Category Archives: iPhone

Find My iPhone – Please!


I’m just back from 6 days in Manila. On the 4th day, I did something that I haven’t done in at least 5 years, maybe 10 – I left my iPhone in a taxi.

Over the years I’ve trained myself to always look back at the taxi seat before closing the door. This time, for whatever reason, I didn’t do that. We got out of the cab, went to a coffee shop, I reached into my pocket to pull out my 2 phones, and only 1 was there. I checked all of my pockets and then called the hotel and asked them to search my room – but I already knew I’d taken it with me when I left the hotel in the morning.

We tried calling the phone at least 27 times but no answer.  We sent an SMS message to the phone in Tagalog offering a reward if returned.

As soon as we could, back to the hotel. After searching the room myself, I called 3 to cancel the SIM card. I went to the “find my iphone” and hit all the settings – play sound, “lost mode,” erase phone. I set the message with my Hong Kong number and an offer of a “big reward” if returned. And then, just to be safe, I proceeded to change the passwords to most of my major accounts – email, iTunes, Facebook, Twitter and so on.

So bye bye iPhone 5S, 64 gig, gold color.

I didn’t lose any data worth mentioning. The phone was backed up to my computer right before I left for the trip. Photos were stored on iCloud. So pretty much just the most recent call logs and SMS messages. And since the phone was password/fingerprint locked – and remotely erased – I believe/hope that my data has not been compromised. So the only real damage – I believe – is the loss of something that cost US$900.

And now my wife finally has an answer to the question she has asked me 100 times – “why do you have a password on your iPhone?”

I don’t want to go out and buy a new iPhone 5S (or try to find a used one in Mong Kok, if that’s possible) because the iPhone 6 is rumored to be announced next month.  So we reversed the “hand me down” order. Every time I’d get a new phone, my old one would go to my wife and her old one would go to her daughter. So for now, the daughter’s iPhone 4S back to my wife, my wife’s iPhone 5 back to me and bought some sort of phone for the daughter.

I got back to Hong Kong on Wednesday. Finally tonight (Thursday night) on my way home from work, Find My iPhone beeped. My phone had been turned on. It is sitting at the Ever Commonwealth Mall, just off Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.

Supposedly once an iPhone has been put into lost mode, the phone is essentially bricked and cannot be used or erased until you enter your iTunes account and password. But I am relatively certain that hackers have found ways to get around this – especially in the Philippines.

Going back to the iPhone 5 from the 5S, I find I am really missing that fingerprint sensor. Instead of just touching a finger to the button, now I have to hit the button, swipe and enter a passcode every time. (Well, you all know this already.)

Such is life. We become so attached to our gadgets that the loss of one can seem almost catastrophic, even though it’s really just a few steps above trivial. Fortunately Apple (and Google) build in some safeguards for when this happens, and hopefully those work. Life goes on.



Snugg iPhone 5 Case Review


Since I write a fair bit about the iPhone and iPad from time to time, the folks at The Snugg wrote to me and asked me if I’d like a free case in exchange for a review. They told me I could select from a subset of their offerings and I chose their “Ultra Thin Bamboo iPhone 5 Case in Black.”

iPhone cases are practically a dime a dozen in Hong Kong, and even cheaper if you head across the border to Shenzhen. I always pick up a few of these cheapies at a time – either I get tired of the design or it doesn’t really fit the phone properly or it just falls apart after awhile.

In terms of material, I’ve steered clear of those rubber ones, because I just don’t like how they feel and some of them have seemed to “stick” against my wallet. I’ve also stayed away from leather because that usually adds too much bulk. I don’t like anything with a cover or any of those pouch-like ones. My phone is usually in my front jeans pocket, sharing space either with my wallet or my work phone (a Samsung Galaxy S4).  So I want a screen protector on the front and something thin on the back and sides. The Snugg Bamboo case seemed to fit my particular bill.

So here’s front and back shots of the packaging.



 And here’s the front and back of the case once removed from the packaging.



 So as you can see, it’s suitably thin. The bamboo piece has been coated so that it’s smooth to the touch – you’re not going to get any splinters when you pick it up.  The black piece is some sort of plastic or rubber – I’m no expert here – but also smooth. It’s a good, proper fit. Once the phone is in the case, there’s no jiggling around.

Both the top and bottom are “open” – on the bottom it’s not covering the speakers, lightning jack, or headphone jack. The cut is the same on the top, even though there’s just the one on/off button there.

The one thing I would change? I wish it was just the plain wood without their 3D logo. It takes away from what I think is otherwise a pretty sharp looking case.

Here’s a shot of my phone in the case:


 And a side view:


 (You’ll probably have to view this photo full-sized. It’s my phone standing on its side, using the, um, case’s case to balance it.)

One thing you should take away from these photos is how thin the case is. It’s also very light. So it adds little to the size or weight.  Yet it seems rigid enough to do what it’s supposed to do.  No – I haven’t tried any torture testing on it, no dropping my phone from ten feet or trying to see if I can smush the case with my fists.  I’ve only had it for a couple of days so I can’t comment on how well it will still look after a month or two. This particular case sells for US$24.95. (Other iPhone 5 cases from them run from $15 up to $40.)

The Snugg actually has a very wide product range. They make cases for every version of the iPad (some include Bluetooth keyboards) and quite a few other tablets out there (including Kindle and Nook). They cover (pardon the pun) iPhones and Samsungs and Blackberry and they also have cases for MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.  They claim to be the #1 seller of iPad cases on both Amazon US and UK.

I just took a look at their listings on Amazon for their iPad case. Almost 5,800 reviews, with an average rating of 4-1/2 stars. Not too shabby. For the bamboo iPhone case, 45 reviews with an average rating of 3.8 stars.

Of course there’s about a billion companies making a zillion cases out there, running the gamut from a buck or so up to designer cases that can cost more than the phone itself. Why pick one from these guys?  Well, of course the first thing will come down to whether or not you like the styles on offer.

These guys do offer a bit more though. They offer a lifetime guarantee on all their cases, they ship globally, they offer free shipping for orders over US$50 (I’m guessing that’s just in the US or the UK – I can’t find any further details on the web site) and say that they offer “no fuss returns.”

Overall, I’m happy with the bamboo case and intend to keep using it. You could do worse than to check out their site and see if they’ve got a case that suits you.



New Apple Stuffs


First off, I should mention that one month after release, it’s still very difficult to get the iPhone 5S in Hong Kong – especially if you want the gold one. I “registered my interest” with my mobile carrier back on September 17th for a gold 64 gig model and am still waiting. Just checked the Apple HK web site and it says 2-3 weeks for the black or white models, the gold one is unavailable and you can’t even place a pre-order for it.

(Why do I want one? The fingerprint sensor and better camera would be useful for me, worth the upgrade if I’m doing it contract/subsidized. I feel no desire to run over to Sin Tat and buy a grey market one.)

As for yesterday’s Apple news, in case you haven’t read it yet elsewhere, new iPads and MacBooks.

The “big” iPad is now called the iPad Air, because the size has shrunk down a bit and it weighs 1/3rd less. Inside, there’s the same A7 CPU that the iPhone 5S has. People were expecting it to also share the fingerprint thing but that didn’t happen. The pundits I read have all been going ga-ga over this and I’m at a loss to understand why. This is innovation? A little bit smaller, a little bit faster – but nothing really new to speak of. Maybe once I actually hold one in my hands I’ll have a better idea but basically I was glad that I didn’t stay up late to watch the live-blogging of the event.

The iPad Mini got the same A7 sensor and now boasts “retina display,” a bigger upgrade from the previous model. For my tired eyes, I prefer the larger iPad. The size and weight are not a problem for me.

The MacBook Pro got Intel’s latest Haswell processor – better battery life. So that’s the innovation there – shoving in a processor made by another company. The 13 inch retina display model also lost a bit of weight. My 15 inch retina display MBP is a couple of years old now and it’s tempting to trade that in for the latest 13 inch model. Aside from my own MBP, I managed to convince my employer to replace the crappy Dell that was sitting on my desk when I started with a 13 inch (non-retina display) MBP and I’m happier for it.

I guess the real innovation from Apple is that the latest OS upgrade, Mavericks, is free. And on the mobile side, Apple’s iWorks suite is now also free with new devices.  I’ve upgraded my work machine but won’t get to my home one till the weekend.


It’s iPhone Madness Time Again!


Friday was the release date for the new iPhone 5c and 5s. And while it’s simultaneously available in the mainland, that hasn’t stopped people from coming across the border to try to buy them here. Why? The SCMP says:

“But it’s better than buying one on the mainland because the quality of Apple products sold in Hong Kong is better.”

Xiao Xuan from Beijing agreed: “Hong Kong products are made to the British standard.”

Heh? Exsqueeze me?

The SCMP also says that iPhones cost $1,000 more on the mainland due to “exchange rate differences.” I would have thought it’s because foreign goods have VAT in China but not in Hong Kong. Or maybe not.

Either way, I’m on the fence about getting a new one. I haven’t decided how much the faster CPU, better camera and fingerprint sensor would mean to me. For the hell of it, I did “register my interest” with my mobile provider, and once they notify me they have stock, I’ll take a look at the subsidized plan offerings and consider it. I don’t think I’m going to shell out HK$7,188 for an unsubsidized 64 gig model.

Checking the HK Apple online store now, I see that the 5c (basically the same as the 5 but now wrapped in plastic instead of metal) is “available to ship in 1 to 3 business days.”

For the iPhone 5s, it says “available to ship – October.” That’s if you want the grey one or the black one. If you want the gold one, it says “available to ship – currently unavailable.” So pretty clearly this is the one that people are lusting for.

While I think the gold color looks quite nice, the front face of the phone remains white and most people will buy cases for their phone, covering up the gold rear and sides. So what’s the point?

Incidentally, I did upgrade my various devices to iOS 7 this week. After all the media brouhaha, I’m finding far more things I don’t like about it than things I do.


New iPhones Coming


And all the predictions were pretty much correct. The “budget” iPhone 5c seems to be basically the 5 (without a 64 gig option) in 5 colors – making me think of the iMac in 1998. The big news here is that in the US, with a 2 year contract, the 16 gig model is $99 and the 32 gig is $199. Hong Kong pre-orders start on September 13th, priced at $4,688 and $5,588 – no contract, unlocked. (Someone has already commented on Twitter that the snazzy cases Apple will be selling for the 5c appear to have been designed by Crocs.)

The new iPhone 5s upgrades the CPU to a 64 bit chip, adds an extra chip for more motion-aware stuff, a new camera with a larger sensor and a bunch of new features, a fingerprint scanner and claims of greatly improved battery life. Available in 3 colors. 16 gig, 32 gig, 64 gig. Orders in Hong Kong start on September 20th and the price for no contract, unlocked is $5,588, $6,388 and $7,188.

Both will be simultaneously available in China, so barring price differential (the mainland has tax on imported goods, HK doesn’t), perhaps we won’t see the same insanity at the HK Apple stores as we’ve seen in the past.

iOS 7 will be available to download free on September 20th 18th.

As for me, on the one hand I was hoping for more while on the other I was thinking, there’s really nothing else left. The “s” model is an incremental upgrade and I suppose any real innovation will wait for the iPhone 6.  I’ve never had any cause to complain about the speed on my iPhone 5 but then again, I’m not much of a gamer. The fingerprint scanner strikes me as something that would be nice to have but far from essential.

Right now I’m not seeing any major reason to upgrade my iPhone 5. I suppose it might make sense for someone who has the 4s.


Tech Tip: Freeing Up Space on Your Hard Drive


Note that my desktop PC runs 64-bit Windows 7.  This tip may or may not be useful for people running Macs.

My C: drive is a solid state drive.  The suckers are expensive compared to traditional drives and come in much smaller sizes.  Mine is 224 gigabytes.

I’ve got things set up so that only programs go on that drive.  I’ve moved my Documents folder over to my E: drive so when I’m saving files, by default they’ll go there instead of on C.  Some programs save data to the C:/Users/xxx folder without asking, and with many you don’t have the option to choose another drive. Lazy programming, I call it.

Anyway, I noticed today that my C: drive was running out of space. I do have a lot of programs installed but even so, I didn’t think I possibly have 210 gigs worth of programs sitting there.  I searched through the drive manually (I know there are programs to help with this but I don’t have any).

What did I find?  The back-ups for all of my various iOS devices were eating up more than 80 gigabytes of the 224 gig drive.  And that was including back-ups for devices I had long since sold off.  iTunes doesn’t know you’ve sold something off and no longer need the back-up; you have to manually delete the back-up yourself.

You’ll find the folder in YourName/AppData/Roaming/Apple Computer/MobileSync. iTunes won’t let you move the back-up to another drive and the individual backup folders have “helpful” names like b0d32fecd8d1fb3c8c4efb152f1dc243a2f27798.  At least they have timestamps on them, so I figured I could safely delete the old ones.

I have 4 active iOS devices – my gf and I each have an iPhone and an iPad.  Fortunately iTunes doesn’t back up everything – that would have destroyed my hard disk.  Even so, the back-up for my 128 gig iPad (which has about 80 gigs of stuff on it at the moment) takes up 20 gigs.  On the other hand, the back-up of my gf’s 64 gig iPhone took just 600 meg.

I now have just 4 back-up folders there, one for each device, each device newly backed up in the past hour.  The total file size has gone down from over 80 gigs to 33; more than 45 gigs of space freed up.

I could “archive” these to another drive and then “restore” them if and when needed.  But then every time I go to sync, (which I do almost daily) iTunes will think there’s no backup at all and do a new one and the deleting/archive process takes a little bit of time. I’ve recovered enough space on my C: drive for now, so I’ll let them remain. I’ve got 65 gig free now – also because the last time I created a new Lightroom catalog I wasn’t paying attention and that ended up on my C drive, but that was easy enough to fix.

So anyway, if you’ve ever sold off an iPhone or iPad, find the backup folder and see how much space you can recover this way.


Up and Down with Spotify


Call me crazy, call me nuts, but when I run across an interesting video on Youtube, I’ll download it in MP4 format and toss it onto my iPad for later viewing. Such was the case with this wonderful BBC 4 Arena documentary on Brian Eno that was done in 2010.

If you’re an Eno fan, this is really essential viewing. In one hour it manages to cover most facets of his career, more time spent on his ambient and experimental music but with plenty of nods to Roxy Music and a bit of time spend on his producing efforts with Coldplay and U2.  You get to see him working in his (I think home) studio, hear him discuss his thought processes and influences, it’s really a pretty complete profile.

Midway through, he mentions that one of his favorite productions of all time is Giorgio Moroder’s work on Donna Summer’s “State of Independence.”  (He likes the sound of the robotic sequencers against her voice.) I never even knew she covered this. I flipped over to Spotify and had the song streaming in a matter of seconds.

Although … I really love Moodswings’ version with Chrissie Hynde, which I think is the original (too lazy to check). Spotify had the single version of that but it didn’t have any of their albums because suddenly I got really in the mood for an extremely guilty pleasure, Moodswings’ Live at Leeds album, which basically sounds like 100 people randomly hitting percussion instruments for 36 minutes or so, with a bit of a dub or some tape loops tossed in here and there. It’s an all time favorite. Please don’t tell anyone.

Having completed the documentary, I then wanted to hear some classic Eno stuff. I brought up Spotify on my iPad and it found Eno and when I clicked on his name, that little wheel just kept spinning, minutes on end.

So I took out my iPhone and did the same search on Spotify and the search results came up instantly (and both my iPhone and iPad were on the desk next to each other, both on the 3 network) but not quite right. Search on his name and you find him but then it says there’s nothing available. Butthen click on albums and you get a list of almost every album he’s done and in a few seconds I was listening to Another Green World, which mostly streamed pretty smoothly with just a couple of buffering pauses in 30 minutes.

At home, my Spotify boat seems to have run aground. Spotify is refusing to work on my desktop Windows PC.  It worked for awhile but then a few days ago it came up and said it was offline and couldn’t get online.  So I followed instructions and did a clean reinstall.  Following that, it doesn’t come up at all.  I get “error 101″ which means it is likely being blocked by my firewall, but I checked and saw it was one of the allowed programs there.

Hmmm. Even though it worked in the past, I next tried disabling my anti-virus software. Nope.  And I’ve got a few different VPN programs installed so I deleted those. Nope. Their tech support is telling me to make all sorts of entries in my router, which makes little sense because at home, on WiFi and not on cellular, my iPhone has no trouble reaching Spotify through that same router.  So the answer clearly lies within my PC but all tech support keeps telling me to do is to do a clean reinstall.

I can live with that – I’ll probably use this mostly for mobile purposes. I wanted to use it on my desktop primarily to get links and build playlists to share here, which I now cannot do – at least temporarily. No idea why the same search on my iPhone and iPad, on the same network and right next to each other, would work on one device and not the other.

Anyway, watch the Eno documentary.  I really loved it.  Here’s a link in case you’re not seeing the player which should have been embedded above.



LTE From 3 HK – Fast as Molasses


I finally got the real upgrade to 3′s LTE service on Saturday.  Where I live, I can barely get 3G, but in the afternoon I was in Sai Kung town, saw the LTE indicator and ran a few tests.

Wow.  Not.

Though later that night, in Central, I did get this.

I guess it’s gonna take them awhile to get the network built out.  Why they should be so far behind SmarTone is beyond me.  Luckily I only have another 27 years on my 3 contract before I can switch.


I Want My LTE


One of the features of the iPhone 5 is compatibility with LTE mobile networks.  If I’m not mistaken, that gives you internet connectivity at speeds up to 20 megabits per second, as opposed to the roughly 2 mbps I’m getting now on the 3G network.

(Hong Kong famously offers home internet connection speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second for around US$25 per month, but where I live, the best I can get is 8 mbps.  I can barely get the 3G network where I live, my phone usually drops back to 2G, but the notion of going somewhere on HK island and getting LTE speed with my laptop tethered to the phone is enticing.)

There are a couple of different bandwidths for LTE networks.  My mobile provider, 3, had one up and running that was compatible with Android phones.  Then I ready in mid October that they were ready with their iPhone-compatible network.

I went into a 3 shop to ask about this and they told me it would probably be ready in December and that they’d contact me.  On October 31st, I received an SMS that I would be upgraded to LTE on November 1st and that all I’d need to do would be to restart my phone, get the new carrier settings, and I’d be good to go.

On the morning of November 1st, I received another SMS confirming the upgrade.  Given the crappy signal where I live, I waited until I was in Central to restart the phone.  And then … nothing.  No new carrier settings, no LTE option, just 3G.

I tried again on November 2nd and 3rd with the same results.  I went to 3′s web site to see if there might be any instructions.  Nope.  But they have 24 hour online live chat, so I hit the link for that.  I explained my problem to the customer service person who responded by typing, “I see. Is it okay if I type in Chinese?”  No, it’s not.  So she said that someone would contact me within 24 hours.  Nice chatting with you!

Two days later when someone called me, they put the blame on Apple.  They said they’d done everything that they need to do and that it was Apple that had to send me the new carrier settings.  That made about zero sense to me, but I had no option except to say, “Oh, okay.”

I was in Central yesterday so I stopped into the Apple store.  I explained my problem to one guy there and showed him the confirmation SMS’s from 3 that said that I should have LTE now.  Soon I had about 5 different Apple employees all gathered round, all taking turns to see if they could figure out how to get me LTE.  I saw that on their iPhones, on the settings page, where I have a slider for “Enable 3G,” they had a slider for “Enable LTE.”  Finally the expert showed up.  After rebooting my phone 4 or 5 times and typing in some secret codes (I wish I was paying better attention at that point!), the “expert” told me that 3 probably hadn’t finished their LTE network for iPhone and that I could go to a 3 shop or just wait.

I’ve managed this long without LTE and I don’t need it.  It falls into the category of “nice to have.”  Regardless, it’s frustrating that 3 says that they think I have it now and that I’m caught between Apple and 3 pointing fingers at each other.  I’m not going to spend an hour on hold with 3′s customer service hotline, so further developments will have to wait until I’m somewhere in the vicinity of a 3 shop.

Do any of my readers in Hong Kong have LTE yet?


Tim Cook Admits Apple Maps Sucks


Apple put an open letter from Tim Cook to customers on Apple’s web site.  (I got it from Mashable.)

To our customers,

At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.

We launched Maps initially with the first version of iOS. As time progressed, we wanted to provide our customers with even better Maps including features such as turn-by-turn directions, voice integration, Flyover and vector-based maps. In order to do this, we had to create a new version of Maps from the ground up.

There are already more than 100 million iOS devices using the new Apple Maps, with more and more joining us every day. In just over a week, iOS users with the new Maps have already searched for nearly half a billion locations. The more our customers use our Maps the better it will get and we greatly appreciate all of the feedback we have received from you.

While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.

Everything we do at Apple is aimed at making our products the best in the world. We know that you expect that from us, and we will keep working non-stop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard.

Tim Cook
Apple’s CEO

I’ve now had a week with my iPhone 5.

On the positive side, the ever-so-slightly-longer phone feels fine in my hands and I’m definitely noticing (in a good way) the lighter weight and thinner body.  The camera is fantastic – I think it beats the pants off the iPhone 4s camera.  (I think Panorama mode on the iPhone works better than on any “regular” camera I’ve ever owned.)  Aside from the clarity of images and the improved low light performance, it’s just faster – no more interminable shutter lag.  Everything feels faster on the iPhone 5.

On the negative side, it seems as if battery life is not as good as with the 4s.  It also seems to me that the antenna is not as good – I have no proof for this, just a feeling.  These two things might actually be connected.

I live in an area with famously miserable cell phone reception.  At my desk at home, if the phone is on the right side of the desk it drops down to 2G and I have 2 bars.  If I move the phone just 2 feet to the left side of the desk, it reads “no service.”  I’ve read that when the signal sucks, the phone uses more energy searching for a decent signal to lock onto and that would obviously increase battery usage.  Perhaps Apple will address this in a future iOS update.

I’m also getting killed with iMessage.  I’ve sat on the MTR trying to send text messages via iMessage to friends and sat there staring at the messages not going out for minutes that seem to stretch into eternity.

Maps?  Yeah.  I tried MapQuest – it works for Hong Kong but isn’t much better than Apple’s map.  So I’m using Google Maps via the web site – it’s not as quick as a native app but it works.

Speaking of apps, I came across something that’s been out for close to a year but I didn’t know about.  It’s called Hong Kong Taxi Translator.   You can search by street, place, building, shopping mall and more.  You get the name in English, Chinese and pinyin and press one more button and it prepares a larger sized “card” that you can show to taxi drivers.  You can also add the ones you frequently use to a list of favorites.

I always try to know the Cantonese names of the places I’m going to but too often the drivers have problems with my miserable accent.

Me: Hang Hau

Them: Bin doh?

Me: Hang Hau

Them: ?????

Me: Hang Hau

Them:  Oh, Hang Hau

Me: Um, yeah

So I’ve been using this for a few days and it seriously works.  It’s not 100% complete but I’ve found 90% of the places I’ve searched for are listed here and apparently they update their database from time to time and you can refresh the database even if there’s no new update for the app.  US$0.99 and well worth it.