Smartphones and Smurfs

Smartphone users can do “very little” to stop security services getting “total control” over their devices, US whistleblower Edward Snowden has said.

The former intelligence contractor told the BBC’s Panorama that UK intelligence agency GCHQ had the power to hack into phones without their owners’ knowledge.

Mr Snowden talked about GCHQ’s “Smurf Suite”, a collection of secret intercept capabilities individually named after the little blue imps of Belgian cartoon fame.

”Dreamy Smurf is the power management tool which means turning your phone on and off with you knowing,” he said.

I will never think of Smurfs the same way again. More at the BBC.

Apple Watch Hermès launched

Uncompromising craftsmanship. Pioneering innovation. Groundbreaking functionality. Apple Watch Hermès is the culmination of a partnership based on parallel thinking, singular vision and mutual regard. It is a unique timepiece designed with both utility and beauty in mind. With leather straps handmade by Hermès artisans in France and an Hermès watch face reinterpreted by Apple designers in California, Apple Watch Hermès is a product of elegant, artful simplicity — the ultimate tool for modern life.

Apple has launched the Apple Watch Hermès which gives you a strap that winds around your wrist twice, unless you go for the single-tour strap (like any other strap) or the Cuff, and a unique watch face. Price? $1,100-$1,500.

In a timely move Hodinkee has published a detailed look at what the Hermès name means to watch lovers, and goes some way to explaining why Apple chose this alliance.

Apple services: it’s all coming together now

I have avoided many of the stock Apple apps for quite some time because they tended to not offer the features I wanted and the iCloud system behind them was irratic, slow and at times would lose data completely.

Over time, however, this seems to have improved and the recent changes to Reminders, Siri and Notes has made me look again. Reminders, an app I have never used in the past, is now so incredibly flexible to use thanks to the Siri integration. I can be vieiwing an email and say ‘Remind me of this at 7pm’ to see it pop up later, I can also set up any reminder in the blink of an eye and it is fast becoming more useful to me than the standard calendar which is how I have managed my days for many years.

Notes is still not up to the level I need and so a third party solution, Notefile, is still my preferred choice, but I can see this changing soon if I make the effort to move everything over. 

Photos are saved to iCloud and it has become routine for me to store very few photos on my devices, but to simply view them from the cloud. 

Handoff is brilliant as is Messages which I now receive on my iPad, iPhone and Mac, and I have even delved into the world of trusting iCloud with the documents I am working on.

News has slowly become a daily use app because it seems to offer something that I do not see in the likes of Flipboard. I have no idea what that is, but there is merit in the fact that it mirrors the look of Reminders and so many other default Apple apps.

I don’t know what it is, but it is pleasing to see Apple working on how things work rather than concentrating so much on new features. Something is changing in the background and the Apple eco-system is starting to grow up, to the point that I am not fighting it anymore. 

I do still use Dropbox and many Google services, however, and suspect that will remain true for a long time to come.

We all have to take our shoes off...

The above image from ATTN struck me for a number of reasons, but America is not alone in viewing terrorism as the biggest threat and ignoring troubles closer to home. Most countries do that.

I am not trying to make a political point here. Of course I see no reason to carry a gun, I am from the UK and have never even seen a gun outside of clay pigeon shooting and that wasn't even a real gun. The repetitiveness of these shootings and the ramblings of the NRA, the disappointment of the President and the scripted media coverage is getting very boring now. It's getting so boring that some see it as only being "stuff"-

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush sparked a flurry of condemnations on Twitter Friday after New Yorker correspondent Ryan Lizza tweeted out: “In Greenville, South Carolina, Jeb Bush, arguing against calls for gun control after major tragedy, says, ‘stuff happens.’”

Boring is actually the wrong word because these incidents are so terrible that they should be shocking, surprising, worrying, horrifying or whatever other words you want to use, but the fact is that we are fast becoming immune to the repeated tragedy of what is happening. With a gun for every American, it is a near impossible problem to solve in a decade and so it will continue. And we will continue to bomb countries who pose a terrorist threat to us, quite rightly at times, while remaining apathetic to those who need a firearm to protect them from bears.

A real moon watch and the William L. 1985 Kickstarter Project

You can now buy a watch that was actually worn on the moon. Dave Scott's Bulova Chronograph (the man on the left above, left hand) is up for sale with an estimate of $50,000 which is admittedly a bit steep for the majority of us, but what a piece of history. The fact that it is a Bulova helps as this is the brand I have found myself drawn to more than any other. Maybe I should start another donation drive to buy this watch... ok, silly idea.

From Hodinkee- "Little known fact: any Omega Speedmaster issued by NASA is always and forever the property of the United States government – unless they expressly gift it to someone, which doesn't happen often. That means that every single Omega Speedmaster that ever made it into the space, much more so onto the moon, belongs to Uncle Sam. That, in turn, means that the chance to own a watch that has been to the moon is not something that will happen. Except now, all of the sudden, it's happening. Up for sale is Apollo 15 Astronaut Dave Scott's personal Bulova chronograph. Yup, now is your chance own an actual moon watch."

Take a look at the video above. This watch is part of a kickstarter project and the asking price is 99 euros. Guillaume Laidet is making a watch with all of the design ticks from the past, but with a new quartz mechanism to benefit from the ingenuity of today. I must say that it looks too good to be true for the asking price (full retail will be only 150 euros), but if he pulls it off the end result would be mightily impressive.

"The watch was rusty and full of dirt. I had it restaurated by a watch restoration specialist in La Chaux de Fonds (Switzerland). It was a bit costly but the result was awesome and the watch was ready for a new life on my wrist.

For sure the watch was not going unnoticed! Most of my friends asked where I bought it and how much it was costing! I told them that if they want to buy a watch like that from the 50's with a swiss mechanical movement, gold plated, they could find one between 600 and 950€. Could be less, could be more, depending on the brand and the condition of the watch. But the thing is that not all my friends were ready to spend this kind of budget in a watch.

So here is my idea! Develop and produce a vintage chronograph, with modern standards for my friends and for everyone who think this watch is really cool."


Three days ago I asked for donations to cover the $110 / year cost of running this site and the total has already been hit. I didn't do this out of a need for the money, but rather as a way to only invest my time in the content and not to have a financial loss as well. Call it a small incentive if you like, but I was still surprised at how quickly the total was reached.

My thanks go to Grant, John, Bob, Tom, Jah, Andy, Dominick, Peter and Kirk for donating. It is hugely appreciated.

Amazon drops Apple TV and Google Chromecast

The most popular online retailer in the world, Amazon, is using its e-commerce powers to put the hurt on Apple and Google’s streaming devices in order to prop-up the Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV stick.

In an email sent to marketplace sellers, Amazon told employees it will stop selling Apple TV and Google Chromecast. No new listings for the devices are allowed, and all other existing inventory is scheduled to be removed by October 29th.

I don't like this type of behaviour, but Apple is pretty good at this kind of thing as well. The only people who lose out, however, are the customers. More at Cult of Mac.


A new app that promises to let users review individuals has caused controversy before it has even launched.

Peeple will allow members to give star ratings to people they know via the app, much as restaurants and hotels are rated on sites such as Yelp.

The app has caused uproar online, with web users descrying it as “creepy” and “terrifying”.

Peeple’s founders say they will pre-screen for negative abuse.

The founders can dress this up all they like and talk about screening etc, but if services like Twitter and Facebook can cause so much negativity, I am pretty sure something like this will be even worse. A terrible idea. More at the BBC.


I have set up a donation page to run for a limited time. The reason for this is explained here and below.

Total so far: $110. Many thanks!

My goal each year is to cover the costs of running this site. There are no adverts and the hosting only costs $110 per year so I will stop accepting donations the moment $110 is hit.

That’s it. If I can cover the costs, I am happy to spend my time creating content. Thanks, Shaun.

Reality sets in: my first Apple Music invoice

And there she is. The three month trial is over and now is the time to decide if I want to pay for Apple Music. 

This is difficult because I don't have a history with Spotify so there are no clever recommendations for me to enjoy over there, and the family plan is more expensive than Apple Music.

Then again, my wife and kids use Apple Music every day. I do from time to time, but haven't discovered much new music apart from what St Vincent delivers in her weekly mixtape. By the way, you really should listen to that is you use Apple Music because she has exemplary taste.

I suspect that for the time being I will continue to pay, but still struggle with the notion of paying every month forever and losing everything if I stop. I own nothing.

OS X 10.11 El Capitan: The Ars Technica Review

Poor OS X can’t get no respect.

Apple’s Mac operating system has been playing second fiddle to the iPhone since 2007, when Leopard was delayed to make more room for the then-new smartphone. And despite the occasional protest to the contrary, OS X hasn’t been the apple of Apple’s eye since then. It was second to iClousysd, second to iMessage, second to the post-Scott-Forstall flattening of the operating system. And as an added insult, Apple couldn’t find time at a two-hour product event to mention OS X or the Mac except in passing, mainly in the context of other platforms. We got a release date for El Capitan on the day of the event, but it was posted to Apple’s site, not mentioned onstage.

OS X is obviously still important to Apple’s strategy—the one where the company wants to trap you so thoroughly in its ecosystem that you can never leave—but it doesn’t get to lead the charge anymore.

John Siracusa may have stepped aside, but this is a brilliant replacement from Andrew and Lee. From what I have seen of El Capitan so far, it is faster, improved in subtle areas and generally a very positive update.

Civil Comments

We’ve designed and built a commenting platform, a simple drop-in plugin, with basic civility in mind. Instead of blindly publishing whatever people submit, we first ask them to rate the quality and civility on 3 randomly-selected comments, as well as their own. It’s a bit more work for the commenter, but the end result is a community built on trust and respect, not harassment and abuse.

More here. This is a smart move which will hopefully gain some success. Fortunately at this time, there is no need for such a system on this site, because of you...

iPhone 6s thoughts

It is naturally becoming more difficult to review the latest iPhone every year and to add substance to something that many of us know so well. With iterative changes the natural course for a device that is already so impressive, we are left with what some consider to be minor tweaks to the hardware, the software and the Apple marketing.

The thing is that the iPhone 6s is perhaps the biggest change to come to the iconic device for many years and it really is genuinely impressive to use. I admit that when I first started using it I was a little “Oh, it’s an iPhone 6…”, but after 24 hours that changed to thinking “Oh, I can’t imagine going back to an iPhone 6 now”.

The majority of this immediate change of heart comes from 3D Touch which is extremely clever, very fast and most of all, amazingly natural to use once you understand what it is there for. I expected to be stuck in the habit of years of simply tapping and swiping the screen, but I am already pressing to call and message people, to play Beats 1 and to pay for goods with Apple Pay. It is completely invisible on the home screen until you actually do something and this alone makes it a triumph of design. It adds depth to the classic interface and highlights how Apple can still do things right when a considered approach is taken. There have been a few design mis-steps recently, of which Apple Music is perhaps the most obvious example, but 3D Touch is not one of them.

Touch ID is now quicker than ever, to the point that you will not even realise that you are using it in normal use. Turn on the iPhone with the home button and it is just like doing so on pre-Touch ID iPhones with no passcode enabled. It is a simple improvement that is only obvious when you are not using an iPhone 6s.

I got some time with the camera today and it offers noticeable improvements over the iPhone 6 camera. Colours feel more natural than before and it is without doubt a lot quicker. The Live Photo feature felt like a gimmick to me when I first saw it, but I kind of like it now. For the vast majority of photos you are better not to use it, but there is a part of me that really wants to see some of the photos from the last family holiday as Live Photos. I would like to put one on the lock screen and press it to remember a special moment that way rather than with just a still image. Yes, it is merely a video, but the setup kind of works in an emotional way that playing a normal video wouldn’t. The 4K video is a nice touch, but not something I have touched yet although the 1080p at 60 fps quality is quite superb.

Battery life has been pretty crummy so far, almost as bad as every single Android phone I have tried. It is hard to offer a realistic impression yet, however, because these batteries tend to get better over time and the super long iCloud restore process has not helped. This remains the one area in which Apple needs to do some serious work. The software has improved dramatically over the years and so has the camera, design and various aspects of the hardware, but battery life remains average at best. Crack that and I really would be left wondering what else there is to do.

So, the iPhone 6s looks like the iPhone 6, but it is better in the ways that matter. 2GB of RAM, a much faster processor and other technical improvements help hugely in daily use, but for me it comes back to how it works on a day to day basis. The iPhone for me works every day without major issues and it has become part of what I do, and more and more I am using it for freelance work. I may have lost some of the passion and geek-interest for phones over the past couple of years, but that does not mean that I can’t appreciate what it can do.

To me the iPhone is by far the best smartphone I can buy today and the 6s just made it even better. I don’t look for potential replacements any more because I know that none of the current Android or Windows Phones will be able to match the iPhone habits I have fallen into (I have tried a few this year), or indeed the reliability, ease of use and speed. In September 2015, there is no phone to match this one.

Apple: you are a family when we want you to be...

I don't understand the iCloud pricing strategy from Apple and how it works with other cloud services. I have set up family sharing and use that for Apple Music and many other things. I pay and extra £5 per month so that my wife and kids have access to the music they want. We can authorise purchases and app installs on their iPhones and we can use a shared calendar.

I can pay for 50GB of iCloud storage and we can all share it. Oh sorry, we can't share it because we would have to have individual subscriptions to iCloud to increase the tiny 5GB given to each device. 

Apparently this is the official rule, but my son can backup his iPhone to my storage and my daughter and wife cannot so there appears to be a quirk there. He is using his own email address for iCloud so something is wrong, but I will keep quiet on that one.

My issue is the fact that individual iCloud subscriptions have to be purchased. How does that make sense apart from the obvious financial benefits for Apple?