RunGap is the Perfect iOS 11 Fitness App

Last year when watchOS 3 launched, I wrote about it and iOS 10 in terms of fitness. The watch update especially was clearly designed to primarily push the device from a general purpose wrist computer to being a specialized fitness tracker, with some other functionality along for the ride.

This year’s releases of watchOS 4 and iOS 11 are not as fitness focused. But there is one change that made a dramatic difference for me, and I imagine for other Watch Series 2 owners. When the Series 2 watch with GPS was unveiled I thought that it would be the perfect run tracking device. And it was so close. But there was a major issue if you used the Apple workout app to track your runs. The maps were trapped inside the Activity app. There was no way to export that data to RunKeeper, Strava, or even a standard GPX file.

iOS 11 changes this. HealthKit now has the ability to store and export GPS data, and third party apps can take advantage of this. And one app to support this feature on day one was RunGap. I have previously used RunGap to sync up RunKeeper data to Strava and a few other running services. This is mainly due to the fact that RunKeeper has been an unreliable service as of late. Their watch app in particular would crash on my constantly. And as much as I previously recommended iSmoothRun, it has been very slow to update and the watch app leaves much to be desired.

An example of a run map stored inside the Health app.
An example of a run map stored inside the Health app.

The built in Workout app on the watch, however, is rock solid. It has become my preferred tool for tracking runs. And now with RunGap, I can still send that workout data to the other services I use. It is the best of both worlds. If you want to use the workout app on your Apple Watch but the previous limitation on data exporting prevented you from doing so, I highly recommend updating your operating systems, downloading RunGap, and giving it a try.

RunGap supports sharing workouts to many different services.
RunGap supports sharing workouts to many different services.

I have previously written about apps that respect you, and I have all the confidence that RunGap’s developers respect their users. I had an issue at one point and they replied to me within an hour. And that was on the weekend! Another sign of this respect for users is that while the app will read from Nike+, it won’t write to it. This is due to Nike’s lock in attempts. They have no easy way to export data. This kind of opinionated design in the app may stick some as restrictive, but it also shows that the developer has thought about user rights.

Aside from the iPad updates, this is my favorite new feature of iOS 11. Once again Apple has put out a solid update to their increasingly powerful fitness platform. RunGap is exactly the kind of app that every user of this platform should have in their arsenal.

Super Mario Running Toward One Star Reviews

Super Mario Run launches tomorrow. It will be very successful. It will also get a lot of one star reviews. This is because it will require an internet connection to play. I know this. You probably know this if you have read any tech news recently.

But most people don’t read tech news. They won’t know. They will buy the app because it will be marketed heavily. Mario is a cultural phenomenon. Everyone knows Mario games. This despite being “expensive” by App Store standards at $10.

These users, unaware of the copy protection that will require a constant internet connection, will go into the subway, or on to a plane, or anywhere with no or limited connection, and the app will fail. Nintendo does not have enough experience with mobile gaming to realize the problem. Users will be angry.

And then be on the lookout for 1.1, which will feature a new “offline mode”.

A Fitness-Centric Review of watchOS 3 and iOS 10

It’s fair to say that the Apple Watch was released as a beta product. Then again it is fair to say that pretty much every first generation product is a beta product. When you think about it, all technology exists in a state of perpetual beta. Technology, to borrow from Walt Disney’s famous quote about his theme park, will never be completed.

Still, the Apple Watch felt different. Apple is normally great at telling you why a product exists. Think of the iPad, which was introduced by Steve Jobs sitting at a couch leaning back and consuming content.1 But the watch felt confused. Was it a fitness tracker, a wrist computer, a communication device? The first watchOS had no answer to this question. Nor did the follow up watchOS 2. It tried, but largely failed, to fix the performance problems that ended up dwarfing the confused messaging.

This time though, with watchOS 3, not only has the performance problem been addressed much more successfully, if imperfectly, but we now have an answer to why the Apple Watch. For everything else it can do, it is first and foremost a fitness device.

This is great news for me because that is the main reason I have used it ever since launch day. I have never missed a single day of closing all three activity rings. I have tried numerous run tracking apps, some more successful than others, and I even started using it while sleeping thanks to watchOS 2’s ability for sleep trackers to function.2

It is true that iOS 10 will touch far more people than watchOS 3. Smartphones, and to a much lesser extent tablets, dwarf the sales of smartwatches, which remain a niche, if growing category. But iOS has had the fitness bug too for a few years now. And when paired with watchOS 3, a very advanced health and wellness platform emerges.

This will be the focus of my review. I am not going to try to be exhaustive and cover every aspect of these updates. MacStories will do a far better job than I. This is about how I use the Apple Watch, and how that works with the iPhone. I will cover some of the more notable non-fitness features of iOS and watchOS later on, but first and foremost this is a fitness centric review.

I also should point out that this review is being posted a few days before the new Apple Watch Series 2 is available. I have preordered one and it should arrive Friday. The built in GPS function may well be a game changer. For now this review will not take this into consideration as it is too soon to know how this will actually play out. I’ll certainly have an update once I am able to use it for a while. Continue reading A Fitness-Centric Review of watchOS 3 and iOS 10

Pokémon Go Failed at Security, but Google Failed Harder

If you downloaded Pokémon Go (and there is a good chance that you did as it is at the top of the App Store charts), you may have tried to create a Pokémon trainer account, only to find that the servers were overloaded and that you can’t. So you likely moved to the other option, which is to use your Google account. If you happened to be using iOS, what you ended up doing was giving Niantic full access to your Google account. This means that short of deleting it entirely or spending money, they have almost limitless access to your Google data. This includes your emails, you contacts, your documents, your photos, and more.

Full Google account access granted to Pokemon

This is extremely bad. Any rogue employee at the company could potentially access any users personal data if they could gain high enough credentials. That is to say nothing of a potential server breach, which just became infinitely more valuable. While this is likely a mistake, it is a pretty major one.

But even worse is that Google allowed this to happen in the first place. At no point during the login is it ever presented to you that you are giving this high a level of access. Most other apps present a dialog explaining the permissions that you are about to grant before allowing you to confirm. But in this case, nothing. Full access is silently granted. This is a malicious hackers dream come true.

Not only should it never be possible to skip the permissions screen, but anything requesting full access should pop up a big, scary warning to make it painfully clear that you are about to sign over the keys to the kingdom. Especially considering how many Google accounts are being used in education and business. I question whether this should be an option at all for anyone other than a properly vetted and trusted partner. This is inexcusable both in that this is being allowed to happen, and that Google has not as of this writing blocked access. They should take their users account security far more seriously than being an inconvenience to Niantic.

And Niantic needs to issue a statement on this whole mess beyond “No comment to share at the moment.” No, sorry, the correct answer is “Holy crap we messed up and we have our engineers working to sort this out yesterday! All hands on deck.” This is a major security error that requires an emergency patch.

For now at least, revoke the app’s authorization. This will cut it off completely (that’s what is nice about OAuth, your password is not sent to the other company, so you can revoke access without having to change it).

Authenticating through a third party, especially one that is (normally) as secure as Google has its benefits. It means a hack on the third party won’t disclose your passwords, preventing the massive data dumps we have seen time and again. But I can’t help but feel we have allowed ourselves to become way too comfortable granting this access to our most important repositories of information. Google needs some serious quality control over what it allows to access your data. Say what you will about Apple’s app review. They may be heavy handed, but their demands to developers that they explain their reasons for requesting your data goes a long way to prevent this kind of error.

Ranking Apple’s New Operating Systems

It has been a busy few weeks for Apple. They released a major update to pretty much every operating system in their arsenal. Not all updates are created equal. Here are my experiences with each, ranked from worst to best.

OS X Server 5

Apple no longer releases a standalone operating system for server, so major upgrades to Server.app are essentially the new Server OS. Server 5 is unusual in that it works on both the old and new version of OS X. Previously the server app had to be upgraded in concert with the base OS, but this version will run on both Yosemite and El Capitan. It also has caused a whole lot of headaches for server admins, myself included.

The biggest issue is with Apache server. Apache is hijacking a whole bunch of ports that other applications rely on, most notably port 8443, used by the Casper Suite. But people are also seeing their web servers messed up as well. A great write up of the troubles with Server 5 can be found here. Apple has released some quick patches to fix some of the more glaring issues, but take a look at the reviews for Server.app in the App Store. Clearly there are still a whole host of problems.

Apple’s willingness to make drastic changes tends to serve them well in the consumer space. But servers are a different beast, and these kind of dramatic updates tend to cause way more problems than they solve, and will likely push even more sysadmins away from using OS X server going forward.

watchOS 2

Of all the upgrades, this was the one I was looking forward to the most. And it was the biggest letdown. After a few days delay, watchOS 2 landed, and it landed hard. Nearly everyone I know with a watch had issues upgrading the OS. Downloads would not complete, upgrades would stall, upgrades would report success but leave the watch on OS 1. There is a long list of troubles.

Even after installing it successfully things did not improves. I had to reload a whole bunch of apps that suddenly were glitchy or non functional. Oddly this affected apps that were written specifically for watchOS 2. Even after reloading the apps, I have still seen them suddenly become glitchy for no apparent reason.

I have also noticed that developers have not exactly jumped at the chance to create watchOS 2 apps. On any other platform there would have been a slew of updates right on day one. But this time it has been more a trickle. Given the continued bugs that my watch is seeing, that is probably not a bad thing though.

OS X 10.11 El Capitan

El Capitan does not have a whole lot of new user facing features. And that is a good thing. Ask longtime OS X users what their favorite OS was and you are likely to hear a whole lot of “Snow Leopard”. Snow Leopard was the famous “No New Features” release, and it was $30 for no new features. It of course did have new features, but most of the changes were under the hood. The same is true here. El Capitan, like Snow Leopard is a release that tightens up some of the more dramatic changes we have seen in recent releases. Leopard was a messy release, just as Yosemite was. We need these smaller upgrades from time to time to keep everything running smoothly.

The biggest change in El Capitan is one most users will never notice. System Integrity Protection (SIP, aka rootless) is on by default and difficult to turn off (difficult in a sense that it can only be done from the recovery partition). Apple has made a big deal about security in recent years, and locking down the core parts of the OS from any interference is a great way to continue this trend. I know a lot of power users may lament having more of the system locked down, but given the vast majority of users run as administrators (and it is doubtful that will ever change) these kind of steps are pretty much required.

I have upgraded every computer I own to El Capitan and have yet to see any major bugs. Apple deserves a thumbs up on this one.

iOS 9

I love you iOS 9. It is cleaner, faster, and more reliable than iOS 8. As a person who handles Mobile Device Management (MDM) at work, iOS 9 is a thousand times more reliable than previous versions. If you manage iOS devices at work, iOS 9 will be your friend, especially once your MDM system is updated to take advantage of the new features.

iOS 9 also finally gives the iPad some love after years of playing second fiddle to the iPhone. For the first time in the history of iOS, the iPad gets the biggest new features. I did not realize how useful slide over multitasking (sliding one app on top of another without leaving the first) would be. It brings the tablet much closer to a true productivity device.

Conclusion

I hear a lot of people complain at the smaller operating system upgrades that they don’t see anything different. I understand this from regular users, but when my tech savvy friends say it I am always confused. Drastic visual overhauls should not come yearly. That would be far too disruptive for everyone. Smaller incremental changes are much more valuable in my opinion. They move us ever forward without breaking everything in their path.

Server and watchOS show that bigger changes come with a lot more baggage. El Capitan and iOS 9, by contrast, don’t change the game. They make it much more enjoyable to play.

Early Thoughts on the Apple Watch

At some point I will do a full review of the Apple Watch, but since I only received it Friday, I cannot yet make fair judgements about it. What I can do, however, is give some initial impressions. I have several likes and dislikes with what I have experienced so far.

Like

Build quality is fantastic. It feels solid, yet light. The sport band feels much higher quality than you would expect, and it is extremely comfortable to wear.

Dislike

The setup process for me was actually not great. It did not want to turn on at first. On iPhone and iPad, holding either the lock or home button turns on the device, but on the watch only the side button does, not the digital crown. It is a little counterintuitive there. Also the automatic pairing did not work at all for me. The image never appeared on the watch. Not sure why. Lastly, what is with that terrible Apple logo when it is booting? It is an odd gradient and I seriously though I had a defective screen until it booted all the way. The iPhone app had an image that confirmed it is supposed to look like that.

Like

Notifications on the Apple Watch are far less intrusive than they were on my Pebble. Since the software is tightly integrated, I only get notifications in one place. If I see them on my phone, they don’t go to the watch. Otherwise the watch intercepts them. It feels less overwhelming. And the watch finally gets the “clear all” option we have wanted for years. And I love how it is smart about interactive notifications from iPhone. I can archive emails from Mailbox with a single tap, even though there is no Mailbox app for Watch yet. Actually, I don’t even think there has to be. The notifications work great for this.

Dislike

This is clearly version one of the OS, and it is still a little rough around the edges. Twice I had to reboot because haptic feedback stopped working, but it has been fine for two days now. Sometimes it gets confused when I raise my wrist and it cannot decide if it should be on or off. I suspect there will be several software updates over the next few months to address these issues.

Like

Force touch took a little getting used to but once you do it works great.

Dislike

I keep force touching my iPhone, which does nothing other than a long press. When force touch does come to the iPhone (can we all agree that this is pretty much a guarantee at this point) I can see there being some confusion between the two very similar gestures.

Like

The Activity app is very well done. It is bright, colorful, and displays data in a useful way. It has actually become my preferred activity app on my iPhone.

Dislike

My biggest gripe so far is with the Workout app. I have been a RunKeeper user for years and they have an app on the watch. But the Activity app, along with its achievements, only pulls data from the built in Workout app, not from third party apps. So if I want to have my activity still stored in RunKeeper as I always have (I do), and I want credit in the main Activity app (I do), I need to start two different apps for each activity. That is a bit of a pain. I really want to see third party apps be able to write data to the Activity app. If only Apple had a Kit for Health, or something like that. Also, third party apps can’t access heart rate info. That is probably a limitation we have to live with until true native apps become available.

Stray Observations

  • So far I have not experienced the same slowness in apps that many reviews mentioned. I have seen the loading screen a few times, but most apps load quickly enough. I have noticed they load faster when I am on WiFi, but that makes sense. I suspect lots of Watch app updates will be coming very soon purely to address real world performance.

  • Haptic is capable of very light touches. By comparison, the Pebble felt like a jackhammer on my wrist. I had to turn on the “Prominent Haptic” option since I was missing it so many times, which may be because I got so used to the Pebble.

  • Moving apps around is a pain. Trying to place one app in the spot you want is difficult, and has a cascade effect. I am never sure which way things will move.

  • Less is more with Glances.

  • I think that so far I have “settled” on nearly every watch face possible. I really like Mickey, but I wonder if that will kill the battery faster being the most colorful and animated of the bunch.

  • Speaking of battery, so far it has not died on me, though I do wonder if it will make it through a whole marathon since using the Workout app seems to drain it faster. I also intend to buy another charger for my bag for long days, just in case.

  • Digital touch is interesting. Will doesn’t get his until today. So far the only people I can send them to are my boss and my sister. I can’t see regularly sending my heartbeat to either of these people, particularly as one would likely lead to a conversation with HR about “boundaries”. It seems mostly for your significant other, but then does the feature warranty a whole dedicated button on the two button device?

  • I am surprised by how much I liked making a phone call from the watch. I would have though it would be a gimmick, but it actually felt more natural when I was sitting at home than I thought. Outside though, not so much.

Trial by Cloud: Photos

I was hoping to write a follow up of our podcast discussion on last week’s Technecast concerning iCloud Photo Library. I wanted to wait until all my devices were finally synced. But I can wait no longer for my iPad to get in the game.

If you didn’t listen to the podcast, basically I had a horrible time getting photo library turned on. The original upload was painfully slow, error prone, and required me to completely quit, wipe out what was already loaded, and restart, something that the software does not make easy. The web app was, and remains, horrible. The un-deletable phantom albums remain. All and all it was not a good on-boarding.

Photos improperly spaced on the website.
Unintentional collage art in the iCloud Photos web app. The dates and locations are wrong too.

But then, finally, the Mac uploaded. So I enabled it on my iPhone. The phone had no photos so it was just a matter of downloading the cloud library. This took two days. That seems like a really long time, especially for what are supposed to be space optimized versions of the photos. But when it finally worked, it was magical. Take a photo on the phone and it was on the computer before I even had to open the Photos app. Albums, edits, everything synced beautifully. This is what I had been waiting for. The promise of photos fully realized. So time to get the iPad to the party.

First of all, it is an iPad 3, AKA the worst iPad. Seriously even Apple killed this model in 6 months. But it has been okay enough that I didn’t feel like upgrading. Maybe that has to happen now. Maybe the old iPad can’t handle this software. I wish I could accurately explain what is happening. But I can’t. Because I really don’t know what the f#ck my iPad is doing right now.

First of all the initial attempt at turning on iCloud Photo Library caused my iPad to kernel panic about once per hour. This is not the first time I have had crashing issues so I finally decided to ditch this installation, which goes all the way back to day one of the iPad, and start fresh. I completely wiped the device and started from a bare, clean install of iOS.

So far so good. No crashing. Photos turned on and literally nothing else. No other apps. No email accounts. Nothing. This was over the weekend. It’s still not done.

It has reported it was done. More than once. But then all of a sudden it starts syncing again. Here is the really weird part. The number of photos reported in “All Photos” remains consistent, but the number of photos in the “moments” section rises and falls like a ship in a hurricane. I have now at least three times seen the photos gradually disappear, then reappear, then disappear again. The status at the bottom will go back and forth between preparing and uploading. It shouldn’t be uploading anything. And it doesn’t seem to be.

I have no idea what is going on. I feel like the whole thing is out of control but I don’t want to stop it. The iPhone took a while but eventually settled. But it didn’t take this long. So the iPad is sitting, screen on, for a week. It doesn’t seem to sync when the screen is locked so I am leaving it on all the time in the photos app, hoping every day I will come home and see it completed. I have stopped taking photos completely, not wanting to add any complexity until this process is done.

So what I can say about iCloud Photo Library is that it is amazing when it works, but there are way to many issues to feel comfortable recommending this to anyone. You can’t troubleshoot. You just have to hope it works. It may take hours, days, weeks even. I want to love this feature because I have been asking for it for years. Now I just want it to freaking work already.

Apple has a bad reputation when it comes to web services. This is not helping. It is starting to remind me of the launch of MobileMe. That’s the most damning this I can say.

It should be noted that many users are having a fine time. So my experience is not shared by everyone. I am merely stating my own case. I am hopefully still that the bugs get worked out. That he web app begins working normally. That the initial sync will eventually finally finish and I can get on with using my camera again. But for more than the cost of Dropbox for half the space, I shouldn’t have to hope this hard.

HealthKit Improves Dramatically with iOS 8.2

I have been vocal in both my love of the concept of HealthKit and the desire to see it succeed, as well as its bugs and issues. I am very happy to report that reliability has improved dramatically with iOS 8.2. No longer do I see empty data or extremely slow updates when opening the Health app. HealthKit connected apps such as Jawbone UP now reliably pull data every time. If you are a Health user, this is an update you will definitely want. I was a little afraid that Health would be one of those apps that goes years with bugs unfixed. I’m glad to see this is not the case.

Bad Advice from Business Insider

For the most part I do not like Business Insider. While they certainly have talented people on staff, and some of their original reporting is good, a lot of it is lazy clickbait. An article from yesterday bemoans the Apple Watch app that is installed as part of iOS 8.2. The app, like most of Apple’s own, is unremovable. You can argue the merits of whether this is the right move or whether it should be a store app that is removable, but this throwaway line from the piece really bothers me:

“If you don’t want the Watch app to be stuck on your phone forever, just don’t update to iOS 8.2.”

No no no. Wrong wrong wrong. They completely ignore that while some may find the watch app annoying, 8.2 also brings a really important security fix for the FREAK vulnerability that was disclosed last week. If given the choice between having to move the watch app to that folder of things you never use and remaining exposed to the possibility of having your secure traffic snooped, I choose the former.

Finance Apps: iBank vs MoneyWiz 2

Finance apps are one of the trickiest categories for the Mac and iOS. There is intense interest, as I discovered firsthand after posting a short piece on both MoneyWiz 2 and iBank’s new cloud sync solution. I have gotten quite a bit of feedback asking for a more detailed rundown on these two options. This piece is intended to be a rundown of the pros and cons of each, with some recommendations along the way. It isn’t possible to hit upon every single feature in any reasonable length article, so I am covering the main features and the ones I use the most. I am limiting myself to MoneyWiz 2 and iBank for this comparison. I do realize there are many other options out there. Your mileage will definitely vary, but for me these are the two best apps.

Finance_Comarison_Banner

For a little bit of a history, I stated out using Quicken many years ago. I would guess that most Mac users who have been on the platform more than 10 years probably started here as well. Quicken used to be the only real game in town. Yes, PC users had the late lamented Microsoft Money, but we really only had Intuit’s offering. Initially I loved Quicken. When I got my first smartphone[1], the Treo 650, I discovered Pocket Quicken. This was an amazing piece of software that allowed me to easily enter transactions on the go and sync them back to my computer. At the time this was a breakthrough in finance management. When the iPhone came out, I actually kept a Palm TX around solely to use this app, as the iPhone had no equivalent. Then two things happened.

The first was Intuit completely bungling the Mac product. While the Windows version continued to advance, the Mac edition sat for years on version 2007. Intuit chose not to rewrite the software for the new Intel Macs despite the fact that it was clear this was a requirement going forward. Their release of Quicken Essentials was met with scathing reviews, so much so that they had to go back and rework Quicken 2007 into an Intel compatible app, years after the fact.

The second, and more important, was the iPhone. Before the App Store even existed[2], IGG Software was the first to market with a finance app that worked on the new device. iBank already existed as a Mac app, but IGG found a rather clever way to get the iPhone in as well. This was accomplished using a web app – at the time the only “apps” allowed on the iPhone – that ran off the .Mac iDisk.[3] This was very basic. The phone simply existed as a vector to enter new transactions, with no management capability on its own. But it opened the door and made me an iBank user.

Fast forward a few years and I had grown discontent with iBank. As everyone else was moving toward cloud sync, IGG remained stubbornly stuck in the old days of the Mac being the sync center of the universe. A new player, MoneyWiz, had come to market. The killer feature here was true, reliable cloud sync that did not require any single device be the center of the action. At last the iPhone, iPad, and Mac were equals in money management. After a lot of debating, I abandoned iBank for MoneyWiz. MoneyWiz lacked some advanced features of iBank, but its reliability and simplicity made up for it.

And that brings us to today. MoneyWiz recently released a major update to version 2. iBank in the meantime refreshed the entire lineup, bringing a new Mac version, a refreshed iPad version, and a whole new iPhone app that was more full featured than the original entry-centric app. More important was the release, at long last, of true cloud sync for iBank. Initially I thought MoneyWiz would still reign supreme for me, but I decided to give the new iBank a try. There are things about each app I love, there are things about each app I do not. What follows is a breakdown of the major functions that both apps support, and a deeper look at where each succeeds and where each has a way to go. Continue reading Finance Apps: iBank vs MoneyWiz 2