Improvements Coming to iCloud Mail on The Web

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Apple Mail looks to be receiving some interesting new updates across Apple’s OS’s this Autumn, with new features like disposable email addresses, the ability to block various tracking methods and even custom domains. This seems like a nice little feature boost, so much so it had me doubting why anyone in the Apple ecosystem would opt for Fastmail over Apple Mail anymore.

One area currently lacking, as stated by Matt Birchler is the poor webapp experience on iCloud.com.

I’ve regularly kept an eye on the beta version of iCloud.com, so this reminded me to check it out again and see if the team at Apple were actually looking to improve the iCloud mail web experience. I was surprised to see, they are at least looking into it. If you navigate to the Email part of iCloud.com you will see a small, but noticable difference.

This is the old / current version of iCloud.com mail:

This current version is slow, ugly, and fairly unresponsive. Here’s what it looks like on the Beta site:

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This new look, whilst not vastly different is a lot closer to the macOS version of the Apple Mail client. From my brief experimentation, it also feels substantially faster. It’s far cleaner, and more consistent with the App experience as well.

The way you interact with the emails themselves are also grealty improved. Currently, if you want to reply to an email it will open a new pop-up window. Now, if you press reply you get a nice drop-down, as seen below:

When you reply, there’s a nice pop-over reply window, as you can see in my reply to some spam below:

All in all, whilst these are not huge changes, they go quite a way to making the web experience on iCloud Mail far better than it was before. At least, it’s now a usable experience.

I’ve spoken a lot about where I’m going to keep my email recently. I’m keen to move away from Gmail, and have been experimenting with Hey and Fastmail, but I’ve come to realise iCloud Mail gives me all I need for my fairly basic Email needs. Privacy, essentially unlimited storage, and a good email address (or a selection of addresses with an @mac and @me address). The fact that Apple are clearly have at least some kind of focus on their mail offering is reassuring and I’m feeling even better about my decision now.


The Issue With iMessage Backups

Spencer Dailey, on accessing iMessage backups:

Many iPhone owners have iMessages from years ago that they can’t access. For example, my wife and I simply want to read the first few messages that we exchanged in 2017, but we can’t. A friend of mine recently had to prove she had a relationship with someone for US immigration services, and she was able to quickly download an easily searchable file containing all messages without using a 3rd-party tool in her efforts to do so. But she doesn’t use iMessage, she uses another chat app.

At last check I had about 40GB of iMessage backups in my family iCloud storage. I’d never thought about actually accessing any of this data and finding old messages. I’ve searched my iMessage archive before, but have never thought about the issues I’d have trying to actually just view a chronological history of this stored data.

The fact I’ve never had a need to do it is, obviously, why it’s never come to mind but it has to be a crappy situation for those that do actually need it. I can imagine a common use-case for trying this in the first place is after a loved one passes away, which is not a time you’re going to want to be messing around with phones crashing and the like when you may just want to read some comforting words. Hopefully this is something Apple will address in the future.

One thing I thought may be a, slightly convoluted, option was to go to privacy.apple.com, first implemented to appease GDPR rules, and request an extract of your iMessage data. This, however, isn’t possible, as iMessages are not available as part of this export. I will assume that it’s because of encryption. There is an option, apparently, to view the archive database on a Mac, but that’s not going to be viable to many.

Long story short, I suppose, try not to retain anything too important to you in your iMessage backup, because it may be a painful experience to ever see it again!

I have a challenge for you. Think about someone you love or care about very much and write them an email, or letter. Something they can keep. Don’t be remembered by a set of iMessages stuck in an iCloud backup prison limbo.


Apple Made a Gaming Console And You Missed It

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For years now, people have questioned why Apple hasn’t gone all in on gaming, and created a games console. Games are a big part of the Apple App Store, yet the games don’t have a console to thrive on.

The thing is, Apple do have a gaming console. They have a load of them in fact, but no ones seemed to notice. Much as Apple has tried to ask ‘What’s a computer?’, people need to ask ‘What is a console?’


MacBook vs. iPad

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Almost every post I write at the moment seems to be prefaced with the statement ‘I’m an iPad Guy’ and it’s true. I love iPads, and my current 2018 12.9” iPad Pro has been my favourite Apple product I’ve ever owned. When Apple announced the amazing looking M1 iPad Pro a few weeks ago I instantly fell in love and knew I needed it … and then a few hours passed and my certainly started to wane a bit. I was debating with myself about ordering it a week later, but I went for ir despite my misgivings. Despite getting an order in quickly, it seemed that I wouldn’t be getting it until a week after launch, which gave me yet more time to possibly regret the rash decision. No one should be spending £1,200 on a luxury item you aren’t sure you really need or want.


What's In My Dock - macOS Edition

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I’ve been an iPad guy for a long time now, but I recently picked up an M1 Mac Mini because, shiny, and I’ve got to say I’ve been really impressed by it. It boots in seconds, and really flies, at least for the light work I do on it.

Chris Wilson recently shared a fun post featuring his favourite iPhone Apps of 2021. I’ve been enjoying using my Mac Mini so much that, when I saw this, I immediately thought about posting about that, rather than my beloved iPad1. I don’t think I’ve been using the Mac thoroughly enough to realy highight my favourites, or recommendations, so I thought I’d post a slighty different take by talking a little about the Mac apps I’ve grown fond enough of to put into my coverted dock space. By looking at a few of these apps, you will get a better feeling of what I use my Mac Mini for. I’ll likely follow up with an iOS / iPadOS version, thus specifically calling this out as a macOS Edition. So, without further ado, here is my current macOS dock.

macOS dock (Apologies, it doesn’t seem to come out in the highest of resolutions)


Is iCloud Mail Just Good Enough

I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time looking at email services recently. I really have no need for anything smart or clever when it comes to email, yet that’s not stopping me trawling through YouTube videos and written reviews of all that are available, yet again.

I’ve been a Gmail user since day 1, and I have an iCloud account which, again, I’ve had for years. I have one of the coveted @Mac.com addresses even. Both of these accounts contain a lot of history, and I’m unlikely to ever leave any of them, so the fact I’m insistent on still looking around is causing me no end of frustration.


The BEST Email Service

There’s been a lot of talk in my timeline recently of people considering another move of service, or app, for their email usage. Because of this, it got me started on my own journey around the available options, and I think I’ve landed on a pretty revolutionary setup.

There are so many apps and services at the moment, for the humble email. This particular method has taken me some time to find, to be honest, and I’ve been pretty blown away. There are a few very unique components of this mail service (and app) that I wanted to highlight to you.


Weird Reading Habits 📚

As I’m sitting here forcing myself to finish Ready Player Two, I’m already thinking of what to read next to clear my palette of this book. I don’t like to be negative about people’s work, and I can appreciate how much of a challenge it must be to write a follow up to such an original and popular book, but I am keen to get onto the next story.

I use Apple Books for most of my reading at the moment, and I like the feature it has to add books to your Want to read section. I’ve got quite an interesting mix of genres to read next including Recursion by Blake Crouch and I’m considering starting the Stormlight Archive. As I’ve been browsing through these books, however, my mind keeps wandering back to the best book series I’ve ever read, namely Stephen King’s magnum opus, The Dark Tower series and I lamented about how I wish I could read this again for the first time. It then struck me that I’d never read a book more than once.


🔗 iMessage and Outrage Theater

Matt Birchler: … anyone who is shocked by these “revelations” is either not paying attention or is pretending to be shocked. I agree with every word in Matt’s post here and, of the above statement, I’d definitely say it’s the latter option. There’s a strange aura around Apple and it’s fandom where people faint like a Victorian in too tight a bodice when they read a statement that reminds them that Apple are a business.


Solving a Problem That Doesn’t Exist

Isn’t it amazing what our brain decides is important sometimes? Instead of laying here at gone midnight getting some much needed sleep, I’m instead thinking about email. Or, more specifically, email services. Yes, I’ve hit peak exciting …

If my timeline is anything to go by over the last few days, I’m not alone. It sounds like quite a few people are considering dropping Hey and switching back to other alternatives. I’ve blown hot and cold on Hey since signing up almost a year ago and, seeing as my renewal is fast approaching, I’m back to considering if I get any benefits from using the system.


Change for Change Sake

A few months ago I switched from using Google as my default search engine to Bing. I’ve been surprised by the results, and have stuck with it ever since. While I value privacy and advocate for people to have more control over what data is collected from them and in turn used on them, this wasn’t the reason for the switch.

I also fairly recently switched my main email account from Gmail to HEY. Again, privacy was not really a factor here. Gmail worked really well for me and, to be honest, email gave me zero issues or anxiety before switching so Hey, for me, is not really filling any niche I needed filling. So why change it up? Well, I’ve come to realise that I just like change for change sake. I find myself changing from service to service, not for any real perceived value, but just to try something new. Even if that new thing is inferior to the thing I was already using.


What I’m Playing - iOS Edition

I’ve always been a big fan of games and gaming, ever since my family had an Atari ST back in the day. I built a gaming PC last summer and have been enjoying the Switch and Xbox Series X since launch. One area of gaming I’ve been dabbling in, to one extent or another, has been on iOS, however.

The iOS ecosystem is absolutely chocker block full of a huge swath of games, with varying degrees of quality. It’s often difficult to find the gems, or games that haven’t been completely crippled with in-app purchases (IAPs). Because I’ve been having a lot of fun gaming on my iOS / iPadOS devices recently I just wanted to share a few highlights of some particular current favourites. I emphasise current because this is not a ‘Top 10 iOS games’ list, simply some games that I’ve been enjoying a lot of recently. So without further waffle, on with my Now Playing list for iOS.


Make All Your Books an Audiobook For Free

I’ve written about this before, but given the amount of times I’ve moved my blog around, I think the post has now been lost. Some recent changes in the latest iOS 14.5 reminded me about it, however, so I thought it was worth revisiting.


🔗 Greg Morris - The value of your words

Greg, writing on gr36.com: They don’t deserve to die and fade away once the newsfeed scrolls over them. Tweets don’t last, that’s part of why they feel so easy to write out. It’s why you feel so comfortable. Twitter is “just heading to yoga” it’s not for passing on your ideas. Place some value on your words, please. I’ve been debating internally about whether to write this post or not.


Stadia’s Death is Greatly Exaggerated, Sort of!

It looks like Google Stadia is not long for this world.. I’d like to be wrong, it’s an interesting idea, but stories circulating like this end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. The seeds of doubt are sown, and then Google is left with an even greater uphill struggle to encourage people to still invest in the platform.


Blogging with Hey.com

Love it or loathe it, the team behind Hey have some very interesting ideas and, now that Hey for Work has shipped, they seem to be pushing out a lot of updates again. While this isn’t a shipping feature, as yet, this post from the co-founder Jason Fried sounds really intriguing:

One of the guiding principles of Hey, to me, seemed to be some simplicity and relaxing of email norms such as inbox zero and the like, so a blogging platform in an email service does, at first glance, seem a bit odd. It is, however, as I said a really interesting approach and idea and it’s something I’d definitely jump on trying if it does every become a shipping product. How well something like this fits inside of an email service aside, it does feel like it could remove quite a lot of friction from the writing / posting process.


Know When to Fold ‘em

I’ve had my blog for a few years now, and it started off fairly well. I posted reasonably regularly and was enjoying myself. As time passed, and COVID hit us all like a freight train, my interest has waned and I’ve not posted for over 6 months.

All things considered, I think I’ve personally coped quite well with the seismic shift this world event has thrust upon me, my family, and everyone. That being said, with a day job, being a teacher for my little girl, and having no outlets outside of the home for over a year, things eventually start to take their toll. I’m getting to the point where the four walls of my home are starting to feel like a prison and breaking point is creeping up to me, both mentally nd physically, like a praying mantis ready to strike. Right now, as with many people, getting through each day is an achievement in its own right.


Hey, It’s Not All Bad

I wrote a short post about some of my impressions of the Hey email service after a few months of use. While the post was relatively well received I felt like I may have been unduly negative about Hey, and wanted to add a little more detail to perhaps balance the discussion somewhat.

One of the risks with my concerted efforts to post more, with less planning, is that I tend to start a post with a clear goal of what I’m trying to put across, which ultimately gets watered down, or plain forgotten, as I ramble on. This post, so far, is the perfect example …

Back to the point, there are a handful of features that I think Hey really get right. Despite my reservations or negativity put across in the last post I am currently using Hey, to give it more of a go, because of some very key reasons, which I’ll highlight here.


Finding Podcasts That Spark Joy

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So many of the larger tech podcasts I listen to no longer ‘spark joy’ so I’m going to have a full clear out and start fresh I think.

I don’t remember the last time I heard a bit of information I care about on a podcast first, it’s generally regurgitation of facts I’ve already read about, or opinions that are repeated by the same small group across a multitude of places. You can usually guess exactly what (often negative) opinion these people will have without even hearing it.

Some more relaxing, and fun, podcasts I enjoy include:

  • FilmSack - FilmSack was one of the first podcasts I ever listened to. I’ve listened to every single episode since. The premise of the show is to find some generally bad / iconic / cult films to watch as a community and the hosts just talk about it. It’s a simple premise, but it’s fun, funny, and downright joy inducing.
  • Triforce - Lewis, Sips, and PyrionFlax from The YogsCast talking about nothing in particular. A relaxing and funny ride.
  • The Late Night Alternative With Iain Lee and Katherine Boyle - This is currently a daily Twitch show, having recently moved over from traditional radio. Great hosts with conversations ranging from the inane to mental health and drug addiction. A really unique take on the late night chat idea.
  • Simon’s Peculiar Portions - Just give it a listen.
  • Core - Another Frogpants show, this time focused on videos games across a wide spectrum.
  • PAL KEYS - I’ve been a Pal Keys / Daryl Baxter fan for some time now. Daryl always gets some fantastic guests from the world, and surrounding ecosystem of video games for a good chat. I’m yet to hear a bad show, or discover a bad guest.
  • Mea Culpa with Michael Cohen - While this is clearly a bit of a cash in on Michael Cohen’s part, it’s also a fascinating listen into some of the insanity within Trump’s inner circle. It’s only two episodes in and I’m already pretty hooked.

While I’ll still be dipping in and out of more tech focused podcasts, I think there’s a need to step back a bit and focus on content that’s adding more to my life than frustration and negativity. The tech podcasting market is a busy, some may say saturated, market and so many of them feel like shows are being put out just because they have to. A lot of the passion has gone and it’s a simple business transaction. I can understand that. We all have to live and have bills to pay, but with limits time in the day, especially while I’m not having to commute about 5 hours a day, shows like that don’t have a place in my queue. Hopefully I can find more, smaller, shows and creators to start investing my time and ad clicks on beyond the list above.


A Console War Like No Other

Consoles Image courtesy of Tom’s Guide

A few days ago, the PlayStation team took to YouTube to share a tear down video of the new PlayStation 5. This struck me as a bit odd but, after wathcing it, I can see why they did it now.

The PlayStation 5 was touted as having expandable storage, and an ability to position the device either vertically or hoizontally. This video not only shows you a, quite fascinating, look inside the hardware, but it details just how you would go about expanding the storage. The relevant part of the video can be seen below:

Yep, that’s right, the folks at Sony are showing customers how to crack their brand new PS5’s open and to expand the storage. A screwdriver’s even required to enable the ability to lay the PS5 on its side.

In true console wars fashion, the Xbox community were quick to troll their competition:

Every product designer must, at some point, experience a conflict between form and function. Love it or loathe it, PS5 is certainly a pretty unique design. Because of this, however, they’re expecting users to bust open their consoles to expand the storage. The Xbox, on the other hand, features a pretty dull looking monolithic tower design, however this affords it an ability to change it’s orientation simply and storage can be increased by just slotting in a new storage card. On the face of it, the two companies have taken the opposite approach to each other when it comes to design. Sony opted for form, Microsoft function.


Hey Google

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I’ve had quite an off and on relationship with Hey since I signed up for it just prior to its public release. It’s inarguably an interesting take on email, and email management. It’s well designed, is being iterated on fairly well and it’s pretty fun to use.

On the other hand, your emails are tied to a single service / app1, features I’m not very interested in are going to be a big focus for a while (Hey for Work) and, for me at least, I ended up managing my email more not less. There are a few reasons why this was the case. First of all, I’ve been nervous that I’ve been missing something coming into one of the three areas, so I ended up checking the Imbox, Feed and Paper Trail on every visit. Further more, if you use the service as you’re guided to, by leaving your email to flow, you will soon have an app filled with utter junk. This is all part of the design ethos, and I understand it, but over time valid emails in a search, for example, will be diluted by the tut you’ve left festering in the bowels of your Hey mailboxes.


Blog Like No One’s Watching

Post (Photo by Thought Catalogue)

Despite barely posting to my blog for months, I’m still weirdly precious about what I post there. I always feel like I should only post longer form posts or something that I’ve over thought.

People like @ljpuk and @mattbirchler produce excellent content, every single day, and clearly feel comfortable just going with the flow and posting about what’s on their minds. This isn’t to say their pieces aren’t well thought out, they clearly are, but I also like the fluid nature of their blogging style. Mixing up themes, format and in Matt’s case even medium.

My little blog isn’t going to get popular, and frankly I wouldn’t want the pressure of it being so. Because of this, it’s completely unnecessary for me to be so protective of the kind of content I share here. I’m pretty sure I’ve said this in the past, but I’m once again going to make a concerted effort to just post. I’m not going to over think it, I’m not going to convince myself no one is interested in reading it. This may well be the case, but I’m going to blog about everything and anything that interests me. If anyone ends up coming along for the ride, then all the better.

I’ll blog like no one’s watching, because chances are they won’t be. And that’s just fine.


There’s A Homescreen For That

Ever since we were first introduced to iOS 14 back in June, I was excited about the prospect of Widgets in iOS. Since even the early days of the beta I’ve been struggling to get a setup I like with them, however, and that was before so many excellent third party widgets were released.

My main issue hasn’t been that I don’t like the widgets, or that there aren’t enough of them, it’s simply an issue of trying to include too much at once. I’ve disliked the iOS homescreen for some years now, so I’ve embraced the new flexibility this affords, but perhaps to a fault. Much as I tend to do with the Apple Watch, I’ve tried to populate my homescreen with widgets (or Complications with regards to the Watch) that cover every situation.

With the Apple Watch, I now have the ability to create some Shortcuts which can automatically switch my face, and in turn the connected Complications at different times of the day. This has lead to a Bed / nighttime face, a Work face, and an Evening & Weekend face.


The Dent Podcast is back ... sort of?

A few months ago, in the peak of the Covid-19 lockdown, I built a gaming PC. This went surprisingly well and didn’t explode the first time I turned it on, which quite frankly was more than I could have hoped for given my lack of talent with these types of things.

The issue with this, however, is that it’s presence in my home office has completely killed any free time I have in the evenings and I now spend most of this time streaming badly. My blog has taken a serious hit, and my podcast has gone the way of the Dodo.

I want to blog more, but the lure of pure unadulterated relaxation playing some games badly has been too great. That’s why, today, I thought I’d try a little experiment. I’ve always found streaming anything difficult because I just didn’t know what to say for an hour or so. With no one watching, I had no chat to talk to either. When I lamented this fact on Twitter a few people suggested just talking about the things I used to do on my short podcast. I dismissed it at the time, but thought I’d now give it a try. So, to that end, meet version 0.1 of The Dent Podcast / VODcast:

As you can see, and hear from listening to it, this is most definitely a 0.1 release. The audio is poor, coming from my headset only, among other issues, but I thought I’d get it out there and see if there’s even any interest in something like this. So, please, I’d love to hear any thoughts you have. I’m under no illusion, however this will be few peoples cup of tea, but it’s a fun experiment to play around with.

This episode sees me chat about my thoughts on the upcoming Apple non-iPhone event tomorrow, 15th September.


Will We See A Surprise Next Week?

We’re now just a few days away from Apple’s traditional September event, but unlike many years before it, it sounds like we won’t see the release of the latest iPhone. Instead we’ll likely see a new iPad or two, along with the latest Apple Watch iteration, but is that it? I have an out there predication that we may be introduced to something that’s been an open secret for some time, namely Apple Glass.