Before you buy that iPhone – don’t get handcuffed

With the release of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, its as good a time as any to talk about the devious tactics the American wireless carriers use to get you to overpay for your new phone.

Of the American carriers, Verizon, AT&T and Sprint offer subsidized pricing at $199 / $299 / $399 for the iPhone 6 configurations, and $100 more for each iPhone 6 Plus configuration. You can buy these phones off contract for $450 more. Apple currently sells the T-Mobile edition of the phone for $649 / $749 / $849 for the iPhone 6 and again, $100 more for the iPhone 6 Plus.

Now you may be thinking that the T-Mobile prices are higher than their subsidized versions, but you would be wrong. Sure, the carriers are giving you a $450 credit on the purchase price of the phone, but they more than make up for it over the length of that 2 year contract.

If you want to save yourself hundreds of dollars, opt for paying for the full price of the phone upfront. If you go this route on the Verizon, AT&T or Sprint, you will forgo many of the ‘gotcha’ fees that the carriers attach to cover their outlay of that $450 subsidy.

If you want to save yourself even more money, buy the phone unlocked and off contract (with a T-Mobile SIM), and choose a carrier who isn’t going to handcuff you to a 2 year contract.

Apple has traditionally offered a ‘Unlocked’ model of the iPhone, but it usually doesn’t go up for sale until 30-60 days after the initial launch (probably to appease the carriers who see huge spikes in membership during the iPhone launches). This year however, Apple is offering the T-Mobile edition of the iPhone at launch.

Now, here’s the secret: If you buy the phone from T-Mobile (even though you are paying full price for it), the phone will be locked to their network. If you buy the phone directly from Apple, and don’t go through the activation process with the T-Mobile SIM card that comes with it, the phone is unlocked to a carrier, and will work with any GSM network.

Here are the options you have for contract free GSM networks here in the U.S.:

1) Straight Talk Wireless – Run by Walmart, using AT&T’s & T-Mobile’s network as a MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator). Straight Talk has one plan for $45/month for unlimited talk, text and data. On Straight Talk, ‘unlimited’ data means 3GB of data in a 30 day cycle. After you use that up, you are reduced to 2G (or EDGE) speeds. Straight Talk recently added LTE (if the phone you bring is LTE capable) speeds to their plan.

2) Cricket Wireless – Cricket is a venture by AT&T to offer a contract free, low cost offering. Cricket uses AT&T’s networks and offers great nationwide coverage. Cricket has 3 plans that start at $40/month and increase by $10 depending upon data offering (1GB data for $40/month/3GB of data for $50/month/10GB data for $60/month). Cricket also has a ‘auto pay’ discount. Give Cricket your credit or debit card for your monthly bill and have them auto bill you each month, and you’ll receive a $5/month discount. Cricket offers LTE speeds (where available) and is overall a great option. There’s one small downside though: Cricket limits your top LTE speed to 8mbps. 8mbps isn’t slow by any stretch of the imagination, but if you are used to LTE speeds double that (any many LTE offerings can burst to 2x-4x that speed), this might be deal breaker for you. But Cricket overall has the most rounded plans and offerings in the no contract world at the moment. $55/month (with prepay discount) for 10GB of high speed data on AT&T’s network is an amazing deal.

3) T-Mobile Monthly 4G – T-Mobile has prepaid offerings in addition to their standard ‘Simple Choice’ plans. Their most popular prepaid offering is their $30/month plan for unlimited data and 100 minutes of talk. To get this deal, you will have to go to Walmart and buy the T-Mobile SIM Starter Kit for iPhone. Walmart charges $40 for this kit, but you get a $30 credit on your first month of service, so you are getting the SIM for $10 essentially. This plan gives you 5GB of LTE data (after which you will be throttled down to 2GB speeds, and 100 minutes of talk. Additional talk minutes are available for 10 cents/minute. T-Mobile’s prepaid plans don’t require a credit check, so if your credit is in the crapper, this plan can be helpful in re-establishing your credit.

These 3 MVNO GSM carriers are your best bet for low cost, no contract cell service in the U.S. Depending upon your location, there may also be regional MVNO carriers available to you.

If you do a lot of talking, and can keep your data under 3GB/month, Straight Talk is a great option now that they are offering LTE speeds. If you want flexibility and want the best network possible off contract, Cricket Wireless can’t be beat. They offer a 3GB plan for the same $45/month as Straight Talk, but it’s on AT&T’s network, and you have the option to ramp it up if you need more data (10GB for $55/month) or down (1GB for $35/month). That level of flexibility can’t be matched by any of the other MVNOs at the moment.

If you are a cheapskate who doesn’t like talking to other people, and can keep your minutes at 100 or less each month, the T-Mobile $30/month plan will save you lots of money. T-Mobile is also the only carrier (when used with the iPhone 6) that will give you Wifi calling, a nice feature if the carrier’s signal in your home isn’t very strong. One thing to note however, is that even though your call may go out over wifi, it’s still counting against your minutes. Of course, there’s always Google Voice or calling with Facetime Calling to avoid using minutes.

AT&T and Verizon still dominate the landscape with their draconian wireless plans, but things are steadily improving. You now have many options for low cost, great feature, no contact smartphone plans nationwide. And if the trend continues, we should see many more pop up over the next couple of years.


Category: Cellphones,iPhone

Thoughts on OS X Yosemite

Another WWDC has come and gone, and now that I’ve had time to use the Developer Preview of Yosemite, I’m going to offer my opinions on some of the changes. This is not a review, as Yosemite is still very much in development, and much could still change between now and it’s shipping date.

UI

I knew after the reveal of iOS 7 last year that OS X was going to get a similar treatment. It just makes sense for them have a familiar look between them. Not having been a fan of the visual stylings of iOS 7, this was something I was very worried about.

Now that Yosemite has been revealed, I’m breathing a sigh of relief. Yes, it drags the OS X UI kicking in screaming in to conformity with iOS, but it still retains much of it’s ‘mac’-ness. That said, there’s much to complain about. Like:

System wide use of Helvetica Neue: Look, I love Helvetica Neue. It’s one of my favorite fonts for layout and design. And maybe I’m just an old crumudgeon who can’t adapt after looking at Lucida Grande for 14 years. But Helvetica Neue as the OS X system font makes the typography look bland to me.  The kerning between some characters looks off to me, and I’m just having a difficult time adjusting to the change. Maybe a few months with the betas will soften my opinion here.

Finder 300x300 Thoughts on OS X YosemiteAnd then there are the icons. While not as dumbed down as the icons were in iOS 7, they’ve been dumbed down significantly from the beautifully detailed icons we’ve grown accustomed to over the last 14 years. The Finder icon itself, while still retaining the familiar duality face, now has a more ‘whimsical’ look to it.

In this release, not all of the icons have been given the new treatment. For example, the Migration Assistance (Applications > Utilities > Migration Assistant) is still using the old style Finder icon.

As demonstrated in the WWDC keynote, Yosemite uses transparency to a larger extent throughout the UI chrome. Safari, for example, features a semi transparent toolbar, so that when you scroll up, you can some what make out your content underneath, albeit blurred and masked. The Finder’s sidebar is also semi transparent, allowing it to take on muted hues from whatever your desktop background is.

Luckily, both of these annoyances can be disabled in the Accessibility Preference Pane.

But even with them disabled, much of the app chrome now has very little contrast between it and it’s content. I get that Apple is trying to design an experience where the app ‘gets out of the way’, but it just feels a little bland and washed out.

One feature I heralded during the keynote was the dark mode for the menu bar and menus. That feature is not present in the Developer Preview at present, but I expect it to be my default mode when Yosemite ships.

Safari 8 features some new UI features, designed to provide a better way to get to your favorites than the venerable Favorites Bar. The Favorites Bar still exists, so this is a change that isn’t obtrusive if you don’t like it. There’s also a new ‘tab view’ that shows you all your tabs, along with pages open on your other iOS devices.

All in all the UI changes in Safari seem pretty good…. except one. Apple has moved the toolbar in Safari to sit horizontally aligned with the close, minimize and full screen buttons. In theory, this is good because it reduces the amount of vertical space needed for the browser chrome – space that is at a premium on widescreen monitors. It’s bad because muscle memory means every time I try to use the back button, I end up closing the browser window. I didn’t like this change when it came to Internet Explorer, and I don’t like it now on Safari.

In an effort to make them appear more at home with the thin Helvetica Neue font, Apple has changed the menu bar icons to be thinner. For icons this size, this is a huge mistake. They are already very smaller targets that are hard to read, and now they are even harder to read. And for some reason, the battery indiciator is now green, like the old battery indicator in iOS 6 and earlier. I suspect this change might get reversed, as iOS 7′s menu bar battery indicator is a solid color (white) as well.

Spotlight

Screen Shot 2014 06 07 at 2.41.52 PM 300x205 Thoughts on OS X YosemiteSpotlight gets it’s first real update in years, starting with a new prominent position centered in the display when it is activated (ala Alfred or Quicksilver). Spotlight also searches more than just your computer, pulling in data from web services. So far in the Developer Preview, there doesn’t seem to be a way to turn this off. I’m hoping this is fixed, because the last thing I was is for my kids to be able to perform a search and bypass any parental filters I have put on their web browsing.

Dashboard

If you are a fan of Dashboard, this is the release that prepares you for it’s inevitable doom. Apple is putting a large focus on using Widgets in Notification Center. These Widgets are unlike the old Dashboard widgets in that they are written in Cocoa and not HTML/CSS/Javascript, and they conform to the size restraints of the Notification Center container.

Dashboard is still present in Yosemite, but it’s buried in the Mission Control Preference. When enabled though, it can be displayed as Mission Control space, or as an overlay.

The Dock

After living with the angled platform dock since Leopard’s release, Apple has returned us to the simplistic dock of years prior. The dock background, like so much else in the OS now, uses blurred transparency. Not much else has changed about the dock, but if you are a fan of keeping it on the left or right hand side of the screen, and liked the dark background it had in this position since Snow Leopard’s release, you will be sad to know that it now features the same blurred transparency it has in the bottom position. Another design mis-fire has the application tooltip in a gray color with black type. This is a further example of the low contrast movement foisted on us in Yosemite, and one that definitely makes it harder to read the app titles.

Screen Shot 2014 06 07 at 2.59.03 PM Thoughts on OS X Yosemite

The only other change  present in the dock in Yosemite happens when you use the new Handoff feature. In this scenario, the app that can be handed off shows up on the left hand side of the dock (in the first position before the Finder). Since I’m not moving to iOS 8 until it is released, this is not something I could test.

Summary

Even with all my griping, I think I will be happy with Yosemite when it finally launches. Yes, the UI changes are not my cup of tea, but honestly, I expected them to go much further than what they have. There’s much to like feature wise in Yosemite, and I’m excited for it’s fall arrival.

 


Category: Apple,OS X,Widgets,WWDC

Digitally sign documents using OS X Mavericks

One of the cooler, often overlooked features of OS X Mavericks is it’s ability to scan a signature using your iSight camera, and the ability to use that signature to digitally sign a PDF document. This tutorial will walk you through setting this up. To get started, you’ll need a couple of things.

  • A Mac running OS X Mavericks.
  • An iSight camera (either built in to your Mac or your monitor).

Let’s get started. First, you’ll need a signature that can be scanned. When creating your signature, I suggest using a black marker/pen and white paper. The thicker the marker, the better the signature will come out when scanned. Preview will not let you create new documents, so we are going to create and empty PDF file in TextEdit first that will serve as our canvas. You can use any application that can create empty PDF files, but since OS X comes with TextEdit, we’ll use this app. To this open TextEdit, and create a new empty document. Now click EXPORT AS PDF from the FILE MENU. Let’s call this file ‘Canvas.pdf’. tut 4 20 14 1 Digitally sign documents using OS X Mavericks Now let’s open the ‘Canvas.pdf’ file you just created with Preview. Now, go to the Preferences area of Preview, click on Signatures, and create signature. Your isight camera will become active. tut 04 20 2 Digitally sign documents using OS X MavericksNow hold up your signature in front of your camera and position it inside the window, using the alignment guide to get your signature as straight as you can. A couple of notes here: The better lit your surroundings are, the better quality your signature will be. Trying to scan in a dark room will make it harder to get a good scan of your signature. Once you have your signature positioned the way you want it, click accept signature. This signature is now stored inside PDF, and can be used within Preview to electronically sign documents. To do this, open your document in Preview and click on ‘SHOW EDIT TOOLBAR’ Once the toolbar is revealed, you will see an icon that says ‘Sig’. tut 04 20 3 Digitally sign documents using OS X Mavericks Click the icon and select your signature. Then click on the screen where you would like your signature placed. You can grab on one of the handles of the signature and resize it to fit. tut 04 20 4 Digitally sign documents using OS X Mavericks


Category: Apple,Mavericks,OS X,Tutorial

And speaking of Sketch…

sketch3 theme 300x187 And speaking of Sketch...Sketch 3 has just been released with lots of new features. And for the first week of launch (ending tomorrow, I believe), it’s available for only $50.

Grab it while you can.


Category: App Store

Adobe Creative Cloud thoughts, one year in…

images Adobe Creative Cloud thoughts, one year in...When Adobe announced their move from packaged releases to a pure subscription model last year, I wasn’t a fan. I’ve been an Adobe customer for nearly 20 years, and this move didn’t look like a good deal for anyone who wasn’t an Adobe employee or stockholder. But, at $29.99/month for the first year, I figured I’d give it a shot and re-evaluate after 12 months. Well, my 12 months are just about up, and here’s where I’m at.

The apps I use the most in the suite are Photoshop and Lightroom. Lately, Lightroom really handles the lion’s share of what I need to do with my images. I’m not a compositor, so I rarely use Photoshop. And of all the new features that have been added to Photoshop CC, I can’t think of one that I’ve used in the last 12 months.

As for the rest of the apps in the bundle, I found myself using Illustrator a good bit while I was working on Swimsuit 2014. We used a lot of vector art in this project, and for the first time, we exported much of it as SVG, which Illustrator is perfect for. I also used Sketch 2 for a lot of this work. Sketch handled open Illustrator files and exporting them as SVGs brilliantly. So while I used Illustrator a good bit, I think I can get the same job done using Sketch, for a lot less money.

I also used Acrobat Pro a couple of times. Mainly to edit a few PDF files. There are several apps on the Mac that can do this for a lot less than the recurring cost of Creative Cloud, so again, this isn’t something that would compel me to re-up my subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud.

As for the rest of the apps in the bundle… I gave Premiere Pro a try, but it was so crashy during my usage that I gave up. After Effects is a great program, and if I was in a position where I needed such a tool, I could definitely justify the price. But After Effects isn’t an application that is needed in my day to day work, so committing to a $600/year subscription to have it to play with isn’t in the cards.

That brings us to Dreamweaver… Years ago, Dreamweaver was my IDE of choice. But the years have not been kind to the old lady. She’s big, bloated and slow. These days I prefer the lightweight nimbleness of editors like Sublime Text and Textmate.

The other app I could have found use for in my day to day work is Fireworks. But Fireworks has been abandoned by Adobe, and although it’s in the Creative Cloud, it’s a buggy, sad mess. The aforementioned Sketch serves as a much better tool for many of the same tasks.

So that leaves me with two applications – Photoshop and Lightroom – that I ‘need’ in this bundle. At $50/month ($600/year), I couldn’t justify the price for just these 2 applications. I suspect I wasn’t alone in my situation, as Adobe got a lot of feedback from many users, and offered up a plan to address these concerns. The Adobe Photography Bundle was offered late last year for a limited time. At $9.99/month, you get access to Photoshop CC, Lightroom, a Behance membership and 20GB of storage. I signed up for this plan when it was available, and at this price, can justify a yearly subscription.

But I have little faith that Adobe will leave this pricing in place for long. I fully expect Adobe to jack this price up to $15 or $20 month within the next 12 months. At that point, I’ll have to re-evaluate the value of the bundle. As applications like Acorn, Pixelmator and Sketch become more capable and take up more and more of the slack in my day to day graphics needs, Adobe’s subscription plans become less and less compelling.

So at the end of my first year of Creative Cloud, I am canceling my subscription and moving forward with the Adobe Photography Program instead.

I can’t help but think that while the Creative Cloud can be a bargain for professionals who use 4 or more of the apps in the bundle on a regular basis, for the rest of us, it’s just a money grab.

I’d like to see Adobe offer some flexibility in their subscriptions, perhaps offering the ability to do month to month subscriptions to individual apps for $10/month (they currently offer single apps at $20/month with a one year committment). I think this could offer them a lot of upside, and not jeopardize their cash cow Creative Cloud subscriptions. As of right now though, Adobe seems to be pretty pleased with it’s subscription numbers, and as long as they feel the don’t need to, I wouldn’t expect them to make any changes.


Category: Opinion,Reviews,Web Development

iPhone 6 Mock Up & Case

So much for doubling down on secrecy.

Time will tell whether this mock up and case are the real deal, but if they are, you have to wonder… With using 3rd party labor and manufacturing, is it even possible for Apple to keep something under wraps anymore? Is the secrecy that preceded projects like the iPhone and iPad a thing of the past?


Category: iPhone,Rumor

Microsoft Office for the iPad

Looks like Microsoft is finally releasing the Kraken, er, I mean Office for iPad. According to the Verge, it will be announced by new CEO Satya Nadella next week at a special event focused on ‘mobile first, cloud first’ event in San Francisco.

Microsoft has been working on the software for a number of months now, having first introduced an iOS version of Office for the iPhone in June last year. We understand the iPad variant of Office will be similar to the iPhone version, and will require an Office 365 subscription for editing. We’re told that document creation and editing is fully supported for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps. Overall, the interface and features are expected to be similar to the existing iPhone version.

No word on what pricing will be, but it’s safe to assume it will be inline with the Office for iPhone version.


Category: News

MacNN: Apple dodged taxes on $8.9B in Australian profits

When it comes to Apple and headlines, details matter. For the longest time, certain parties in the tech press (and traditional press) have used sensationalistic headlines with Apple in the title to grab page views. Page views = ad revenue, so nobody should be surprised at this tactic.

However, seeing MacNN engage in this behavior is disappointing. (more…)


Category: Blog Watch,Jackassery,Opinion

End of the upgradeable portable Mac?

In what will certainly come as no surprise to anyone who follows Apple, the company is reportedly preparing to cease production of it’s last upgradeable portable computer – the Macbook Pro (non Retina) 13″.

According to DigiTimes, Apple will stop production of the last user upgradeable Mac sometime in the second half of 2014. (more…)


Category: Apple,Hardware

Web Development on the Mac: Part 2 – MySQL

Installing MySQL on OS X can be as easy or as complex as you want it to be. On the complex side, since OS X is UNIX, you could install from source and build your own package. Or your could use the Homebrew package manager to install completely from the command line.

The easiest way to get MySQL installed on OS X is to use the packages built by MySQL. The packages are offered up in tarball or in DMG. Getting the DMG is going to give you the most ‘Mac’ like install. For the purpose of simplicity, this is the method we will use in this example. (more…)


Category: PHP,Tutorial,UNIX,Web Development

About the author

A user of Macs since they had silly names like Performa and Centris, Theodore Lee is a techie who prides himself on his vast knowledge of all things Apple. OS X Factor was started in 2001 (originally as macosxcentric), and continues to churn out tips, tutorials, reviews and commentary on the tech sector.