The iOS 9 Review for Ministers

I'm privaledged enough to have a couple of iOS devices laying around that I don't use daily and also fortunate to be a registered Apple developer, so I've been able to use iOS 9 since early June. Most of the changes are relatively minor - this isn't an iOS 7-level redesign here, but several things have been reworked to allow you to get more done on your devices. So as a minister, here are some things that I care about and I think you will too.

New system font. This may seem like something you wouldn't care about, but once you see it, it will be hard to unsee it. The new font is named San Francisco and was custom-designed by Apple themselves. And it's marvelous. To me, it's much better for reading, and apps like Instapaper and Twitteriffic (where I spend most of my time reading) have been updated to support the new system font. Text is much more legible by the glance, and this font was pioneered by none other that the Apple Watch. So it was made for high-resolution but smaller screens.

Multi-tasking is much faster. If you're like me, you're flipping between different apps on your iPhone or iPad all the time. Instead of the one-card-at-a-time approach like in iOS 8, iOS 9 features a stacked card layout to the left. Flipping between apps and quitting them is much faster.

Safari View Controller. SVC is a term used by developers to describe a new way that iOS handles web views, i.e. when you click on a link inside of another app. Say you're browsing your Twitter feed in the Twitter app and you click on a link that brings it up in the in-app browser, which means you don't leave the app you're using to view web content. Now apps can use Safari View Controller, which means everything is based on (Webkit) Safari for web browsing. Using SVC in Twitteriffic, which adapted SVC about a month ago in their app, has significantly sped up load times for websites.

Ad blockers. Speaking of Safari, iOS now allows you to install ad blocking apps. Just today, Overcast and Instapaper developer Marco Arment released his ad blocker called Peace, which connects to Safari (enabled after you buy the app in Settings > Safari > Content Blockers) and blocks almost all incoming ads and tracking using Ghostery as a backend. With 300 million+ iOS devices out there, ad blocking is going to become a big deal here in the near future.

Great iPad-only productivity improvements. While some features are only available on newer iPads (iPad Air 2, iPad Pro, and iPad Mini 4), the productivity improvments are awesome. For example, I'm writing this very post on my iPad Air 2 using Slideover to check and research certain websites as I write, while never leaving Editorial, my main writing app. Slideover lets you bring in certain apps that support it from the right side of your screen. Split View lets you run two apps side by side. This is a powerful feature and only available on the aforementioned models, but it's great to work side-by-side in the new Notes app and copy text directly from Safari into my document. A great tool for preachers writing sermons for sure. There's also picture-in-picture now - whatever video app supports it, you can have a video in a box overlaying your screen in virtually any app while you're surfing the web or writing a post.

Search is getting better and better. Swipe to the left on any iOS 9 device and you'll get a nice search screen. This goes deep too - apps can enable this quick search to search within their apps as well. For example, I use Scanbot to make scans of important documents and file them away in Dropbox. Now Scanbot will let me search with its documents with the quick search. One swipe, type, and I'm there. It's very nice and very quick.

Battery life and low power mode. If you're like me, you're always running on empty with your iOS device battery. iOS will have improvements with battery life and Apple has reported that newer devices may see 1-2 hours more life with iOS 9 because "there's switches that we can switch that you don't even know about." One of the benefits of making the software and hardware, I guess. One other major improvemnet is Low Power Mode. Every time your device gets below 20%, it will ask you if you'd like to go into low power mode. Apple has implemented this really intelligently. Things like not lighting the screen up for a notification if the phone knows its laying face-down on a table or in your pocket can save you a few precious minutes of battery life.

New Notes app. Last but not least is the new Notes app. I never had a use for Notes - the syncing was always unreliable and it didn't have enough formatting featuyres for me - but that's all changed. Notes can now have bulleted lists, photos, sketchings, as well as formatted text. The syncing engine is now built on Cloudkit, so most of the syncing problems are history. Apple says that 80% of users use the Notes app, which isn't very surprisng to me. So if you're a Notes user, you're in for a treat. They've also redesigned the Mac app as well on El Capitan, so when that releases on September 30, you can use it with your Mac as well.

iOS 9 won't appear to be a huge change on the surface to the average user, but sublte improvements in infastructure and stability will make this a great iOS release. Coming from using the betas for two months and now the actual 9.0 release, I can say that the update process was painless and easy and the OS seems incredibly stable.

If Apple continues this trend with toning down the number of major feature updates and including some great maintenince updates like these, I think iOS is on a very good track.

How Quickly We Forget »

A luxury once tried becomes a neccessity.

In the case of the mobile web and its status in 2015, we have forgotten what it was like just a decade ago.

In 2005, Windows Mobile, Motorola and Blackberry ruled the mobile browsing world with horrible WAP (Web Access Protocol) browsers, or what they liked to call browsers. The web experience, for the most part, was terrible and confusing. Which is why no one used it.

So this week when The Verge published their article attesting to how bad the mobile web is, I had to take a look back.

How quickly we forget.

It all changed with the iPhone. Suddenly you could view entire websites on Safari, and pinch to zoom on those sites to see in greater detail. Then, years later, circa 2012-ish, the mobile web started to take form. No longer did you have to build different websites for mobile and the desktop (even though, to this day, many websites still do just that), but you could build once and deploy everywhere. Squarespace is a great example of this - the very website you're reading right now was built on Squarespace, and I didn't have to write one bit of code for my mobile website, which always looks fantastic.

So for a blogger on a prominent internet tech website to write an article criticizing the mobile web when their very own site is part of the problem greatly irritates me.

The problem is not the mobile web. The problem is monetizing the mobile web. The Verge loads no less than twenty ads, trackers, and services that no doubt make them money for every page view but slow down the web experience on mobile terribly. iMore dealt with this criticisim a week or two ago.

And all this comes into the discussion because of one thing: Safari Content Blockers.

You see, in iOS 9, Apple is providing users a way to block all those ads and trackers (which take the form of various scripts in the webpages that you don't see), and that's not making some many websites who depend on these trackers for revenue very happy. I couldn't put it better than Marco Arment:

I’m interested in running a content blocker not because I don’t want to see ads, but because I feel the need to fight back against being opted in, without my knowledge or consent, to third-party collecting, tracking, and selling of my personal data just by following a link.

And if such blocking becomes a big problem for publishers, it’s up to them to switch to ad delivery methods without these privacy invasions.

And there's your big concern. Have you ever been browsing websites and then see ads on Facebook or Amazon for something you looked at recently? That's an invasion of your internet privacy. While some websites argue that just you visiting their site allows them to legally track you and catalog your data, that doesn't mean it's right.

Websites and the companies that monetize them are going to have to get better at the experience and better at not invading your internet privacy. Up until this point, it hasn't been an issue because people have largely ignored it.

The Sermon Podcasting Toolbox

Since this week marks 10 years of podcasting on the iTunes Store, I thought it was great to share this from ChurchMag:

According to Edison Research, 15% of Americans (39 million people) listen to podcasts at least monthly, with 13 million people tuning in to podcasts on any given day.

Chances are good that your church members are subscribing to, downloading, and listening to podcasts throughout the week. Are they listening to your message?

Some great tips for ministry podcasting, including hardware, software, where to host, and how to distribute. If your congregation isn't podcasting, they should be. Take a look at the full article over at ChurchMag.

Where No Man Has Gone Before

I'm a space nut. For the first time in human history, we'll be visiting Pluto tomorrow. And you can watch. This from Business Insider:

If everything goes according to plan, a NASA spacecraft, called New Horizons, will fly by Pluto at 7:49 am ET. New Horizons is the first spacecraft in history to ever visit Pluto, and it's been a long time coming after 9 years in space. NASA will stream live countdown coverage of the event starting at 7:30 am, followed by a briefing on the mission from 8:00 to 9:00 am ET.

I'll be watching.

12 Things You Should Know About the Apple Watch

Having just gotten an Apple Watch, I disagree with about 75% of this article, especially this:

Don’t buy the Apple Watch (yet) unless you are a developer/designer who needs to develop for it. I’ve tasked myself to fully integrate the Apple Watch into my every day in order to understand it’s full potential. To my surprise, the process of doing so felt a little bit like a burden since I had to constantly remind myself to actually USE it in order to form my opinion.

Read Tobias van Schneider's entire article over at Medium.

5 Things You Need to Know About Bible Translations

Excellent point about Bible translations that I'd never thought about from Wes McAdams:

Because our English language is constantly changing, we will ALWAYS need new translations that help the text to maintain the correct meaning in the current vernacular. One hundred years from now, if the Lord hasn’t come back, we will need new translations because the English language will have changed.

Read the entire post over at Radically Christian.

Markdown Cheat Sheet

If you've listened to Ministry Bits for any amount of time and you have read anything about how I like to handle text, you'll know that I love to write in Markdown. And Beegit has an excellent little cheat sheet I saw today for help in writing simpler and better.

Markdown is a simple way of styling plain text. So instead of having a .txt file, you will have a .md file that can be styled yet still be opened with any app, virtually forever. The short story is that I write in plain text/markdown because I can open the same files ten years from now. All the things I've written in MS Word in high school are completely inaccessible now, and I don't like that.

Markdwon is easy. For example, putting a single hashtag (#) before a heading makes it an H1 heading, the biggest heading. Putting two hashtags makes it an H2, a slightly smaller heading that can be used as a subheading. One asterisk indicates italics while two asterisks tells you it's bold.

Go ahead and check out Beegit's Markdown Cheat Sheet and fire up your favorite text editor (I love Brackets for Mac) and get started with Markdown today. Write simpler, write better.

The Headphone Enigma

Recently I've been on a quest for the perfect headphones. I've been traveling a little bit more in the last year and didn't want to spring $300+ for a stereo system in my car, and I've realized that I could just headphones and be just fine and be able to use them in my office as well. As a minister, I'm sure that some of you would like to know my thoughts and opinions on this as you may be in the market for some new headphones as well. My results were...surpising.

I wanted wireless headphones, ones that connected to my iPhone (and othe devices) via Bluetooth. And as it turns out, wireless headphones aren't cheap.

For the longest time, I've used the Apple earbuds as my primary way of listening to my music and podcasts. I don't need lots of bass, but I do sometimes listen to heavy bass music like chiptune and techno music. 80% of the time though, I'm listening to spoken-word podcasts and sermons. So my needs aren't too dynamic.

The first pair I tried was the Beats Powerbeats 2, the wireless version. I found the quality of the hardware to be outstanding. The over-the-ear pieces give you a firm anchor for your earbuds - once set correctly, they're not going anywhere. However, I found wearing sunglasses painful when worn long-term. Because of the over-the-ear design, sunglasses or even regular glasses were a problem. You can mold and move the earpeices around, but it still creates a bump that you can't get over with glasses. As someone who wears sunglasses and headphones while driving, I could tell quickly that these weren't going to work for me.

The sound quality on the Powerbeats 2 was pretty great - on par with my standard Apple Earpods to which I have set the sound quality bar (more on that in a bit). Bass was deep, treble was just as it should be. I could switch seamlessly from a spoken-word podcast to music with deep bass.

The next headphones I tried were the wireless Jaybird Bluebuds X. These had come reccomended by many sources, namely my brother-in-law who is much more experienced with headphones than I am, and MKBHD on Youtube, whom I trust with virtually any product reccommendation. So I had high hopes for these earbuds.

I was dissappointed, though. They were uncomfortable and did not have the greatest sound. Music sounded good but a bit tinny. Podcast voices weren't as rich as they should have sounded. The system with which Jaybird wants you to wear the headphones was uncomfortable in that there was a plastic/silicone piece that was supposed to fit inside your ear. Mine didn't. At least not very well. Granted, I've never had good luck with earpieces of any type, so it may just be me. But I could have gotten used to that if the sound was outstanding - which it wasn't.

My last pair of headphones I tried were the Bose QuietComfort 20i's, which I actually got by happy accident. Long story short, I've made a new tech friend here at Graymere who bought me a set. Wonderful, I know. Bless him.

The QC20i's aren't wireless, but at this point I was willing to try anything, especially for a free set of headphones. I found that out of the whole bunch, the Bose earbuds were defintely the most comfortable. No over-the-earpiece and the inner silicone piece was much more comfortable than that of the Jaybirds Bluebuds X.

The best part about the Bose earbuds was the noise cancelling. Although the tiny little block that's attached to the base of the connecting jack is a bit cumbersome, it allows you to switch on the powered headphones and then go to another level with noise cancelling, which is superb. Can't wait to use this on a plane when I head to Texas in August and mowing my yard with it.

The sound quality, as stated before is pretty great. Podcast voices sound full and rich and music is full with just enough treble to make other sounds pop. I'll be keeping these for two reasons: 1) Because they're good for certain purposes, but not all, and 2) they were a gift from a friend.

So what's my conclusion? What headphones do I reccommend?

I'll stick with my Apple Earpods. Here's why.

I don't know if my ears are just used to the sound or what, but they are really the best headphones out there, not just for the iPhone, but for any listening on any device. They are comfortable (sometimes I forget they're in my ears), light, and most importantly, they produce great sound. I'm still perplexed that Apple ships these standard headphones and they are the best out of all the headphones I've tried. They're wired, which makes me want to try these out just for kicks, but they really are, in my opinion, the best earbuds you can buy right now. And they're only $30 - if you didn't already have a set lying around that came with your iDevice.

So like it or not, sometimes the cheapest is the best. After all the reading and researching and trying out, I found that the best headphones were the ones I already had.