With the coming of iOS10 (Apple’s latest operating system for iPhones and iPads), my first generation iPad Mini can’t keep up: it can’t be updated to iOS10

ios10 logoIt’s not yet four years old, so if I’d got out of bed on the wrong side this morning I could well be whingeing about “built-in obsolescence”. But let’s take a sunnier view. It doesn’t mean that my iPad is about to stop working. It just means that I can’t run iOS10 on it. This means that some features of iOS10 are not available and, in time, some new apps won’t run on it either, and some existing apps will not be updateable.

Apple Store - Covent Garden

Apple Store – Covent Garden (sans Fan Boys)

Forgetting the Apple Fan Boys who camp outside Apple in Regent Street and Covent Garden the night before a new Apple product comes out, would a normal, sensible person, think iOS10 is a trigger to get a new iPad?

Probably not. I’ve said before that the iPad Mini is my favourite ever piece of technology and I think it probably still is. Mine is working just as well now as it ever did. I’m writing the first draft of this blog on it. Funnily enough, the excellent Logitech keyboard that I bought for it has some keys going a bit yellow, but the iPad itself looks and behaves like new.

Battery Life

My iPad’s battery has lost 13% of its capacity in almost four years

Does it wear out in ways that we can’t see? Yes. The battery becomes less efficient over time. I’ve just installed an app called Battery Life that tells me my battery is only 87% as good at taking a charge as it was when new. I don’t know how steep the curve is going to be between 87% and useless%, but it’s not worrying me today. It should also be said that I’ve got no idea how accurate the “Battery Life” app is.

Probably just as important as the battery, there’s no hard drive to wear out, and no fan to get as noisy as a cement mixer.

So, what’s a new iPad got that mine hasn’t? Well, it might be a bit faster, but it’s still the same size and weight, and the screen resolution is still the same. If, like me, you own a first generation iPad and wonder what benefits you’d get from a new one, you can compare them at the links below:

Original iPad Mini spec
Current ipad Mini spec

Personally, I can’t be bothered to check them in minute detail as I’m fairly sure the current model doesn’t have anything so staggering that it’s worth upgrading.

iPad Mini Logitech Keyboard Cover - White

The first iPad Mini with Logitech keyboard

The truth is that the iPad mini is proving to be a resilient, reliable fact in my life life that does its job extremely well. When my IT support clients ask me how long they should expect their laptops and desktop PCs to last, I say that anything over four years should be looked on as a bonus. That’s for Windows PCs. I’ve got a Mac Mini and a Macbook Pro of late 2009 vintage that are both still going strong at almost seven years old (although they, too, are now unable to keep up with the latest operating systems). As my clients will know, I’m not a particular fan of Apple as a company or of their computers (as opposed to iPhones and iPads), but there’s no denying that their (initially expensive) products do last very well.

No, I won’t be replacing my iPad Mini any time soon. I’ll just have to get used to the fact that from now on it’s a click on the Home button to fire up the iPhone 5 (in iOS10) and the old familiar swipe rightwards on the iPad (in iOS9).

Have you ever wanted to increase the storage space on your idevice?

Apotop DW-17 Wi-Reader

Apotop DW-17 Wi-Reader

However much you like your idevice, it can be a pain that you can not connect either a USB flashdrive or an SD card to increase the storage capacity. This is particularly irritating at this time of year, of course, if you want to take some extra stuff on holiday with you – such as more music, downloaded movies, TV programs, and the like.

Well, I’ve found something that can go a great deal of the way to solving this problem. The specific item that I bought calls itself a Wi-Reader. There are other brands available and the specifications differ slightly.

The idea at the heart of this device is that it can read either an SD card or a USB flashdrive and transmit (stream) the contents via its own wifi signal direct to your iPad, iPhone etc. Clever, huh?

It’s not a perfect substitute for “onboard” extended storage as the contents are only available to a specific (free) app that you install on your idevice. That’s not quite literally true as you can make the contents available via FTP, but I don’t think that my own computer support clients would be likely to want to go off-piste into such rocky terrain.

I’ve been testing this device for a week now, and it works very well indeed within its limitations. The types of content that I’ve tested with it are:

  • Music – both aac format and mp3 format
  • Video – MP4 format
  • PDF files
  • Microsoft Word documents (docx files)
  • Microsoft Excel spreadsheets (xlsx files) – but it only show the first sheet in a workbook
  • Image files in tif and jpg formats

DW-17 Music View

Using the app’s “Music” view mixes all the albums together and lists tracks alphabetically…

I haven’t checked this out thoroughly, but I think it’s fairly safe to assume that all of the data is available in a “read only” format. In other words, I don’t think you can use this device to create or edit files.

I have almost filled a 128gb San Disk Cruzer Blade flashdrive (mainly with music and TV programs converted from DVD format to MP4) and the response time in finding anything specific is perfectly acceptable. This 128gb flashdrive is currently available from Amazon at the very reasonable price of £23.99.

The device itself is called an Apotop DW17 Wi-Reader. I bought it from Maplin for £39.99. If you look at these links, you will see that this particular model can also act as a battery charger for your iDevice. It will also work with Android devices using the freely available Android app, but I think it’s less likely to be needed on an Android device as they typically have SD or micro SD slots of their own.

DW-17 Folder View

…but using the alternative “Folder” view solves the problem

The only slight disadvantage that I’ve encountered is that you (obviously) need to connect to the wifi signal coming from the device in order to access its content. That means that you don’t have a wifi connection to the internet while you are accessing the wi-reader and the iPhone doesn’t attempt to connect to the internet using a 4G connection while the wifi connection is busy doing something else. Several times, I have wondered why I can’t check my email, only to remember that the iPhone’s wifi connection is otherwise occupied. However, that’s a small price to pay.

This solution is obviously not quite as convenient as having external storage slots available on the device itself, but it’s a very good alternative solution for anyone – like myself – who would like to have his entire record collection of about 1500 albums available with only about 120gm weight overhead in their luggage (including the charging cable and the San Disk USB drive). That comes to about 0.1gm per album, and at a cost of about 4p per album. Result!

Apple will let you have IOS 9 before it is released in the autumn

IOS 9 logoWe are accustomed to Microsoft giving the hardy among us access to new versions of their operating systems before they are “finished”, and now Apple is doing the same.

The next version of IOS (the operating system that runs on iPads and iPhones) will be released in the autumn, but you can download and install the “beta” version now if you are brave enough. Follow this link to sign up for the beta release of IOS 9.

Why would you do that?

Well, for someone like me, offering computer support and advice, it would obviously be a good idea to be one step ahead of my clients. You might also be attracted by the potential benefits of the new release and not want to wait.

Why wouldn’t you do that?

IOS 9 wallpaper

IOS 9 wallpaper

The main problem with beta releases is that they are not – by definition – the finished product. They may still have bugs and glitches and they may not be cosmetically complete. This is a risk you might feel it is worth taking, but there’s a potentially bigger problem.

The developers of all the other (non-Apple) apps that you have on your iPad and/or iPhone can not reasonably be expected to have updated their apps for a new operating system before that operating system has been completed. It’s true that they could have joined Apple’s “Developers’ Program” and had access to preview versions, but no-one knows exactly what the finished operating system will be like until it is released. If you install a beta version now, you run the risk of not being able to use some of your most useful non-Apple apps.

Apple Logo - GreenPersonally, I just don’t think that that is a risk worth taking – either as advice for my computer support clients or for myself. If I just happened to have a spare iPhone lying around (of minimum specification 4S), then I would install the beta version on this spare, but it’s not worth the potential disruption of installing it on the only iPhone that I have that would support it. And neither would I risk breaking my iPad.

So, if you’ve been bored by a smart-alec in the pub telling you he’s got IOS9 and it’s sooo coool, and you must get it, then I suggest that you do two things:

  • Bide your time for just a few weeks until the real thing arrives.
  • Change your pub.

Here’s a list of some of the changes that I understand are coming to the new version:

  • Better Siri (the voice interface with IOS)
  • Better search facilities
  • Better app switching (swapping between open apps)
  • Notes app will be able to include photos, maps, doodles
  • Public transport directions – but only for major US cities to begin with. I still find the TfL app very accurate for us Londoners – http://londontransportapp.com/
  • A news app (think I’ll stick with the Beeb, thanks)
  • “Settings” will be searchable – a very welcome update
  • A “back” button to go back to previous apps
  • A “low power” mode to extend battery life
  • The four digit passkey is being increased to six digits
  • Last – and very definitely least – an album for selfies (groan). Maybe it’s an age thing, but I just don’t “get” selfies

And which hardware will support the new operating system?

In short, any iPhone or iPad that supports IOS8 will also support IOS9. The full list is:

  • iPad Air
  • iPad Air 2
  • iPad Mini
  • iPad Mini 2
  • iPad Mini 3
  • iPad 4th generation
  • iPad 3rd generation
  • iPad 2
  • iPhone 6 Plus
  • iPhone 6
  • iPhone 5S
  • iPhone 5C
  • iPhone 5
  • iPhone 4S
  • iPod Touch 5th generation

Small iPhone niggle solved!

Down The PlugholeFollowing on from last week’s blog about blocking unwanted phone calls, I have finally had a look at a problem with iPads and iPhones when attempting to delete emails from the inbox.

When I open my iPhone Mail app I like to be able to see the option to view all emails that have come in today. Clicking on the “Today” option will reveal a pile of emails coming into all my accounts – including real, urgent, dealt-with, spam, unwanted etc. It can be quite therapeutic (as well as “administratively sound”) to go through these, deleting all of those that don’t need my attention. Like most people, I only use my phone and tablet to keep abreast of new stuff and to deal with anything that needs dealing with immediately. Therefore, I’m not at all interested in long-term storage or filing of emails on these devices. I either need to keep them in the inbox for now or they can be deleted.

Unable to Move Message

Look familiar? Read on…

So, here comes the irritating problem. You ought to be able to delete an email by sliding the message leftwards. The message will be replaced by a red bar and the word “delete”. Remove your finger from the screen (at the end of the leftward swipe motion) and the message should be despatched to data heaven. Quite often, though, it doesn’t. Instead, a message pops up declaring “Unable to Move Message. The message could not be moved to the mailbox Trash”.

This is one of those small computer niggles that’s just important enough to create a scintilla of annoyance, but not important enough to bother investigating. Well, this time I thought “no more, I’m going to get to the bottom of this one”.

I have found that the problem happens when you connect to an email account on your IOS device (iPhone or iPad) via the IMAP method and the account settings on the device need a slight tweak to tell the app where your incoming message are kept. The solution (for an iPhone running IOS version 8.1.3) is as follows:

  • Go to “Settings”
  • Scroll down to “Mail, Contacts, Calendars” and tap on it
  • Tap on the account that is displaying the behaviour you wish to change
  • Under the heading “IMAP”, tap on the account name
  • Scroll down to the bottom of the screen and tap on “Advanced”
  • Scroll down until you see the item called “IMAP path prefix”
  • Tap on the item and replace the contents (“probably a “/”) with the word “INPUT” (in capitals, no quotation marks)
  • Tap on “< Account" at the top lefthand corner of the screen
  • Tap on “done” and close the “settings” app in the normal way.

Do be aware that, since this is an IMAP connection, deleting any messages from your iphone/iPad will also cause the message to be deleted from the server.

iPhone Mail Preferences

Tap on a circle to select or unselect that option (you would need to scroll down to see the “Today” option)

I started this blog by saying that I like to open the “Today” screen in my emails – showing all emails that have come in to all accounts today. You can choose which items are displayed when you open the Mail app by opening the Mail App and then tapping on the “Edit” option at the top righthand corner of the screen. Then just tap on any “empty” circle to replace it with a tick. That item will then be displayed when you open the Mail app. As you would expect, this is a “toggle” switch, so tapping on it again will change its state back again (ie ticked to not ticked and vice versa). Tap on the “Done” option at the top right when you have finished changing selections.

For the most part, I like to avoid computer jargon but it’s probably worth knowing what a “toggle switch” is since there are lots of them in computer software. A toggle switch (in computer terms) is just a switch that can be in one of two or even three or more positions and changing between the positions is achieved by operating the same switch in the same way so that you “cycle” through the available settings and stop when you’ve reached the setting you want. In other words, it’s not analogous to a light switch that you flick down for “on” and up for “off” but it is analagous to a light switch on a cord where you pull the cord down in the same manner whether you are going from on to off or off to on.

Is Apple trying to drive us mad?

If you’ve got an iPhone and at least one other Apple toy, such as an iPad or a Mac, then you may have noticed recently that when your phone rings there’s a cacophony of sound emanating from all your Apple goodies.

This is a feature of the new Mac Yosemite operating system signed in with the same Apple ID as an iPhone running IOS 8 and/or an iPad signed in with the same Apple ID as an IOS 8 iPhone.

So, your phone rings and then your Mac and iPad ring as well. You can then answer the call on your Mac or iPad (using the inbuilt speakers and microphone). The question I must ask myself is “why?”

Maybe you like this feature or maybe, like me, you think your Apple technology is coming on a bit un-necessary. I can just imagine some smarty-pants at Apple saying “ooh, look what we can do” (to which, of course, all present will reply “cool”). At the risk of sounding (as usual) like a 21st century Victor Meldrew, I have to ask the hypothetical question “why on earth would I want my computer and my tablet to ring in unison when my phone rings?” After all, if there’s one piece of technology that I’m more likely to have within reach than any other it’s my mobile phone.

Luckily, it’s easy to change the settings so that life goes back to how it used to be – back in the days when you didn’t nearly jump out of your skin every time the phone rang.

So, here’s how to restore sanity on your Mac:

  • Open the “FaceTime” program on the Mac
  • Click on the “FaceTime” option in the top menu (see Figure 1)
  • Click on “Preferences”
  • Uncheck the box next to “iPhone Cellular Calls” by clicking on the tick (Figure 2)
  • Close the open dialog box and FaceTime
  • Relax
FaceTime Menu

Figure 1

FaceTime Preferences

Figure 2

And here’s how to do it on your iPad:

  • Go to “Settings”
  • Tap on “FaceTime” in the lefthand column
  • On the righthand side, slide the switch against “iPhone Mobile Calls” to the left
  • Close Settings
  • Relax
iPad FaceTime Settings

Figure 3

You might be wondering – as I did – whether this new feature of sending and receiving voice calls to and from iPads and Macs means that you can now create and send text messages from these machines. I looked for this feature as I’ve still not got used to the cramped keyboard on iPhones and would much rather type on something else. Alas, you can’t. There are still only two ways of sending text messages from an iPad:

  • Use the inbuilt “iMessages” app (which only works if you are texting to another Apple device)
  • Get a third-party app (which means your text will appear to have come from a phone number other than your own)

So, all you smarty-pants at Apple, for your next cool trick…

Most smartphones (including iPhones) can serve as “wifi hotspots”

In effect, this means that the phone is acting like your wireless router at home. It can be used to allow you to connect another device to the internet (eg a laptop or a tablet) when a “normal” wifi connection is not available and when the laptop or tablet does not have its own 3G internet connectivity.

Turn on HotspotWhether this will work with your smartphone depends not only on the hardware but also on the deal you have with your mobile provider. If your phone was supplied by your provider then it’s possible they have “crippled” this feature so that it won’t work. On an iPhone, for instance, the option to turn on the personal hotspot connection may be “greyed out”. You can find this option by going to Settings and then Mobile. If yours is greyed out, my advice is to speak to your provider as they may offer a deal whereby it can be turned on.

Assuming that you have Personal Hotspot enabled on an iPhone or on an iPad with cellular access, and you wish to use either of these devices to pass an internet connection to your Macbook Pro or Air, this can now be done without even taking the phone out of your pocket. In other words, you don’t have to turn on the “Personal Hotspot” feature on your iPhone and then connect the computer to it. This new capability is known as “Instant Hotspot”. It’s part of the latest round of updates to Mac computers and devices (called “Continuity“) and it will only work if you have OSX 10.10 or later on your computer (ie the new version, known as Yosemite) and version 8.1 or later of IOS on your iPhone or iPad.

I learned the above from the blurb that Apple and various blog sites told me. So then I tried to test it – just to make sure that I’m not telling you porkies. No joy. If I manually turned on the personal hotspot on my iphone, the Mac recognised it with no problem. To do this, all you need to do is simply click on the Wifi icon on the Mac and there it is – offered as one of the available wifi connections. To try to encourage Instant Hotspot to work I tried turning off my router, just in case the Mac was favouring that over other connection possibilities. Still no joy. Then I checked the versions of the operating systems on both Mac and iPhone. Both were definitely up to date.

After much googling (and not a little profanity), I eventually found a site that tells me that the Mac needs to be 2012 or later for it to work. So, if you’ve got a Mac that’s older than that then maybe reading this blog will save you a bit of frustration – it’s not going to work. Pity that Apple didn’t make that clear in their blurb.

Look for HotspotSo, for the rest of this blog, I’m just winging it and hoping that what I read is true for Macs of 2012 or later vintage. All you have to do is click on your Wifi icon at the top of the screen and your iPhone should appear as an available network. It doesn’t even ask for a password. It doesn’t need a password as it will only work if both phone and computer are logged into the same iCloud account. After a period of inactivity, the connection is automatically dropped. This is to save the battery on the iPhone.

Instant Hotspot

Just have your iPhone reasonably close to the Mac when you look for the Instant Hotspot

It’s worth mentioning here that mobile data allowances aren’t usually very generous in comparison with your home or office broadband, so do be careful. You can always check how much of your download allowance you have used by going to Settings on the iPhone, then take the Mobile option and scroll down to the figure headed “Mobile Data Usage”. This will only be meaningful if you reset the statistics at the beginning of your “billing period”. My understanding – at least with T-mobile – is that the “current billing period” is a calendar month and not the month from one payment date to the next (but I wouldn’t actually stake my life on that being true).

Something I came across more than once when researching this item is that an initial connection to an “instant hotspot” is sometimes difficult. If this happens, the recommendation is to manually turn on the personal hotspot (on the iPhone) and make a connection that way first. Thereafter, it seems that the Instant Hotspot is more likely to work.

I’ll have to take their word for all this as I’ve got absolutely no need (otherwise) to update my perfectly good five year old Mac.

Is there a market for the Microsoft Surface – if so, where?

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with keyboard/coverThe first version of Microsoft’s Surface Pro was launched in February 2013. Since then, I’ve mentioned it occasionally, en passant, but have often wondered where its market lies and whether that market is large enough to sustain the product. Well, we’re now into the third version, called Windows Surface Pro 3 (natch), so either it’s starting to sell or Microsoft’s pride is as big as its pockets are deep.

The pitch from Microsoft is that it’s a tablet that does everything that your laptop will do. Hasn’t that market been snaffled by iPads and Android tablets? Up to a point, it has. You can get all the internet connectivity you like with a “normal” tablet, but there is one major function that most tablets lack and that is USB connectivity.

You can’t just plug in a USB flash drive and copy stuff between machines without engaging brain. Instead, you have to think about what facilities you have and what’s the easiest way of moving stuff. This is quite likely to be via a cloud service such as Dropbox. Life’s often less complicated if you can just connect a USB drive and do a “file copy”. Well, the Surface Pro does offer a USB port (just the one, notice) so that could be a clear advantage. A USB port also means, of course, that you can use a mouse. It also offers a micro SD card port – handy for data storage expansion, backups, and data transfer. I advise checking this out, though, as some places I looked said that the micro SD port is only present on the top-end versions.

The other major boast of Microsoft is that the Surface Pro lets you run any program that will run on a Windows 8 laptop or desktop. Now this may not arouse more than a “so what?” shrug in most people, but it could be very important to others. It means, for instance that Photoshop, Microsoft Access and Microsoft Outlook should all happily run on it – and you won’t get all those programs running on any other tablet as far as I know.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with screen penThe nearest competition for the Surface in this respect will probably be the Mac Air. The Mac Air, though, is – of course – a Mac machine running OSX and not Windows. I have no doubt that it would run Photoshop and the Mac version of Outlook, but there’s no version of Microsoft Access that will run on a Mac. I would love someone to point out that I’m wrong on this (excluding running Windows under “Parallels” or other virtualization software). Also, I am aware that some versions of Office 365 now include a version of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for the iPad. This is very useful, but you still can’t run Outlook or Access on an iPad.

So why am I bringing the subject up now? Well, a computer support client of mine found a good deal on buying the previous version of a Microsoft Surface RT and we were having fun playing with it. It’s worth repeating here that the RT version of Surface will only run the installed applications and then added “apps”. It won’t run ordinary “desktop/laptop programs”. That might sound like a fatal flaw until you learn that Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint are exceptions to this and that they are included free of charge on RT machines. That’s as much as a lot of people need as far as “serious” stuff is concerned (you can also browse the net and do email, of course).

Getting up close to a Surface for the first time, I was very impressed with the quality of the finish. It just about feels as if it’s gained something of that mysterious quality that only products from Apple usually have. The 12 inch screen might be slightly on the small side for anyone who gets tired reading small stuff and, for my money, that would be one thing that would stop me from being able to use it all day as a replacement for a laptop. You can, however, plug in a larger monitor (but that wouldn’t slide into your backpack with the slimline Surface (weighing only about 800 gms)).

I don’t want to start nit-picking, but I do think Microsoft’s boast that it’s a replacement for a laptop is a bit OTT as a laptop with only a single USB port would probably drive you mad if the Surface Pro was your only machine. USB hubs aren’t a perfect solution for this problem.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 in profileThat aside, the only real gripe that I have is to do with marketing. The beautiful, thin, keyboard/cover is not included in the box (or price). You have to buy it extra and it runs into three figures. OK, so this gives the buyer the option to restrict him/herself to using the Surface just like a tablet (with the on-screen keyboard), but I can’t help feeling that the main reason for splitting the tablet from the keyboard/cover is to do with price perception.

The Surface Pro 3 is expensive. You can see the full price range of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 here, but remember that those prices exclude £100 worth of keyboard/cover. In short, the price (without keyboard/cover) ranges from £639 to £1649 (including VAT).

At those prices, I’m having a very tough time convincing myself that I can’t live without one. Convincing myself, that is, that there’s a gap somewhere between my laptop, netbook, iPad, and smartphone that can only be filled by a Surface Pro. I think I’m just going to have to keep working on myself as there’s little doubt that it’s a very nice piece of kit that I would definitely like to own. If you are thinking of buying one, I would strongly recommend seeing it in the flesh first so that you can weigh up the quality of the finish against the possible usability drawback of the small screen. As usual, I would recommend that the obvious place to go and see one is John Lewis.

Do PC’s still have a place in a world of laptops and tablets?

Over the last few years, a lot of people have replaced PCs (consisting of system unit, monitor, keyboard, and mouse) with laptops. The reasons aren’t hard to find:

  • Laptops are much neater and take up less room than PCs.
  • The price differential has disappeared.
  • Laptops are more versatile. Would you rather watch a film on a PC at your desk or on a laptop wherever you wish to place it?
  • We don’t often need to open up computers any more to add the latest gizmo.

Laptop vs Desktop

Laptop vs Desktop. This image is from http://computerdawn.com/desktop-vs-laptop/

A lot of my computer support clients ask whether the desktop PC is disappearing. They would probably be surprised to learn that, although PC sales have been falling in recent years, the figures may have bottomed out. Worldwide shipments of PCs in the second quarter of 2014 were actually 0.1% up on the the same period last year (source: Gartner).

One theory to explain this mini-revival is that a lot of people have probably replaced desktop computers running Windows XP during the second quarter of this year (as Microsoft stopped support for XP in April). I suspect that a high proportion of such replacements will have been in the business sector. I’m certainly surprised at the number of home users that I encounter who are sticking with XP machines (at least for the time being). It’s true that I haven’t yet heard of any “killer malware” that is frightening people out of using their XP machines. Nevertheless, it could happen any day and that would probably boost Windows 8 desktop sales for another few months.

Another theory that reconciles falling PC sales (over the last couple of years) with optimism about their future is that, generally speaking, we are replacing PCs less often than we used to simply because they are now good enough to run whatever is thrown at them for longer. As computers get older we notice them slowing down. Many people can’t help anthropomorphising about this: they think that computers “slow down in their old age” just as we do.

Sony All-In-One

Sony All-in-One. Less visible hardware, more visible screen.

That’s not the case. It is true that Windows computers do tend to accrete a load of rubbish over time that doesn’t help performance (eg temporary internet files, any number of different fonts, redundant programs), but a bit of housekeeping can help in this respect (I recommend CCleaner but avoid registry cleaners unless there’s a known problem). The main thing that makes a computer seem slower over time has been that software gets ever more bloated. We are forever installing newer versions of browsers and other programs that are written with modern hardware capabilities in mind. Therefore, as time goes on, your hardware starts to struggle a bit with newer programs. However, Windows 7 and Windows 8 have bucked that trend by being designed to run on hardware that would run Vista. So, there’s reason to think that we need to replace computers less often because they are not being outpaced by software demands in the same way as they used to be. We’re still buying PCs – just not as often. Have a look at this link for more on this.

Another thing that may be helping desktops sales (and laptop sales as well) is that people don’t seem to be upgrading their tablets. It seems as if developments and improvements to tablets are just not sufficient to make users think they are missing something. That being the case, funds are probably more likely to be available to replace the ageing workhorse PC in the office or home. If you’d like some overkill on figures about Tablets, have a look at this link.

HP Hybrid Laptop

Devices like this HP Hybrid are blurring the distinctions. Is it a laptop? Is it a tablet?

It is true that tablets may have taken a big chunk of users’ budgets in the last couple of years, but that doesn’t mean that tablets are displacing PCs. Despite improvements in tablet software (eg Word, Excel, and Powerpoint are now available on the iPad and other tablets – see this recent blog on Office 365), it seems that most people prefer to use their tablets and smartphones for data CONSUMPTION – eg watching films, checking Facebook and Twitter, listening to music, viewing photos and so on. However, when it comes to data PRODUCTION (eg report writing, PowerPoint creation, database work, photo editing) most people head back to their laptops and desktops.

OK, so tablets haven’t knocked desktop PCs out of the game, but why haven’t laptops finished the job off?

I’m not really sure. In an office situation, I can see that a desktop PC still has certain advantages:

  • There are usually more ports (eg USB ports) than on a laptop.
  • A desktop PC can actually take up less desk space as the monitor can be permanently fixed above the desk, the system unit placed beneath the desk, and a wireless keyboard can easily be moved aside if you need all your deskspace.
  • Despite the need to get inside a computer’s case being less obvious than it used to be, a desktop PC is still more versatile in this respect.

So, there may be clear reasons why desktop PCs are holding on against laptops in an office situation, but I’m not really sure that those reasons aren’t outweighted by the flexibility of laptops in the home.

It’s clear, though, that there are plenty of reasons why “laptops/desktops” considered together should be holding their own against tablets. When my computer support clients ask me whether they should replace ageing desktops with another desktop or with a laptop, there’s no “one size fits all” answer. In giving computer advice on this, I usually stress the flexibility of the laptop over the PC. I also point out that my own experience and that of others is that tablets are probably not versatile enough to replace their bigger siblings but the choice between laptop and desktop is much less clearcut.

In conclusion, I would say that – as far as functionality is concerned – a laptop is probably as good as a desktop PC and also the “all-in-ones” that are becoming increasingly popular (possibly because they take up less space than a desktop but offer the screen size of a desktop). Don’t worry that desktops are disappearing and that you may be the last person ever to buy one! There’s no real sign that that’s going to happen any time soon. Buy whatever you prefer: the basic functionality and power is comparable between all three formats. And by all means have a tablet: they have lots of uses but they are not replacing “proper” computers.

It’s three whole years since I started writing this weekly blog for my computer support clients (and anyone else who may stumble upon it)

3yearSo, I thought I’d have a look back over the last year and see what’s changed and what hasn’t…

In December of last year I got my hands on the iPad Mini. This has now become my favourite piece of computer hardware of all time. Using it with the matching Logitech keyboard, I can do real work away from home without lugging a “proper” computer around. And the latest bit of fun I’ve discovered is to use it as a remote control for the iTunes music collection hosted by my Mac Mini. When they release a version of the iPad that makes a decent cup of coffee, it will be nearly perfect.

Also in December, I started warning about Microsoft’s decision to stop supporting Windows XP and Office 2003 after April 2014. They haven’t changed their minds and nor are they likely to! It’s just possible that these products won’t become irresistible targets for virus attacks after April 2014, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

The Microsoft Surface

The Microsoft Surface

In January I was starting to think about buying a Microsoft Surface. This is the very light netbook/tablet that runs a “cut down” version of Windows 8. In the 10 months since then I’ve only had one person even mention them to me and I haven’t seen one in the flesh outside of Peter Jones in Sloane Square. Looks as if Microsoft may have mis-calculated with this product. Certainly, I don’t think it likely that I’m going to have to buy one any time soon in order to keep up with what my clients are interested in.

In February I had a whinge about websites cleverly leading us to make the choices they would prefer us to make, rather than the choices we set out to make. No change there, then. AVG, for instance, are still offering us an orange button to choose the free version of their antivirus program and a green button for the paid one. It’s all very well saying “I’m too intelligent to be led down the wrong path by such tricks“, but this type of practice must work or they wouldn’t be doing it. It’s a piece of cake for them to test the results of a web page that includes such dubious tactics against another that doesn’t. It’s not just AVG doing this, of course.

In April I was still predicting the demise of the computer fair that takes place in the Student Union of London University on a Saturday. I’m happy to report that, so far, I’m wrong. It’s still holding on. I’d much rather pay £2 for a cable at the fair than £10 for the same cable in PC World or wherever. If the nerd in you feels like braving it, just follow the directions on the black and orange placards to be seen along the length of Tottenham Court Road on a Saturday.

Evernote ItemsI gave Evernote several plugs during the year. I find the interface a bit quirky at times, and this is made more complicated by the different interfaces for Mac OSX, Mac IOS, Windows, and Android. And is it just my imagination, or do they keep changing things? Nevertheless, I find Evernote to be robust, useable, and ever more useful as I pour more and more data into it. After just a few months, I wouldn’t want to try and do without it.

In June I had a lefty rant about the government spying on us. At that time the Conservative half (3/4?) of government still wanted to enact the Snooper’s Charter, but Nick Clegg was talking as if he’d got a backbone by saying it wouldn’t happen while he’s still in government (make the most of it, Nick – not much longer now). Anyway, the issue is still definitely alive. As the Guardian put it recently, ” The Home Office’s head of counter-terrorism has revived his fight to secure the return of the “snooper’s charter” legislation”.

And what’s around the corner for the next twelve months? I’ve no idea.

And what would I like in the next twelve months? Well, I do wish the date for fibre optic broadband in my area would stop slipping back. As I see more and more of my clients’ connections delivering really fast download speeds I do rather envy them. I dare say there are plenty of people outside the M25 who would be glad of the 6mbit per sec that manages to get south of the river to SW4, but it still seems slow to me a lot of the time.

Thanks for reading and please stay tuned for year four!

In the past, I’ve counselled buying a tablet that has 3G (cellular) access, but this may not be the best option for you

My reasoning has always been straightforward. You will quite probably wish to take your tablet around with you. That’s what it’s for. But, away from your own wi-fi setup, you may not be able to connect to anyone else’s wi-fi. if you do not have a 3G (cellular) connection available to you then you may have no internet access.

On the other hand, buying a tablet with 3G access will, typically, cost you about £100 more than a tablet that relies solely on wi-fi access. You will also need to subscribe to a 3G plan costing from £5-£15 a month. So, it’s not exactly cheap to have 3G access.

iPhone with wi-fi iconWith a newish smartphone, though, you may have an alternative method of connecting your tablet to the internet. You may be able to configure the smartphone so that it becomes a “personal hotspot”. In other words, your smartphone broadcasts a wi-fi signal that your tablet can use. If you manage to connect this way then the data downloaded to the tablet will, of course, count against your data download allowance for the smartphone providing the wi-fi. But it means that you only need one device with 3G access to get internet access on both devices.

In years gone by, the mobile service providers (Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile etc) used to “cripple” the phones that they provided to stop you from doing this. The small print of their contracts also expressly forbade using their data plans in this way unless explicitly stated otherwise. I remember about five years ago paying-T-Mobile about £10 per month more so that I could pass an Internet connection from my Windows mobile phone to my netbook via a USB cable (it was known as “tethering” then). In fact, I think I’m still on the same plan, but it’s much cheaper now.

I have just carried out a very quick survey of Orange and Vodaphone plans on their websites and can’t find any reference to personal hotspots so maybe they no longer worry about whether you are using your data allowance on your smartphone or on a connected device (and why should they?). It’s still possible, though, that if your iPhone was supplied as part of your contract, then the method detailed below will not be available to you. It may also be good advice to check the details of your plan to ensure that you won’t get hit by large charges.

It wouldn’t work for me, anyway, as I use an iPhone 3GS. This does have the option to create a personal hotspot, but the connection is via a USB cable or bluetooth. I have, in the past, used the connection via a USB cable to a Windows netbook, but I’ve never had much luck with bluetooth.

iPhone Personal Hotspot settingsHowever, if you have an iPhone 4 or 5 then your “Personal Hotspot” settings include an option to “connect using wifi”. This is simple and secure. Just follow the instructions (as illustrated). If you go into “Settings” and then “Personal Hotspot” but do not see the option to “connect using Wi-Fi” then it is either being blocked by your provider or you have iPhone 3 or earlier.

This potentially very handy facility was pointed out to me by a reader, and it caused a little lightbulb to ping into life in my head. I bought a 3G data plan with my first tablet last year. It came with a mobile broadband USB “dongle” so that you can put the 3G SIM into this and connect a Windows machine (such as a netbook) to the internet. So, if I needed an internet connection on either of my Sony tablet or netbook, I would fiddle about, removing the SIM from one device and putting it in the other.

When I moved to an iPad Mini I carried on with the same method. This was made even more fiddly by the fact that the iPad Mini uses a “nano” SIM, whereas the dongle is made for a “micro” SIM, so the SIM has to be put into an adaptor before fitting to the dongle. All rather tedious and just the sort of thing I don’t want to be doing in front of a client in their time.

So, this lightbulb moment consisted of realising that the iPad may be able to serve as a “personal hotspot” and give the netbook an internet connection just like an iPhone 4 or 5 can. And it can! Magic! The SIM now stays in the iPad. Giving internet access to the netbook (or even a client’s machine) consists of just going into “Settings” and “Personal Hotspot” on the iPad and then connecting to that wi-fi signal on the other machine.

If you have an Android smartphone, then you may or may not be able to create a personal hotspot. Go into “Wireless and Network Settings” and look for “tethering and portable hotspot”. On a Windows mobile phone go into settings and look for “Internet sharing”. I understand that newer Blackberries with the latest operating system can also provide a wi-fi personal hotspot.

Conclusion: you don’t necessarily need 3G access on a device if you can create a wi-fi personal hotspot from another device. You could even use this method to give internet access to your home setup if your home broadband service went down.

… and I’ve just found out what “SIM” stands for – it’s a “Subscriber Identity Module”.

© 2011-2017 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
Privacy Policy Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha