The AirDrop Mess on OS X and iOS 8

I recently wrote about my problems with Handoff and Continuity features in Apple’s new operating systems. Many people I know have similar problems, and another feature that causes grief is AirDrop. This allows you to easily send files from one iOS device or Mac to another. You don’t have to open a network share, or sign in; you choose whether you want your device to be available to everyone, or just your contacts, and when you’re near another device – within ten meters – you should be able to share files easily.

You should be able to share files. In practice, this is very iffy.

Right now, I have four devices: an iMac, a MacBook Pro, an iPad and an iPhone. They’re all AirDrop compatible.

The iMac seems to work best: it can see both my iPad and my MacBook Pro:

airdrop.png

The MacBook Pro can see the iPad (and sometimes the iMac shows up for a while, then disappears). The iPad can see the MacBook Pro. And, most of the time, the iPhone can see nothing, and nothing can see the iPhone.

Right now, as I’m writing this, the iPhone can suddenly see the MacBook Pro and the iPad; but not the iMac. The iMac can see all there other devices, but the MacBook Pro still can’t see the iMac. And all these devices are on the same desk, a few feet apart.

I’ve heard from lots of people who have this problem, along with the Handoff and Continuity problems. The only workaround I’ve seen suggested in to toggle Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, which are how AirDrop detects devices and sends and receives files. Nevertheless, I’ve not found that toggling those makes much of a difference. Devices appear and disappear according to the humors.

It’s important to note that for a device to be detected, it must be on and unlocked. At one point, I thought you had to have the AirDrop window visible in the Finder, but that doesn’t seem to be the case any more (I’m pretty sure it was when AirDrop was first introduced).

The thing is, when AirDrop works, it’s great; it’s a quick way to get files from one device to another. But when it fails, there’s no way of knowing why, and no troubleshooting other than trail and error. In the time it takes to toggle Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on two devices, it’s easier to send a file by email, or via a network share.

This is yet another excellent feature in iOS and OS X that just doesn’t work as it should. At a minimum, Apple should have some way of helping us troubleshoot this. There should be an AirDrop Connection Doctor, as there is in Mail. I can’t help but feel let down every time one of these “magical” features fails inexplicably.

Oh, now that I’m at the end of this article… The iMac can see the iPhone and iPad. The MacBook Pro can see the iPhone and iPad. The iPhone can see the iPad. And the iPad can see the iPhone. Go figure.

Handoff and Continuity Don’t Work on My Devices, and I Can’t Figure Out Why

One of the marquee features of iOS and Yosemite is Handoff and Continuity. According to Apple:

“Continuity features include Handoff, Phone Calling, Instant Hotspot, and SMS. You can start an email or document on iPhone, for example, and then pick up where you left off on your iPad. You can use your iPad or Mac to make and receive phone calls through your iPhone.”

None of this works for me, and I can’t figure out why. I’ll explain what I think might be causing the problem, but, first, here are some of the oddities I’m seeing.

When I get a phone call, it rings on all my devices. I can get text messages from my phone in Messages on my Mac. So that works. But all the rest – the phone calls from the Mac, or any of the document Handoff features – fail.

All my devices are compatible. I have the following:

  • 5K iMac
  • 2013 retina MacBook Pro
  • iPhone 5s
  • iPad Air 2
  • iPod touch 5th generation

According to this Apple support document, I should be able to, say, start an email message on one device, and pick it up on another. But this doesn’t work from any device to any other.

Another oddity is the settings required to use Handoff and Continuity with phone calls. Apple says:

“On your Mac, open the FaceTime app and go to FaceTime > Preferences. Click Settings and deselect the iPhone Cellular Calls option.”

I don’t have any such option:

facetime-settings.png

Nor do I have that option on my iPhone or iPad.

I had a call with Apple support this afternoon, and got transferred to a senior advisor, who couldn’t figure it out. We eventually thought that the only possibility is that my router is blocking something. I use EE for my internet service here in the UK, and use their router (I don’t think you’re allowed to even connect with a third-party router), and then use an AirPort Extreme to distribute Wi-Fi in my house. Yet I asked one friend, who also uses a third-party router in the US; he can get Handoff to work between two iOS devices, but not iOS to Mac or Mac to iOS.

I’m willing to accept that there may be something in a router that could block this feature, though, given its importance, I would have thought that Apple would warn people about it. Do a Google search, and you’ll find plenty of articles saying that it doesn’t work for some people; Apple’s forums have many posts as well.

This isn’t a question of compatibility; all my devices are compatible. But it seems that there’s something on my network that is blocking all Handoff and Continuity features, with the exception of phone calls and SMSs, which may use a slightly different protocol.

What about you? Does it work for you? If it didn’t work and does now, what did you do? I tried toggling Handoff off, then back on; logging out of iCloud, then logging back in (which is an annoying process). Nothing works.

I’m frustrated. This is one of the key features of the new OSes, and it should “just work.”

Update: this whole thing is fubarred… I logged out of iCloud again on both Macs, then logged in again. Now some of the Handoff features work, but not all, and not consistently. (So it wasn’t the router after all.) I turned off my iPhone, then turned it back on, and I new get the iPhone Cellular Calls option both on the iPhone and on Face Time on both my Macs.

This stuff is a mess. The more I’ve looked for solutions, the more I’ve seen people struggling with the same issues I’ve been having. Apple has created a Rube Goldberg that depends on the ever-flaky iCloud back end, and the trouble it’s taken to get this to work – pretty much half a day – is astounding.

It will be interesting to see if this continues working, or if it stops again; I did get phone calls for a while, probably before iOS 8.1. And it will be interesting to see if Handoff every actually works with all the apps it’s supposed to support. In the end, I’m not even sure how useful it is; if my iPad or iPhone is close enough to my Mac, I’m not likely to start working on a document on one of them, then want to switch to another device.

Duplicate Tracks in iTunes Cause Problems Syncing iOS Devices

My friend Rob Griffiths pinged me the other day. He had gotten a brand new iPhone 6, (and ribbed me about it), but was having problems syncing it. He could sync some content, but not movies; then some movies, but not all; then he couldn’t sync at all.

Rob took the extreme move of writing to Tim Cook, one of whose staffers read the email and reacted, quickly. It turned out, as Rob explains, that the problem was caused by duplicate tracks in his iTunes library:

“In the current version of iTunes/iOS, there’s a bug that only appears when you have duplicates of purchased songs. When encountered, a duplicate of a purchased song will (almost always) cause iTunes to silently stop syncing.”

This is interesting, in part because I get lots of emails about problems with syncing iOS devices, and I’d never found a cause. I’m not sure this is the only issue, because sync problems are multifarious. For example, in the few days that I had my iPhone 6, I had to restore it twice, because the device lost track of my music and showed it all as “Other” content. I’ve seen this occur in the past when syncs are interrupted, but this was happening to me with a new device, allowing it to sync completely.

Rob eventually scoured his library with Doug Adams’ Dupin, an app that finds duplicates in iTunes. (Read Doug’s write-up of the story.) I ran Dupin, and was surprised to find that I, too, had a number of duplicates, one of which was a full purchased album by Bob Dylan. I know I had never downloaded that album twice, so I suspect something odd going on behind the scenes in iTunes when it organizes libraries. And Rob is sure that he never downloaded his duplicate tracks twice, but what was interesting was some of them were older 128 kbps tracks with DRM, and some were newer versions; perhaps he upgraded them, at some point, and iTunes didn’t delete the older ones?

What is more likely is that these duplicates were added to his library when he chose to transfer purchases from an iOS device:


donotxfer.png

I know I’ve done that at times, when I’ve updated apps on my iPhone, for example, and didn’t want to download them again in iTunes (since my bandwidth is limited). But why would it have, in my case, only transferred one album?

I wonder if this is just a bug with iTunes, or with specific iOS devices. Rob never had problems syncing his iPhone 5, and I saw sync problems with my iPhone 6, but my 5s generally syncs without any issues. So there’s some odd combination here causing the issue.

Whatever the case, if you do have sync problems with an iOS device, I’d suggest getting Dupin and scouring your library. It may save you a lot of headache.

1,451 Crash Logs

iOS, like any operating system, stores crash logs when something goes wrong. For my two main iOS devices – my iPhone 5s and my iPad Air – I have 1,451 crash logs. For the iPhone 6, which I’m returning (I’m still waiting for Apple to send someone to pick it up), I have 567 crash logs. That’s in just one week of use.

Finder002.png

When you sync an iOS device to your Mac using iTunes, the device copies crash logs to your disk. You’ll find them in your home folder, in Library/Logs/CrashReporter/MobileDevice, where there is a folder with the name of each of your devices.

It obvious that users don’t see all of these crashes, but they are still crashes. Here are some of the most recent crashes:

Date: 2014-09-26 23:36:27 +0100
Exception Code: 0xbaad9047
Reason: Couldn't register com.apple.mobilemail.gsEvents with the bootstrap server. Error: unknown error code (1100).
This generally means that another instance of this process was already running or is hung in the debugger.

Date: 2014-10-02 15:07:41 +0100

Exception Code: 0xfaded322
Reason: Watchdog: Thermal not updating, backboardd 0.002312s last successful ping: 1310u0 1210m0/1 [...]

Date/Time: 2014-09-29 09:00:05.066 +0100
Launch Time: 2014-09-26 10:53:01.792 +0100
OS Version: iOS 8.0.2 (12A405)
Report Version: 105

Exception Type: EXC_RESOURCE
Exception Subtype: CPU
Exception Message: (Limit 50%) Observed 76% over 180 secs
Triggered by Thread: 1

Most of these crash logs are about 450 K, with more than 250 MB of logs for each of my two main devices. I don’t know if the crash logs are deleted from the devices after syncing, but if they continue adding up, that could eat up a lot of free space.

Is Apple Trying to Do too Much Too Quickly?

I recently wrote about Apple’s string of bad luck, with bad press, a bad keynote stream, the U2 album spamming fiasco, and, above all, the iOS 8.0.1 update that bricked a lot of users’ iPhones. If I were to go back in the archives of this website, I’d find other, similar articles about blunders when a new OS was released requiring an update quickly for some embarrassing problems, or when hardware issues that shouldn’t have happened plagued many users. (Remember AntennaGate?)

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as much of my work depends on Apple’s product cycle. When there is a new version of OS X or iOS, I, along with many of my colleagues, have lots of articles to write. When there’s a new version of iTunes, I update my Take Control of iTunes book. It’s great to have new things to write about, but the annual release cycle is becoming problematic for many reasons.

I’ve increasingly had the feeling that Apple is finding it difficult to keep up with all these releases, and that quality is slipping. This generally isn’t the case with hardware – no, the iPhone 6 doesn’t really bend, unless you apply a lot of pressure to it – but rather with software. Bugs abound; shoddy releases are followed by broken updates. On the latest episode of The Committed podcast, Ian Schray, Rob Griffiths and I were discussing the fact that Apple just released the OS X Yosemite GM Candidate. Back in the day, the golden master was the final build that was sent to the company that pressed CDs or DVDs. There was never a “GM Candidate,” but just one GM release. I think it was with OS X 10.9 that Apple issued a GM, followed by a GM 2; this is something that should never happen. Final should be final.

Right now, with iOS 8, the Health app was delayed on release because of some unspecified bugs. iCloud Drive doesn’t seem to work very well on iOS, and it’s caused problems because it’s not available on Mavericks; anyone turning it on on their iPhone or iPad will find that they cannot access their documents on their Mac. (Though, by some oddity, there is a Windows version of iCloud Drive, which apparently works.) iOS 8 is buggy, crashes a lot, has Wi-Fi issues and more. And Family Sharing, according to some of my colleagues, is problematic as well. (I’ve not tested it yet.)

Back in 2007, Apple had to delay the release of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard because it needed more developers to work on iOS. You get the feeling today that something similar is happening: that the company simply can’t scale to handle two operating systems released around the same time.

On Daring Fireball yesterday, John Gruber said:

“From the outside, it seems like Apple’s software teams can’t keep up with the pace of the hardware teams. Major new versions of iOS aren’t released “when they’re ready”, they’re released when the new iPhone hardware ships. On Twitter the other day, I suggested that perhaps Apple should decouple major iOS feature releases from the iPhone hardware schedule. That’s probably untenable from a marketing perspective, and it might just make things more complex from a QA perspective. But something has to give.”

The problem is that, now, iOS and OS X are inextricably linked. A number of iOS features aren’t available, at least not fully, because OS X 10.10 Yosemite isn’t out yet. Being married to a release cycle based on hardware, not software, makes sense for iOS – certain features of the mobile operating system depend on new hardware features in iPhone and iPads – but it makes less sense with OS X, which does not have an annual hardware update cycle.

Yes, something has to give. Apple is great at showing us how wonderful our world will be with new products, but they’ve been less successful lately at delivering on their promises. It’s time for Apple to take a step back, slow down, and get things right, instead of just getting things shipped.

How To: Prepare an iOS Device for Return, Exchange or Sale

If you ever need to erase an iOS device completely, to return it (as I’m doing today with my iPhone 6), to exchange it, or to sell it, it’s a simple process, but you need to make sure you do it correctly. You can’t just wipe the device in iTunes, using the Restore function; that will still keep it linked to your Apple ID.

2014-09-29 11.14.12.pngGo to Settings > General > Reset, then tap Erase All Content and Settings. You’ll see a dialog asking if you’re sure you want to do this; if you are, go ahead. The device will erase everything but the OS, and you’ll see the welcome screen that you saw when you first set it up, or first installed the latest version of iOS.

But there’s another thing you need to do. In iTunes, go to the iTunes Store, then to your account. In the iTunes in the Cloud section, you’ll see a Manage Devices entry. Click Manage Devices, then check to see if your iOS device is listed there. Reseting it should delete it from the list, but it may not. Since you can only have ten iOS devices linked to your account, you may be near that limit, if you have a couple of Macs, an iPhone, an iPad, and a couple of devices for your spouse, partner or children. If you find your device there, click Remove.

That’s it. You can now return, exchange, sell or give away your device.

Apple, U2, and a Painful End to a New Product Presentation

Apple yesterday announced a new iPhone, and a wearable, the Apple Watch. The presentation was fraught with difficulty, at least for those not attending live. The live video stream was a massive failure – apparently because of some errors in Javascript on the Apple web page hosting the stream.

And the end of the event was a bit embarrassing. U2 gave a strained performance of a new song, and, following that, the banter between Bono and Tim Cook was uncomfortable at best. This ended with a poorly-scripted exchanged between the two about giving away the band’s new album for free. Which, in effect, Apple has done: giving it to every one of the iTunes Store’s 500 million customers. And it’s not just free if you want to download it; Apple added it to customers’ music libraries, or purchased music lists, so even if you don’t want it, you have it now.

There was a severe disconnect between the smooth, subtle presentation of the Apple Watch and the clunky performance of a new U2 song that sounds like so many others. And compared to the scripted-to-the-second presentation that Apple gave of its new products, the improvised banter at the end came as a surprise.

Cult of Mac was very harsh, saying that this performance was a swan song for iTunes, pointing out that no one buys music any more, yadda yadda. I disagree with that, but I do feel that U2 is on the other side of the generation gap that Apple is targeting with its new products. They could have chosen a band with a bit more cred with the younger generations.

The Wall Street Journal gives some background on the deal behind this free album. Pointing out how the band’s sales figures have been dropping – they sold 4 million the 2000 All That You Can Leave Behind, 3.3 million copies of their How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, and only 1.1 million units of the 2009 release, No Line on the Horizon. It’s almost as if U2 would be embarrassed by the sales figures they’d realize with a new album, so making a deal around a free release has no downside for them.

The Wall Street Journal says:

“As part of the deal forged by the band, manager Guy Oseary (hired by U2 last year to replace longtime manager Paul McGuinness) and Universal, Apple also made plans to use the first single from the album, “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone),” as a central element of a global, 30-day television advertising campaign for its new iPhones and Apple Watch. The campaign is believed to be worth around $100 million, according to a person familiar with the talks.”

That’s a lot of money. A lot more than they’d make from, say, fewer than a million copies of their new album. It’s telling that Bono told Cook that they had made a few albums since their last release in 2009, but “we just haven’t released them.” Maybe they were waiting for an opportunity like this, to make more money than they could possibly make by turning the entire album into an advertisement.

iWant: AirPlay Streaming from iOS Devices to Macs

AirPlay is very cool. You can stream from a Mac to various devices, such as an Apple TV, or to standalone AirPlay-compatible speakers. You can stream from an iOS device to an Apple TV or to standalone AirPlay speakers. But one thing I’d like, which currently isn’t possible, is to stream from an iOS device to a Mac.

The reason for this is, in my case, to play podcasts that are on an app on my iPhone, and not on my Mac, through my Mac and its speakers. There could be many other uses, such as playing someone’s music on your Mac when they’re visiting, or to view an iPad screen on a Mac while playing a game. You can do both of these to an Apple TV, so it shouldn’t be hard to do them to a Mac as well.

I wouldn’t use this feature a lot, but trying out Marco Arment’s new Overcast podcast app, with its great smart speed and voice boost features, I realized that, when I listen to podcasts in my office, I’d rather use that app than iTunes. So I’d like to just stream them to my Mac. The alternative is to connect an AirPort Express to my stereo, but that’s expensive for just streaming occasionally.

But you may even want to stream something from one Mac to another; again, since you can do this to an Apple TV, it should be trivial to do it on a Mac.

Update: I was reminded by a few friends that there are third-party apps that can act as AirPlay receivers on a Mac. I have one, X-Mirage, which I got in an app bundle, but never used. I’ll try it out.

In Praise of the Dvorak Keyboard Layout

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Hi, I’m Kirk, and I use the Dvorak keyboard layout. This has nothing to do with composer Antonín Dvo?ák, best known for his New World Symphony (and less well known for his string quartets, a wonderful collection of which is this one by the Emerson String Quartet). No, the Dvorak keyboard layout was created and patented in 1936 by Dr. August Dvorak and his brother-in-law, Dr. William Dealey, in order to make typing easier.

The Dvorak keyboard layout was originally designed to correct anomalies present in the QWERTY layout. For example, on a QWERTY keyboard, the E key, the one you type the most in English, requires that you stretch a finger. (This, and other differences, assume that you touch type.) Also, certain letter combinations can be hard to type on a QWERTY keyboard. Look where the letters THE are found. You type this word often, and the three letters are in very different locations. And with four vowels on the top row, you have to stretch your fingers much more often.

The Dvorak keyboard layout, as you can see in the image above, groups all the vowels and most common consonants on the middle row, where your fingers don’t need to stretch. 70% of letters you type are on this row, compared to only 32% on a QWERTY keyboard. The Dvorak layout also has all the vowels on the left, so you can often alternate typing, right-left-right-left, as you type consonant-vowel.

I started using the Dvorak layout in 1996, when I became a freelance translator. Realizing that touch-typing would be an asset, I proceeded to no longer look at my keyboard, but look at a printout of the Dvorak layout pasted on the bottom of my monitor. Since my keyboard has never had keys in the Dvorak layout, even looking at the keys wouldn’t help. It took a few months to be able to touch type, and it’s now second nature. I can type about 80 words per minute, and sometimes I can go faster than that.

While the Dvorak layout is available by default on OS X, and on Windows, this wasn’t always the case. In the early days, I had to add a keyboard layout to my Macs, and in some cases, this wasn’t easy. And now, the real difficulty I have is using an iOS device, where the Dvorak keyboard is not available. (Yes, I could jailbreak my iPhone and iPad, but I don’t want to do that.) Having fat thumbs, and using an unfamiliar keyboard layout makes it difficult to type on an iPhone, but I compensate by dictating as much as I can.


Photo

I’d very much like to see the Dvorak keyboard layout as on option on iOS devices. (You can use it with an external keyboard; this has been possible since iOS 4.) While it may not be obvious, I think that the ability to alternate from side to side, consonant to vowel, might lead to more efficient typing. I would at least like to be able to try to find out if that’s the case.

Apple’s Touch ID: I Want It Everywhere

As I check my iPhone from time to time during the day, I’m occasionally reminded of how efficient Touch ID is. Instead of typing a passcode, my fingerprint unlocks my phone. Granted, the passcode is only four digits, but with Touch ID, I’ve set my phone to lock immediately, instead of having the security risk of leaving a few minutes before it locks. If I lose the phone, there’s no longer a several minute window for someone to access it.

I notice Touch ID more when I use my iPad, because that device does require a passcode. I use the iPad much less, though, and it’s less of a bother. And I can’t forget my Macs; I have them set to lock and request a password when my screen saver goes on, after just a few minutes of idle time. That actually bothers me more than the iPad, since I have to type my password on a keyboard.

So I hope that Apple will expand Touch ID: first to third-party developers of iOS apps, then to the iPad and iPod touch, then, hopefully, to the Mac. It would be great with the iOS apps I use which are password- or passcode-protected: the two I use most are 1Password and Dropbox, though there are others that occasionally ask for a password. I’d like to be able to get access to my passwords on 1Password with a touch, instead of entering my (admittedly strong) password, as it’s just annoying, now that I know there’s a better way.

I also hope Apple brings Touch ID to the Mac. I can imagine a Magic Mouse and/or Magic Trackpad with a section to use with Touch ID. It would need a special sensor, the same kind that’s on the iPhone, so it most likely could not work with the entire touch surface. But looking at my Magic Trackpad, I can see that if it were in a corner, it would be usable, and not get in the way. (The same would be the case on a laptop.)

As Apple often brings out a new technology first on the iPhone, then moves it to other iOS devices, or on the MacBook Air, before bringing it to other Macs, it’s obvious that they’re planning on rolling out this technology at least to the iPad in the future. Hopefully this will coincide with an SDK for third-party apps, and perhaps availability on the Mac as well. Touch ID is one of Apple’s technologies that saves a lot of time, and makes life easier. I want it on all my devices.

Update: Shawn King, of Your Mac Life, suggested on Twitter that one might use an iPhone to unlock a Mac. There could be some sort of “remote” app on the iPhone, which would let you then unlock your Mac. This might take longer, though, because you’d need to unlock the iPhone, launch the app, then unlock the Mac. But it would mean that the Touch ID would be able to interface with other hardware.