Technology Update 8/15/18

Preview
It’s the middle of August already and the busy season in the world of technology is almost upon us.  In short snippets let me cover everything that we can expect to see over the next couple of months:  new iPhones, new Pixel phones from Google, new iPads, new Macs, new Surface computers from Microsoft, a new version of macOS, a new version of iOS, a new version of Android, and a new version of Windows.  It will be a busy time for us.
Small Laptops
I admire small, highly functional laptops. Back in the day, I fondly recall owning both a 12 inch PowerBook and 12 inch iBook laptop.  Ten years ago “netbooks” were a thing.  Do you remember these $300-ish Windows laptops in 9 or 10 inch flavors?  The problem was, they were very under-powered and after a year we got tired of them.  Apple basically killed the netbook when they released the iPad in 2010 and updated the Mac Book Air later that year, with a design that in my mind became one of the greatest laptops of all time.  Apple offered 11 inch and 13 inch Mac Book Airs until the 11 was killed off in 2016.  I have clients who still love their 11 inch Mac Book Airs.  The best sub 13 inch Windows laptop in my eyes is the Thinkpad X280 (12.5 inch). However, it is a $1300 machine.  Microsoft has just come out with a small portable, the Surface Go, that aims to bridge the gap between premium portable and the netbooks.  It’s $650 for a usable configuration, which includes the keyboard.  It may not be a primary computer for all, but it’s worth checking out if you want to go small.  https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/p/surface-go/8v9dp4lnknsz
Privacy Package
Google isn’t making a lot of friends lately.  They are facing a huge fine in the EU for their practices.  This week we found out that even if you had “Location Tracking” set to off in your Google apps and services, THEY ARE STILL TRACKING YOUR LOCATION.  This is true even on Apple devices.  Another setting has to be turned off called “Web & App Activity”.  This is really shameful.  I’m not trying to single Google out for punishment either.   These concerns and others I have shared in the past have prompted me to offer a Privacy Package to clients for the first time.  At a bare minimum I will
– Install a VPN for you ($40 to $60 per year), so that all of your internet activity is hidden from your internet service provider and  your internet location is hidden the websites you visit.  It can be automatic, no complex configuration for you to mess around with.  It will work on smartphones and tablets as well.
-Set you up with a private search engine that does not collect and sell your personal information (Don’t worry, you can still use Google occasionally if needed).
Optional Services
– Another option I can set you up with is a “as private as possible” cell phone service.  You can use your existing iPhone or Android.  I will set you up on ATT.  You will have to take a new number.  However, they will not know your name or address.  $45 a month for service.
-For Gmail users only:  I can make sure you are checking your e-mail in a e-mail program instead of Gmail.com in your browser.  After all, when you are signed into Google services in your browser — who knows what they are collecting on you.  I think as pure e-mail they are fine, but can’t be trusted beyond that.
Support the Free Software You Use
My final thought for today is, we need to support the small time developers who provide free software that we use all the time and take for granted.  It would be terrible if these small operations were gobbled up large entities (and radically altered) or ceased to exist because the developer didn’t feel like the project was worth continuing.  I would suggested donating at least $5-10 once or twice year to the developers of this software that you rely on so they can stay in the game for years to come.  Most of you use one of these apps that is freely provided, but please ask me if you are not sure.   A few common apps that come to mind are
NAPS 2 – scanning software for Windows (https://www.naps2.com/)
VLC – media player for Mac and Windows – (https://www.videolan.org/)
Libre Office – alternative to Microsoft Office for Mac and Windows (https://www.libreoffice.org/)
Maintenance – system cleanup utility for Mac (https://www.titanium-software.fr/en/maintenance.html)
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Technology Update 8/8/18

Trusting in Technology
Have we given too much control of our lives over to companies like Google (You Tube), Apple, Facebook (Instagram), and Twitter? In my mind I try to rationalize the idea that Microsoft is a half-step better.  However, they own a major information distribution platform in Linked In.  Microsoft certainly has the power to shape how job seekers and those engaged in professional networking see the world.  We couldn’t have a conversation about the techno powers of the universe without talking about payment processors.  The most well known, PayPal, comes to mind.  Some I know and respect had a business relationship with PayPal dating back at least 5 years.  Revenues were approximately $500K per year.  Recently PayPal told him, we don’t agree with your values, so you can’t accept payments with PayPal anymore.  Is this where we are headed?  Will we let protests by internet mobs, with no due process, no right to confront accusations literally shut down the ability of individuals to earn a living?  However, I think what we have to remember is that the six companies mentioned above are private businesses.  They are not an open, democratized soap box like the public square.  They do have the right to de-prioritize or even ban accounts.  My point is, they should just say we are a private business and we say what goes.  Don’t claim to be something you are not.    Additionally, individuals and organizations should not base their business model off of someone else’s sandbox.  Having a website that you control is crucial.  Roadblocks will give rise to innovation and new platforms.
Still waiting for “consumer” Mac laptops…

The Joy of Mice

I’ll briefly touch on Apple vs. Google for a moment.  At times we only see the world and the world of technology from our American perspective.  In the U.S., Apple makes itself out to be the fearless defender of our privacy.   The iPhone is totally encrypted.  iMessages are encrypted.  (iCloud backups?  Another topic for another time.)  Apple stood behind its principles of privacy so strongly that they would not unlock the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooters.  We view Google on the other hand with some skepticism.  Search for free.  Gmail for free.  Can it really be free?  How much of my data are they harvesting in exchange for free services? Putting on my international thinking cap, until yesterday, I had a different take.  Apple recently started putting iCloud data from Chinese customers on servers in China, per a request from the Chinese government.  Apple will take apps out of the App Store that offend Beijing.  Google on the other hand did not give in.  They did not bend to censorship.  Until now.  This article https://theintercept.com/2018/08/01/google-china-search-engine-censorship/  claims that Google is developing a search engine with China’s blessing that filters out terms such as human rights or Tienanmen Square 1989, for example.   The ethics of technology…… food for thought!
The Joy of Mice
Desktop users have no choice, but I frequently recommend that my laptop toting clients use a mouse as well.  Laptop trackpads can be inconsistent.  MacBooks are generally the best in that regard and while Windows laptops have come a long way, they are still in second place.  I realized this week that using a good mouse with a laptop can restore a sense of confidence while operating a portable computer.  I literally dusted off my Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic mouse (circa 2014) and began using it.  It restored a sense of joy in computing.  How is your mouse?  Do you need a new one?  Do you want to make your laptop or desktop experience better?  Do you want to go laptop but fear the trackpad?  Here are some mice to consider with Amazon links.
Classic Intellimouse – This is Microsoft’s classic wired mouse that was recently re-released as a new product.  It is WIRED and is Mac and Windows compatible.  It has a hand friendly curved shape.   On sale now.  https://amzn.to/2O4PkgT
Sculpt Ergonomic — This is a wireless Microsoft mouse.  It could work on either Mac or Windows, but is more geared toward desktop use.  It is a large mouse and seems to fit my hand so well.    I have been told by friends this week, “I want that mouse.”  https://amzn.to/2vbC96S
Vertical — This is a newer design that makes you grip the mouse in the “handshake position.”   Proponents of the concept claim it significantly reduces hand strain.  The best of the bunch seems to be made by Anker.  Mac and Windows compatible. It’s priced to sell.  https://amzn.to/2LKkgX2
Trackball — They say once you go trackball, you never go back.  I have met people who swear by them.  The mouse does not move around on your desk.  You roll the ball to move the cursor and then click on the buttons to make your selection.  Check out the Kensington Expert (Mac + Windows, wired or wireless) https://amzn.to/2vc1bTv  or the Logitech M570 (Mac + Windows, wireless) https://amzn.to/2v9qaqG

Technology Update July 25 2018

“Crummy” Situation Made Better
I have shared over the past few weeks how Apple improved their laptop keyboards with the 2018 Mac Book Pros that just came out.  Since the last time I wrote to you, Apple finally admitted that silicone barrier under the keys (new for 2018) is indeed there to prevent crumbs and other debris from affecting the typing process.  GREAT! It only took a week for that news to come out.
Best Windows Computers
With 7th or 8th generation Intel Core i5 or better processors, and at least 8 GB of RAM, you cannot go wrong with these picks.  Laptops:  Lenovo Thinkpad Carbon X1, Thinkpad X280, Thinkpad T480, Thinkpad E480, Dell Latitude 7000 or 5000 series, Dell XPS 13.  Desktops:  Dell Optiplex and Lenovo Think Centre.  Want to save a few $$?  Look for Dell and Lenovo coupon codes or try the Dell and Lenovo outlets.  With the exception of the XPS 13 and Carbon X1, these computers are not sold in local stores.  Dell.com and Lenovo.com are where I order clients’ computers from.  Trust me.
I’ve Been Waiting … for a Mac Like You
With the new Mac Book Pros starting at $1799, there seems to be a sharper line drawn between pro and consumer in the world of Apple laptops. (Note: Apple still sells 2017 Pro models starting at $1299.  Take a pass on those.)  Apple should be coming out with some consumer focused laptops in the fall.  This could likely include a revision of the current 12 inch Mac Book and some kind of refresh of the 13 inch Mac Book Air, where it may also get Mac Book branding.  I would expect the keyboards to be as good or better than the 2018 Pro models.  Until these Apples fall upon us, I would recommend a 2017 Mac Book Air to a client with a failing Mac portable (great keyboard) if they did not want to pay the premium for a Pro.
New iPhone Sizes
The word on the street is that Apple is going all in on the iPhone X design and functionality changes.  This means that with the 3 new models coming in September or October, you will likely see the screen pushed to the edge of the phone and NO HOME BUTTON.   There should be a 5.8 inch phone (very similar in overall size to the iPhone X, 8, 7, 6s), a 6.1 inch phone (expected to be the least expensive of the 3), and a mega sized 6.5 inch phone.  I think that any of my clients could learn the old home button functions on the new platform within a day or two.   However, if you are due for a new iPhone and do not want to tackle the learning curve, you may want to purchase an 8 or 8 Plus while they are still available.

State of Android–July 2018

My clients using Android are dwindling and I only have a handful that are really loyal to the Android platform.   I try to do this for you every once in a while.  Here is your State of Android address — as I see it.

Best Android Phones of the Year in My Opinion

Samsung Galaxy S9 / S9+ 

One Plus 6 https://www.oneplus.com/6 (does not work on Verizon – fully compatible with TMobile and ATT). They are an independent brand focused on the US market for the past 5 years.

Budget Phone:   Moto G6  ($240 full price — hard to beat.  Verizon compatible plus the other carriers. )

Comeback Kid

Nokia is coming on strong — they are back in the phone business.  Not all of their phones are US compatible but some are. These phones are also part of the Android One which means they will get mandatory updates per google.   Again they would be an ATT / Tmobile compatible phone.

Updates Matter

I would always tell someone buying an Android phone — buy it within 6 months of its release because even the best phones will get new version updates for only 2 years and security updates for 3 (Moto won’t even promise this but Samsung, Google, LG, One Plus will on their top tier phones)

The Future

Google will be releasing their latest version of the Pixel phone the fall.  It should be a very feature competitive offering on par with the best in the market.  Their phones used to have the Nexus brand but since 2016, they have moved up market with a new brand name. 

What Android Tablets

I think Android tablets (with the exception of Amazon’s Fire tablets) are totally dead.  With Apple pricing the “regular iPad” at $329, they have basically killed the Android tablet market. 

My Final Thoughts

Even though I am a day in and day out iPhone user, there are some things I think that are better on the Android platform.   I think the integration of Google voice search in everything is superb.  I think Google’s voice dictation is far better than Apple’s Siri.  While not particularly applicable (I almost typed Apple-icable) to my clients, Android gives the user the freedom to do whatever they want with the phone.  Do you want a Microsoft “desktop” (home screen launcher) on your phone instead of the default Google or Samsung one?  That’s possible with Android. 

Tech Update 7/17/18

Switchers

Since I support both platforms, Mac and Windows, I have regularly dealt with clients who switched between the two over the years.  Users make the jump from Windows to Mac or the other way around for various reasons:  cost, desire to run a specific application, or even frustration with a particular brand.   I think I speak for a lot of us by saying we do most of our “work” in the browser (be it Safari, Chrome, or Firefox).  Unlike a decade ago, the Mac and Windows versions of Microsoft Office are very much on par today.   Therefore, if the browser and Microsoft Office were the only two things that mattered, you could use either a Mac or Windows PC.  Well, our lives are a little bit more complicated than that.  The greatest impediments to switching, even when you really want to, are PLATFORM SPECIFIC APPLICATIONS.   The proprietary app that comes to mind is Apple Photos (formerly known as iPhoto, pre-2015).  No Windows version exists.  If you have just a bunch of loose, unorganized photos on a Mac — switching to Windows is not a big deal.  However, if those photos were organized into dozens of albums in the Photos application, switching becomes a real mess.  A Mac user probably has an iPhone or an iPad (or both).  Their photos are likely backed up to iCloud Photo Library.  The good news is that those photos can be managed on the iCloud.com, web version of Photos from a Windows PC or in the Photos iOS app.  If it’s just a matter of organizing and sharing them, this is possible for a Mac to Windows switcher.  Truth be told, when there are thousands or tens of thousands of photos in Photos  and you have divided them into MULTIPLE PHOTOS LIBRARIES — there is no turning back.  You really have to stay with the Mac.  Hard core Windows users run into the same dilemma.  You may have have a Windows-only program that you can’t live with out, but you really want to use Mac hardware.  There is a simple answer.  For the past decade plus, Mac owners have been able to run Windows on their systems.  Windows can be run separately or inside the mac OS.  I serve the flexible and the die hards.

New Mac Laptops

I have shared in the past about the tragedy of the 2016-17 Mac Book Pro laptops.  I have gone into even greater lengths about the problems, specifically the keyboards, with my Mac clients.  Just to recap, there are lawsuits and official Apple Repair Program in place.  Well, well.  That’s changed last Thursday.  Apple came out with new 13 and 15 inch Mac Book Pro models.  The keyboard is not totally different, but is improved.  For specific details on the 2018 keyboards, see this.  https://www.macrumors.com/2018/07/13/ifixit-butterfly-keyboard-silicone-barrier/  Given this fix and that the processors are a big leap forward, I am giving the greenlight on the 2018 MacBook Pros.   The new models start at $1799 and I think that one (13 inch) in particular would be plenty of computing power for the kind of client that I serve.  The question I have is — what will become of the lower priced Mac Book Pros?  If you go to Apple.com, you will see that the 13 inch Pro actually starts at $1299.  However, the $1299 and $1499 models were not updated last week.   Is Apple just going to sell of the remaining stock and not revamp these models?  I don’t know.  I wouldn’t touch them in their 2017 configurations.  The word on the street is that Apple should be coming out with a new consumer focused laptop, perhaps even at a $999 price point, in the fall.  Fingers crossed.  I think that such a Mac would also be very appealing to my clients.  Keep in mind that the two current “consumer” models, the Mac Book Air and Mac Book are priced at $999 and $1299 respectively. 

Update on Windows 10 – 1803

I thoroughly researched the latest version of Windows 10 – version 1803 — that began rolling out to users worldwide on April 30th.  There were a small but significant number of problems.  I relayed the horror story that one of my clients had to go through with this upgrade.  Sadly, she found out after the fact that her PC was not compatible.  However, Microsoft has had time to make this right.   There have been three months of regular, 2nd Tuesday, Windows updates since 4/30 and even some additional updates to button things up.  Microsoft said recently — version 1803 is Ready for Business.  OK then. I decided to put them to the test.  I upgraded my Dell Latitude laptop on Monday.  No hiccups.  It runs like it always has.  Some of you have put the 120 delay on the “feature updates” (new versions of Windows).  You can leave it in place.  This new version will likely get pushed out to you in early September.