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Vermont Goes Hands-Free: Part 2

I wanted to first start by saying thank you to those who responded to my first article; I always enjoy hearing from our customers. Please continue to let us know how you use your iPhone in the car.

Now, on to more iPhone-compatible solutions in the car. Today, I want to cover the AUX/Cassette/Adaptor/FM Transmitters. As I said last time, AUX doesn’t allow for hands-free, but this doesn’t mean it’s not a great option for music enthusiasts. I also may have found a trick that works to adapt your AUX-enabled car with Bluetooth. And finally, those FM Transmitters, with which most of us have had a love-hate relationship.

The AUX, easily one of the greatest and most versatile features car companies have utilized during the digital music era, doesn’t require you have an Apple, Android, Windows or whatever device but rather a female 1/8-inch hole. Even one of those awesome portable CD players you have would work. The easiest way to know if your car has AUX is if it has a button on your radio. Then, it’s just a matter of finding where they hide the actual port (could be in the glove box, center console etc.). We sell some great AUX cables in a variety of lengths (1ft, 3ft, and 6ft), from StarTech, which all have a slim input to accommodate your case. But alas, you can’t speak through an AUX input…or can you?

In comes the Outdoor Tech Adapt. Scott (part of our awesome IT department) and I tested this one out. We simply plugged the Adapt into the AUX port in my car. The Adapt is a Bluetooth headphone adapter allowing for play/pause, volume up/down, and back/next functions, as well as a mic for calls. Spotify came through right away and sounded great — I even placed a call and sure enough, they said they could hear me. Holding the play/pause, answer/hang up button activated Siri, allowing me to text hands-free as well.

For those of you with AUX ports and no Bluetooth, you must check out the Outdoor Tech Adapt. We also carry two great AUX stands: Griffin’s Tune Flex and Belkin’s TuneBase AUX Hands-Free. I’m partial to the Belkin model, as it has lightning charger built-in and creates a great stand for the iPhone 5/5s/5c.

Now, briefly a look at the Griffin Direct Deck. Yes, this is actually a cassette adapter. Great for classic cars that still have a cassette deck and are keeping the stock look or for the pickup that it’s just not worth upgrading the stereo in. Either way, this is a great piece of technology. Simply slide the DirectDeck in, and plug the 1/8th jack into your phone. In doing so, you’ll notice the great feature of the direct deck is it has a mic built-in to the 1/8th inch connection. This allows you to take calls while using the cassette adapter. That’s right, you’re pumping jams from a streaming service like Pandora through a cassette player and placing and receiving calls. And they thought the cassette was dead!

I still remember the first FM transmitter we produced and I used — the CarTune. It was a great product with a simple design plugged into the power port and connected to my iPod via 30-pin connector. It was nice if you lived here in rural Vermont where we have a number of open FM stations to choose from. However, this was a little tougher on my first trip to Boston. I look back and realized it was more dangerous than helpful as I kept changing the CarTune FM dial to find a station that would work.

These have come a long way, and most recently Belkin released the new Lightning TuneBase Hands-Free FM with ClearCast. This FM Transmitter goes above and beyond my old CarTune. It has a sturdy stand which docks your iPhone with Lightning connector allowing it to charge and accommodates for either portrait or landscape view if you’re using Maps, which I found to be very useful. The base, which plugs into the car charging port, has the FM tuner function built-in, so that you can use ClearCast and find the best FM station to broadcast over. Unlike other FM transmitters, this one allows for easy hands-free calling. A large button at the bottom of the phone lets you answer and hang up calls and activate Siri. Check it out.

As always, I hope this information was helpful and continue to encourage you to reach out to me with your solutions for hands-free iPhone connectivity.

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Easy Strain Relief Mod

All cables have the potential to fail due to something called strain relief. Essentially, the joint where the cable meets the connector can separate and fray after being pulled at sharp angles and twisting constantly.

There have been a couple techniques in cable manufacturing that help prevent this outcome. The most common, which can be seen on any Apple cable you own, is a thin rubber tube acting as a stiffener for the cord in this region. It also protects the cord housing from rubbing against the connector body. A method used on higher-end devices is a wire spring tightly wound acting as the rubber tube does.

As it turns out, even the strain relief prevention methods doesn’t always help. These cables don’t self-destruct, and this type of wear is very preventable. However, a cheap and easy way to prevent this from happening in the future is by using shrink tubing. This is a cheap rubber tube that slips over a wire and shrinks snugly onto the cable when heat is applied. Slip it over both the connector housing and the first half-inch of the cable itself. This will act as a stiffener and protect the cable from strain relief damage.

Disclaimer: We do not recommend doing this to any cables under Apple warranty; it will void it. We also don’t recommend doing this if you don’t have previous experience with shrink tubing. Small Dog Electronics takes no responsibility for voiding of warranty or damages caused by modifying your cables.

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Lightning Technology Sees an Update

In 2012, Apple introduced the Lightning connector, a small, digital 8-pin connector for iOS devices. Overnight, the consumer backlash seemed overwhelming because these new adaptors were incompatible with the thousands (upon thousands) of accessories out there that were made for the original 30-pin connection.

However, many cheered at the discontinuation of what was considered a ‘dinosaur’ in technology terms, and was long overdue for a change. Apple also released a Lightning to 30-Pin Adaptor, which enabled users of the old cables to adapt without buying all-new Lightning cables. I, for one, jumped for joy at the possibilities of what the Lightning connector could do.

But alas, two years later, not much else has been done to further utilize this technology. It hadn’t yet brought anything new to the table; it was smaller, and I could plug it in on either side (something the 30-pin connector couldn’t do), but that’s about it. The accessories hadn’t changed (though the Apple Dock was initially dropped until the 5s brought it back) and it wasn’t any faster (despite the name). USB 3.0 was announced for laptops that same year, but no, Lightning didn’t have USB 3.0 capabilities, either.

You’ll have to excuse my rant — as a fanboy, I had expected more. I’m a cable freak, and the Lighting cable — like Thunderbolt — had much more potential than they were using. So, as my co-workers can attest to, when I read that Apple introduced Lightning Cable MFi Specs for headphones, I lost it! This is the first time we’ll see Lightning reach greater potential.

With the Lightning connection, we can now increase to a higher frequency of digital music, and power our noise-canceling headphones from our phone, or vice versa (power our phones from the backup battery in our headphones). It means that apps like VLC, Plex and of course, iTunes can begin to work with 5.1 surround output on video. App developers will have access to this for who knows what else — can you hear my excitement?

The speculation is endless…did this development come from the Beats acquisition? Personally, I think yes; Beats Music claimed to have higher bit rate than Spotify, but who cares if you’re plugging in via a headphone jack. It’s like having a built-in DAC (digital to analog converter) on your iPhone.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, active noise canceling headphones have always required power, and Beats has two headphones in their lineup that require power for noise canceling. These now can theoretically use a Lightning connection to lighten the load of an onboard battery.

Lastly, Don, took the speculation a step further and wondered, “when do you think they’ll introduce Lightning ports on computers?” Boom, mind blown. I can’t wait to see where this leads, and as always, I’d love to hear what our readers think.

Email me your thoughts!

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WWDC News: Apple Announces OS 10.10 Yosemite

It seems funny to type that — 10.10 — but Apple’s newest OS incarnation is just that: the 11th version of the OS X operating system (pardon the redundancy). In his keynote, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi, talked about the “future of OS X: “Yosemite.”

My first thought: How can the successor to Mavericks top itself? I’ve loved the cleaner, more iOS-like interface of Mavericks, and especially loved the changes to Finder and couldn’t make the switch fast enough, especially since it was free-of-charge to Snow Leopard, Lion or Mountain Lion users. However, along with the beneficial features and the fact that it kicked off a new OS naming scheme dedicated to notable California locales, it also had a few hiccups (most notably with Mail) that could stand to be improved upon.

From the looks of Yosemite, it delivers and then some.

So, what will users see in the latest Mac OS? For starters, Yosemite also includes a user interface redesign, further adding iOS 7 (and iOS 8!)-like visuals to your desktop. Yosemite boasts a more seamless integration between all of your devices as well as major new features focusing on seamless integration between Mac and iOS devices, a storage system called iCloud Drive, which is essentially iDisk coming back but with enhanced cloud features, and phone and text features added to your desktop.

New Interface and Notification Center
As I mentioned, the look of Yosemite clearly borrows from the flat, bright design of iOS 7, complete with transparent windows, updated app icons, newly-integrated weather features and widgets and a redesigned Notification Center. (I think this officially phases out Dashboard, but there was no mention of that…it may just go quietly.) Users can also adjust the brightness/translucency of the background to give a more customized look.

yosemite-notification-center.jpg

Continuity
Continuity is arguably the biggest new feature of OS X Yosemite, utilizing AirDrop to improve the connection between Macs and iOS devices. What this means is that you’ll be able to share files from your Mac to your iPad or iPhone…this was met with a big applause. (Previously, this feature only allowed files to be shared between Macs or between iOS devices.)

With Continuity comes Handoff, a new feature that allows iOS devices and Macs to “sense” one another, which will in turn, let the user pick up on one device where the other left off. Visual prompts on your devices make this process easy. Handoff could be extremely useful for emails, browser windows, and more — I mean, how nice would it be for your devices to truly be in sync? Big Brother-ish? Maybe, but for practicality purposes, I think most people would welcome this technology.

In Yosemite, calls and texts (SMS and MMS) are now available from your Mac. Not only can you see in real time who’s calling or texting you (even if your phone is across the house), you can actually answer them from your Mac. Texting has been available in Messages on Mavericks, but the notification process is vastly updated. Answering phone calls is all new, and could be really useful for many users.

yosemite-handoff.jpg

Spotlight
Spotlight also got a redesign in Yosemite. With the search bar now in the center of your screen, some speculate that Apple is taking a swipe at Google with the relocation of the Spotlight prompt. You can search your computer files as always, but also the web, and pages like Wikipedia and Yelp pop up to help retrieve the best results. Spotlight has added unit conversions as well, which is something many of us (and I’m sure, many of you out there) utilize Google search for.

yosemite-spotlight.jpg

iCloud Drive
iCloud is getting a significant boost for usability with the addition of Drive. Similar to Google Drive, Dropbox, and SugarSync, iCloud Drive adds some awesome new capabilities. One major thing I noticed (that’s worth upgrading in and of itself) is the change in how it will handle email attachments. Now, if you want to share a file that’s reasonably large (say, 15MB or more, depending on both your the recipient’s email client limitations), it’s likely to bounce the entire message. With Yosemite and iCloud Drive, it will automatically take a file that’s too large to send and give the recipient a link to download it instead — but the email still goes through. I can’t tell you how great this will be for our workflow.

Of course, syncing is enhanced in iCloud Drive as well. Users will be able to see their files in the cloud from both Mac and iOS devices. (I assume that there’s a PC option in there somewhere, too, since it should be web-accessible via icloud.com, but I haven’t confirmed this.) iCloud Drive’s debut also changes pricing tiers. The first 5GB of iCloud storage is free, 20GB costs $0.99/month, and 200GB costs $3.99/month.

Safari
First noticeable thing: There’s a new tab view, designed to replace the existing Bookmarks bar. Users can scroll through tabs left to right, which is a nice feature if you’re someone who works with a million (OK, maybe a slight exaggeration) tabs open at a time. There’s also a place directly under the Search bar for Smart suggestions; this is designed to help users find what they need faster, whether it’s already a bookmark or not. I imagine that this might take some getting used to…I’m anticipating some clunkiness at first, but it could prove to be a worthy update.

yosemite-safari.jpg

Mail
As I mentioned above, one of the main complaints about Mavericks was Mail usability and compatibility (especially with certain Google accounts and settings). Hopefully, Apple has worked out the kinks there (and if not, I guess there’s still time before it’s available to everyone, so I’m sure developers will give crucial feedback). The main improvements to the Mail app in Yosemite that Craig mentioned include Markup and Mail Drop. Markup allows users to “mark up” (read: doodle) right in the app, which could be really handy for basic adjustments to images or files with our the need for Photoshop or even Preview to be open beforehand.

Mail Drop is what I described earlier regarding iCloud Drive and sending email attachments. iCloud now encrypts the attachments and sends the recipient a link to the attachment if it’s too large; files cannot exceed 5 GB, but that’s dramatically larger than virtually all email client limitations and more than most people would ever need to send anyway.

yosemite-mail.jpg

I’m really excited to get this on my (personal) iMac, since we’ll be restricted from using Yosemite until IT clears it — likely beyond the official Fall release date. I plan to renew my Developer account, so we’ll see. In the meantime, Don has installed it on his personal machine already, so I’ll be pestering him for details.

Both Yosemite and iOS will be available for free to the public this Fall.

Image credits

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Just Announced...iOS 8

So WWDC happened.

With WWDC comes the opening keynote that most Apple nerds (and even non-Apple nerds) get all excited about because this is when they announce their new software and hardware. The two-hour keynote today consisted mostly of software announcements: Yosemite and iOS 8, baby!

While Kali will cover all the juicy details of Yosemite in a bit, I’m here to give you a quick coverage of highlights from iOS 8. While it’s keeping the same flat design of iOS 7, it has been updated with features that will make your experience [even] easier.

iOS 8’s tagline reads, “Huge for Developers. Massive for everyone else.” Apple provided developers with deeper access and more tools. Such things like keyboard options and more ways to share content are just some of the things they can get their hands on.

Here are some of the other improvements we’ll see when iOS 8 is released this fall:

  • Photos: Now every photo you take and edit will live in your iCloud Photo Library. This makes them available across all your devices without having to do anything. There are also even more tools included in the app to edit your photos with. Take a dark photo and lighten it up, crop, straighten and add a filter right in the Photos app.
  • Messages: You can now add your voice to your messages by touching and holding the little microphone to record a message. If you receive a new voice message all you have to do is lift your phone to your ear and it will begin playing — super cool!

Another new feature of messages that I think everyone has been waiting for is the option to leave a group message or turn on Do Not Disturb so you can go back and read through the conversation when you’re not in the middle of work.

Other features include the ability to share your location in the middle of a conversation, tapping to see every attachment from a conversation and sending multiple photos and videos at once.

  • Keyboard: With iOS 8 it now suggests contextually appropriate words to complete the sentence you’re typing — making typing faster than ever!
  • Family Sharing: You can now share data from your phone among six people in your family. Share the new Coldplay album with your sister without having to share an Apple ID and password. As long as purchases are paid for with the same credit card, you’ll be good to go.
  • iCloud Drive: Work on your files anywhere, anytime. Just store your presentations, spreadsheets and other files in iCloud and you can access them from your iOS devices, Mac or PC!
  • Health: A new iApp (the ones you can’t ever delete from your phone or iPad) provides you with all sorts of health information — so you can make you a healthy one! The Health app collects all of your health and fitness information from your other apps and displays them all in one place.
  • iPhone, iPad and Mac are now all connected: If you’re like any of us over here at Small Dog, you just might have more than one Apple device. Now all of those devices are connected in such a way that if you start an email on your iPhone, you can finish it on your Mac at a later time. And the coolest part? If you get an incoming call on your iPhone you can answer it on your Mac — even if your phone is in the other room.
  • Spotlight: …you know, the feature you get when you swipe down on your icons on your phone (iOS 7). You can now use Spotlight to search for just about…anything. It’s basically like Googling something — providing you with all sorts of helpful information. It will give you suggestions from Wikipedia, trending news and offers you answers that are in the context of where you’re located.

We’re sad we have to wait until Fall to check this out (well, at least I do, since I’m not a Developer). And if there’s any trend we are seeing from Apple these days it’s that they are making it easier than ever to own multiple Apple products.

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