iPhone / iPad / Mac

Giffgaff, not naff?

Since my post yesterday laid into Giffgaff it seems only fair to offer some praise – they promised to resolve the SIM activation issue within 24 hours and sure enough, this morning my account was working as it should.  Reassured by friends who’ve been using the service a while, I’m content to put the considerable teething trouble down to some exceptional circumstances that hopefully aren’t the norm.

I’ve been impressed by the community spirit on the forums (obviously there were fractious times in the threads relating to the technical problems, but having gone ‘off-piste’ and looked around some of the other areas there’s a great group of helpful people who are largely voluntarily sparing their time to help and advise new users on matters both relating to the network and more general off-topic areas.

The only thing that Giffgaff doesn’t deliver service wide that O2 did was visual voicemail on my phone – I’m not really bothered about that, although I’ve decided to use this trial period to also trial an app called HulloMail which basically is an enhanced version of voicemail.  If I like it I might opt to subscribe (£6 a year), if I think it’s just okay I’ll keep the freebie version with ads – otherwise it’s no hardship to use the old skool method of ringing up your voicemail to retrieve messages.

Of course, if my scheduled number-change for tomorrow goes tits up then I reserve the right to go all George Osbourne on your asses and make a U-Turn denouncing the service again – but so far, so good.  Yesterday’s rant was, it seems, a product of bad timing in that I chose to sign up at a time when they underwent a technical crisis.

Watch this space.  And if you are thinking of joining them, use the link on the right to order a sim card and earn me some points!  Thanks!  For me the jury is now out as I start using the service in earnest.

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It’s certainly not run by me. And seemingly not FOR me either.

I was pretty excited to join up with Giffgaff – my contract with O2 is up, and I’ve decided that rather than tie myself to 18 or 24 month commitments I’d rather save money and buy my next handset outright.  So the proposition of Giffgaff was quite exciting – a tenner gets me all the minutes I could ever need, unlimited texts and unlimited data.  Awesome, I think, I’m on it.

It took around four days for the free sim card to arrive, along with instructions on how to activate it – it all sounded very straight forward.  I did this on Saturday morning, even with a hangover it was pretty easy – pop the activation code and SIM card number into a form, top up with a £10 goodybag and then wait around half an hour (but on rare occasions up to 24 hours) for confirmation of your new number etc.

So, that was a bit over 72 hours ago – and logging into my Giffgaff dashboard reveals the same message about activation.  I took some time to peruse the community – after all, that’s what the network is supposed to be about – there’s lots of excellent users who advise and help their fellow users there, but aside from disparate and inaccurate updates there’s very little news of this problem from the Agents (people who can access your account details) nor the mysterious technical team who have some kind of firewall to protect them from end users (as a former technical support worker I can understand the desirability of that!).

As well as the community forum you can seek 1:1 support through raising a ticket with an agent – I did this after the 24 hour was exceeded but alas the only updates I’ve had have been “It’s with our technical team” and “It should be working tomorrow”.  It’s all rather frustrating for me, let alone the burgeoning list of people like me, many of whom seem to not have an alternative of just sticking with their contract a while longer.  I’m glad I didn’t cancel O2 just yet, that’s for sure!

Given how crotchety I can be for fairly trivial misdemeanors in customer service I’ve been surprised at how relaxed I’ve felt about this, maybe it’s because I still have use of my phone – but I find myself reluctant to give up on them just yet (helped by the fact I’ve a couple of friends who use it with no problems, and maybe because they sponsor The Big Bang Theory on E4 (sic)).  I am starting to lose my patience though, not because there’s a problem, problems happen – but the lack of information, timescales or just ongoing acknowledgement is very poor customer service.

I’m finding myself increasingly tempted to go for a sim only deal with 3.

Categories: blog, iPhone / iPad / Mac | 4 Comments


I’ve become somewhat addicted to the Draw Something app on my iPhone and iPad (also available on lesser operating systems, apparently).  It’s kind of like Pictionary, you draw something to represent a word, your opponent guesses and you both get virtual coins when guessed correctly, then it’s your opponents turn to guess – repeat ad nauseum.

Of course, generally clues can be executed with efficient and deft skill using stick-men, arrows or even half-cheating and using verbal clues by writing (some people unfeasibly actually write the word out, frustratingly!), but occasionally my inner scribbler gets a bit carried away and completely over-engineers the drawing for the lucky (or probably bored opponent who has to sit and watch it be drawn in real time!).

It’s a really fun game, it will link in with your Facebook account to find you people to play against who you know, you could opt for random games within the app or find people by their username.  I would definitely recommend it if you have a creative yen – although I’ve ended up with so many games on the go I’ve had to delete the app from my phone and stick to iPad playing otherwise I’d be sat playing it at work and probably get sacked!

Also, a stylus is a big help if you do want to indulge in more complicated drawings.  Below are a few random examples of drawings that I’ve either been pleased with or have amused me on a more childish level.

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iOS 5.1 and iTunes Match.. close, but no cigar.. yet.

I must admit that whilst I really like the idea of iTunes Match and still don’t regret subscribing to it if nothing else as a music-backup opportunity, the delivery of the offer on iOS devices was so shonky that I ended up disabling it on my iPhone and iPad.  Frustrations over missing artwork (hello, OCD!) and a couple of erroneous button presses meaning my phone attempted to download swathes of music over a cellular connection just caining my data allowance all mounted up to just switching it off.

Upon updating to iOS 5.1 I had been looking to see if people had noted any improvements on iTunes Match – and it’s been pretty quiet.  So, sitting on a Friday afternoon at work waiting for a query to run on our database I mischievously slid the slider to on – to be greeted with a new option that I’ve not seen mentioned elsewhere.  You can deactivate cellular transfers (once I realised it was happening before I ended up disabling data manually) for iTunes Match – woo.

So that’s one very sensible reservation answered – I won’t end up with a big data fee now by accidentally trying to download my entire Levellers collection (yes, that’s predictably what happened!! – shuffle artist with everything showing – oh, I’ll just download ALL that for you, shall I?).  As far as I can tell there’s still no option to download iTunes matched content at a 128kbps rate as you can with an iTunes sync – so I imagine I’ll still be switching between Match and non-Match on my phone.

Now the Music.app is working and thinking about what I’ve asked it to do – past experience shows that it takes the phone a while to get the information it needs to show all the stuff not on it that is in your library – so I’m content to leave it to it and see what happens.  Cautious optimism is the watchword – music missing from my phone is now visible, there are obsessive compulsiveness twitching gaps in my album artwork – however, I’m prepared to be patient to see if that is resolved once the updating phase finishes.

In summary – it’s still not quite right, but I might be more prepared to live with it from a mobile situation.  Oh, playlists are often a source of consternation with iTunes Match – mine have all appeared as I would expect to see them and I can use them as I would normally (starting to see the missing artwork crop up though!).  No sign of Genius Mixes though.

Categories: iPhone / iPad / Mac | 9 Comments

It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it..

Phew. I’m on the one week countdown to time off work – I’m looking forward to it, I’m feeling increasingly frazzled so could do with some down-time.  In between a busy time at work and at other work (where I’m really pleased with the progress I’ve made on the website) there’s been a veritable update-fest in the world of Apple geekery – not only new iTunes and iOS releases but also exciting things like the iPhoto app for iPad and iPhone.

It’s early days yet but I quite like it – in fact, I wish they would replace the Photo.app with it completely – because the main bugbear I have is that it doesn’t have any ability to manage your camera roll – just save things on to it afresh once edited.  A fairly small complaint really – once I have some time to have a bit more of a fiddle with it I’m looking forward to see what can be done with it.

Not least I’ve enjoyed presenting pictures in Journals – so much I added a link to my iCloud journals  up above (having learned more about the splendours of custom menus through my work on the Broadwalk Property Management website!).  So far there’s a hastily cobbled together effort based on the pictures from the Rolf Harris escapades from November 2010 (wow, was it really that long ago?!) – I’m sure I’ll come up with some more as time goes on.

Next week is my last at work for a bit – as is customary I’ve been inadvertently stockpiling holiday and have a chunk to take, so basically by birthday in a week’s time right through to April will be away-from-t’office time.  A little under a week of that time will be spent down in Dorset which I’m really looking forward to as well.

That’s not to say that there won’t be things to keep me occupied, of course.  On my birthday itself I’m off to see Spiritualized with a couple of friends, on St. Patrick’s Day it’s the stag do of another friend and finally the friday after will mark a key work departure and thus a ma-hoo-sive leaving do will be in order there.  He’s moving to Australia too so it might be an excuse for a bit more Rolf-related shenanigans if I have my way..!

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iPhone 4/4S sticky home button fix..

Looking on the internet there’s quite a few instances of a ‘sticky home button’ with iPhones, and as with all such things, lots of solutions!  The home button is of course the staple control method so takes a lot of hammer in general use.  Mine had started to become quite unresponsive – albeit not all the time – but increasingly so.  An unresponsive home button renders an iPhone rather useless, so it’s a real frustration.

Well, there’s lots of methods out there – hard reboot your phone, restore your phone – open an app, hold down the power button etc etc – whilst clearly some folk claim to have results with these, I’m pretty convinced that the issue is a hardware rather than a software one.  Perhaps not-quite-robust-enough components in the button mechanism that have become worn over time.  So with that in mind there were a few other methods people mentioned.  The simplest being ‘press the button really hard’ – that worked for me at times, but not all that reliably.

So upon exploring the wonders of the Internet a few more physical solutions presented themselves, popping a charging lead in the phone and ‘wiggling it about a bit’ was one option, it didn’t seem to make a monumental difference.  Other people reported that tackling the dock port with a vacuum cleaner seemed to solve the issue as pocket lint and debris had clogged up in there – it is close to the button, after all.  Others tried an unused toothbrush to give the area a good clean, others still used electrical component cleaning type fluid – the latter seemed a bit risky!

As with so many things in life, the most obvious solution is sometimes the best.  A component of a device that gets used hundreds of times is bound to get worn out or perhaps misshapen.  If it’s a component you press, the direction of the misshaping is likely to correspond to that, isn’t it?  So if you can give the rear of the button a good shove, that will probably sort it.  That’s what I’ve just done – and it seems to have solved the problem in the short term.  I shall keep track of it over time and see if it lasts.

Two screws to remove here

To do this you need to get your grubby mits on a pentalobe screwdriver – I picked one up on eBay for a bargainous £1.39 including (signed for!!) postage.  Use this to (carefully) remove the two screws from the base of the iPhone either side of the dock port.  Obviously be carefully not to lose the screws, they’re pretty damn small – if you get a screwdriver like mine it will be magnetic which will help this.  Once the screws are out, slide the back panel upwards about 5mm and then it will lift away revealing the inners of your iPhone.

The backless iPhone - press down on the area behind where the home button is just above the dock port.

Fortunately that is the full extent of dismantling.  Place the phone screen down on a flat surface and press firmly but carefully on the area behind the home button, apply and withdraw pressure repeatedly and then test the button to see if it seems more responsive.  Once you’re happy, replace the backplate, slide it into place and reinsert and tighten up the screws – be careful not to over-tighten them as five-pronged screws are prone to burring.  And that’s it.  Sometimes the simplest solutions really are the best!

Since doing this it has made me realise how much I’ve become conditioned to it being unresponsive though, it’s feeling very much like the ‘new phone’ syndrome even though I’ve had this fella for some time.

Of course, if you’re still under warranty or have Apple Care or insurance through your phone company – or, indeed, just in general – it is probably worth pursuing a proper repair.  If there were an Apple Store in Nottingham I would certainly have considered making an appointment with a ‘Genius’ to resolve the issue, because it does appear to be a hardware failure, or at least a hardware failure in waiting.

But there isn’t an Apple Store in Nottingham, and I’m lazy!

PS: You could go several steps further and completely replace the home button on your iPhone with a new one – but having found this excellent and detailed guide it looked a little daunting to me.  I’m not prepared to completely dismantle my phone!

Categories: iPhone / iPad / Mac | 11 Comments

Further bug-bears.. (iTunes Match again, folks!)

Further limitation of iTunes Match which will hopefully undergo a rethink as Apple update and evolve the admittedly fledgeling service.  Users of iTunes and space-precious iDevices will probably be familiar with the handy setting of ‘convert higher bitrate songs to 128kbps’.  It allows for you to maximise the limited storage on your iPhone or iPod without compromising your local library.

Unfortunately a similar consideration isn’t made for iCloud – it would seem relatively easy to me for there to be a similar option; alas no.  Of course, there is also the option to modify your outlook with your iOS gizmo of choice – have a tighter ‘permanent’ selection of music and download/delete peripheral things as and when you require them (WiFi or 3G connection willing, of course).

I would, however, have preferred the best-of-both-worlds solution – even if it means relying on syncing to a local library to ‘get at’ lower bit-rates, but you can ‘top up’ from iCloud on the go, the ideal solution being that iCloud should offer the functionality AS WELL as being able to dual-manage via iTunes should you wish, after all, it’s less faff than downloading everything from the cloud when you’re sat next to your library stored locally.

It seems odd to me that on MacOS you can have whatever locally store files you like, but are not afforded the same privilege on an iOS platform.

Another buglet (actually, a considerable bug) I had noticed is on my iPhone if I shuffle a playlist occasionally tracks will skip without playing, and worse-still the ‘next’ track will play without advancing the artwork or details – so in effect playing the wrong song (or displaying the wrong information, depending on your point of view).  It would appear both these phenomena have been observed elsewhere and whilst not openly acknowledged by Apple are thought to be included in their list of things to resolve with their next release of updates.

I must admit that iTunes Match has proven rather below the usual standard of new experiences with an Apple product – difficult to enable (as previous posts will testify!), a little inflexible in options and, well, buggy!  The woes of the early-adopter, eh?  Maybe I should resist the urge to jump onto bandwagons until a few others feel the urge to chronicle the potential pitfalls as I have.

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Coverflow and iTunes Match..

Sorry, I know, iTunes Match overkill, but CoverFlow is pretty – and it doesn’t seem to play quite right with iTunes Match yet.

A fairly trivial thing I noticed that doesn’t really have much use to anyone – but since I just had a quick Google to validate my findings it doesn’t seem widely mentioned.  The great thing, of course, about iTunes Match is that your whole library is there on your iDevice at least in a reference sense.

If there’s something you don’t have to hand, rather than impatiently wait for your next sync you can download it on the spot -and you can tell what those things are because there’s a handy download button next to ’em, right?

Unless you’re looking at coverflow.  I’ll be honest, I don’t generally use coverflow aside from either just casually admiring my beautiful artwork (see previous blog post – I already know I’m a hopeless case) or sometimes maybe if encouraging others of the wonders of the iPhone – because, let’s face it, it’s not the most practical view in the world, but it is the most tactile and pretty.

However, it makes it seems as though your whole library is literally at your fingertips without any need for data transfer, see the example below:

So, even though I know that of the tracks on the screen, only ‘Goin’ Down to Mexico’ is actually present on my iPhone, they’re all presented as available.  Should I tap on ‘Brown Sugar’ though, it will download and play as soon as there’s enough data to play with.  Which is fine if I want it to do that – if I didn’t, due to data allowances or similar, there’s no indication at all that it needs to go to iCloud to get that track for me.

Fair minor quibble, in truth, but a quibble nonetheless!  I promise to write about something other than iTunes Match in my next blog post.

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iTunes match – making album artwork play ball…

I’m not sure how many people are as anal as me about their iTunes libraries – in particular, there is something that quakes me to my very core if I know some tracks don’t have album artwork.  Using my iPhone in the car as a music player I’ve been known to pull over to make a note of errant tracks to fix when I get home.  Probably a bit of OCD or something, who knows?

So imagine my horror when my painstakingly constructed library, once gone through iTunes Match (see earlier post for this particular pain!) arbitrarily seemed to select random albums for which it wouldn’t display the artwork on my iPad or iPhone – despite there clearly being artwork present in iTunes.  It didn’t seem to matter whether they were Matched or Uploaded tracks – and by god it was infuriating me.

It turns out it’s quite easy to fix – iTunes Match seems to play not-nicely with tracks where you’ve downloaded the Artwork.  Which probably demands a further explanation – your artwork is either stored locally on your computer when iTunes downloads it (you know, that hugely tempting ‘Get Artwork’ option that absolves you of responsibility?), or, your artwork can be embedded within your MP3/AAC/MP4/AIFF files – the benefit of which being the artwork goes with the file outside of iTunes.

During a traditional sync with an iOS device your artwork is synced to, irrespective of whether it’s embedded in the file or stored locally and indexed in iTunes.  So I never really gave it much thought, if I could get iTunes to do the hard work and find all my artwork for me then all the better.  This isn’t the case for iTunes Match – every missing album artwork issue was with those where artwork was downloaded rather than embedded.  I couldn’t say whether or not every downloaded piece of artwork failed – however – as there’s no obvious way to differentiate between the two without a lot of hassle.

However, if you have a few albums missing artwork then select a track – copy the artwork to your clipboard, select the whole album, option-click (Mac) or right-click (Windows) and select ‘Clear Downloaded Artwork’ – you’ll see the preview pane revert to the dreaded no-artwork icon.  Now option-click (Mac) or right-click (Windows) over the artwork preview pane and choose ‘Paste’ – this will embed the artwork in the music files you have selected.

If you’ve got loads, and have a Mac, then check out this AppleScript – it will move through your library for you and for those tracks where the artwork is not embedded – it will go through the process for you.  I struggled to make it work on my whole library but it seems to work well on smaller selections.

Don’t expect an instant update on your iOS devices either – it seems to take an arbitrary amount of time for the changes to catch up through iCloud and make everything appear as it should.  Having just gone through the pain-in-the-arse process of scrolling through my iPad’s album view in the Music app to find the problem albums, I think I’ve finally sorted mine out.  It won’t make any tangible difference to how everything works, but it will at least momentarily silence the OCD demons that had been irked by this.

I now have the uncomfortable wait until that blessed moment when I tap on a music-symbol album and out again, to be greeted by the correct artwork being downloaded!

If anyone knows why the Artist view on iPad arbitrarily seems to not display artwork for some artists (even if they have only one album in your library) and will for others (who may have multiple albums or just one), then I’d be very interested to learn of any fixes!  I suspect it’s just something that might get addressed in the next iOS and/or iTunes updates.  Ho hum!

Categories: blog, iPhone / iPad / Mac | 12 Comments

iTunes Match-maker..

I was quite excited by iTunes Match.  A kind gift of iTunes vouchers from Cat’s parents and I invested – the idea of being able to ‘upgrade’ music matched with the iTunes database to 256kbps versions was appealing – as well as having a centralised store of my music in ‘The Cloud’ so to speak.

It’s not been exactly the kind of easy experience it might’ve been.  I expected some complications.  The legacy of me being eager to save space on devices in the past (including my old laptop) before I centralised my iTunes library was that most of my music, whilst quite well tagged, was encoded to a low bit-rate of just 112kbps.  This is fine for my non-audiophile ears and means I get more music on my iDevices – but the matching process had some issues with it.

Ostensibly the process occurs in three steps – although these steps can take literally days depending on the size of your library (and speed of Internet connection of course).  The first step analyses your music, the second attempts to match with music available in the iTunes store, the third will upload anything not present in the store along with artwork etc.  Given the amount of bootlegs and reasonably obscure music I have there was quite a lot of uploading to do.

After the first attempt around 20% of my library was match or uploaded – the rest was ‘waiting’ or ‘error’ – these seem to be interchangeable at times depending on the mood iTunes is in.  I tested a couple of albums by re-encoding them, using iTunes, to 256kbps AAC files and re-sending them to iTunes Match – it worked.  These examples matched where they’d failed before.  Leaving me with about 12,000 more songs I needed to ‘increase’ the bit-rate for to allow iTunes Match to consider playing with them.  That’s a lot of tracks.

I decided to get a bit brutal with my library – as I suspected, there’s a lot of stuff in there downloaded on a whim that I’ve not really listened to – so I managed to have a good prune.  Then selected all the unmatched/unuploaded songs in my Library and hit the ‘convert to AAC’ option in the menu.  Then waited.  A long time.  It took a little over a full day of churning through for my poor Macbook to get through this process, I decided to leave it to it and switch to my iPad for my computer needs for the duration – that way upon completion I could just tap delete. I checked the ‘remove from iCloud’ box, clicked delete files and then was left with a Library either matched, uploaded or 256kbps.

Then I contemplated how broken my playlists were now! Argh!

Anyway, now I selected all my new tracks and selected the option to add to iCloud, then from the Store option in the menu selected ‘Update iTunes Match’ – and now we wait.  This took ages too.  Proper ages.  Eventually it had matched a further 6,000 or so songs, and dutifully uploaded the remaining 4,000 without issue – so now my whole library is available in iTunes match.  After many hours of faffing, waiting and eventually rebuilding my playlists.

So, if you have low bit-rate files that won’t play with iTunes Match there’s a fairly simple process to go through:

  • Convert them to 256kbps AAC files in iTunes (I deleted the originals, whether you do this is up to you!)
  • Add them to iCloud in iTunes (cmd click whilst they’re selected in iTunes)
  • Store Menu – Update iTunes Match

Such a simple list – such a long time it will take if your library is a fairly hefty size.  Upon picking up my iPad having been at the City Ground enduring Forest’s latest pathetic offering, it seems to be working how it should be – the tracks already on there are supplemented by things it could have on it at the push of a button.  I don’t like the music player app on the iPad as it is, and so far it doesn’t seem to happy with me just selecting ‘download all’ for a particular playlist.

My iPhone meanwhile, which has been out and about with me today of course, seems mightily confused about what it can and can’t do – I’ve decided to, having wiped the music from it before starting for a ‘clean start’ decided to disable Match on the device, sync the music back as it was before and then enable Match.  I think that’s for the best.

All in all, I’d say the process has mostly been a complete and utter ballache – however, my music is now either ‘matched’ with iTunes or backed up to their servers for those tracks that it couldn’t match – and future music I add to my library will undergo this process to, and that’s a good thing for sure, and for £21 a year – pretty bargainous really.  Once they iron out the niggles with iOS devices (I’m most perturbed about the album artwork situation for example!) then it will be excellent.  As is the norm for early adoption of such things though, there is teething trouble.

Hopefully amongst my waffle there’s been some useful nuggets for someone out there trying to get to grips with iTunes Match.

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