I wrote about TuneFab m4v converter a while back, mostly to get a discount. Bottom line, it worked quite well, though the UI was a bit janky.
Well, I’ve been using it a bit since then, and yup the UI is still a bit janky. No change there. However, I have had a few occasions to use their support, as updates of iTunes and the app came along and broke things.
I gotta say, they have fantastic support. It’s clearly a small team, but every one of my queries was responded to, and they stuck with the bug report for many weeks to get it going again. In that time I got a few debug versions of the app to test, and new releases that solved my problems.
An app of this nature always has you wondering, will Apple mess things up so it won’t work anymore? Is it safe to invest in iTunes media? Well, that’s still a thing, because Apple. But the TuneFab support has made me quite content in the meantime.
I have hated the MFi program for game controllers for a long time now. Cheap and expensive controllers for a handful of games. There was no valid tech reason for Apple to restrict their OS to their own protocol for this! It was a blatant cash grab.
Thankfully, that has changed in iOS 13. Now iPads and iPhones can officially use PS4 and (newer) XBox One controllers, which are MUCH easier to find and of considerably higher quality, especially for the price.
I just discovered yesterday, thanks to this reddit post that there is a way to pair and use my 8bitdo controller with iOS. In short: start the controller in pairing mode, then go to Settings – Accessibility – Switch Control – Switches – Bluetooth devices and add the controller. Then it shows up as a regular Bluetooth device.
I tested it with Minecraft and Crashlands, and it works perfectly.
Note that it works in Xinput and Mac mode so I don’t see any reason you couldn’t pair other Xinput compatible controllers with the same technique.
What a ridiculous place to put what should be a pretty standard HID controller. Still, very glad there is now SOME kind of iOS support for devices the rest of the tech world is willing to support.
I have been archiving all of my purchased media for quite some time now, I like the flexibility of a digital copy, but also flexibility to view it how and where I choose (i.e. Plex). That usually means a lot of disc ripping, and I have set up a decent system and workflow to do it.
Most of my movies come with a digital copy, usually on iTunes. This is handy and useful, since I can stream to most of my devices that way. Movies on iTunes sometimes have really good deals, and it’s tempting to grab something that way. And once in a while, my physical media is damaged – sometimes incredibly slightly – and I am just unable to rip it.
Files contained in Apple’s digital library aren’t perfect though, since if I want to watch a movie at someone else’s place, it either means bringing my precious physical media (if I have it) or bringing a device to their place to watch it! I can’t make a more highly compressed and smaller versions for those odd times I want lots of movie in little space. It’s the inconvenience of DRM.
After a bunch of Google searches TuneFab M4V converter caught my attention. They claim to be able to remove the DRM from my iTunes library and give me a high quality version I can use in more ways, including the above. I thought I’d give it a try. They offered either a free license (for high-volume bloggers) or a 30% off coupon for a review. I’d probably review it anyway, so I’ll try for the coupon!
They offer the product on two plaftorms, Mac and Windows – separately licensed. The first thing I tried was to download and install a version on my Mac. When I ran it it came up with a message stating that High Sierra was not supported. Since Mac OS has well moved on to Mojave as of this writing, I wonder if there’s a future in the Mac version of the app? If you only have a Mac, be careful before purchasing this. Apparently they’re looking into it, but for now… I hope you have Windows.
I downloaded and installed the Windows version. The first thing I discovered when launching it was a big white screen like this:
You can’t see from the screenshot but the window is slightly larger than the available screen space, was not resizable and has its own non-standard window controls (close, minimize etc). These window controls are glitchy and vanished after moving the window around a bit… the only way to exit the app was to Alt+F4 or right-click on the taskbar icon.
Their intention was to look cool and clean but honestly it causes some major issues. (I have 3 monitors, so likely that was the problem. I think they could fix it quickly by not centering the window across all monitors but only the active monitor). TuneFab is not alone in falling into that trap, most Windows apps these days seem to want to blaze their own trail and make things look unique.
The options screen is very sparse as well – though it does have standard window decorations yay! It’s not resizeable either.
Wait! Don’t give up!
But I won’t be looking at this app all that often. I have a number of extremely valuable apps that are sadly pretty ugly. So I’ll let the UI issues slide for now. The TuneFab team is welcome to contact me to test some fixes for this. The more important question is… does it work?
I click the very apparent “Add Files” button. Ah, tells me I need to download a file through iTunes first before encoding. Fair enough, it can’t work with what it doesn’t have. I wonder if it would be possible through the iTunes scripting interface to get a list of movies in the library and trigger a download? Still, another compromise I can understand and am willing to make.
So I downloaded a movie and clicked on “Add Files” again. It tells me I need to have downloaded a movie. But I just did? Could they add a “Refresh list” button? Eh whatever. I restart the app and there it is, it shows up, along with other iTunes playlists listed in the sidebar. At the bottom have appeared three buttons labeled “Add”, “Add All” and “Cancel”…
And… just as I was noticing this, my machine threw a BSOD. Yikes. Windows kinda makes it hard to cast the blame. Is it a video driver? Is it iTunes? Is it this app? All three together? If it was Mac, it would almost certainly be the app, but I can’t exactly find out.
But BSODs happen. We’re all friends and not looking to point fingers here, but try out an app. I reboot and relaunch, select the movie and hit “Add”. Nice, it comes up with video and codec information.
Off to the right (not shown) is a gear that gives you audio and subtitle information. I had 4 tracks (AAC and AC3 in English and French) and all of the subtitles available.
Once I did all of that, I clicked “Convert”. Since this is the trial version I only get the first 5 minutes, so let’s see. It’s very quick on this machine (considerably faster than real time). I’d guess it took about 20 seconds to run through 5 minutes of movie… and boom the movie appears in the output folder! Quality looks great and includes multiple audio tracks.
I was able to take that file and run it through Handbrake for another resolution so yup the DRM is definitely gone!
The only option given in the Windows media player is to open a separate subtitle file (e.g. srt). I ran CCExtractorGUI and the subtitles are definitely there. I don’t use subtitles, but I know some of you really need them.
Listed price is $49 USD, with a (temporary?) $5 discount, so $44 USD. Is it worth this cost?
The polish on the app UI honestly isn’t great. I expect more for an app this cost. Maybe this is only an issue with the Windows version? It appears they seem to be using Qt, and cross-platform toolkits tend to have these kind of issues. I couldn’t test the Mac one so who knows?
But value for its functionality? Let’s figure that out.
Well, if you figure a flexible backup of your existing iTunes movies is worth $11 each, it would pay for itself in 4 movies. Or to look at it another way, if you can save $11 per movie by buying on iTunes instead of on disc, you’d break even in 4 movies.
Or, if you rip your movies, then maybe you can calculate the time it takes and average it out that way. For me it takes almost 3 hours to rip and encode a Blu-Ray. I don’t mind that much but this is much easier and faster – with the consideration that you still have to take the time to download a HD movie in advance.
So, it depends on your use and value of your time. Personally, if it was $29 I wouldn’t even bother to calculate the time, it would be worth it. Add another 10-20 bucks and it makes me stop and figure out things like this.
Wait. If I get the 30% off coupon… (quick mental math). DUDE.
Once I got it installed and running, it was really impressive. Very fast with excellent results. The UI is very buggy but the engine works great. If you want a DRM-free copy of your iTunes movies, this may be the way to get them.
Despite my earlier misgivings, I got a biggie size phone – the iPhone 8 Plus. After lots of research and analysis, I realized an error in my previous logic. I said:
It loses the magic of convenience that is so important to me in the iPhone.
That seems now to be a matter of perspective. Yes, you lose convenience of always having your phone in your skinny jeans. And yes, you lose convenience of easily reaching every corner of the screen with one hand. But is that all “convenience” is about? I also said:
when I got my 5s, I immediately wished it was a tiny bit wider to make landscape use more viable. Typing any document in landscape only left me with about half an inch of displayed space.
So with a smaller phone, I actually gave up the convenience of seeing more of my document/ssh session in order to keep single-thumb use… and with any context that requires a bigger display I probably wouldn’t use a single thumb anyway.
With a larger phone, it seems that I don’t strictly need to use landscape in order to benefit from this. I just have more to work with.
And, in landscape mode, the phone absorbs some of the power of the iPad. The OS presents extra columns of information, panels that weren’t visible before are now on-screen. This is called a “regular size class” to iOS developers (vs a “compact size class”), and it’s amazing, and frustratingly obscure. I had to actually own one of these to get why it’s so different. Side note: the iPhone X does NOT have the regular size class in landscape. It’s just as cramped as ever even though it has loads of extra pixels available. For “horns”.
Even including the onscreen keyboard, I have at least 5 usable lines to enter text. With an external keyboard I have way more.
So, bottom line. Is it convenient? No, definitely not. But is it convenient? Oh yeah, definitely. Maybe I’m one version behind everyone else, but I really like this format.
I came to the realization a few years ago that the eBook reader Marvin was hands down, the best ePub reader for me. Very flexible, configurable and some (still) unique features made it well worth the price.
That was, as I mentioned, a few years ago and I started to get a little frustrated with a few important (to me) missing features, such as ePub 3 features like aside (pop-up footnote) support, syncing and a few other small things. The lack of these was one thing that bothered me. The fact that the same developer released a second, free ePub reader app that offered these features was even worse, and quite frustrating to those that paid for the original app.
It wasn’t simply an easy task to switch from Marvin to Gerty though. It wasn’t designed as a generic ePub reader, but rather a sort of book-journaling app. What was the developer thinking?
It turns out he was thinking. And working hard. He was rewriting Marvin from scratch. Today, he released Marvin 3. This release adds, and far surpasses my original wish list. Now there is full iOS9 support, including document picker, spotlight integration and split-screen support. The icing on the latter part of that particular cake is that there is a second, nearly identical app, called Marvin SxS (“Side by Side”) that lets you have two copies of Marvin installed on the same device and you can have two ePubs open at the same time in devices that support split screen.
There are lots of great built-in fonts, whether you are a sans or a serif fan. There is also OpenDyslexic built in. If you aren’t satisfied with any of the bundled (and system) fonts, you can sideload others.
Margin size, line spacing, paragraph spacing, indent size are all configurable. There are themes. Multiple columns available in both landscape and portrait. Textshots and auto-bookmarking on close. Reading location syncs automatically to iCloud (zero-config). And then there’s annotations – all those things that were in Gerty are now in Marvin 3. You can of course highlight with a load of colors, but also add notes and photos to a book. Apparently there are multiple map-viewing modes (you can read maps in here?)
There is native comic book (CBR and CBZ) support, and it’s really, really good. I have, and love, Chunky Comic Reader, but in practice, there are only a few significant advantages Marvin 3 lacks – PDF comics, landscape for dual-pages and ComicStreamer support. The page thumbnails (with long-tap to preview the page) are wonderful. The zig-zag mode is much like Chunky’s “pan” mode. You can scrub through the comic and have page previews show you where you are. Given that Chunky is iPad only, I might find myself using Marvin for some of my comic reading, depending on the amount of dual-pages I might expect.
I have only touched the surface. The only other reader that comes close regarding configurability is Moon+ Reader Pro on Android.
It is not a free upgrade. There are two in-app-purchases to unlock full screen use and color themes, $3.99 USD for the former and a variety of “tips” for the latter, although you only get certain themes depending on the amount you “tip”. Kinda sounds to me like a purchase and not a tip… The SxS version is a full purchase without IAP unlocks – other than the themes. To me, the regular IAP (or outright purchase) is well worth the cost. The colours, not so much, but that is merely an opinion.
The bottom line is, if you’re looking for the best ePub reader, get Marvin 3.
Finally, Apple decided to update the AppleTV – and promote it to the product menu bar on the main site! This common, and popular, device had been overlooked for four years!
The changes are exactly what I was wishing for… but somehow not enough. The main thing I wanted was apps. It seemed kinda dumb that an iOS device (the previous AppleTV was running iOS 5) couldn’t run apps.
The internals have been improved significantly to support the load that modern apps will certainly give to the hardware. An A8 processor (mostly the same in the iPad Air 2, with a different GPU), 2GB RAM, and 32-64GB flash storage. Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi 802.11 ac (along with the other letters).
But Apple has never been strictly about the internals. You shouldn’t need to know exact RAM numbers to know how the experience will be [1. Quick, tell me how much RAM a PS3 has! Whether you know that number or not, you realize it doesn’t matter as much as it would on a desktop]. Apple has always been about the experience, even if it causes the device to be a little more expensive.
So what is the experience? Well, the existing AppleTV experience is a gimme. It was already very good and uniquely seamless… playing iTunes content and receiving AirPlay streams is a very satisfying experience. The downside? The doors were closed to anything else. So now with apps, the experience gets much wider. Plex is better than iTunes. [2. There. I said it.] TuneIn Radio would be nice to have on the same box. And then there’s games!
<record scratch>. [3. For the younger set, you might have to Google this]
Of course there’s going to be games, when people talk about the App Store for iOS, their first thought is GAMES. But, the App Store games have been unique beasts until now. Odd games with ridiculously simple controls and brief (seconds to minutes) of typical game time. Games like Threes, Angry Birds and Plants Vs. Zombies really worked on a portable, touchscreen, battery-powered handheld that you had with you anyway. Put it on a screen with three other bored family members watching and it won’t work.
The games have to change nature, obviously. When you fire up a game in the living room, you do so with hours, not minutes in mind. Solo games are still fine, of course (they already succeed on the consoles, so that proves that). But the AppleTV as a gaming device is going into the arena with a handful of potential games worth playing. I too loved the demo of Crossy Road, it looked great… but I think I would only play it on the big screen for 10 minutes. The Apple ad highlighted Asphalt 8, and there’s also Real Racing 3, another graphics-beautiful game that lends itself wonderfully to the controller. And with the In-App Purchases you can…
<record scratch>. <audience gasp>. <crickets>. [4. You have to add your own sound effects here. Work with me, people.]
I bought Real Racing 2. It was fun, if a bit unrealistic. It was self-contained and cost money up front. Real Racing 3 came out, and was mostly improved except it’s now Freemium… so you can play for free as long as you stop playing every few races to let it recharge. Stop. Playing. Tell me if that’s going to work when you’re on the couch with a cool drink and controller in hand. I know, there are about 1% of the players that actually pay for cubits or gemoids or coinules or whatever they have [5. For the older set, don’t bother Googling these].
The easy(tm) solution is to charge more for the games. I’m actually fine with that, as I’d pay $5-$10 for a really good game. That would be kinda the upper limit, the reason for which will I will explain shortly. So maybe that will happen. I’m actually pretty certain(tm) that it will, actually, though I think the prices will balance out at a little more around $10-$20.
Now back to the hardware. It has the grunt to drive these games, but there are two significant problems that stand out right away.
First, controller support is restricted to MFi controllers, so those awesome and cheap USB controllers you already have (like the ubiquitous Xbox 360 controller) cannot be used. So you can get an AppleTV for $149 plus a controller for $49 more. $200 USD for an unknown console with a single controller… now that’s not too bad given new console prices. Except I could pop out today and get a PS3 with 4 really good games (Lego Batman 3 and the Sly Collection) for $219 CDN. With 500GB of storage.
Which leads me to my next issue. There are only two levels of storage differentiating the $149 and $199 models Is 32GB enough, or is 64GB enough? Right now very few know. A high-end iOS game at the moment might push 2GB, or possibly more, but recently released developer information explains that apps for the AppleTV can only reserve 200 megabytes of persistent storage each. They can download and cache a whole lot more than that, apparently, but given memory pressure (i.e. lots of different apps, not just games) using that cache, it will be dumped and you will have to redownload it. So the snappy performance of the device when you first set it up will probably fade. In practice, maybe you don’t notice this much, since you’d have to run a lot of different apps to create the memory pressure required to dump the cache of one. Most people would focus around 4 or 5 apps each. Unless of course you’re a family.
Oh… yeah, that [5. Won’t someone think of the poor RECORDS?].
It would be easy to compare this to the Xbox One, because it does much of what the Apple TV promises, without the Apple integration, of course… but it’s expensive, so I won’t do that.
Let’s go back briefly to the pricing of games… It seems to me the big competitor they’ve just walked into the ring with is Valve. Steam sales are ridiculous. It’s not unusual to get a significant and excellent game on Steam for under $5. Steam games are often cheaper than their iOS ports. But, PC games and consoles are very different things. The other key is the Steam Link hardware that is coming out next month. A $59 CDN box will stream your PC/Mac games to your big screen. It supports Xbox 360 controllers as well as a few others, and they are releasing a new $59 (CDN) controller as well, that is looking promising. So for games, it’s $119 for a game plus controller, and a TON of cheap, high-quality games. And an online store that works really well. It will also stream your music if you really need to (MP3 only). Maybe movies will come soon, who knows. While it’s true it’s a streaming-only device, and you need your computer on… AppleTV is mostly the same for movies and music. (Yes I know about iCloud)
I think the real potential competitor to the new AppleTV is the old AppleTV + Steam Link. $89 + $59 = $148 CDN beats $149 US by a fair margin. Enough to throw in a controller, if you really really don’t have one.
Comparing unreleased, unknown products is often an exercise in madness. But at least my madness is well exercised. I think we’ll know how this all shakes out in about a year. Mark this down.
I have experimented with replacement keyboards on Android from time to time. Though I had SwiftKey installed for a year, I mostly used it as a regular keyboard.
So it wasn’t a real thrill for me when Apple announced third-party keyboards on iOS 8. I found the iOS keyboard quite good, the design was really good and led to fast and mostly error-free typing.
The problem with most mobile keyboards is text prediction – autocorrect can never get you entirely what you want, and more often than not it was an exercise in frustration. I didn’t find the iOS 7 predictions too bad, but when iOS 8 came out with QuickType, something happened. It seemed like the autocorrect was much more aggressive, and more often frustratingly wrong. So I started looking into third-party keyboards.
Fleksy was my first look, because it was free at release – it is not a huge leap for a new user to start using this keyboard, the keys are in the same spot and you just tap to enter letters. However, this keyboard relies heavily on prediction. Most of the time it does really well, but when it gets it wrong, you need to remember and perform a gesture to “unfix” it, or cycle through alternate replacements. I found this more cumbersome than just using the iOS keyboard and being alert.
SwiftKey was free, and I liked the idea of gesture-based scribble-typing. I had used it before, so it should be a simple switch, right? Well, it was, but it still felt very clumsy. Once again, I hadn’t gained anything, it was just different. I found myself fighting to switch back to the regular iOS keyboard more often.
Now, Swype came to my attention the past day or so, because they made it free. That’s evidently a great way to get me to try something I am skeptical about. Well, right away, I was impressed. Multiple themes, a case-changing keyboard (it shows you the characters in caps when caps is on, etc), nice optional gestures, etc. Mostly though, I liked the comparatively non-aggressive nature of the text suggestions. When an unusual word comes up, the quick type area allows you to dynamically add the word to your personal dictionary. The personal dictionary can be edited at any time to remove accidental additions (or those times you were SURE that’s how it was spelled). It even includes emoji in the autocorrect suggestions! Just type “smile” and there’s a smiley. That may seem slower than picking it, but remember you can swipe over the characters in order to kinda sketch out a little scribble that brings a smile to your keyboard, and maybe even to your face.
On top of all that, there’s a special calculator-style numeric keyboard available under the Swype key, if you want to enter numbers more comfortably.
There’s lots going for this keyboard. Totally worth grabbing for free right now, if the deal is still on, and if not, it still might be a worthwhile investment if it has gone back to its regular 99 cent price.
It began with an outright refusal to pay extra to play more of a game. Freemium games are now dead to me.
I should define more early what I mean. In this context I don’t mean a full game or app with add-ins, like extra levels or “pro” functionality. I figure each level is very usable and enjoyable, and you get to what you pay for, many times if you so choose.
What I have come to loathe is the “gems”, “crystals” (or its analog) idea, where you have to pay in virtual and also real currency continuously to enjoy the game.
Related to this are repeated notifications that draw you back into the game – clearly to maintain their revenue stream.
I kinda find the fun game experience should do that, don’t you think? For example, PvZ was really fun. I bought it on three platforms and replayed it twice on each. PvZ 2 was really, well, not fun. It was all about maintaining an economy of premium features. You could only enjoy what you could afford in the game. It has thus been deleted.
The final hanger-on was Real Racing 3. I actually did enjoy this game (when I wasn’t cursing its knife-edged grip modeling). It gave you quite a lot for free, but it still bugged me. I couldn’t repeatedly race my favorite car, because they all have an artificially imposed limit… unless, of course, you pay. Secondly, I grew annoyed at the regular (daily) notifications that “you really should be playing”. Yes I know I can turn these off, but why are they there in the first place? When I needed a few extra gig to upgrade iOS the other day, I finally unloaded it. I hadn’t played it for months anyway.
So with that, I no longer have any freemium games at all on any of my devices. When I see one on the App Store I first look at the in app purchase list and if it has a satchel or truckload or baggie of gems or crystals or whatever, I know it will not add to my fun. Instead, I will play a fantastic game like Minecraft PE or True Skate, or, who knows, maybe I’ll even start PvZ again.
The third punch in the Apple show was the biggest, in my opinion. Again, on the surface it appears to be catch-up but this is much more significant.
The competition liked to throw in an NFC antenna and then claim it was a feature, but without deep integration all it is is more hardware. Yes you could tap to pay, but you can also do that with your credit card. Why introduce a phone into that? I realize there were some apps like a google Wallet that integrated with that, and that’s a good start, but missing the last step.
What’s the last step? Security! Apple Pay runs only on phones that have TouchID, and the Apple Watch that has a simple form of biometric security (apparently it remains unlocked only with continued skin contact on the back of the watch).
The best (and most secure) component of this whole platform is invisible to users. The channel between banks and Apple is HUGE. I can only guess at the infrastructure, but if you think about it, it might be something like this… the phone (I presume) generates an asymmetric key and stores the private one in an enclave on the phone and registers the public one with the bank. When a transaction takes place, it probably creates a transaction packet with the purchase details and signs and encrypts it, passes it through to the Bank. The credit card details are nowhere in the transaction. No signature, no PIN, no card number or CVC. Apple is in the loop somewhere, but they claim they never see any purchase details. Perhaps they check the signature, match it to a user, and pass it along as an inter-bank transaction. Since the bank is RIGHT NOW already tooled up to accept this, they likely didn’t have to make significant changes to their back ends.
Talking through my hat of course, but it has to be closer to this than any current tap-to-pay tech.
The bottom line is, Apple isn’t trying to make credit cards more convenient, they’re trying to replace them. They’re setting themselves up as part of the infrastructure of daily commerce, which is much much bigger than selling a few technology items. They think much bigger than “slap an NFC chip in there”, and it’s going to have a big impact in the years to come.
I, like others, was drooling when Apple introduced their new wearable. They made the competition look horrendous. (As a side note, when I first saw the Galaxy Gear S in pictures, I was excited – it too looked great, and not Android… until I saw the actual size. It’s absurd.)
They pitched this at everyone. It’s not a “geek watch” and another model is a “fitness watch” and another model is a “cool watch”. They all have factors of each. Sure, they have different versions but nothing’s stopping you from exercising with the Edition… uh… edition (that name!). Or wearing the Sport edition with a suit.
The digital crown is one of those obvious things that nobody thought to use. Why did it take Apple to think of this? Because they’re never in a panic to release something. They don’t iterate like Microsoft (used to) or in the extreme, Samsung. Can you believe Samsung is (as of publication) on their sixth generation of smart watches? Have you seen anyone wearing one? Wanna know why?
Of course I want one, but the price is high. They “start at” $350US. Is that the Sport one with a basic rubber(ish) band? What if you want the Sapphire crystal version? How much will bands cost? This is pretty much the definition of a luxury item. You can get a pretty awesome regular watch for $350. Are the digital additions worth the premium over a decent analog watch – one that, remember, will still be worth a respectable percentage of that amount (if not all of it) 5 years from now?
I won’t be getting one, but not because I disagree with them in any shape or form. I’ll see what the next product cycle or two brings around.
Now, was that a working model that Tim Cook was wearing? If so, I’m sure Apple execs can wear them in public now as test cases and get some real-life issues resolved even before release.
If you read this far, are you wondering what I think about Android Wear? I won’t have Google touching my person or knowing my physical status or location at all times, thanks. The “Ok Google” thing on the Android watches creeps me out.