a long relationship with Audible; not only is the company the only one – other than Apple – whose DRM-protected content is playable in iTunes, but Audible also provides Apple with the audiobooks that the latter company sells. Granted, Apple wants people to buy audiobooks from them rather than Audible, if possible, but preventing people from listening to audiobooks they haven’t purchased from Apple seems unfair.

Are Camera Sales Really Falling Off a Cliff?

Analyst Om Malik recently published an article saying Camera sales are falling sharply (or, as his first sentence says, “falling off a cliff”). He has charts to prove it. For example:

Chart1

This chart shows the sales of cameras with built-in lenses versus those with interchangeable lenses. The former category is being eaten up by smartphones, which, when you think about it, is normal. If you have a smartphone with a good enough camera, then a fixed-lens camera won’t do much more for you (unless you want a good zoom lens). This said, there are very good fixed lens cameras, such as the Fujifilm X100F, a number of Ricoh cameras, and full-sized bridge cameras; I’m not sure in which category they are included.

Even interchangeable camera sales are seeing a drop, from a peak in 2012 at 20 million units to only 11 million last year. However, in another chart in the article, which takes a longer view, it doesn’t look quite so bad.

Chart2

Interchangeable camera sales plummeted in the early 1990s, but took off in the mid-2000s, when digital cameras started having good enough resolution at affordable prices. If you look at the rise from 2003 to 2012, this is a phenomenal level of growth, one that would be hard to sustain. Yet interchangeable camera sales are still much higher than they were at their previous peak in 1981. It actually looks a lot like a chart of music sales showing the introduction of CDs, to replace vinyl records, then the falloff as people had replaced their music libraries. (I know, it’s not exactly the same, but looking at a short-lived peak thinking it is normal is always a mistake.)

But also look at lens sales in the above chart. They rose steadily in the mid-2000s, and haven’t dropped much since 2012. This suggests that there is still a core group of camera buyers who continue to buy additional lenses, as camera companies improve the quality of their optics.

There are two ways to look at this landscape, and I think it’s pretty similar to the music business. Let’s say that 80% of people just listen to music as wallpaper; and that 20% of people provide the real music sales revenue. With cameras, it’s 80% of people (perhaps even 90%) that just take photos now and then, shooting selfies, photographing meals, and posting to Instagram. They are well served by smartphones. But the other 10 or 20%, either pros or enthusiasts, continue to buy cameras, and especially lenses, and will continue to do so.

There are a few points to consider, however. The first is the fact that camera technology is plateauing as it confronts the laws of physics. You can’t easily but a larger sensor in a camera without needing different lenses. And even then, new features in cameras are incremental, with improvements in, perhaps, auto-focus, video capture, etc., but many of these features are not enough to get people to replace their existing cameras.

When people do replace cameras, the second-hand market is thriving, so it’s relatively easy to buy a used unit of last year’s model at a deep discount. There are many companies that specialize in buying and selling used camera gear, and you can generally trust that what you buy is in good condition.

Of course, the well known malady known as gear-acquisition syndrome (GAS) is prevalent in the photo world, and this is keeping camera companies afloat. If enthusiast photographers all decided to not buy any new gear for a year, the industry would probably fail, so it’s important for these companies to continue to cater to a market where a lot of their income is derived from people buying gear they don’t use very much. That’s probably why lens sales remain so high.

It’s obvious that no smartphone will ever replace a good DSLR or mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses. But they’re not intended to. I think the market is going to shake itself out soon, with perhaps some of the smaller companies giving up on camera sales. But you also need to remember that hardly any of these companies only make cameras. The big four – Sony, Fuji, Canon, and Nikon – all make many other products, notably high-end optical gear, among others. Canon has about $32 billion in sales, Fujifilm has dozens of subsidiaries making everything from cameras to medical imaging equipment. And Sony is, well, Sony; they sell pretty much everything that uses electricity. So none of these companies are necessarily dependent on selling these cameras.

If anything, it’s Leica, the company that makes the camera that Om Malik loves so much, that is teetering on the brink. While Leica’s are excellent cameras – and I still lust after the Leica M Monochrom – they are status symbols. The company caters to collectors, issuing limited editions of their camera regularly. With revenue of only about $400 million, they are a luxury brand, not a real camera brand. But Leica is making a lot of money through their partnerships with other companies, supplying lenses to Huawei, Panasonic, and others. And the company’s biggest growth market is China, which makes their future somewhat risky, given the fickleness of the Chinese toward foreign brands, especially after the company released this ad.

So, as often, it’s not easy to say that a specific market is “falling off a cliff,” but it is interesting to look deeper into statistics. There is a downward trend from an artificial peak, but it may be leveling off.

Intego Mac Podcast, Episode 99: Twitter and Deepfakes

Twitter’s boss had his Twitter account hacked, and Twitter has disabled a feature from its earliest days that let you tweet via SMS. Firefox’s new update blocks trackers and crypto miners. And we take a look at audio and video deepfakes.

Check out the latest episode of The Intego Mac Podcast, which I co-host with Josh Long. We talk about Macs and iOS devices, and how to keep them secure.

Apple Music Now Available from a Web Browser

Apple has launched a web version of Apple Music. Available in a beta version at beta.music.apple.com, this provides much of the Apple Music experience.

Apple music beta

It’s not hard for Apple to provide web access: Apple Music pages in iTunes are just HTML – or web pages – displayed in that app. The web version is more limited than iTunes. Not everything is available: you cannot create or delete playlists, you cannot view smart playlists that you have created in iTunes, and you cannot use Genius to get suggestions and to start Genius playlists. But you can play music, add music to your iCloud Music Library, love and dislike music, and more.

You can access For You, you can browse Apple Music, and you can use Apple Music Radio. There are four ways to view your library: Recently Added, Artists, Albums, and Songs.

The question is why is Apple doing this? I don’t think the goal is to provide a fully functional player, but rather to provide a way for people who don’t have Apple Music to follow a link they see on social media, or an artist websites, even if they are not on an Apple device. But if you do want to use Apple Music without iTunes, and your needs are limited, this is a good way to do so.

(A friend pointed out that Linux users are happy about this, since there is obviously no iTunes on Linux. As this is going to be the year of Linux on the desktop, this is a Very Good Thing.)