Tag Archives: Mac

Dear Steve

Dear Steve,

Yesterday we headed down to the opening day of your new store in Festival Place, Basingstoke. First off I have to say that after many years having to either head into London or drive a long way to find an Apple Store it is great having two within a short drive, with you having opened a store in the Oracle, Reading just last month. We did avoid the craziness in the morning but we had a great time none the less.

I went along with my two year old daughter, who has been using Apple products for pretty well all of her life. It didn’t take long for her to get the hang of the touchscreen interface on my iPhone, iPod and iPad, indeed now she expects most devices to have such a screen and gets frustrated when they don’t. This brings me to a first suggestion, your children’s area. Whilst it is nice having a low level table, and child sized seating, the devices there are all Mac’s. Although children do quite easily pick up the concept of a mouse and pointer, my daughter is much happier with the direct interaction of a touch screen – as you have said on a number of occasions recently, we’re living in a post PC world now.

Look where we ended up... As a result we went to look at the iPad’s which do have children’s software installed, but are all on tables at a very child unfriendly height. In the end my daughter asked for a chair, and one of your excellent staff kindly obliged with a stool from the Genius Bar.

As you can see from the picture that put her on just the right height to play some games on the iPad.

Games weren’t the only thing we tried. My daughter wanted to talk to Mummy, so we thought we’d try out another of the features of the iPad – Facetime.

We have used your video calling application quite frequently at home – calling between Apple products it seems to pretty consistently produce a better quality video connection than the most obvious competitor Skype, indeed in one situation recently Facetime made a connection easily when Skype couldn’t get through at all. However as I’m sure you’re aware Facetime only works over wi-fi.

No problem of course as your stores have free wi-fi. Looking at the strength display it had a full strength signal, however it fairly obviously was not a good internet connection, the demonstration iPad struggled to produce a reasonable picture with a decidedly low quality result. It would certainly be worthwhile investing in some faster wi-fi connections for the store to enable a good demonstration of this feature.

Anyway, one last idea which comes from my daughter – she would like you to provide beds at the Apple Store so she doesn’t have to go home. The store kept her occupied and entertained for all of a wet afternoon, and she didn’t want to leave! I did eventually manage to get her out and heading home, but I am sure we will be back.

Yours,

An Apple Owning Parent

Buyer Beware – Garmin UK Online Store

Over the past year or so Garmin have finally started to provide software for the Mac. One of those new pieces of software, currently in beta is BaseCamp, a tool that works with various of the Garmin topographic mapping products giving a three-dimensional view of the mapping data, similar to the view that their latest series of handheld GPS units can produce.

Amongst the mapping products I have are both Topo UK and Topo Canada, however only Topo UK was recognised by BaseCamp.

The reason turned out to be fairly straightforward, BaseCamp needs topographic data that includes Digital Elevation Model or DEM data, and whilst Topo UK includes that data, the early release of Topo Canada that I have, version 2, doesn’t include that data. Not a problem, as in the five years since I bought my copy, Garmin have updated Topo Canada to version 4, that includes the required data.

Since I’ve recently bought and registered another Garmin product, I had a discount code that offers me ten percent off products in their online store, so I took a look at their UK store, and found that they had the up to date version 4 of Topo Canada listed so I put in my order for the upgraded version.

The parcel turned up today, and opening the package, the box looked rather much like the Topo Canada packaging I already had, the computer requirements didn’t match those listed on the website – no mention of the Mac for a start – and the copyright on the box was 2004. Taking a look inside, rather than one DVD it was a four CD set, and the version number on the back of the box was version 2. Despite listing the latest software on their website, Garmin UK had sent out the same software I already had.

Not surprisingly I was not best pleased, so I gave Garmin UK a call – well three calls actually as their phone handling system cut me off mid-call twice before I got to talk to a real person. Explaining the problem , he went away and took a look and said that the only Topo Canada they had in their stock was the version 2 they had sent me.

They did try to persuade me to stick with what they had sent, but once I’d said that I already had a copy of that, and that I specifically wanted the version with the DEM data to use with BaseCamp, they said they would talk to their head office, and I’m currently waiting for a call back with their answer.

The problem of course is that although Garmin UK are currently being quite helpful, they are quite blatantly in contravention of the Sale of Goods Act in that the product their website describes – a Mac compatible version of Topo Canada – is not what they’re sending out. If they replace my copy with what I ordered or give me a refund I’ll probably leave it at that, but certainly if you’re buying map software from Garmin UK, especially if it is something pretty specialist, be aware that they are still selling off their old stock, even if it is five years old.

Apple Store Personal Shopper

I just thought I’d post a few words about the Apple Store Personal Shopper service, which Apple have been plugging in their UK stores – and probably across the rest of the world too. The basic idea is simple, it’s a free service where you book an appointment slot, and for that period you get a dedicated member of staff to take you through all the products you are interested in.

On Saturday, we went with Mum off to her local Apple Store, which is in the Brent Cross shopping centre just off the end of the M1, to look about upgrading her Mac. We had a basic shopping list of what she needed in terms of software, but there were a couple of key questions – specifically over the size of iMac she wanted – 20“ or 24â€?, and she also wanted to replace her current separate printer and scanner with an all-in-one, so wanted to look at those. As with pretty well every other Apple Store it is absolutely heaving on a Saturday afternoon, but having booked an appointment with the personal shopper they had a couple of demonstration iMac’s available, and an assistant available to answer questions.

It certainly was beneficial, as Mum was able to try both the 20“ and the 24â€? models and decided fairly swiftly that the 24“ was a bit too big, from there we were also able to look at the selection of all-in-one’s they had, and opt for a Canon unit on which the store was offering a £60 cashback offer, and also pick up copies of iWork and Filemaker Bento too to cover a couple of other requirements she had for the machine.

The Personal Shopper service does seem to be very much set up for people who are new to Apple, so certainly the assistant we had was improvising slightly rather than working through what would be her usual routine as we already knew about a lot of the stuff she was going to show. Having said that there was a big advantage in that when we were talking software and printers she was pretty much immediately able to look up stock and in one case go and get a package from the store room, and then to round it all off they helped us take all the packages to the car as well.

Wading into the Calendar/Contact Sync Swamp Again

Ever a glutton for punishment, I’m again wading into the calendar/contact synchronisation swamp in an effort to get my address book and calendar details from the Exchange server at work onto the Mac at home. If you’ve followed my previous expeditions into the swamp you’ll remember that the basic problem is that I need to be able to keep track of both a large number of Church appointments, alongside all the work commitments. I’ve been doing that for the past couple of years using a Dell Axim X50v PDA, hooking up with ActiveSync to the Exchange Server.

There are a couple of things that have pre-empted this current attempt to get it all sorted. Firstly, the only thing I now do on the Dell is now my calendar – web browsing, multimedia, everything else is better handled by my iPod Touch which could handle the calendar too if I wanted to reconfigure it to hook up to a PC. Alongside this, the other big driver is that I’m changing jobs, and start at a new company in about a month – as a result I need to get all my contact and calendar details off the corporate Exchange Server.

The tool of choice for the current attempt to scramble my calendar and address book achieve synchronisation nirvana is Plaxo. Now it has to be said that in it’s earlier form, Plaxo achieved a good deal of notoriety by the number of times it spammed people with sign up requests when someone created a profile and added your e-mail address as a contact. However in response to this, they do seem to have one of the most stringent privacy policies I’ve seen – certainly it is an interesting exercise to compare it and the level of control with that offered by Facebook… By way of an example, in both services you’ll quite likely end up with a mix of family, friends and business contacts, with Plaxo you can present a different subset of your profile to each group – key for example if you don’t want your business contacts getting hold of your home phone number. Since Plaxo are also including Facebook like picture and tagging facilities, and FriendFeed like life streaming features, it also allows you to keep business contacts clear of all the embarrassing pictures friends may upload – features sadly lacking from Facebook.

Anyway, my primary interest is in the synchronisation facilities. The list of supported platforms is pretty extensive, in terms of the ones I need it includes support for Outlook, and also an equivalent MacOS X plug-in for the synchronisation on that end. If you’ve currently been using systems such as Hotmail/Windows Live or Google Mail/Google Calendar it can link in to those services too – although at time of writing the Google Mail/Google Calendar connection is not bi-directional. In terms of other devices, Plaxo does have some support for these, but I’m sticking with synchronising those through Outlook and iSync respectively.

I did the basic set up yesterday, and I’m now going through the inevitable process of ironing out the bumps with duplicated data where I had different copies of the same contact in both Outlook and Address Book. The most common problem is having phone numbers in different slots so the synchronisation produces multiple phone number fields all holding the same information – this is usually made worse by there being variations in how a particular phone number is formatted including international formatting, brackets around area codes, and all sorts of stuff like that. Alongside this, there is a bit of time getting used to how e-mail addresses map between platforms. On the Address Book end, addresses are marked as either ‘Work’, ‘Home’ or ‘Other’, and you can have several of these – Plaxo also identifies addresses in a similar way. Outlook on the other hand just has three numbered slots for e-mail addresses. Plaxo has to map these fields to suitable slots in the Address Book structure, and tends to go for ‘Work’ if there is only one. I’m slowly working through getting those sorted using the address book in Plaxo – hopefully once that is all cleared up, the synchronised systems should fall into place.

Calendars I haven’t done that much with so far, which is basically because it is a big job and I wanted to get the contacts sorted first. The fundamental problem is the significant differences between the operational model used by Outlook, and the model used by iCal and Google Calendar amongst others. The intention with Outlook is that the user will operate on a single calendar, and use categories to distinguish different sorts of appointments. iCal on the other hand positively encourages you to work with multiple calendars, so for example I have a work calendar, a home calendar, a Church service calendar, a choir calendar and so on. What this does is allow people to share calendars, so for example the choir schedule could be kept on a single shared calendar and distributed to all members. The different calendars roughly correspond with my Outlook categories, and this is what most synchronisation solutions tend to map. However, it is incorrect to say that Outlook doesn’t support multiple calendars – it does, however the support has always been obstructive. For example until the 2007 release you couldn’t overlay the different calendars – only side by side views were available. When it comes to synchronisation with a PDA, only a single calendar is synchronised, so effectively you can’t operate with multiple calendars using Outlook if you’re synchronising on from there. The idea of multiple calendar support seems to very much be to allow you to look at other peoples calendars, but then the implication is that you’re going to put relevant events into your own calendar.

The issue is that Plaxo doesn’t synchronise categories with calendars. The Plaxo model supports multiple calendars, so your multiple iCal calendars map to multiple Plaxo calendars, and thereby onto multiple Outlook calendars. Whilst this works fine if you’re synchronising something like an iPod Touch or an iPhone using iSync as they all understand and can deal with multiple calendars – even if the devices appear to work on a single calendar model. Doing the same from Outlook, and especially with a Windows Mobile device, you’re back into single calendar world, and you’ll have chunks of your schedule missing. Since Outlook can cope with multiple calendars, albeit badly, I could probably move to syncing the mobile devices with iSync and use Outlook 2007 at the PC end – but I’ll have to stop trying to keep the Dell Axim in sync. I’ll also have to go through a process of splitting my calendar out, as it’s currently all rolled up into a single categorised calendar, rather than the multiple calendars that iCal would support.

So, it’s so far, so good – Plaxo seems to be working okay, and I haven’t come across any of the annoying time and date shifting problems that beset any attempt to use Entourage hooked up to an Exchange Server. The real challenge though is still to come – when I try to pick apart my calendars…