AMITIAE - Sunday 17 January 2016

Cassandra: Weekend Review - Trying AppleTV in Thailand and Other Notes

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


In a moment of poor self-control I bought the Apple TV this weekend and installed it. It was quite easy to set up, although the poor availability of channels now replaced by apps still has many missing. Also missing is Siri: touted as one of the breakthroughs for the Apple TV, available on iPhones and iPads, it is greyed out for now: not in Thailand.

There has been a lot of online comment in recent months concerning the way women are treated. I was going to add online, but the treatment of women is generally poor. Few have a fair deal in the workplace and if a woman does a man's job, quite often, she is awarded a lower salary. There was much online a few months ago when one commentator was savaged - precisely because she was a woman - and in ways that would not happen to a male.

This weekend the problem appears again after an iPhone app named Stolen was reviewed. When it was pointed out that dealing in Twitter accounts, "like digital baseball cards" was creepy. Holly Brockwell contacted and interviewed Stolen CEO Siqi Chen who withdrew the app on what appear to be ethical grounds.

Hell hath no fury like an angry internet and she was not just criticised and abused verbally, but one low life (@getslavery) sent her an image of her photo with semen over it. Jessica Roy on The Cut (NYMag), outlines the situation and points out that "As of this writing, Twitter has yet to ban it." I checked Sunday afternoon and the account appears still to be on Twitter.

I contacted SueChing who is a Thai journalist presenting on VoiceTV, whom I have known for several years. I asked her, as a female journalist, did she have problems working, with harassment or anything else that is different from how male journalists are treated? Her reply suggested that she had not. She was intrigued and asked why. Reluctantly (shoot the messenger) I sent her a link to the article.

Apple TV in Thailand

An email from a reader in Hua Hin asked me about the Apple TV. The iBeat store there keeps telling him, "Coming soon, coming soon" which anyone who has lived in Thailand for a while will recognize as maybe, sometime, never. The Apple TV was unusually slow to arrive here and I suspect this was due to the processes of the authorities who need to check all new products: one of several reasons iPhones are never on sale here at the same time as elsewhere. I had seen it on the Apple pages for Thailand. Initially greyed-out, it had gone live quietly (no announcements).

iStudio The pricing of Apple TV here also has a number of people criticising Apple, but the Thai pages do include a comment on taxes, as well as VAT (7%). The previous version was also more expensive than the US device, so I guess the type of device falls into a special class and attracts a specific levy. Normally Apple prices are equivalent.

For a while, most were actually priced lower than those in the US, but a few months ago, Apple adjusted the prices worldwide to take into account currency fluctuations. I recalculated the prices, using the current exchange rate (then) and adding 7% to the US price. No taxes quoted there means the price looks lower: something that caught me out when I first arrived to live in the USA in 1984.

In my email reply to the reader in Hua Hin, I said I would go and look, so wandered into the iStudio in Siam Paragon on Saturday morning. It was not hard to find the Apple TV as there was a large TV on the left side of the shop, with a display of apps. I bought one.

I surprised the assistant by simply asking for the device and: he was used to answering questions and giving demos. At home I took my time before installing, and it was not as hard as I expected: Apple has done a lot of work here.

Apple TV

The new Apple TV is about the same size a the older one I have, but a lot thicker. The rear of the device has a different design in terms of ports, although the basics I wanted - Power, HDMI and Ethernet - were there. Optical Audio has gone, but there is a USB-C port. Instructions in the box are basic, but all in Thai.

I unplugged the old one and cleaned the HDMI cable: my condo suffers from dust (not that I don't clean) and the hidden areas collect much. I used the new power cable and turned it all on, switching the TV from the cable connection to the Apple TV connection.

Apple TV

Basics on the screen asked me to choose language and I had a quick learning session with the trackpad on the remote control: as well as the movement, there is a mechanical/physical click, just like a trackpad. There is also the addition of a volume control which is useful. Previously I had to use the remote control for the TV as well. The Apple Remote also turns the TV Off now. After the language I was asked to select the country and then whether I wanted Manual or Automatic installation.

I chose the auto-install and was asked to place the iPhone near the device, with Bluetooth on. I thought this was not working as it took a couple of minutes with nothing happening. The first phone had no SIM card, so I tried with the other, but still I was twiddling my thumbs for a while until finally a new device appeared in the list on the iPhone and then - a while longer - the TV screen changed.

I followed the instructions, entering the passwords as required, and for once an Apple device recognised that I had separate IDs for iCloud and the Store. I also allow data to be sent to Apple and developers for diagnostics. Many would not or would disagree with this. As I write about these things, I know how important information is, so agree to help. But that is just me.

Siri and Other Missing Features

The interface is the same, but has changed. The display icons have been updated, but screen positioning is similar to before; and there were initially far fewer. The service here has always been poor in terms of channel availability, but now there are none: at least not in the same way. I had movies, music, photos and the App Store. I also looked in Settings: there was an update available which I did later; but Siri was greyed out and Off. This was one of the major selling points that was pitched at Apple's outline of the device.

I checked with a user who bought one in from the USA and was told that Siri works on his, but his AppleID and account are in the USA. Another user told me, no dice. In a series of Twitter messages over lunchtime, this was confirmed again, with one message: "Siri works fine as long as your Apple ID is for a store in a country where it is supported."

iStudio, Pinklao

While that Tweet thread was being played out, I visited the newly reopened iStudio in Central Pinklao, where the refurbishment of the mall is almost complete. Somehow in the promenade areas and in many of the stores, they have managed to find more space (or at least the impression of more) and shopping is far less stressful. The iStudio is a prime example of this, although even at Noon (12:19 actually) there were far more people in there than the BananaIT and Samsung stores next door.

I spoke to a helper (pink tee-shirt) about Apple TV. They have the older AppleTV 3 connected, which is not much good. When I managed to pose my question about Siri she was unable to answer and did the right thing by telling me she would find someone who could. The lady (in green tee-shirt) who came to speak said that, indeed, this was a country-specific feature on the Apple TV. .

This is similar to other features that Apple touts, but only for chosen markets. An example is Spotlight which accesses online sources when a user enters a search term. That actually worked here in beta form a year or so ago, but since OS X was released to the public, all Spotlight does is search my hard disk. The way results are displayed, I invariably have to hit the "Show all in Finder. . ." item at the bottom of the Spotlight panel.

A more recent example is the iOS News app available to users in US, UK and Australia. When this was first announced, I sent details of the eXtensions site to Apple and the RSS feed was accepted. I have seen how this works. One way is to change the settings on an iOS device to USA and restart. That upsets other settings of course, including distances - from kilometres to miles - and weight: everyone is using Kgs nowadays.

I am impressed with the way the News app functions, and the team responsible for curation is doing a good job. Apart from the other news sources, my website has thousands of hits each day just because of News. But I am unable to use it.

Although I have Siri on the iPhones and iPads, this major feature is disallowed here. Foul.

I am annoyed about this type of thing because I write a column about Apple products and often have queries about services or problems. There needs to be a special soft tone code for when I try to defend what really is indefensible, so in emails I appear to be writing sotto voce.

On the other hand, local travel writer Richard Barrow (@RichardBarrow) tells me that while he is still on the fence about AppleTV, he had some luck with his iPhone 6 while on holiday in the UK recently. There was a known problem with lens focus and users were asked to have this fixed under warranty. He tried the iCare stores here and was told, "Coming soon, coming soon". When he went into an Apple Store in the UK, they had problems with the kit and so gave him a new iPhone. When I had the iPhone 6 blue screen last year, that was also replaced under warranty.

We do have Apple Music here, although the service is restricted due to copyright and the monthly fee is lower at $4.99. In India it is $2.99. I can't honestly say I have missed anything; and I make use of Apple Radio all the time, apart from at BTS Siam, when the DTAC signal (WiFi or 4G) always cuts. I am not impressed with Beats Radio itself, but prefer the Alternative and Classic stations - but that's just me.

Reports over the weekend about some services for iTunes Radio being cut because Apple is moving out its advertising team, will probably not affect users. Katie Roof on TechCrunch explains that this only affects users in the USA and Australia anyway and that radio will be available to subscribers of Apple Music. She adds, "The Beats 1 listening channels, with live DJs, will remain in operation." There was information on the changes on several other sites over the weekend.

While we are on listening, I am all for the rumoured move from the analog 3.5mm headphone jack to a new Lightning connection, if this happens for the next iPhone. I am not particularly worried about an iPhone as thin as an After Eight Mint, but think of how removal of some components could increase space for batteries. There is also a hint of improved digital output from Apple this year.

Other sources, including Amit Chowdhry (is he related to Trip Chowdhry?) on Forbes, states (must be related with that confidence) that Apple is developing wireless Earbuds For the iPhone 7 (we don't actually know is its name officially). If the MotoHint in the image he includes is what the Apple version may look like, I do not like this at all. We will see what happens in a few months time and all that speculation will be held to the real test.

In another iPhone-related item, Chance Miller reports (9to5 Mac) on an issue that has appeared on "the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus that causes the battery percentage indicator in the status bar not to update as the battery itself drains". I can't say I am having that problem at all: currently 63% and 81% respectively. In acknowledgement that this is real, Apple has issued a support document and is working on the issue, but for now, restarting the device should fix this, at least temporarily.

Apple TV

Apple TV - Impressions

Once I started to move about on the TV screen I saw that Movies was about the same as before and Music had a similar display to the iPhone with For You and Radio both available. I quickly made a "For You" selection and the rest of the evening was soothing (Nina Simone followed by Jussi Bjoerling). Photos? Not sure. Like Aperture photos on the previous version, this is so slow. Even at the end of the evening, spaces were shown, but no images: there are over 4,000 currently, so this may take time. But not one?

Snag Films Then the App Store. Like the display on the Mac, this has what Apple thinks we should be looking at, with some headings, like Entertainment or Education, but on the advice of a local user who bought the Apple TV a while back, I needed to make use of Search. Entering characters one by one as I did originally with the old Apple TV is slightly faster with the new remote control and its touch surface, but I will have to link that Remote app on the iPhone to speed things up.

I found a couple of TV services, like Al Jazeera (sad to see them close down in the US this week) and a Canadian film board app that has a lot of interesting content. I could not find Snag Films: I have this on the iOS devices and there is a massive collection of movies, including some classics (Plan 9 from Outer Space - Bela Lugosi's last movie [sort of]). Either some of the expected channels are not available here, I could not find their apps, or these are coming soon. Or not. I cannot say: early days for me.

There is still a lot to find out and while I was writing this, an item by Jeff Benjamin on iDownload revealed that there are hidden settings. Of course there are: it just needed someone to find the right menu and the secret number of clicks (4). When I posted this on Twitter, one of the local users replied right away - pleased and annoyed - there are VPN settings, but he had just bought an ASUS router for VPN.

It is the apps that are clearly going to be the way through for content providers, so I am hopeful that I will be able to find examples from CNBC, Bloomberg and other news organisations. I am still in two minds about Netflix as the poor content available here (under 10% of the US) has me wondering if even the small expense for that is worth it, with all the rest available on the True cable connection I subscribe to, the channels I already have, and the content I can display from the iOS devices and Mac, via AirPlay.

There are only 24 hours in a day.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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