Archive for January, 2016

Why is iMessage audio such bad quality?

January 24, 2016 Leave a comment

In 2001, I was working in Israel. I remember distinctly taking a taxi (I took a lot of them there), and the gruff driver was talking into his phone as if it was a walkie talkie. Moreover, the person on the other end was replying in short audio bursts, as if it was a walkie talkie! He was talking on it pretty much the entire journey, holding the phone as you do these days on speaker when you’re trying to pretend you’re not really on the phone while driving.

The Israelis are an technical bunch, and what I saw was a feature on their cellphone network where they actually had a physical walkie talkie switch, and could send audio messages as clips to each other, or multicast them to multiple people. It was genius – after all, SMS hadn’t really taken off as a way to replace phone calls yet, but being able to send a short voice message to someone else to pick up whenever was convenient, rather than a phone call they had to answer right then, or a voicemail they would have to go and pick up (and perhaps pay to collect), seemed such a convenient way to communicate.

This is all before iPhones, Facetime, Visual Voicemail, and pretty much everything else. Cycle forward a few years, and MMS was taking off as the next big thing. I had myself an Ericsson T68 – a small, innovative trailblazing phone (it had a camera attachment!) which pioneered many features that then found their way onto other later phones. One such feature was Voice MMSes.

If you pressed the joystick left, it immediately flashed up a tape recorder symbol and you could record a voice MMS to someone; just one nudge, less than it takes just to unlock your iPhone. Click the joystick, and it flashed up your address book – most recent first. Select an address, and boom – your voicemail was on its way. Three clicks to send a voice message to anyone. 12 seconds for a 20-word recording, including the voice recording itself. Try that with a text.

Nokia even launched a lipstick-sized phone – yes, seriously – which only had a click-wheel like a tiny volume dial for control. So – no texting, as no keyboard. Instead, it offered you voice MMS only. And why not?

Despite this – aside from those Israeli taxi drivers, voice messages never took off… I sent a few voice messages to people whenever the feature came back in some form, and I usually got a “What was that funny message type you sent me?”, or they read it, said “wow”… but then typed a reply, as a text.


Roll on to three years ago – and WhatsApp adds Voice Messages to its feature list. Finally! Again, I use it. Again… no others do.

I get an iPhone, and start sending ‘catch-up’ messages to my family – not by typing an email, but by recording a selfie video message to them, saying hi, telling them what I’m up to, and then emailing it. Why not? It’s as fast for me to send as it is for me to talk, they can receive it, and for those personal messages you want to keep to look back at sometime, what is better than a video recording? Other messaging apps like Viber and Facebook Messenger also offer this.


So – finally, Apple decides the market is mature enough (for the fourth time now?), and introduces audio iMessages. As always with Apple, they introduce a bunch of discrete features that make the entire thing so seamless and easy to use: for example, you can hold your finger on the button to record, then slide up to send, a seamless process. Or, you can tap the button, hold the phone to your ear, and it’ll start recording automatically. Take it away, and it’ll send the message automatically – no buttons to press. When you receive a reply, you hold it to your head, like a phone call, and it plays automatically. Simples!

It should be great – the native integration to the OS means it should be the best.

And yet it’s the worst of any of the apps!


Because they limit it to 8KHz audio, and keep the volume low. It’s almost unintelligible! For a company that originally refused to include 3G on the iPhone 2 because it would compromise the battery live, and refuse to permit Facetime to transmit any video at all if the connection isn’t fast enough for high quality, this is an incredible failure. The iPhone is patently capable of CD-quality sound, or better, because all the other voice messaging apps use it. And they can’t claim needing to support non-iPhone devices, because again, that’s never bothered Apple, and Facetime doesn’t either.

So, I’m stuck between trying to convince my friends and family to use this extremely convenient protocol with poor quality sound, or having to drop into another app such as Messenger or WhatsApp which is way less convenient and less recognised than iMessage.

Come on Apple. Get it right.

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Intel HD 4000 Graphics display keeps reverting orientation to incorrect portrait rotation

January 12, 2016 3 comments

Since upgrading my HP Folio 9470m from Windows 7 Professional to Windows 10, I’ve started getting this annoying, weird behaviour from the onboard graphics card.

The relevant parameters are thus:

  • The 9470m was originally installed with Windows 7 Pro 64bit
  • I upgraded to Windows 10 in-place
  • I use a mini docking station with a total of 3 screens – laptop panel, and 2 x 24″ LCD screens arranged side-by-side portrait
  • I extend the desktop across all three screens

I’ve found that under certain triggers, my main laptop display flips from standard landscape, to 90 or even 180 degrees rotated. Since the display itself doesn’t rotate, I end up having to crane my deck or mentally try and adjust to driving my mouse pointer upside down while I navigate to try to change the settings back.

Two triggers I’ve noticed are:

  • Undocking the laptop from the external monitors
  • Starting a conference on Skype for Business – which may be relevant as the screen sharing functionality might trigger the graphics driver

The pressing problem, is that you can’t change the settings back. Of the two usual methods to do this:

  • If you try accessing the Windows graphics properties from a right-click on the desktop background, you’ll find that the rotate screen option is entirely greyed out
  • If you try accessing the Intel HD 4000 Graphics Properties menu from the same right-click, you can access the orientation (which will show correctly that it’s rotated 90, 180, or 270 degrees), and let you change it back. When you change it and click OK, it correctly shows a normal landscape orientiation again, with the “are you sure” 15 second countdown, which you can OK through. However, when you try and OK the main dialogue, or even if you don’t click OK and just leave it open, after a few seconds the orientation flips back to the ‘wrong’ 90/180/270 degree again.

It seems that something is overriding the UI configuration, so that the correct orientation doesn’t persist. I’ve tried various tricks:

  • Leaving the dialogue box open after changing the configuration back
  • Saving and loading the configuration
  • Rebooting
  • Upgrading the driver
  • Disabling and re-enabling the HD 4000 driver

Of these, only the last worked. Disabling the driver works, but of course lowers your resolution; it is good as an emergency measure. I did also download the (125MB!) 64-bit drivers dated September 2015 from Intel’s website, and install those in place; again, the issue still remains.


EDIT: I seem to have found the culprit.

I mentioned previously that the Intel HD 4000 driver left the Windows native display configuration panel with greyed out options. Well, it seemed that the Windows configuration was actually the problem, in overriding the changes to the Intel HD configuration under Graphics Properties…

So, instead of there, go to the native Windows 10 Display settings option – again, this is from right-clicking on the desktop background.



Now, this is the confusing part. I mentioned that the Orientation dialogue was greyed out here – it was evidently wrong (perhaps Portrait for my Landscape display), and you couldn’t change it.

Now, perversely, this appears to be because the Lock rotation of this display toggle button was Off. If you turn it to On, then it un-greys the Orientation picker, and you can then go and change this to the correct setting – Landscape in this case.


I suspect what the toggle button actually means is “Keep this display in landscape, no matter what other drivers or sensors are telling you”. So, this is forcing the display to stay in Landscape despite some other setting – the spurious Intel driver? – trying to force the display into Portrait for no apparent reason.

Anyway – it appears to be working for a few minutes now, so I’m sticking with it.


Now, with this setting, and leaving Lock rotation of this display on


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Handle: Could this finally be the ToDo app I’ve been looking for?

January 10, 2016 Leave a comment

[This is a quick, rough post until I have time to format it and add images]


While I absolutely love MLO – the look and feel of the iOS and Windows apps are perfect, and the power is there – one thing that’s always frustrated me is the disconnect between the task list, and what my day looks like.

For example – my day tends to break into 3-4 chunks – morning, lunchtime, afternoon and evening. When I start the day, I have a reasonable idea of where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing during that slot, and so I want to be able to scan my upcoming task list and drop the tasks that fit well into those slots.

For example, I’ve got meetings 9-10 and 11-12. For the 10-11 slot, looking at my upcoming tasks, I can see 3 I really need to do in that gap. In the spirit of prioritisation, I should be able to drag/drop those tasks into a calendar slot at that time, both providing me focus at that time, and holding a place in my calendar so that I can refuse any invites that come in for the same time.

It’s not just MLO – *no* ToDo app seems to do this. Almost all of them suffer from two key problems:

First, almost all are focused on a due date, including MLO. Fine – my report may be *due* Friday, but I want to work on it Tuesday afternoon, and have it ready early! But to bring it to focus for Tuesday, MLO demands I set the ‘due date’ as Tuesday.. and then it’ll appear in my iOS MLO app calendar view for that date. And if I fail to do it then, the re-scheduling of the task (and successive tasks) is fairly clunky. I can’t drag-and-drop it to tomorrow, or later, although I can click ‘next day’ (or Alt-+) in the Windows app. And, of course, I have to retain the real due date (Friday) in my mind, since I’m already (mis)using the due date field for something else.

A workaround I found in MLO, was to create contexts for each day and timeslice… !11 Monday morning, !12 Monday lunchtime, !13 Monday afternoon, !14 Monday evening, !21 Tuesday morning… etc.  What that allows me to do, is to view my tasks, and then add the appropriate context to drop them into my schedule. I can view them grouped by Context. I can even (thanks Andrey!) drag-and-drop them from one context to another in both iOS and Windows, and they move from the old to new context such as “Monday afternoon” to “Tuesday morning”, which is fantastic! But it’s still not perfect, and I have to view it separately from my calendar.

The second problem is that most ToDo apps only allow you to select the day for a task (whether the due date or some other date). Sure, they’ll probably let you define a time for an alert or similar, but won’t let you drop the task into a particular timeslot in your calendar. So you still have to gaze at a homogenous list of tasks for ‘today’, and try to filter which ones you’re doing ‘this morning’.

But then… today……. I found “Handle”.  ( FINALLY, after MLO, Omnifocus,, Swipes, Wunderlist, Clear, Habit, Toodledo…. (tried them all).. there’s an app developer which had the same idea. I missed the feature at first, but then found it.

Handle supports what I’m looking for via “Reminders”. They have a due date, and that’s a true due date, but it’s ‘reminders’ that I was looking for. When you set a reminder for, say, this Tuesday, it basically moves the task to that date. The task is no longer in your ‘Today’ view, but if you scroll down your ToDo list chronologically to Tuesday, then yep, there it is. So, viewing all your tasks, you can easily see how many you have fitted into each day.

Something it has over MLO, is that if you decide a day is looking a little crowded, you can hold-drag the task down to a later date in the chronological view. You can also manually shuffle the order the same way. It makes for very quick re-thinking and re-scheduling. MLO does allow manual ordering, but not manual scheduling.

It also supports true due dates. If you set a due date, you can see that property for the task, and it’ll appear in your calendar for that date. It imports and overlays the iOS calendar, with tasks appearing at the bottom (much like MLO’s iOS calendar view).

BUT… the best bit is the reminder scheduling. You think “OK, I think I’ll do this task tomorrow”. You swipe the task right to set a reminder. If you ignore the “today/tomorrow/next week” quick actions and choose “Custom reminder”, it then gives you a sliding day calendar view. You can see all your appointments and other todos in the day calendar, and as you swipe up or down, the day scrolls up or down underneath a static line, showing the time you’re currently selecting. It’s a beautiful kinetic effect, and lets you easily find a free slot. You then tap, and the reminder is *inserted into your calendar view at that time*. Hence, you’ve just scheduled a ToDo.

It’s not visible in the iOS native calendar outside the Handle app, but inside the app, you can see your calendar and todo reminders together on the same schedule. Sure enough, the report task now is sitting at 3pm on Tuesday afternoon, between two meetings. And then you can switch to “ToDo” view, and focus on completing the upcoming tasks one at a time. Of course, it also gives you an alert at the designated time.

It’s early days, but this really feels like the way I’ve always wanted MLO to work. I’ll stick with MLO as my main tool, as I need the hierarchies and dependencies, but I’m giving Handle a go for my family tasks, since we share a google account anyway and it’s a simpler app for my wife to use.

There’s a video at They don’t show the scrolling time selector, but the key task management parts are at 26s and 47s in the video.

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Why every photo storage startup dies or gets acquired

January 8, 2016 Leave a comment


If you’re facing the same Photo cloud storage angst as me, then you’ll find this article on The Verge both enlightening and familiar.

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Picturelife Creaking under the Strain?

January 3, 2016 Leave a comment

Now, this could be a good thing, or it could be a bad thing. It’s usually a bad thing, right?

I’ve been experiencing problems sharing photos on Picturelife recently in conversations – when I do, I get something like this:



The reply from Picturelife was very prompt – actually, VERY prompt, given it’s somewhere between 4.49pm and 7.49pm on a Saturday in the holiday season over there.

I apologize for this issue you are running into. When sending photos to people who are not in Picturelife, there should not be an issue with viewing. We are encountering a high processing backlog at the moment, which is preventing the viewing experiences for some of our users from being optimal. I apologize for this. We are in the process of resolving this.

I will let my team know of this issue you are encountering, and we will try to get this fixed quickly.


So – is Streamnation (who bought Picturelife a while ago) really stepping up and improving?

I suspect not. I doubt the customer service respondent is US-based – most likely it’s an offshore customer support centre; after all, if Streamnation is a lean startup (I count 8 in the offsite event photo), then for a service they don’t have intimate knowledge of anyway (the founder and the customer support lead that I was familiar with both left soon after the sale), it’s going to be the same effort to train up either Bay area or Offshore resources, and much cheaper for the latter.

So if the error is due to ‘backlog’, does that mean that the servers are overloaded? Now, this is interesting. My first reaction was that as PL were using AWS, this implies SN are trying to cut costs on the compute. However, since SL said that they had moved PL to their own servers, it could hopefully mean that indeed the servers are overwhelmed, or there’s been a partial outage, and the team is indeed working the holiday trying to bring it back online. I suspect that’s too optimistic though – would the support guys be working the weekend as well as the operations guys?

Either way, it’s a shame. I keep looking and looking, but Picturelife (now SL) is the perfect combination of cloud service, cost, convenience and control/ownership, that no-one else offers – with the unfortunate exception of Google. Long may PL continue.


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