Monthly Archives: October 2012

No matter how you dress them up, bugs are still bugs. 0


Fried bugs

The iPhone5 has not escaped some rather major bugs on launch, and as much as Apple has tried to sugar coat – or outright ignore them – in some cases, they’re still pretty major bugs. Due Disclosure, I upgraded to the iPhone 5 and like it a lot, but I’m still going to talk about the problems it has – and how to work around them.

First, Maps: Let’s get that one out of the way up front. It’s been blogged to death, so I won’t go into the details, but suffice it to say that Apple truly screwed up on this one. You should not be trusting Apple’s Maps App to figure out where you are, or how to get where you’re going.

Workaround: Many other map apps are available on the App Store. I use Motion-X GPS Drive for turn-by-turn navigation, mostly because it does walking directions just as easily as driving directions. I also can recommend Maps+ with the (US)$2.99 in-app upgrade. This gives you access to Google Maps until Google finally releases their own native app for iDevices. You could also just wait a bit for Apple to update their own Maps App, but there’s no street date for that yet.

Exchange Calendars: Moving on, there’s a pretty massive issue with Microsoft Exchange Calendars. If you decline an invitation you get via your Microsoft Exchange account, there is a chance that everyone invited to that meeting will get a cancellation notice. Strangely – possibly bordering on bizarrely – this isn’t a new issue, and has existed since iOS 4 in one form or another. Short story, if the calendar event gets saved on both the iDevice and the Exchange Server, and then you decline, a software glitch lets the iPhone make believe you are the meeting organizer and process the decline as a cancellation of the whole meeting.

Workaround: None yet. Believe it or not, this isn’t only Apple’s problem, as the software glitch that allows it to happen stems from a problem with Microsoft Exchange not rejecting a set of instructions that it is supposed to reject, even though the iPhone sends them anyway. Microsoft claims the instructions are not allowed for mobile email clients and shouldn’t be sent, Apple claims that since the instructions are invalid, they should be rejected by the server. The fight won’t end soon, but a software update on either the Server or the iDevices may hit in a few months to fix it until the next version of iOS does it again. In the meantime, don’t delete or decline invitations from your iPhone or iPad, instead wait until you are on a desktop or Outlook Web Access client to send the decline. Handy-to-know hint: You can reply to a message containing an invite to say you will be declining it later.

Battery Life: Those of us coming from the iPhone 4 will be shocked when looking at the battery life (or lack thereof) on the iPhone 5. Those on the 4s will probably have gotten used to four to six hour battery life, but the 4 could go eight to twelve hours of moderate use before dying out (or 3-4 hour talk time as opposed to 5-6 hour talk time on the 4). After a couple of weeks using the 5 the same way I used to use the 4, I can definitely say that the battery life is drastically shorter. There’s a few reasons for this. First is the fact that the phone got slimmer and lighter, and a lot of any phone’s weight and size is battery space. Secondly, the processors and components of any new phone will be more power hungry than the slower ones of the previous versions. So if the size of the phone limits the battery tech to only growing by a factor of 2 from the previous version, and the power consumption goes up by a factor of 4 – well, the math isn’t good.

Workaround: There are a few things you can do to extend battery life, but still use your iPhone as an iPhone and not a ridiculously expensive iPod. Turn off LTE in settings. You’ll still get basic 4G speed, which is more than good enough for most web applications, but it will use far less juice to communicate. Secondly, keep in mind that you get better battery life when you have three or four bars of service than when service is poor (yes, even with WiFi connected). In short, this is due to the phone working to transmit the same amount of data over less bandwidth and also a continual hunt for a better signal going on behind the scenes. Granted, you have very little control over signal strength, but if your home or work is in a poor service area, just keep in mind that you’ll need to charge much more often. Finally, nearly any rechargeable USB power pack, combined with a Lightning cable or 30-pin cable plus Lightning adapter, can charge you up when you’re out and about.

Scratches and cable shortages. These are not specifically bugs, as they have nothing to do with software, but they’re weighing heavily on the minds of iPhone 5 owners.

Scratches to the screen and case are pretty common for any mobile phone. They get shoved in pockets and put down on any number of various surfaces. With the back cover of the iPhone 5, however, the scratches are even more likely, and some users have reported finding scratches on phones even before they take it out of the box.

Workaround: First, carefully examine any piece of electronics you buy as soon as you open the box. Return anything that arrives in less-than-perfect condition. To keep it looking new, use a skin or case. I’d recommend that even if you didn’t have a scratch-prone device, as you’re shelling out big bucks for this hunk of tech, and should spend a few more bucks to properly protect it. Gelaskins makes hundreds of differently-designed skins for all kinds of gizmos, including the iPhone 5. As a blogger/writer, my personal favorite is the Underworld design. Also, a thin shield-type case is a good idea, I go with the Caze brand cases, as they’re thin, light and strong. For those who want more protection, there are dozens of other types of skins/shells that can withstand quite a lot of abuse. Couple this skin/shell with a high-quality screen protector (available from just about any tech retailer) and you’re set against having your new toy scuffed up five minutes after you get it.

Lack of cables: Apple chose to change the charge/sync port designed from the long-suffering 30-pin design to the new Lightning port. This isn’t a totally bad idea, as Lightning is indeed much faster and takes up a lot less space in the phone itself. The problem is that every dock/device/cable you used before to connect your iPhone to something is now useless. There is another very real added problem here, namely the fact that Apple is running short of cables and connectors, itself. You see, the cables require some very tiny electronics to be incorporated into them during production, and the components are in short supply. Most ship times for the Lightning Cable and 30-pin to Lightning Adapter are at least 1-2 weeks out, and the phone only comes with one Lightning Cable. Lose the cable? Oh well, you can’t charge your phone anymore.

Workaround: Get in line now to purchase a couple of extra cables and adapters from Apple’s online store. Guard the one you have with your life for the two weeks it’ll take to get the replacements in your hands. Eventually, 3rd-party manufacturers will start cranking out cables, docks, devices, etc. with Lightning connectors, but that hasn’t started happening yet. Of course, if you’re in the European Union, or know someone who is/will be, you can buy a micro USB to Lightning adapter from Apple over there, making life a lot easier.

Hang in there, folks, Most things will get better in time. The bugs will get fixed with software updates (hopefully soon). The shortages of components for cables and lack of 3rd-party options will be resolved. The scratches are going to be here for a long time, but that’s a problem you can fix today with less than (US)$30.00 worth of protective gear.

Automate Your Secure Social (and other) Surfing 0

As most readers are no-doubt aware, I’m amped up on security issues in general, and data transmission specifically. I always keep an eye out for tools that can let people become more secure online with as little effort as possible, as if it’s difficult, most folks will ignore it.

Most readers also already know that Facebook, Twitter, and many other Social Media Sites and Networks have the ability to allow you to perform all communications between your browser and those sites via secured HTTP connections (https). The problem has always been that you have to change your settings from the defaults (and make sure they stay changed) or else manually change URL’s to be https:// instead of http:// each and every time. Otherwise, you go to the non-encrypted, non-protected version of the site by default. Some sites even have different URL’s for secure surfing (like Google’s encrypted.google.com domains) – taking the problem a step beyond just remembering to type https:// first.

Added to the manual steps, some sites only encrypt certain components of their sites, with other elements like images and videos remaining unencrypted by default. This opens up holes in the overall security of communication, and is unfortunately difficult to avoid. Your browser might ignore the issue completely, or worse yet it may spit back a “mixed content” message that causes more confusion than it helps with security. With browsers changing what secure URL’s versus mixed-content and insecure URL’s look like in the address bar (a padlock today, a green background tomorrow, who knows what next week…), making sure you’re secure is harder than ever.

I have, however, stumbled across a tool that can make it easy – and most importantly automatic – to always use HTTPS whenever it’s known to be available. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has released updated versions of HTTPS Everywhere – a browser plug-in (add-on, extension, etc.) that does just that.

Available only for Firefox and Chrome right now, but expanding to other browsers in future, this add-on has a list of sites known to support HTTPS (like Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, most banks, shops and other platforms) – and automatically forces your browser to connect via HTTPS and *only* HTTPS when you surf those sites. This eliminates the potential to get unencrypted data on encrypted pages, and removes the need to remember to go to the secured site each and every time you browse. In addition, the tool automatically changes your URL’s to the more secure version of some very popular sites – such as directing you to encrypted.google.com instead of just the HTTPS version of the regular google.com site.

The EFF, in the documentation and FAQ’s, clearly states that the tool can see what domain you are going to. It does not, however, track this information or report it back to the EFF themselves. Since anyone could see the domains you’re headed to if they get on the same network as you and sniff traffic (like from a coffee-shop WiFi hotspot), the tool doesn’t pose any additional risk than most of us already deal with in Social Media, and does limit a great deal of risk that’s out there otherwise.

Nothing is foolproof, and the whitelist of sites that HTTPS Everywhere uses is not all-encompassing. You still need to check and make sure that you’re on secure versions of your Social Networks and Sites. However, the tool makes it much easier to find out which networks support the secure communications systems and makes finding the higher-security versions of those sites happen without guesswork. Also keep in mind that some sites may not be properly formatted to work entirely over HTTPS, resulting in pages that render incorrectly or not at all. Luckily, the add-in provides a button that you can use to turn it off when necessary – and it should be used only when you’re sure you don’t need to be using HTTPS.

The EFF has made the tool and corresponding tool-kits available under the GNU licensing platform, so that other coders can extend it as time goes by. It’s also free to use for Firefox and Chrome, though you do have to follow the instructions on the site to install it properly. This means that you can start protecting yourself now, and that developers can continue to work on the project even if the EFF should decide they no longer wish to support it.

While nothing replaces common sense and care when using Social Media and other sites on the web, this tool is a good step in your overall security process. Take it slow, know where you’re surfing to and surfing from, and always confirm that you have reached the secured site you thought you were headed for.

Also, as always, keep in mind that even secure communication doesn’t protect you from posting updates that become public knowledge. Once you post, tweet, or blog something, it’s out there for everyone to see – HTTPS or not.