Apple and Education

Ibera - 4Apple held an education event last week at a ridiculously huge high school in Chicago. It was squarely aimed at what used to be one of their core (and most loyal) markets: K-12 schools in the United States. On this side of the pond, there have only been isolated areas where Apple gets a look-in. I used to be one of them, when I taught Media and Film Studies, but even then I didn’t have enough computers in the classroom for anything other than group work.

In these financially straitened times, Apple have been losing share to Google. Schools are starved of funds for ideological reasons, teacher salaries are rock bottom (also for ideological reasons), and Google offer both cheap computers (Chromebook) and a “free” suite of software that integrates with school systems.

Apple’s event introduced a new, cheaper iPad aimed at schools, which supports their (expensive) Pencil and has a suite of software aimed at school IT managers and teachers.

Now, if you take the iPad and consider what it can do, it’s great value. Whereas a Chromebook, like most cheap laptops, will fall apart within 3 years, an iPad will go on forever (as long as you don’t drop it). An iPad can be a still or video camera, and includes software to edit photos, create documents, and edit video or make music. Nothing in the Google suite of apps matches the quality of Apple’s software. Throw in the Pencil, and you can use the iPad across the curriculum. Which is not to mention the privacy concerns I’d have regarding Google and their “free” software.

It seems, however, that Apple has a problem when it comes to implementing class sets and multiple log-ins. Their user-switching tools are reportedly clunky. I don’t think, personally, that this is unique to Apple. I’ve watched students log into networked (PC) computers and (especially if it’s the first time they’ve used that particular machine), it can take a ridiculously long time. I’ve had students in my lessons who’d been issued with a laptop because of special needs, and they have sat waiting for it to log in for an entire lesson.

But if I was in charge of a budget and had the power to make things happen, would I buy iPads?

I don’t think I would. I’d replace suites of Windows PC and Chromebook computers with Apple in a heartbeat, but I’ve never been sold on the iPad.

Here’s the thing. A computer is only as good as its software, and while Apple’s software may be good (the best, even), here in the real world, teachers don’t have time to learn it. It’s not just budgets and salaries that are constrained, but time. You offer me a class set of brand new iPads (or even a one-iPad-per-child policy), and I’m going to shrug my shoulders. Those iPads are going to stay locked away, or in the students’ bags. Not only do I not have time to get to grips with the software I’d be using to assign work and set homework, but I don’t have time to design lessons and activities, or the inevitable administrative tasks that go along with setting class and homework.

We already get pointed towards online services that can be used for homework and resources. “It’ll save you time in marking,” they say. “It’s all marked automatically.” But it’s not just the marking time I don’t have. I don’t have the setting time, the thinking time, or the time to deal with the students who don’t do the assigned tasks (because, when a student doesn’t do the homework, you’re supposed to do something about it).

You think I’m whining. I teach seven different sets of students. Outside the extra time I choose to put in, I get 21 minutes per week, per class to plan lessons, set work, mark books, and do the admin for that class. Obviously, that’s impossible, so the extra time I put in is dedicated to those basic tasks.

So you can hand me the greatest IT tools in the world, the most amazing hardware and software, but I still don’t have time. It wouldn’t be so bad if the students themselves had any IT savvy, but it’s a rare student indeed who knows how to do anything beyond the basics. I spent 10 years teaching students how to use Page Setup and calling out, “You’ve got caps lock on,” when their log-in “wasn’t working.” These days, not being able to do something on a computer has replaced the dog as the the most common reason homework isn’t done. I’ve decided that life’s too short to watch any more people accidentally lose all the work they did in an hour, or not know how to resize an image. 


Will no-one rid me of this turbulent Apple Music app?

music-1I was looking forward to iOS 10 for one main reason: I was hoping that the infuriating, vexatious, troublesome Apple Music app would be fixed, somehow. I was even prepared to put up with its new, even-more-fucking-ugly appearance if it would stop annoying me.

(I don’t like the San Francisco font that has taken over the interface of iOS. It’s just as bad as Helvetica, and I hate Helvetica.)

I’ve been complaining for a long time about the way Music shows tracks on my phone that are not on my phone, even though I have checked (and checked and checked again) the option to only show music that is on my phone. But no matter my preference: Music continued to show all music that I had ever purchased on iTunes. Quitting and restarting the app would sometimes fix the problem, but then it would just occur all over again. Telling it not to use mobile data (no need, because I only want to hear music I have already downloaded onto my phone) would also create issues, throwing up an error message telling me to connect to wifi. Why? So it could show/play music that was not on my phone, notwithstanding my preference for it not to do that.

And on and on and round and round we went. Even, sometimes, when it was only showing what was on my phone, the other phantom tracks would still be there, so that tapping on a song in the middle of the Gs would start playing a song from the middle of the Bs. Because, you know, invisible tracks.

So I had all the fingers crossed that the new Apple Music would behave itself.

I especially synched a refreshed playlist on the first day. And then the first thing I notice when I look at the playlist on my phone is a little cloud symbol. Why? Because some of the songs in the playlist are apparently not on my phone. How come? I checked the playlist: nope. These songs are not supposed to be on my phone because they’re not in the playlist.

One problem, I thought was the presence of the phantom “purchased” playlist that Music creates for itself, even though I don’t want it to. I deleted that. This seems to partially cure the phantom tracks problem – at least until you synch your phone again.

So I synched again, deleted the “Purchased” playlist. Same thing. So I deleted that whole playlist, deleted all my music off the phone, and resynched a clean, new playlist with a wired connection. Same thing. So I went through my iTunes, checking every single album for stray “whole album” ratings that were being misapplied to individual tracks. Resynched, this time limited to 800 tracks by least-often-played. Eventually, I have it: no cloud symbols, no tracks that shouldn’t be there, mainly because they’d all been played too many times before. It has taken several days.

Except: I’m out in my car and the podcasts run out and music starts to play automatically. First song to appear on the screen in the car: “All Over The World” by ELO. But it doesn’t actually play, so the phone bounces to another song, and so on.

Well, there are several things with that. First of all, “All Over the World” is not on the synched playlist. It is in my “purchased” items, but not on the phone. It’s in the cloud. Which, specifically, I have repeatedly told my phone to ignore. So we’re back with phantom purchased tracks, except, “All Over the World” is not the first on that phantom list. It is the 28th song, alphabetically, in the unwanted “purchased” playlist. So why was the phone trying to play it? It makes no fucking sense, except in a universe in which Apple are deliberately trying to wind me up.

And so the dance continues. I’m playing music in the house, thinking I’m playing from my 800-track synched playlist. But then a song comes on that I don’t really like and haven’t had in any playlist for a number of years. Yep: another phantom track playing randomly from the cloud, even though it’s not on my fucking phone.

I can’t even. So Apple music continues to be a pile of steaming ordure and yet is so deeply embedded in the system that I can’t kill it. Weeping uncontrollably, shaking with frustration, I say this: I just want to play music I have carefully collected over decades and filtered down to this one playlist that I want on my phone. I just want my phone to behave like a fucking traditional iPod. I don’t want your streaming service, I don’t want your radio, I don’t want your curated playlists, I don’t want the load of old toss that is your @connect feature.

This is so frustrating that I’ve reached the stage of barely listening to music because literally every time I try I’m confronted with this bizarre, unwelcome and unwanted behaviour. It’s like trying to get to sleep and being repeatedly woken by the cat. I want to have a good old listening session, especially to stuff I bought recently, and then some filler track from an album I bought ten years ago comes on and I just want to smash things up.

Over the past month I’ve spent more time dealing with all these problems than I have playing music.

Which is before we even get to the actual playback of the actual music I want to hear. I know all the theories about a properly random shuffle, but the truth is I prefer the “randomness” offered by an alphabetical playback of all my songs. Except, because of all these issues, Music makes this one of the hardest things you can do. Apart from playing songs that aren’t supposed to be there, it always goes to the beginning of the alphabet, forgetting where it had reached.

So, okay. If I concede that that’s impossible and just select, “Shuffle All”, what then? What happens then, as far as I can tell, is that it starts playing the same few songs over and over again – never quite reaching far enough into the playlist to play anything it hasn’t played in the last week or so. For example, I swear to you that I have heard Keef singing “Before They Make Me Run” at least five times in the past month or so, whereas about 700 other tracks haven’t popped up at all.

Need vs. Want

metronicon540roundeddropshadow-300x300Having been on the tick cycle since my first iPhone (the 4), this is the year I’d normally be looking to upgrade. After a couple of years, I’d usually be complaining about the battery life in my two-year-old phone by now: to begin with.

But the battery life in my 6 Plus is fine, really. It lasts all day, most days, and it has never been an issue.

Still, there’s a new iPhone with a swanky new camera and clever cores that run those low-level background tasks on reduced power. The camera looks good. So it’s not really “telephoto” but it is a 56mm equivalent lens, so now you have the two main lenses that every photographer should have: a wide angle and a portrait lens.

So I might want it, but do I need it? Of course not. And this time around, I’m less inclined to get it anyway. I’ve had several moments recently when I was tempted to commit iPhone suicide and just get rid of it altogether. Imagine the lightness you’d feel not having that seductive device calling from your pocket all the time; imagine the money you’d not be spending on a data plan.

When I consider my phone usage it comes down to five things:

  • Twitter
  • Podcasts
  • Google Maps
  • Music
  • Dots (my perennial mindless time-killing game)

Now, four of those five things are fairly important to me, but none of them really require the processing power of most-powerful-iphone-we’ve-ever-made, do they? And only three of them require the use of the screen.

What about photographs? Well, I do take a lot of photos, but only at certain times of the year. And a lot of my photos are taken on my Panasonic system camera, so while I’m impressed by the new camera technology, I’m not hankering for it right now.

My kid is hankering for my phone, however, so there is pressure coming from below in the iPhone food chain. She would kill to have the 64GB I have instead of the the 16GB she makes do with.

Can I afford a new phone? No. But then I never can, really, which hasn’t stopped me in the past.

Something cheaper than an iPhone would be a new Apple Watch. And for a while, I was telling myself I might buy the Watch (Series 2) instead of a phone this year. But I don’t need one. I wouldn’t even take advantage of the GPS to take it cycling without my phone: I always take my phone with me on bike rides in case of accident/puncture/throwing a spoke etc.

So it comes to this. There is no need, and there is not currently enough want to make me take the plunge. So I might wait until next year, who knows? The danger time is actually November (I never buy early in case there are bugs or manufacturing problems). So if I can get past the end of this year without succumbing to temptation, I might skip it this time.


Mimi Music

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 14.25.24

I saw this app featured on the iOS App Store, and because I’m always on the look out for a viable alternative to the horrible Apple Music app, I downloaded it for a trial (it was free)

The premise of Mimi Music is that you also download the Mimi Hearing Test app, and then link your results to the app, which will tweak the EQ (I guess) of your music so that it sounds clearer to your ears without increasing the volume.

It seemed like a good idea, though some might see it as a bit of a gimmick. I’ve known for a long time that I’ve lost the highest frequencies from my hearing, so I was curious to both try the hearing test and then listen to the result. What the ‘gimmick’ crowd probably don’t get is that being able to listen at a medium volume rather than turning it up loud is better for long-term listening, likely to lead to less fatigue.

You need to be in a fairly quiet environment for testing your ears. Your headphones will only be on 50% and some of the sounds are very quiet, so if you’re sitting next to a washing machine on a cycle or a television set, the test won’t work.

I ran through both the mini test (which takes a couple of minutes) and then the longer one (which takes around ten), and then gave the phone permission to link the results to the Mimi Music app. The test consists of a series of tones played at various amplitudes and you respond by touching your phone’s screen when you (think) you can hear the tone. The highest frequency tested is only 8kHz, so you’re probably not going to hear anything beyond your range unless you have severe hearing loss. In terms of music, 8kHz is an extremely high pitched whine – the highest note on a piano/piccolo is around 4kHz. The lowest tone I remember hearing was around 200Hz, but I might be wrong about that. So when you’re talking about frequencies over 4kHz, it’s the harmonic overtones you might be missing, and I guess it’s the volume of these that Mimi Music might tweak to make music sound ‘brighter’ and ‘clearer’ (the usual caveats about visual metaphors applied to sound notwithstanding).

Anyway, the results surprised me. The test gave me ‘hearing age’ of 39, about 15 better than my actual age, with my right ear at around 98% (of perfect I assume) and my left at 91%. So I’m not as badly off as I thought. Where I do have issues is in the ‘conversational range’ which is somewhere between 1-3kHz, and there’s a distinct scoop in my graph at that point, explaining why I have problems hearing people speak against background noise (a common problem).

So then you listen back to your music through the app, adjust the slider to different levels of the ‘Mimi” effect, and see what you think.

It might be a gimmick, but through headphones my music definitely sounded clearer and brighter at the same volume. The headphones I used were an AKG on-ear model, but the app does warn you that the test is optimised either for the Apple earbuds or a pair of Sennheiser ‘phones. In my view, my AKGs were probably a match for the Sennheisers in terms of frequency response.

But I do have a number of quibbles with the Mimi Music app.

I don’t listen to all my music through headphones – in fact, I rarely do. Through speakers (a Bluetooth one in the house, or the ones in the car), the music does sound brighter, but you can also hear the tiny distortions caused by the algorithm. It’s not a deal-breaker, but this does seem to be an app that assumes you’re wearing headphones.

My second quibble is that, over time, your ears get used to the effect (of course) so it quickly becomes the new normal. You’re not really noticing it, but other people in the house or car (listening over the same speakers), might well be irritated by it, especially if they have much younger ears.

Thirdly, and more importantly, I found that playing music back from existing playlists was problematic. The app refused to play anything until it was added to the Mimi playlist, which is odd behaviour. It also showed a ‘locked’ icon next to any tracks bought before 2009 and couldn’t play them because of the DRM. Thanks, Apple. I also found that selecting songs was just as much of a pain in Mimi as it is in Apple music – its behaviours seem just as pointlessly malicious, not to mention that the playback controls were too fucking small and hidden down at the bottom of my huge iPhone screen. There’s also a distinct lag when you start the app and press Play – so much of a lag that you think you have mis-touched, and then hit the (tiny) Play button again, and again, until the music suddenly starts, then stops immediately, then starts etc.

Finally, here’s the current dealbreaker. The app uses a lot of battery power, even when running in the background with the screen off. I was using it just last night to play during dinner because we had a guest in the house and weren’t watching telly. And by the end of the evening, my phone was down to 30%, and 71% of the daily usage was down to Mimi’s background processing.

Sure, it’s doing maths on the music as it plays it back, but so is the built-in EQ in Apple Music. And so is Marco Arment’s Overcast podccatcher, which does both voice enhancement and ‘smart speed’, which strips out lengthy silences.

So on those very rare occasions when I do go out for a day and carry headphones to listen to music, I’m not going to be able to walk around with music playing through Mimi because my phone’s battery (which usually ends the day on 40% or higher) won’t last the day.

To be fair to the Mimi people, they did contact me on Twitter and say they’re working on the battery issue. But there are around 20 of them, whereas there’s just one of Marco, so c’mon! Priorities, people.

Anyway, your mileage, as they say, may differ, but if you do suffer from some kind of hearing difficulty, give it a go.

The continuing frustrations of Apple Music

The ‘functional high ground’ argument is in the air again, with various tech journalists and podcasters weighing in with their opinions on various parts of Apple software. There are still occasional glimpses of former glory: Music Memos was quietly released and is the kind of songwriting tool I’d have loved to have, back when I was writing a lot of songs. It does exactly what you’d want it to do: it’ll tune your guitar, has a big record button, it knows what chords you’re playing, and it even adds a decent robot backing track. Only Apple, as we used to say so often, can do this.

But of course, iTunes continues to be horrible, and I’m not alone in thinking that Photos is a poor substitute for Aperture and doesn’t need to keep its editing tools so deeply buried – multiple clicks to achieve a simple edit is not good design.

My greatest frustration continues to be Apple Music, which is awful on so many levels that I haven’t even seen any of the pros complaining about the problems I’m encountering. Theirs are all to do with synching and matching and so on, whereas mine are mainly to do with basic functionality and interface.

But I’ll start of with that synching feeling. A permanent feature on my phone’s screen in Music is the phrase, ‘Showing only music on this iPhone. Show All Music.

That last bit, highlighted in red, is supposed to be a button, but of course we’re not allowed to have ‘buttons’ anymore because they’re skeumorphic. So we just have to guess that ‘Show All Music’ is a button. But take a look at this screenshot.


Yes, the greyed out tracks are not on my iPhone. Not. On. My. iPhone. So I shouldn’t be seeing them, should I? And yet they are there.

Getting into my car the other night, I plugged my phone into the Media connector in the car, and of course it started playing music, starting with the first song beginning with A (currently ‘After Hours’ by the Velvet Underground). Which is not what I wanted it to do. One of my daily frustrations is that my phone, unlike iPods of old, rarely seems to remember where it had reached in the playback (I play through all my songs alphabetically, which is my favourite form of ‘shuffle’). So it defaults to the first of the ‘A’s and I get angry and frustrated – and begin to kind of hate and resent that hapless first song (of 1000) in the list.

So I’m sitting in the car and ‘After Hours’ starts up, and I pick up the phone to find where I think the playback had reached, somewhere in the ‘D’s, and I tap the screen to play that song. Somewhere in the ‘D’s. I tap. And it starts to play ‘Baggage Claim’ by Miranda Lambert. What?

After a bit of experimentation, I realise that tapping somewhere in the ‘F’s will start playing somewhere in the ‘C’s, and so on. So as well as showing music that is not on the phone, Music is now also reading a tap in the ‘D’s as a tap in the ‘B’s. Brilliant. I suspect that means that the phone is seeing the tap where it really would be if it wasn’t displaying a bunch of songs that are not on the phone. If I could somehow make them invisible, I’d see that I was, in fact, tapping in the ‘B’s.

That was happening under the My Music tab (which is not a button, nor is it a tab, so what are we supposed to call it, Jony Ive? A section?). When I tapped into Playlists, my one and only playlist was there, and I was able to navigate through it and play back normally. But I shouldn’t have to do that, because there’s only one fucking playlist on the phone, and so the My Music section should have just the songs from that.

And I wouldn’t have to be doing all this if the app remembered where it was in the playback list.

Take a look at this second screen shot:


Yes, that’s in the Playlist section, and you can see we’re playing back ‘Give Him a Great Big Kiss’ by the Shangri-Las. Now, what if I wanted to skip to the next track from this screen? I could tap the next on the list, but if I wanted to skip several, I’d have to scroll first, stop the scrolling, then tap the one I wanted. So to see an actual Skip option, I have to tap the tiny white band near the bottom and go into the Playback screen. What if I wanted to pause playback? There is a chance of doing that, because there is a tiny play/pause not-a-button. But what are the chances of hitting this first time if I am walking, or driving my car, or riding my bicycle? 50/50 at best, I’d say. Note that the image above, because of the resolution of my phone’s screen, exaggerates the size of the tap target. Now, given how huge my phone’s screen is, why does the play/pause button have to be so small? Why is there no skip forward or skip back?

Why is this software such a piece of shit at doing what it’s supposed to do?

I suspect the answer to that is that I’m not supposed to want to do any of this. I’m supposed to subscribe to the streaming service, and put my music listening into the hands of curators or algorithms, and just passively accept whatever Music decides to play. I suppose there might be some people who are happy with that. Me? Not so much.

Which brings me to my final complaint. Apart from not giving enough space to playback controls, the Music app also imposes the Radio not-a-button and the Connect not-a-button at the bottom of the screen, where they are liable to (only ever) be clicked accidentally, much like the Moments button on Why can’t I go into a Preferences pane and turn those items off? Why can’t I select an option for a larger playback button? Why doesn’t telling the app only to show music on the iPhone do what it’s supposed to do?

Because Apple Music is shite. And here’s the thing: I’ve tried a couple of other playback apps, hoping to leave all the Music nastiness behind, but they don’t work. They too forget where they were playing back – because they can never take over the System playback from Music. And they too (presumably following the Human Interface Guidelines) have tiny playback buttons.


And don’t get me started on the Music app on the new Apple TV…

The most useless apps of 2015

It’s end of year list time, and everyone’s going on about the best of this and that, but what about the worst?

1. Apple Music

Deep cuts, my arse

No matter how hard I try, I can’t enjoy Apple Music. It has ruined music on the iPhone for me. This isn’t as serious as it might be, as 95% of my listening is to podcasts via Overcast, but the reason I have relied so heavily on podcasts in in large part driven by the upset caused by Apple Music. My first experience of it: the set up process, whereby you select artists you like or like a lot on those circle things; that alone was enough to annoy me. But after you tell the app that Bruce Springsteen is one of your absolute favourite artists and they throw up a playlist curated by some no doubt underpaid 20-something called “Bruce Springsteen Deep Cuts”? Well, that’s just an insult to the very notion of fandom. What? As if I don’t know all those and more? As if a fan of a particular artist can’t lovingly construct a better playlist and not give it such an overbearingly pompous title? As for playback: rage, and more rage. Why can’t the fucking app remember where it was in the alphabetical playback? My iPod managed it. But every time I plug my phone into the car, whatever unfortunate track has found itself at the start of the playlist becomes the focus of my hatred and ends up being deleted forever. More complaints about this app will be included below. Can’t delete, but would if I could.

2. Écoute

My search for an alternative to Apple Music threw up Écoute, which takes away the awful radio option (at least on iTunes I can hide Radio, why not on my phone too?), but doesn’t help the phone remember where it was in the playlist. As with Apple Music, the playback buttons are way too small. I have a massive 5.5″ phone screen, so why is play/pause the size of a marmoset’s finger? There’s a horrifying lag when you hit play, too, so you think it’s not working, and so you hit it again, sometimes multiple times. Oh, the fun we’ve had. It also fucks with your music database: Elodie has ended up with four different artists, all called The Rolling Stones, and three Bruce Springsteens. Deleted in the end.

3. Pacemaker

Still searching for an alternative playback app, I tried several others, including this, which encourages you to “be the DJ” and crossfades songs based on beat detection/matching. First of all: no right-thinking individual ever wants to “be the DJ”. Those people, as a breed, are unrelentingly horrible human beings. Second of all: this crossfade beat-matching nonsense might work for EDM, but it certainly doesn’t work for country/rock/Americana/60s soul etc. What you get is a sometimes terrifyingly long mishmash of two completely incompatible tracks playing at the same time. The only thing this app might do worse is have some shithead come in and talk over the song. It’s final sin: when your playlist ends, it starts playing shitty EDM, which it streams from some internet back alley without so much as a by your leave: and you can’t tell the app not to ever, ever, ever do that. Delete.

4. Vivino

Seems like an interesting idea. You’re in the supermarket or the wine shop, and you take a photo of a wine’s label, so the app can tell you whether it’s any good, and give you a guide price. Clever, if it works. Doesn’t. Scanned a bottle I had (a £15 bottle, not any old shit), and it got the grape variety completely wrong. Tried again, with the same bottle: completely wrong again, but a different wrong variety. It’s like a random grape variety generator. Deleted.

5. BBC iPlayer Radio

This used to be all right. Had a simple interface with the day’s schedule (you could change the day) and another section with recommended listens and a third with podcasts you could download (although I use Overcast for those). Then they “improved” the app with an update and I find it unusable. Launch takes you to live radio, so if that’s your thing, I suppose it’s okay, but I’m almost never interested in what’s on right now, or it’s halfway through something. Menu takes you to a screen with Schedule, Highlights, Downloads. I’ve tried downloading things several times, and it either doesn’t work or when it does work does it so slowly that you forget you wanted to listen to something and it just sits there. Highlights splits between Featured and Podcasts, and neither of the interfaces works as well as the old app in terms of discovery. The app has added layers of unnecessary taps (anything more than three to get to what you want is too many taps, just as four mouse clicks is one too many) and “features” that nobody really wants. All in all, I’ve stopped using the app except on those rare occasions when I’ve listened to all the podcasts.

6. Hipstamatic*

A recent update made it look like most of the other camera apps. You can put it back to the “classic” look, but it was never the way it looked. It was always a bit of a faff to choose lens, film, flash etc., so I rarely bothered. Now it seems like even more hard work. Too many options, in the end, to make it fit into a busy life or for it to work as your main camera when you want to snap a quick photo. I’d delete it if I hadn’t spent a fortune on new films/lenses over the years (most of which I’ve barely used). Pictures of my living room are all I ever took with it.

*And, let’s face it, all the other camera apps other than the main camera app and the companion Photos. Too many apps, all doing the same thing, and it’s all a big wash. The one exception: Hyperlapse is better for timelapse.

7. Odeon.

I downloaded the app because I thought it’d be a quick way to book tickets, but it’s actually quicker to just get the laptop out and do it online. The app doesn’t even remember your preferred cinema: doesn’t even use location services to pick it automatically based on distance.

8. Stocks, Game Center, Videos, Watch, Find Friends, News, Podcasts

All the Apple apps they won’t let you delete, with special mention for News, which is utter shite, and which flashes a stream of offensive right-wing news propaganda in front of your eyes. There’s a special circle of hell reserved for Game Center. As for Watch, what if you haven’t got one? What if you want to free some fucking space on your fucking 16GB phone? Think of the children, Apple. (My own phone is 64GB.)

9. DropBox, OneDrive

There might be some people who make use of these apps on their phones. I’m not one of them. I’ve got them because I do use the services from my laptop, but they are always getting updated and I never use them. Deleted.

Apple and News

Shit icon, shit app
Shit icon, shit app

With the latest update to iOS, UK users were given yet another undeletable Apple app, News.

The hype about News, when they launched it, was that it would render stories “beautifully”, making them easy to read on a small screen. There was also some talk about how Apple would provide ads, or the publishers could continue to include them in content.

The coming of Apple News coincided with the coming of content blockers, which can stop scripts and both foreground and background ads from loading. Content blockers are great, and allow news web pages to load much faster. On the other hand, the publishers are screaming because they’re not getting eyeballs on their ads. When you visit the Guardian with ad- or content blockers enabled, Polly Toynbee pops up and suggests that you pay £5 a month to support the Guardian.

£5 per month is a reasonable amount of money. That’s, what, about 17p per day? If there was a news organisation on earth that I wanted to support, I’d pay £5 a month, no problem. Problem is, I basically want all the news organisations on earth to die. I honestly think we’d be better off without them, since they’re not doing their job of speaking truth to power. Particular problem for the Guardian is, given the number of their articles I actually click through and read, that’s around 8p per article. And, more often that not, I don’t think what I’ve just read is worth even that. Most of what they publish is linkbait designed to attract Facebook and Twitter users. And their commentary is usually of the everybody thinks this, so I’m going to say that variety. The comment sections below the line are a scorched wasteland of trolling and hate. As for Polly Toynbee, she’s not the person who’s going to persuade me that The Guardian is worth supporting. Zoe Williams, maybe. But I barely even bother with the Stewart Lee columns, really.

Another reason I won’t support The Guardian is that they keep giving space to noted liar Tony Blair so he can continually justify his illegal war.

Swipe left on the iPhone home screen and you get screen -1, the one with the Siri suggestions on it and some news stories. Apple have already upset me by providing these, because they usually come from right wing sources. Finding a link to a Telegraph story on my phone’s screen, Apple, is worse than finding a fucking U2 album in my music library. And I fucking hate every fucking note fucking U2 have ever fucking played.

So, the News app. First of all, the stories are not “beautifully” displayed. Lots have raved about the new San Francisco font. I don’t like it. I don’t like it any better than I liked Helvetica as the system font, and I fucking hate every fucking character in fucking Helvetica. Maybe it’s supposed to look better on an iPad, but on an iPhone it’s pretty hopeless. Not as good as Flipboard, even, which I don’t use because Flipboard too serves you a load of shit you don’t want.*

Second of all, even if you have a content blocker running, the ads are back. Of course they are! In this scenario, Apple are like the mob, persuading publishers to support News, because it would be a shame if anything happened to those ads you run on your web site…With the returning ads comes the return of long page load times. Very few stories are readable within the News app, so you have to click a link to read them, and the experience is no better than just clicking a link from Twitter and opening Safari. Except with more ads.

In this brave new world, I’m supposed to be able to tailor news to suit me, but, see, it’s not really possible. News organisations are mostly right wing, and News doesn’t really let me filter out the hate. It’s the same problem Music had: you might think you know what customisation means, Apple, but you don’t. Customisation should mean I could switch off – forever – your shit curated playlists and your shit radio stations and simply follow my own musical nose, which has served me well for 40 years and continues to do so.

*I’m concerned this makes me seem like a closed-minded bigot, only seeking out news and views that support my narrow perspective. But my objections are as much to do with the practicalities of bandwidth. When I roam in France, I supposedly have the same “unlimited” allowance I have in the UK. But the speeds seem to be throttled down to 2G at best, and it can take a long time for content to load. I gave up on News mainly because it took so long to fetch new stories that I was better off just using Twitter. And at least on Twitter I can use the mute feature of Tweetbot to filter out shit. My muted terms include X Factor, Halloween, Glastonbury and anything else that the media overdoes. Yesterday, I muted anything relating to the John Lewis Christmas ad because I don’t need to read 65,000 tweets or links to articles about it.

And here’s why much of the media industry deserves to die. Marco Arment noted this recently, when something he blogged about was picked up, first by one tech news outlet, and then all of them. And all the “news” articles about his blog post merely summarised what he’d said. Over and over again. There is a tremendous over-supply of news organisations all publishing the same shit. None of them differentiate themselves in any way whatsoever. They all produced what Nick Davies in Flat Earth News called churnalism. Most of it is not news, and it’s not even opinion. It’s just a great tsunami of meaningless drivel.

Exhibit A would be something like the John Lewis ad. It heralds the great advertising monsoon that begins in November. But there is nothing to say about it this year that wasn’t said last year, and the year before, by the same people. The same jokes, the same complaints. Life on a loop.