Learn About GPS Versus Bluetooth Tracking Devices | TrackR Bravo Review

What Are GPS or Bluetooth Trackers & Who Needs One?

TrackR on Keys

TrackR on Keys

Answering the 2nd part of that question is much easier than the first..

so I’ll address that first.

Who Needs a Bluetooth Tracking Device?

Anyone who frequently misplaces objects that they rely upon could benefit from attaching a tracking device to those objects. It would help them to find it the next time it’s misplaced. Someone who worries about leaving something behind…their purse, an umbrella, or forgetting their wallet or cellphone at home…could benefit from using the kind of tracker that alerts you when you’re too far away from an object you’ve connected to the tracker. People with pets that stray can also use these devices to prevent them from straying too far.

TrackR Bravo protecting a bike

TrackR Bravo protecting a bike

What Exactly are Bluetooth or GPS Trackers?

The term GPS tracker is primarily used today to describe a tracking device with built in bluetooth technology that allows it to pair to a cell phone or a mobile device for the purpose of keeping track of the prized possessions they fear they may lose. These comprise a whole genre of gadgets that’s been on the market for roughly the past 2-4 years.

But use of the GPS label is actually erroneous because while these devices do provide assistance in locating possessions they don’t accomplish that using GPS technology. While true GPS trackers do exist they comprise a smaller market. Almost every device that you’ll encounter in 2017 that’s referred to as a GPS tracker, in fact really isn’t…these are really bluetooth trackers pure and simple.

One way to differentiate between the two is price. Bluetooth trackers range in price from around $8-35 whereas trackers which use true GPS technology tend to run over $50.

What is TrackR?

TrackR is the main product line of one brand of bluetooth tracking device. I recently acquired several TrackR BravosTrackR’s flagship model is the Bravo. My acquisition has introduced me to this whole new world of bluetooth tracking devices.

You might think that these newer gadgets are simply key locators…because many of them resemble products sold specifically for that purpose. However, these newer devices differ from their older predecessors…like the key locators…in that they include bluetooth communications or BLE for short. Therefore most of these tracking devices also have companion apps which you use to manage and track your things with.

Below is a screenshot for Tile’s product line…one of the most popular brands currently.
Overview of Tile's Product Line

Overview of Tile’s Product Line

Some other popular brands of tracking devices that directly compete against the TrackR brand includes Tile, which appears to be hands down the best one that’s currently available, as well as Chipolo, Pixie, Mynt, Voilà, Tintag, iBeacon, Pebblebee Honey, Protag Duet, XY FindIt, iTag’e Nut Mini, Great Vibez, and Pally Smart Finder.

Since the one that I own is a TrackR brand device…more specifically it’s a 2nd Generation TrackR Bravo…that’s the one I’ll explain how to setup and begin using.

TrackR Bravo Gen 1

TrackR Bravo Gen 1

How I Discovered TrackR

I was engaged in my daily review of current tech news on Twitter when I happened upon an info-ad for an intriguing device called TrackR. This was really intriguing for me because I misplace far too many things…something I blame on my severe ADHD. More intriguing still was the beautiful design of the Bravo.  But the clincher for me was the quantity discounts that were offered for buying multiple Bravos. I can’t pass up an amazing deal and I really thought everyone in my family needed these!

Although these trackers belong to a whole new genre of devices there's still a lot of people using them as key finders.

Although these trackers belong to a whole new genre of devices there’s still a lot of people using them as key finders.

I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d be using them for yet…but I definitely knew that I needed something like this!

Here’s a great introduction to the TrackR brand of bluetooth trackers.

TrackR’s Introduction to Their Brand & It’s Founders

TrackR's founders are Chris & Christian

TrackR’s founders are Chris & Christian

What is TrackR Bravo?

TrackR Bravo, made be the company TrackR is a $28 device (on Amazon) that you attach to items that you might lose. It’s TrackR’s bread and butter product, although they’ve expanded their product line to include:

  • TrackR Wallet (it fits inside your wallet)
  • TrackR Pixel (similar but smaller and with lights)
  • TrackR Atlas (a whole house whole family solution) too.

TrackR Atlas and Pixel are currently only available for pre-order. All TrackR’s devices help to prevent loss in 2 main scenarios. Indoors (or at home) and outdoors (or out in the world at large.)

The TrackR device itself connects using bluetooth to your cellphone via the TrackR app. After pairing it with your phone, you can attach the little TrackR device to things that you’re worried about losing with the enclosed double-sided sticker or using this little ring that’s sort of like a key ring that’s also included, or even just by placing the tracking device inside of something like a wallet or a purse. Then you use your phone and the app to locate the missing item if it does indeed go missing.

These are the setup screens for adding a new TrackR

These are the setup screens for adding a new TrackR

Indoor Use | How Well Does TrackR Bravo Work?

When you attach TrackR to something you misplace frequently, the next time that happens you can locate it by walking around your house with the app open on your phone or tablet. As you walk the app tells you if you’re getting closer or if you’re moving farther away from it. When you’re pretty close to it…say within about 40 feet, you can have the TrackR app initiate the little tracking device to play an audible alert sound that helps you to better pinpoint its location.

You can even use TrackR on your pet!

You can even use TrackR on your pet!

It took me a few months to figure out what I should use as my test case for the TrackR Bravo. At first I couldn’t think of anything I really needed it for despite my certainty that I needed 8 of them.

But now it’s springtime and as I was hauling out all our house fans I remembered one thing that I’m constantly losing are the remote controls to our house fans…because I only buy fans that come with remote controls! For some unknown reason fan remote controls are always disappearing from our house. Maybe it’s because the remotes themselves are usually tiny and they can easily slip into couch cushions, onto the floor, or end up in someone’s pocket.

But that will no longer be the case at my house!!!

Because from now on every remote that we tend to misplace will have a TrackR attached to it. When you add a new TrackR device you name it, so they are easy to tell apart.

Using it for our fan’s remote controls is a perfect use for it, imo. That’s because of the inherent limitations of bluetooth. Being a near field communication means that you need to be pretty close to something in order for it to communicate. Usually the missing remote is in the same room as the fan. But they are often so tiny that they are easily overlooked. It was this exact scenario that gave me the idea to test out TrackR for this purpose. Once I located a missing remote control I’d been searching for, I attached a Bravo TrackR to it using the included double stick tape.

4 TrackR Bravo's I'm Sending to My Sons

4 TrackR Bravo’s I’m Sending to My Sons

When I had the remote prepared I conducted my test. I left the room and walked pretty far away, and then opened the app and made my way back towards the room the remote was in. I was halfway down a long hallway leading to the room when the TrackR showed on my iPhone. I’d say I was about 35 feet away from it…which frankly didn’t seem very far to me!

But that brings up another inherent limitation of bluetooth…or really of the radio signals bluetooth relies upon. Radio waves have difficulty penetrating thick exterior walls, and it just so happens that the wall between me and the remote in question was formerly an exterior wall. In fact, because we’ve added onto our house several times and we have quite a few situations like that.

So in the end, while I think my TrackR Bravos will function well for remote controls in our home…it may not work as well for other kinds of potentially misplaced items. I’ll need to do some more testing to see if these kinds of devices will work out well in our house on a larger scale.

Key features for TrackR Bravo

Key features for TrackR Bravo

Outdoor Use | 2 Intriguing Aspects

I’ve just explained how TrackR Bravo works indoors…but it works outdoors too and it can perform well even at very great distances. You might be wondering how that’s possble since bluetooth is near field communications which only functions at maximum distances of about 100 feet.

It does so using a newer innovation they call ‘crowd sourcing.’ Part of what I found intriguing was that these different brands of devices utilize a crowd sourced feature which helps to locate items that have really been lost. But here too there are some inherent limitations with that technology which impacts all of the brands equally.

Crowd Sourced Locating Explanation

The way the crowd sourced feature works is this. If I have a TrackR connected to any item and I do happen to misplace it, as long as the battery in the TrackR still has juice, if my TrackR encounters other people’s TrackR’s or their app-enabled cell phones, their sheer presence will bring about a logging event and my app will ultimately be updated showing an approximate location for the missing item. As a general rule, although most device makers claim their batteries last for a year’s time…reading reviews reveals that 4 months appears to be the true sweet spot for most of them.

Here are a few more things to know about these crowd sourcing features aside from the fact that I think overall it’s a really cool concept!

In discussing other brands I talk more about below, this crowd sourced functionality is one key aspect which helps to differentiate between the lo-tech but modern-day key finders and the newer personal tracking devices. When I include crowd sourcing as a feature throughout this post, I’m referring to a user community based service in which all user devices crowd-assist to locate any lost item connected to a tracker. Also, the ultimate success of this concept is highly dependent upon the popularity of the brand.

So in the case of my TrackR, it’s ability to find a lost device will be dependent upon where the item is lost and how many other people might be around it who are also using TrackR brand tracking devices. While the chances for success are better in larger metropolitan areas than anywhere else primarily because there will be more people around using TrackR’s…unfortunately, you can’t always choose where you’ll lose something!

TrackR has a webpage that you can use to see how many devices may be located in your area. When considering buying different brands of these devices, the chances are greatly improved that this crowd sourced feature will be useful to you, when you get a tracking device from a company that’s doing really well both the industry as a whole, and also in your locale…which it appears TrackR is for me.

TrackR's webpage for searching your locale for number of devices

TrackR’s webpage for searching your locale for number of devices

Testing Out the Crowd Sourced Feature

In order to test out the crowd sourced functionality I ended up creating a 2nd account for the 2nd TrackR I attached to a fan remote. Truth be told I hadn’t thought of this initially but discovered it after reading a user review of TrackR’s ios app that stated you’re not allowed to use symbols in your account password for the app. But the app doesn’t warn you of this and accepts the password. So when I went to connect with the 2nd TrackR to my account I wasn’t able to even connect to my account again. I was forced to set up the second account. This is a huge problem for TrackR and one they need to fix…but I’m sure I’ll get it straightened out when I bother to try. In the meantime it gave me the perfect opportunity to check out the crowd sourcing feature.

Here's the notification I received from one TrackR

Here’s the notification I received from one TrackR

I’m pleased to say that crowd sourcing worked beautifully! Within an hour of setting up the second TrackR I got a notification from TrackR that one of my TrackR’s had been located via crowd sourcing. That was actually me…but now I know the crowd sourced location feature actually works!

How Popular Are TrackR’s Currently?

Right now, from all the research I’ve conducted it appears to me that there are 2 brands that really stand out in this category…Tile and TrackR.

Tile holds the distinction of garnering the highest praise in both written and YouTube reviews. Next in line comes TrackR…but my perception could be faulty. I say this for 2 reasons. First, it’s clear that right now TrackR is having difficulty fixing its apps. The problems appear to be universal or across all apps.

TrackR’s biggest problem right now?

Their apps don’t actually locate anything accurately…which is a HUGE problem for a product that’s sole purpose in life is to find things!

2nd, while there are more reviews written and videos shot by far for both Tile and TrackR…both also appear to have a lot of dissatisfied customers!

One good way I discovered to see how happy user’s are with their brand is by reading their companion app reviews.

Reviews for all 3 of TrackR's Apps Currently

Reviews for all 3 of TrackR’s Apps Currently

Tile reviews are either great or really bad

Tile reviews are either great or really bad

TrackR’s Tablet App Could Be a Hidden Gem

While refreshing my memory of all the TrackR’s features on their website I discovered something that I don’t think I realized before…there’s a separate free TrackR app for ios devices, that’s above and beyond the main TrackR app that you’d install to manage a new TrackR device. Below is a link to what I read.

Link to Trackr’s Tablet app website

I may have seen this before and discounted it, thinking ‘but I use Apple’s ‘Find My Phoneapp already…how is this different?’ There’s really only one small difference…but I now realize that it could make a huge difference for someone.

Why TrackR’s Tablet App May Be Amazing!

The difference is that you don’t need an internet connection to find your lost device using the TrackR app for ios. So, unlike the ‘Find Your Phone‘ app, if your device goes offline, it can still be tracked and located.

How do I know this could make a huge difference? Because a friend of a friend had his iPhone stolen while using mass transportation in Mexico last weekend. His brand new, very expensive iPhone 7 was taken along with several wallets of friends and some other things. Most of the items were retrieved because some Mexican cops arrived on the scene immediately and shook down the perps…can you tell I watch too many cop shows? But the iPhone wasn’t recovered. He wiped his data from it once he had an internet connection…but he couldn’t use ‘Find My iPhone‘ at the exact moment of the theft because he had no other internet capable ios device on hand.

If he’d had the TrackR app installed on a friend’s device he might have been able to discover exactly who had his phone while the arrest was occurring by having the friend who’d also installed the app initiating the phone’s ringer until it was located. Another reason the app may be so great is because you can have up to 10 other ios devices paired to also be tracking your device…in this case your iPhone. If you’re using the Android app you can pair up to 3 devices. Although it’s unclear to me whether or not you could pair the ios app to an Android phone…I tend to think that’s possible from everything I’ve read so far.

If I’m correct, there’s a whole wealth of free utility there that would be wonderful for young adults who are backpacking through Europe or enjoying their Spring Break’s in Florida.

So the ios app offers some interesting utility. Of course if the device’s battery is dead you can’t use the ‘phone ringing’ alternative…although you could still track it as far as it’s last known location.

TrackR's ios Tablet App's Features

TrackR’s ios Tablet App’s Features

Some of the Best Bluetooth Tracking Devices on the Market Today (May 2017)

The reason I stated in the title ‘today‘ is because this is a rapidly changing marketplace that appears to be beyond saturated…which is really odd since very few people actually know about or use these devices that I know of! But there are tons of them and the competition is fierce! Each model is continually updating their technology to outperform their perceived competitors…which is good for us, the end user. But that reality doesn’t make picking one of these devices out to actually buy a very easy endeavor!

I did research things a bit before I got my 8 TrackR’s…but that was a few months ago, and like I said, this marketplace is a moving target! If I were buying one of these today, I’d be inclined to get iTag’s Nut Mini at $14.95 or a 4 pack of them for $40.

Why? Because the Nut Mini does everything that the TrackR Bravo does at half the price and 3/4’s of the size. In reading Amazon reviews of it, one person said it was so small they put it on a mini drone. I happen to have a mini drone too…and they are really tiny! I doubt that I could hang my TrackR Bravo from it. Another person said they put it on their Roomba. I thought that was funny because I have an older model Roomba too. Mine never got lost because it never worked all that well…but I liked the review and it made me think of a few more ways someone could use these devices.

Below are just a few of what I think are currently the best bluetooth GPS tracking devices…but remember…if you’re reading this even a few months after May 2017…these may not be the best ones anymore.

Number 1

First is the Tile because it’s universally ranked as the best by virtually everyone who matters. Maybe that’s because Tile was the company first to market with this kind of device?

Tile Mate seems to be the most popular model of Tile currently priced at $24.99 for 1 unit. I cover some of Tile’s feature information in the screenshot below and more in my comparison between Tile and TrackR immediately following this section.

The new Tile Mate is 25% smaller than its predecessor

The new Tile Mate is 25% smaller than its predecessor

Number 2

I have to include TrackR Bravo…because it’s what I have and it’s the whole reason I even wrote this article. So far the 3 Bravo’s I’m using have been fine although other than checking to see where they are occasionally I’ve not done too much with them. One problem I did have was that I had to setup a 2nd user account I think because I used symbols in my password for the 1st.

TrackR Bravo Gen 2 is mine and one purchased alone is $26.67 at Amazon

An 8 pack of Bravo’s is where you save a lot and that’s what I got. An 8 pack at Amazon is currently $150, which comes out to $18.50 per. But I got mine directly from TrackR’s website. When I got mine it was during some kind of promotion and they had 8 for $116 or $14.50 each…so that’s what I paid…and shipping was free. It seems like they always have some kind of promotion going on.

For example, I received this Share URL from TrackR after I set up my account. If it’s used by someone else, the person using it gets 1 free TrackR with their purchase of one and I then also get one free too!

Another example is at their website currently if you buy 10, it’s $180 with free shipping so it’s $18 per unit, or just a little better than the per device price of their current Amazon offering.

Links to TrackR’s Apps:

Link to TrackR ios App for Bravo

Link to Android App

Link to TrackR’s Android Bluetooth Headset Finding App

Link to TrackR’s Tablet App for ios for Finding iPads & iPhones

Number 3

As I discussed above it I was going to be starting afresh with these I think I’d be getting iTags Nut Mini’s.

A single Nut Mini is currently $14.99 at Amazon.

A 4 pack of Nut Mini’s is $40

One reason I really like the Nut Mini is because they are cute…I think because if their tiny size. The photo below doesn’t really give you an idea of it’s size however. But my main reason is they appear to offer all of the same features as the more expensive TrackR & Tile Mate. Here’s a pretty decent video review of the Nut Mini.

Despite their size the Nut Mini's do include crowd sourcing

Despite their size the Nut Mini’s do include crowd sourcing

Number 4

This next one…the Great Vibez Smart Finder Bluetooth Tracking Device at $19.99 I was impressed with because so many people switched to it from Tile.

Great Vibez Smart Finder Bluetooth Tracking Device $19.99

Buy 2 Get 10% Off so $18

This is what the Great Vibez looks like

This is what the Great Vibez looks like

I discovered Great Vibez while reading ios apps reviews for apps related to the TrackR app. It was really the reviews for the Great Vibez that were so compelling for me. Not just the product reviews alone, but the fact that so many of them were from former Tile users. Also their app has great reviews.

The app for Great Vibez

The app for Great Vibez

All the great Amazon Reviews for the Great Vibez

All the great Amazon Reviews for the Great Vibez

Comparing the Tile and TrackR Brand Tracking Devices

Because Tile and TrackR are the number one and two brands on the market currently I’d be remiss in not discussing the differences between the two. Both brands have similarly priced trackers and both brands have a product lineup that includes several different trackers for different purposes. For example, they both offer a flat credit card sized tracking device that’s designed to either go inside a wallet or to be attached to a laptop.

Both offer batteries in their devices that they claim last for about a year. But there is one significant difference between their batteries. The Tile battery is a sealed battery, therefore when the battery dies your device no longer functions. You need to get an entirely new tracking device from Tile. They do offer a ReTile program however which provides discounted models to their existing customers. They also offer a warranty on their devices and batteries, so that if your battery dies before a year’s time has elapsed they will replace your Tile tracker for free. The battery in the TrackR device on the other hand is user replaceable so even if it doesn’t last for a year, it’s somewhat superfluous because the battery costs about a dollar.

There is one other significant difference with the two batteries however that is the Tile’s battery is rated specifically as waterproof whereas TrackR’s battery they say is water resistant but they don’t provide an actual specification for that. They do however offer for sale a little waterproof silicone sleeve that you can buy an add on to your TrackR.

In the bigger picture overall currently Tile seems to offer a better product. Their product has louder sound alerts, it offers a farther distance range, and they offer overall better reliability and consistency with their products. TrackR’s products right now seem to have a lot of problems. Yet review after review consistently ranks Tile as number one and TrackR as number two.

The one other difference between the two brands is that the TrackR brand offers one feature that the Tile brand doesn’t. That feature is a separation alert function when you move too far away from an item that you’ve attached a tracking device to. Tile does offer an alert that TrackR doesn’t offer however and that is an alert to tell you when your battery is beginning to die.

So while it appears that currently Tile is vastly superior to TrackR all the reviews really don’t support that theory. Nor does my own experience with TrackR… except for the problem that I have with my passwords. I mentioned this somewhere else with my post but I’m mentioning it here again because it’s an important problem to know about.

I read in iOS app review for TrackR that TrackR does not allow you to use symbols in your passwords. I use DashLane as my password manager and I had DashLane generate a password for me that had symbols in it because I hadn’t read that review yet. When I went to set up my second tracker, I wasn’t able to log into the account that I had set up for the first tracker. So I believe that the ‘no symbols rule‘ does apply, yet TrackR fails to mention that anywhere in their literature and I’ve got a little bit of a mess to straighten out with my accounts.

So heed my warning if you’re a new TrackR user right now and do not use symbols in your passwords.

Some Key Features of Most Bluetooth Tracking Devices

Some Key Features of Most Bluetooth Tracking Devices

Some Key Features of Most Bluetooth Tracking Devices

One Modern Day Key Finder That Doesn’t Have Crowd Sourced Locating Available

I decided to include what I thought was the best of the key-finders, so you could see how difficult it is to tell the true blue-toothed tracking devices with crowd sourcing from what is essentially a regular old key finder, albeit one that’s been updated and looks pretty cool, apart.

Tekameka Key Finder and Phone Tracker Device $17.95

Tekemeka Key Finder

Tekemeka Key Finder

I Was Curious About What Differences if Any, Exist Between GPS Trackers and Bluetooth Trackers

The easiest way I found to understand the key differences is to see some of them. So below I’ve included the best GPS trackers I could find currently at Amazon.

Main Features of Top Selling GPS Trackers on Amazon

The main difference between a true GPS tracking device and a bluetooth one is that true GPS trackers include a physical piece of hardware in them known as a GPS receiver. This is necessary to receive the radio signals that are broadcast for GPS purposes. Because bluetooth trackers are always connected by BLE near field communications to a mobile device such as a tablet or a cellphone, the inclusion of a GPS receiver in them isn’t necessary…the mobile device already has it.

So you can think of it like this. Bluetooth trackers need a companion device to connect to whereas true GPS trackers don’t. They function as standalone devices, therefore they are both more expensive initially and more expensive to operate because they also require an ongoing cellular plan to operate.

Below I’ve outlined some of the key differences:

  • Most GPS trackers include an optional no-contract monthly data plan alternative beginning at $19.99 per month
  • Instead of utilizing the built-in data plan included when purchasing a GPS tracker, many people opt to get their own SIM cards for much lower priced alternatives
  • Most batteries in GPS trackers last about 2 weeks before recharging is required unlike bluetooth tracker batteries which tend to last anywhere from a month to a year, depending upon the brand and model.
  • Most GPS trackers are designed specifically to monitor driving behavior (especially for new teens or elderly drivers) but many are adaptable to a lot of different uses as shown in the detailed information for the Spy Tec model.

    First a combined image of the top three at Amazon

    Amazon's Top Three Real Time GPS Trackers

    Amazon’s Top Three Real Time GPS Trackers

    The most popular GPS tracker by a big margin is the Spy Tec STI GL300 Mini Portable Real Time GPS Tracker w/ $25/mo Data Plan $49.95

    Spy Tec STI GL300Mini Portable Real Time GPS Tracker

    Spy Tec STI GL300Mini Portable Real Time GPS Tracker

    The 2nd top selling GPS Tracker is the Optimus Real Time GPS Tracker w/ $19.95/mo Data Plan

    Product Description for the Optimus Real Time GPS

    Product Description for the Optimus Real Time GPS

    The 3rd ranking GPS Tracker at Amazon based upon sales and good customer reviews is the MOTOsafety OBD Tracker Device with 3G GPS Service Locator w/ $19.95/ Data Plan

    Product Description for MOTOsafety OBD Tracker

    Product Description for MOTOsafety OBD Tracker

    DarkMetal Fabrication YouTube Channel Has Several Detailed Videos on TrackR & a Great Video About GPS Trackers

    That’s how I discovered his channel. But they’ve also have done an excellent video on the different kinds of GPS trackers for cars which I highly recommend if you’re in the market for that kind of tracker.

    iota tracker is One Hybrid Solution I Discovered Which is Expensive But Quite Intriguing

    The Iota Tracker is made by a Redwood California based company Iotera, Inc. Redwood, CA is a short 25 minute commute to Apple Corp.’s home base in Cupertino as well as firmly ensconced in the heart of America’s infamous technological center known as Silicon Valley. I point this out because my perception is that the unique ways that the iota tracker merges its use of networking technology makes this tracker a real stand out in the industry.

    This is one product that should seriously be considered by those who seek a solidly performing tracker beyond the capabilities of bluetooth trackers but without the ongoing expenses of GPS trackers.

    The Key Difference Between iota tracker & Other GPS Trackers is Much Lower Ongoing Costs Because No Cellular Data Plan is Required

    Features of iota tracker

    Features of iota tracker

    Here’s some of the most relevant information from their website:

    “Introducing iota, the smallest real time GPS tracker, activity monitor, and motion sensor with a long-lasting, rechargeable battery and no monthly fees. Perfect for pets, seniors, kids, vehicles, bikes, and more!”

    It’s waterproof, it can be shared amongst several users, it uses crowd sourced location and it can send an alert when the battery needs to be charged.

    What devices work with the iota?

    The iota app works with devices having iOS 8 or later (iPhone 4s minimum), or Android 4.3 or later.  For set up, you will need a device that has BLE capabilities.

    Check out this list of BLE devices to see if your smartphone is compatible.

    The Iota Tracker system is composed of 2 units. A Home Base and the Tracker device. Below is a little more information about each.

    What is a Home Base?

    The Home Base is the device that links your iota to the internet from up to four miles away.  Simply plug the Home Base in, download the iota App, and pair your Home Base to your WiFi network, and you instantly have your own long-range wireless tracking bubble.  Multiple Home Bases in one area combine to give users an even larger bubble for tracking. The Home Base can connect to thousands of iotas. But they all need to be using the same account. The home base can communicate with iotas that are 0.5-1 mile away in urban or heavily-wooded areas, and further in sparse, suburban or rural areas.

    What is an iota tracker?

    The iota tracker is the all-in-one, rechargeable tracking and monitoring device. The iota can report its GPS location, and ring when commanded to through the app. The iota also delivers alerts when it has left a designated area, or when the battery needs a recharge. The iota’s GPS locations are typically within 30 ft. of accuracy.  Accuracy can be limited by trees, roofs, or other obstacles between the iota and the sky.

    One Interesting Iota Review

    One Interesting Iota Review

    What happens when my iotas go out of range?

    When the Home Base network notices your iota has gone out of range, the iota App will let you know that your iota could not be found, and give you the option to be notified when your iota is back in range.  Meanwhile, the app will continue to show the last known location and all alerts will be delayed until the iota comes back within range of a Home Base.

    How to Buy It?

    The system is only sold through their website from what I can tell.

    A complete system, which includes both the Home Base unit and one iota Tracker is $149.99

    Iota Tracker Starter Kit

    Iota Tracker Starter Kit

    Last, here’s a link to their ios app. And a link to their Android app. Reviews for both are excellent!

    As I was Conducting My Research on the Difference Between Bluetooth & GPS Trackers I Also Discovered Some More Obscure But Fascinating, ‘Unique Use’ Tracking Tools

    I’m including these ‘narrow focus‘ or single use types of trackers here for certain family members of mine who might not know about their existence, and might be interested in these. While the need for a cellular data plan is the one main distinction between true GPS trackers and the newer and more popular bluetooth trackers, it appears to be the case with these more expensive devices that are targeted towards specific activities that no cellular data plan is required. In each instance it seems to me that whatever communications technology is being utilized by these, that it’s included in the price and no additional expensive outlays are necessary.

    An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon or EPIRB

    ACR GlobalFix Pro 406 2844 EPIRB Category II Rescue Beacon with Manual Release Bracket & Built-in GPS $467.49

    An EPIRB device generally only provides for a one-time use. After it’s been deployed and served its purpose, that of saving lives in the event of a boating accident, this kind of device needs to be sent back to its manufacturer for overhauling to prepare it for future service. But in reading the Amazon reviews for these, anyone who has had to deploy it is well versed in these kinds of limitations. Also, EPIRB devices are only deployable when they come in contact with water or actually when they are submerged in water…I think.

    ACR GlobalFix Pro 406 2844 EPIRB Category II Rescue Beacon

    ACR GlobalFix Pro 406 2844 EPIRB Category II Rescue Beacon

    A Personal Locator Beacon

    These too are most often used in boating environments. But they have a much broader scope of user base too. In addition to being used by boaters and pilots as personal beacons, they are also popular among hikers, climbers and generally any outdoor adventure seekers too..especially in solo situations.

    ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ Buoyant Personal Locator Beacon $249.00

    ACR GlobalFix Pro 406 2844 EPIRB Category II Rescue Beacon

    ACR GlobalFix Pro 406 2844 EPIRB Category II Rescue Beacon

    A Handheld GPS by Garmin…Garmin By Far Dominates the Personal Handheld GPS Market

    Garmin is widely recognized as a leader in the GPS industry and was probably the first to come out with standalone GPS units for cars. I had one of those, it was called a Garmin Nuvi, back in the days when most cars didn’t offer these as readily and prior to cellphones were in wide usage. It was great and I held onto to it for years after I no longer needed it because I felt it performed so well it seemed like a shame to just get rid of it when it might end up being useful again. Ultimately I gave it to my brother who either used it or sold it on eBay…I forgot to ask those followup questions because I didn’t get to see him that often, and when I did I didn’t think of it.

    These handheld GPS devices are useful for both trip planning and during trips to the wilderness. They are most often used by hunters, hikers, and campers, and they provide a broad range of services including trip recording, maps and location assistance, and even function as remotes for Garmin’s action cameras which appear to be competition to the widely popular GoPro brand. While this particular model was brandished with Amazon’s ‘Most Popular‘ banner, potential buyers should carefully read all the user reviews for this model. This model appears to have some potential problems and there are quite a few very similar models by Garmin at Amazon too.

    Garmin GPSMAP 64st, TOPO U.S. 100K with High-Sensitivity GPS and GLONASS Receiver $276.04

    Garmin GPSMAP 64st, TOPO U.S. 100K with High-Sensitivity GPS and GLONASS Receiver

    Garmin GPSMAP 64st, TOPO U.S. 100K with High-Sensitivity GPS and GLONASS Receiver

    Some of the Best Recent Articles About Bluetooth Tracking Devices

    I’ve really only scratched the surface in this post, choosing to dedicate more time to the various types of technology and then to how the TrackR actually works at the expense of thorough coverage on the large number of bluetooth trackers out there. One reason for doing so is because there are already several really great resources which provide exactly that kind of information, which I’m including below.

    I love this article by the VergeThe Slippery Slope of Bluetooth Trackers’ because it sounds exactly like me and what will happen as I begin to use these little gadgets. In a matter of a day I’ve already out 3 in place!

    And this app extensive comparison by the Wirecutter is by far the most comprehensive comparison I’ve run across.

    Tom’s Guide to the Best Key Finder’s in 2017 is another exhaustive coverage article in which they’ve personally conducted testing on each of the products they discuss.

    My last recommendation is a YouTube channel by ModernDayFamilyMan. This eoguy seems to be obsessed with bluetooth trackers…which for review purposes isn’t a bad thing. So the video I’m sharing is his ‘Tracker Versus Tile – the Ultimate Showdown‘ one. From there you’ll be able to see all the others that he’s produced.

    TrackR's can be engraved

    TrackR’s can be engraved

    Conclusion…Save Your Money & Try the TrackR Tablet Free ios App

    I can’t heartily recommend any of these devices currently…although if you have a bunch of them handed to you I’d definitely give them a go. But right now, reviews everywhere for TrackR are less than glowing…and all of the other devices, including Tile seem to have similar problems, on and off again. One notable exception is the iota tracker. I really love the concept behind this tracker and I don’t think it’s price is outrageous given what it does, but I checked their local coverage map and there are very few users of the system in my area. Therefore the crowd sourced feature, which is a big part of it wouldn’t really be available to me.

    One possibly brilliant strategy might be this. You can set aside the inherent problems of bluetooth it seems to me when considering use of TrackR’s free ios app that they call TrackR Tablet which appears to work exactly like their standalone devices do. Which leaves me thinking that if you’re planning on using this for your cellphone, why not just use their free app rather than buy one of their tracking devices? You can even extend it’s use to protect your purse for example, because your phone would always be in your purse when you’re out and about.

    There’s such a plethora of devices out there, and so many have very minor differences but then again in some cases there are some major feature differences, that I think if you have a specific purpose in mind it might be worthwhile to check at a place like Amazon that offers a huge selection of these for whatever single purpose use devices might be available. But in terms of buying a whole slew of anyone of these models right now to protect every important thing you own…as warned against in the Verge article I linked to above…I’d seriously advise against it.

    Amazon Associate Disclosure: I’m an Amazon Associate therefore I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase through my link. This has no impact on price or any other consequence for you.

    Comments

    I love to get feedback from my readers…so leave a comment if you feel inspired!

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Find Which Folder an Apple Note is Stored In


I Googled answers to the question “how can I find out which folder an Apple note is in“…but couldn’t find any answer. Since this question crops up for me repeatedly, I thought I’d publish my own solution.

IMG_1423

Apple Notes Folder Structure

I love several aspects of Apple Notes but the one I love the most is speed while multitasking. Unlike my other favorite note taking app Evernote, which doesn’t function very quickly while multi-tasking, which granted is partially my own fault because I keep my notes locked with a passcode, using Apple Notes to jot down quick things I need to remember is amazingly fast! But because I use it a lot for things like that, I end up with a ton of notes, which I try to organize in some fashion into notebooks.

This is all done on the fly in a somewhat haphazard manner, meaning that not a lot of thought goes into it. So occasionally during one of my infrequent bouts of trying to organize and cleanup the mess, I’ll mass move many notes into a notebook which could have gone into a different notebook too. And then I can’t find them again. What’s worse is if I want to put a new note on the same subject with others I know I have, but I can’t find at that moment.

Apple Notes Search Tool Isn’t Always Great, and Doesn’t Show You Notebook Names When it Works

Sometimes Apple Note’s search function is great…but sometimes it isn’t. I haven’t yet noticed a pattern for this. Maybe it’s bandwidth related, or RAM related or battery related…but whatever the cause…sometimes Apple Note’s search function fails to find any of the notes I’m searching for.

If an Apple Note’s search is successful for me and if I do manage to find a note using it, finding out which notebook that note is contained in, up until now has proven to be impossible for me.

But today I had a Eureka moment and figured out a way to do this!

How to Figure Out the Notebook Name of a Note

My method works regardless of whether nor not I’m using the search tool. The key is to pretend like I’m going to move the note. When you’re moving a note Apple Note’s greys out the name of the notebook that the note currently resides in, as shown in the screenshot below.

Screenshot displaying the notebook location of the note I'm moving.

Screenshot displaying the notebook location of the note I’m moving.

How to ‘Pretend’ Move a Note

The next 3 screenshots describe the process of ‘pretend moving’ a note.

First tap on the word 'Edit'

First tap on the word ‘Edit’

Next place a check mark in the box of the note you want to locate.

Next place a check mark in the box of the note you want to locate.

Look for the 'greyed out' notebook title.

Look for the ‘greyed out’ notebook title.

Conclusion

So there you have it…my new method of finding out which notebook a note is in. It did dawn on me while writing this that this method is so simple, it’s quite possible the reason I never found it when Googleling it is because no one bothered to write out these steps…but for some reason I don’t think that’s the case. Only time will tell when I see my Stats a few weeks from now!

Comments

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Why You Should Never Use Public WiFi’s & My Tiny Hardware Firewall Review

My New Tiny Hardware Firewall

My New Tiny Hardware Firewall

Introduction

I’m writing a very long article on Firewalls because we just replaced our home Firewall and I was researching my options before selecting one. I was surprised to see how many new categories of Firewalls there are now. Many for home use and even some for travel…which is the category that Tiny Hardware Firewall falls into. Or, perhaps portable is a better term.

I’ve known for several years that using public networks was dangerous…but I never completely understood the extent of the danger. Nor did I know of an alternative if I had to use one.

Which is why I’m writing this post. I learned about a great solution for when you need to use public networks.


If You Don’t Want to Read Everything Just Scroll Down to Watch the Video I Label ‘Must See‘ Towards the Bottom and Read the Article Immediately Following it.


What’s a Public Network?

A public network is any network that is available for use without a password…meaning it’s unsecured and anyone can join it. So Starbucks, the airport, a business convention you might be at…any network that lets lots of strangers join it might be a better definition.

What I didn’t realize was that other public networks which may require passwords like at a hotel, hospital or a large clinic’s like Mayo in Rochester, and even onboard an airplane, may be equally dangerous. Because just a password only isn’t the thing that protects you…or the determining factor really. It’s whether or not the network is encrypted. And if it has a password there’s a better chance it’s encrypted. But non-password networks can also be encrypted…so it gets confusing. I think the safest way to think about a public network is that it’s any network that allows a lot of strangers onto it. Because for sure, it’s all those strangers that raise the risk factors a lot.

Although I didn’t understand how, I’d always assumed that when you entered a password to join a network that somehow made the network safe to use. But I was wrong…and the fact that my Facebook account has been hacked multiple times while on vacation and while using hotel networks with passwords should have been my clue.

I also learned that oftentimes using apps is even worse. Because so many apps don’t bother using secured communications. Pinterest and EBay are 2 good examples of completely unsecured apps. Last I learned that you can get into trouble even if you don’t use a public WiFi…just by leaving the WiFi receiver on your device turned on. You can learn more about that in this Time Magazine article. So if you’re using an ios device you can either turn WiFi off completely when you’re out. Or, turning on ‘Ask to Join Networks‘ if you need to leave WiFi on is better than nothing.

Why are Public Networks Dangerous?

Once again I don’t understand the exact logistics of how hacker’s do the things they do on public networks…but I do understand some of the risks…although it’s quite possible that I’m not aware of them all.

These are the main risks I know about:

  1. Your account credentials can be seen as you enter them and therefore stolen…which is how my Facebook account was hacked twice.
  2. Your personal information can be taken as well. Whether or not that occurs as a result of your actually typing it in or entering it while visiting a website…I’m not sure. But regardless this is a worrisome enough aspect for me to think twice about using a public network.
  3. Your web browsing activities can be watched.

The risks are probably greater than just those above…but I can only speak to things I know for a fact to be true. If you’re interested in seeing just how easy it is to hack someone’s device you can watch this YouTube video which demonstrates the 10 best Android hacking apps for 2017.

How to Protect Yourself on Public Networks

The obvious answer is to not use them. But that’s not practical for things like vacations when you need to rely upon hotel networks. Because generally your only alternative is your cell plan’s network which isn’t intended for high volume things like uploading lots of vacation photos, and can therefore become very expensive quickly.

You can take a hotspot with a better cell plan along with you and we do that too. We bought a Verizon hotspot and it’s great…but it’s expensive too. We have a small $50 per month plan because it’s monthly and many months we don’t use it. We could increase it for vacations…but we run the risk of forgetting to decrease it when we get back home…so even this isn’t a great solution. We also tried 2 different ones that we just paid for when we used them…but they had huge problems. The monthly plan options just seem to work a lot better.

I recently discovered a much better solution which is the 2nd main subject of this post…using a portable Firewall which also includes a VPN. That’s exactly what the Tiny Hardware Firewall is.

Example of how my Tiny Firewall protects me

Example of how my Tiny Firewall protects me

How Does a Portable Firewall with a VPN Protect You?

The way you use a portable Firewall is by connecting it to a network and then connecting your devices to it. Because it stands between you and any dangers it can protect you in numerous ways which depend upon your preferences. It can offer security services which examine all of the incoming and outgoing traffic to decide if it’s safe or not before allowing it. It can include ad blockers and malware blockers. Last, with the addition of a VPN, it can keep all of your data hidden so no one has access to it.

Think of the VPN part like this. The Firewall connects to the public network then it uses the VPN to create a protected tunnel for all your communications to go through. So even though your data is traveling on a public network…it’s doing so inside this protected tunnel. No one can see it or access it. Your data is completely hidden.

Why is a Portable Firewall the Best Solution?

The main reasons boil down to speed and cost. When you use a cellular hotspot you’re using cellular network speeds…when you’re using a firewall you’re using true network speeds like those that are provided by broadband, DSL or Fiber. Cellular plans are expensive too and recurring. You never know in advance how expensive though because you can go over your plan’s limits easily and end up incurring huge charges for that. I know this from personal experience too.

A few years ago we arrived home from a Mediterranean cruise to a $13,000 cell phone bill!

During our cruise I had been in constant contact with our cell provider to make sure that we weren’t incurring large, unknown costs. I spent (really wasted) so much time doing that…because it took hours sometimes to even reach someone at our cell provider’s international division. But my actions were our saving grace too. Had I not done that our cell provider would not have ultimately reversed all those charges.

Aren’t VPN’s Expensive?

There is an ongoing cost for using a VPN but it’s pretty reasonable when compared to a cell plan. Our Tiny Firewall’s chosen VPN costs about $100 a year. Because I can have up to 4 users on my Tiny Firewall at the same time, it’s like I’m getting 4 VPN subscriptions for the price of one. That’s equivalent to 2 months of the cost for our Verizon Hotspot’s service…which is the lowest priced plan Verizon offers.

Are VPN’s Slow and Hard to Use?

That’s what I always thought. But I guess things have changed a lot. I think a VPN’s speed is actually determined in great part by the speed and bandwidth of the network you’re using. So our network at home gives us 300 Mbps down and when I tested out the new VPN on it we ran two iPads simultaneously streaming YouTube videos. The speed was amazing! There was no buffering and the display quality was excellent!

Using the VPN inside our Tiny Firewall is super easy too. We just turn it on with a little slider button.

Tiny Hardware Firewall's website

Tiny Hardware Firewall’s website

My Review of the Tiny Hardware Firewall

Using the VPN was super easy…but setting up the Tiny Firewall initially wasn’t. Luckily I had help in the form of the network consultant who was installing our new home Firewall.

I’m super lucky that I had his help, because I learned a lot about how these work and  what’s involved in the setup. Now that I understand the process, I know I could do it…but I would have struggled before.

It took about an hour for he and I working together to get it all set up. Then after he left I played around with it for about a half hour to make sure I knew how to use it. I wrote a Step by Step guide for myself to remember how to use it, which I thought I would share here.

I probably could have setup the Tiny Firewall myself…but it probably would have taken me much longer to do. Maybe around 4 or 5 hours total. I did end up having to go through about half the setup again the first time we traveled using it, because no one but me could join the network it broadcast. In my efforts to discover the cause of the problem, I reset much of what our firewall guy had accomplished. So in the end I had to learn almost everything about the setup process myself too. The Tiny Firewall’s 27 page User Guide was my only resource and it assumes a lot of networking expertise I lack. But the guide is comprehensive and after rereading it multiple times I finally understood enough to get ours functional again.

Using the Tiny Firewall is Easy & Seamless Once it’s Setup

So here’s my primary review:

The Tiny Hardware Firewall is simple to use and amazing once it’s setup. When you want to use it somewhere you first join the firewall’s network with your device, and then use a browser to have the firewall join the public network you’re near. While doing that step you also enable the VPN. The whole process takes less than a minute.

It’s well worth the price of $132 that I paid for it. Part of that price is the $91 for the VPN which we’ll need to renew in 1 year’s time. The VPN which is HotSpotVPN is excellent and there is a support link for that if you run into trouble. WiFi Consulting, the company that makes the Tiny Hardware Firewall (THF) also owns and operates this VPN too. Which probably explains why the 2 work so seamlessly together.

The Firewall itself is also excellent…it’s got so many great features and it does some really cool things. That’s why I think the setup was hard, because despite the User Guide being excellent and long…27 pages…it’s probably a little too long for the average user to sit down and read in it’s entirety. Especially because it’s pretty dry reading and it uses a lot of network terminology that most people don’t understand.

You can’t fault a product for being too excellent!

For example, the Firewall operates in 3 main modes…Client Mode, Access Point Mode and Wireless to Wireless Mode. There are descriptions of what these are and even diagrams, but for people who’ve never done much networking, even those things aren’t really enough. Everything about the Tiny Firewall is based upon those 3 modes, so understanding them and which one is most appropriate for your own use is critical.

My understanding of what the 3 modes are. 

Client Mode

Client Mode is a wireless connection between two routers only. A router in Client Mode connects to another wireless Access Point (the host router). It uses its wireless connection as the WAN interface, and shares the internet connection only to the LAN ports. It’s used in networking a lot as a bridge, but for the Tiny Firewall’s purpose, this mode is primarily used for the initial setup.

Access Point Mode

AP mode is most often used to turn a wired connection into wireless one. The Tiny Firewall has 2 Ethernet ports…one for LAN and one for WAN. If you’re in a setting like a hotel where only wired internet is provided, you can use AP mode to create your own wireless network.

Wireless to Wireless Mode

This is the mode we primarily operate the Firewall in. It means that our Firewall device connects to a public network wirelessly and then we in turn connect to the Firewall wirelessly with our mobile devices.

My Suggestion to Tiny Hardware Firewall’s Developer

Personally, I think the developer should create a YouTube video that explains the setup process. It doesn’t need to be fancy or long, but it should show the screens involved and explain how and why average users would use the various features.

How to Use the Tiny Hardware Firewall

This is how I used the Tiny Firewall my first time on a recent family vacation. Once the Firewall was all setup, we used it in Wireless to Wireless mode. Which meant I connected the Firewall to a hotel’s wireless network, turned on the VPN and then had it broadcast a new network for my family to join.

The Steps We Follow Each Time We Want to Use the Firewall

Me Only – First login to the router to enable the VPN:

  1. Give the router power by plugging it in.
  2. Wait about 3 minutes for it to boot up.
  3. Join the wireless network it creates. (I gave this wireless network a randomly generated ssid and password during the setup process.)
  4. Go to the IP address for it using a web browser.
  5. Connect it to the hotel’s WiFi
  6. Turn on the VPN

How Other People Get On to The VPN & Firewalled Network

  1. Go to network settings on your device and look for the wireless network the Tiny Firewall broadcasts.
  2. Join the network by entering the password (so far all the passwords I’ve seen it generate are in all caps 
  3. On ios devices turn off ‘Ask to Join Networks‘ so your device stays on the protected network.
The TOR Browser uses an onion for a logo

The TOR Browser uses an onion for a logo

Some More Cool Features of the Tiny Firewall | The TOR Network

My model allows up to 4 devices on the network at the same time. There are 2 smaller versions which I believe are single user. With mine, internet connections can be hardwired using an Ethernet connection or wirelessly. There’s also a TOR network included which I’ve never tried but have always wanted to explore. TOR is the way hackers get onto the deep web…it’s a highly protective browser that keeps you extra safe and hidden and virtually untraceable. You can read more about TOR here and visiting the dark web here. From what I’ve read recently though the dark web isn’t really around much anymore, since Silk Road an infamous market for criminals was taken down about 3 years ago.

In October 2014 a popular Wired Magazine writer, Andy Greenberg, wrote about a device very similar to the Tiny Firewall in what turned out to be one of the most read articles of the month at Pocket, a widely used Read it Later service. His article, ‘With This Tiny Box, You Can Anonymize Everything You Do Online‘ talked about a new Kickstarter campaign for a similar type of device by anonabox which was developed and refined for the sole purpose of running the open source software Tor, considered the best and most secure way to access the Internet anonymously. All traffic coming out of or going into your computer or network is encrypted this way. The result is strong, secure anonymity. Using the anonabox hides your location, as well as all the other personal data that leaks through ordinary Internet use. In the end the anonabox device had a lot of problems and didn’t end up becoming the panacea everybody had hoped for. There are several other brands of similar devices now that offer various features, but all are intended just for TOR access primarily. So, while many people including me believed TOR is used only by criminals, it’s actually used by regular people too who just want anonymity online.

The Wired article states that “no tool in existence protects your anonymity on the Web better than the software Tor, which encrypts Internet traffic and bounces it through random computers around the world. But for guarding anything other than Web browsing, Tor has required a mixture of finicky technical setup and software tweaks. Now routing all your traffic through Tor may be as simple as putting a portable hardware condom on your ethernet cable.” At that time he described similar efforts to develop devices of that nature with varying degrees of success, all priced similarly to that of the Tiny Hardware Firewall’s price of around $40 for the base unit without the VPN service.

Now, 2 years later with the addition of the TOR network as a feature bundled along with a fast, reasonably priced VPN, the Tiny Hardware Firewall appeared to me to be the one standout amongst tech-minded individuals, which is why I chose it. There might be easier solutions…but I wanted the best and I was willing to put in the time learning to have it.

Where to buy the Tiny Hardware Firewall

I purchased mine from the developer’s website. I got the most expensive version which allows 4 users both wired and wireless…and mine has an antenna. We discovered setting it up that the antenna really does make a difference too. Mine was about $132 including shipping. That price also includes a one years subscription to their VPN service. There are smaller, less expensive models too…there are four in total. Ours arrived in about 3 days via UPS and we had to sign for the delivery.

Here’s a link to the website where I purchased ours from.

4 models of the Tiny Hardware Firewall

4 models of the Tiny Hardware Firewall

2 Great ‘Must See’ Tools if You Want to Quickly Learn How Easily Public Networks are Hacked & How to Stay Safe

If you don’t have a lot of time to spend learning about ways to stay safe, this section includes 2 links which together should bring you up to speed on everything you need to know to understand the threats and to keep yourself safe. So, consider these links together as a mini course about public WiFi safety.

This excellent 20 minute YouTube video demonstrates an easy method hacker’s use to hack public networks with a device similar to my new Tiny Firewall (which is basically a tiny router.) At about 17 minutes in he shows how to use a device like the Tiny Firewall for good to protect yourself.

This great article written by the FTC adds some more information you should know about for keeping safe.

Additional Resources

Here’s a great YouTube video that tells you a lot more about the Tiny Firewall

Here’s a link to the Tiny Firewall’s User Guide

A link about how to find out what kind of encryption a WiFi is using

WiFi Consulting offers another portable firewall called the BlackHoleCloud. When I got mine I was familiar with this but I didn’t entirely understand the differences. Since I had more information at my disposal on the Tiny Hardware Firewall, that’s the one I went with. But now I recognize that this might be an even better, faster solution so I’m including a link to a great review about the BlackHoleCloud Firewall.

Make Sure Your Home Network is Secure Too

Even when you’re not traveling you could be exposed to hackers if you haven’t bothered to secure the network that you use everyday. It’s not difficult to secure your network and it can be done in less than half an hour all by yourself. Nothing additional is needed other than you’re taking a little time to learn about why it’s important and how to do it. I wrote this guide for securing your home network, after I realized that somehow ours had become unsecured. Which tells me that this is something I need to check once in a while just to make sure my security is still in place.

If you’re wondering why securing your home router is so important, you can read my article about why I write this blog and how I became an unwillingly participant to the world of cyber security initially when our home network was taken over by a Botnet.

My Family’s Awful Experience Invaded by a Botnet Led to the Creation of vsatips

IMG_6450

Comments

Please leave a comment if you feel inspired! I’d especially love to hear about other solutions you may have tried.

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Why Apple Doesn’t Want You to Buy Their New iPad

My New iPad 5

My New iPad 5

Introduction

I recently purchased Apple’s newest iPad 5. I’m in the midst of writing a very long, very positive review in which I’ve enthusiastically proclaimed the new iPad 5 to be ‘Apple’s Best iPad Ever.’ My writing of that glowing review came to an abrupt halt 2 days ago following the shocking event I describe below.

Has Apple’s Often Predicted Demise Begun?

It’s undeniable that Apple has paved the way for an entire industry of mobile technology. Yet many people are questioning if they’ve lost the technological edge the company once enjoyed. Lackluster user response to many of their recent product launches seems to be the main evidence for this theory.

I don’t think that’s entirely true. I think they’ve just shifted their goals from producing technology that’s considered ‘groundbreaking’ to producing more ‘nuanced’ products. Ones which improve upon already great designs in smart and beneficial ways. But that may not be enough.

Their approach was working. They managed to keep up with, and even maintain their lead in most of their product niches. Their profits have never been better. Despite this many don’t realize that it’s not hardware production that’s really their problem. It’s their inability to think like their customers. Especially in creatively imagining how their products might solve problems and fulfill user needs. But customers have never been their focus. In the past it wasn’t necessary for their success. But now, the tables have turned because the market is completely different. In many regards it’s saturated. There are so many amazing products yet Apple’s not leading the innovation anymore, so their competitive edge is decreasing and they have nothing left to take its place. Recognizing the asset that their customers represent could have been that thing…but it’s probably too late now to turn that around.

Stated a little more bluntly, Apple has always seemed uninterested in their customers. Had they been paying attention they could have appreciated the infinitely creative ways in which their customers improve the value of their technology. If they’d stopped to notice for one brief moment, it would have been their users who showed them all the open doors available to them for future success.

Beyond their slick marketing campaigns which really are the by-product of some ‘uber genius’ marketeers, creativity does not appear to be Apple’s forte anymore. As evidence I give you the App Store, their own suite of apps, iTunes, even their core applications, ios and OS X. Things that seemed out-dated, boring and maybe even antiquated in the past, feel downright obsolete in 2017.

Most of Apple's iPhones & iPads are manufactured in China

Most of Apple’s iPhones & iPads are manufactured in China

Which Brings Us Directly to the Question At Hand

Why Doesn’t Apple Want You to Buy Their New iPad?

It seems odd really because iPad sales have dropped a lot in recent years.

You’d think they’d want as many new sales as possible. Deep down I suspect they do.

But, like the difficult sibling every family has, it appears that Apple is very particular about who they sell their new iPad too. If you’re an avid Apple user who enjoys many of their products already, then even though this new iPad is really a great one…it’s not really intended for you.

How did I arrive at this revelation?

By actually purchasing their new iPad…which, I should also mention, I really happen to love! But I don’t know if I love it enough to make the choice Apple has thrust upon me. A choice I didn’t know I would be forced to make. Apple is forcing me to choose between this new iPad and my older ones. But I also happened to have grown quite fond of them too.

I really don’t understand why Apple is forcing me to choose…why can’t I decide?

Apple's Net Annual Income from 2005 to 2016

Apple’s Net Annual Income from 2005 to 2016

How I Discovered I’d Be Forced to Choose Between Keeping My New iPad or My Older Ones

Looking back I probably had some clues. I’d been having quite a few problems with my iCloud lately. I even wrote a post about it a few weeks back called ‘How I Fixed My iCloud Photo Sync Problems.’ But it wasn’t until I finally called Apple Support that I really put 2 and 2 together.

Back in 2015 when Apple had one of its worst years ever for ios problems, my family was hit especially hard. That was the year of ios 8. As ios 8’s tenure drew to a close our combined family’s iCloud photo syncing and backups came to an abrupt halt. Since we’d arrived home from our summer vacation with lots of new photos, this couldn’t have happened at a worse time. At our local Apple Store, a Genius told us that the problem was we just had too many pictures for iCloud to handle well, and we should really buy a Mac mini to back them all up manually if we didn’t want to lose them…so we did.

I know what you may be thinking…that’s a really expensive solution…and you’d be right. But I had years of my family’s photos stored there and I wasn’t willing to risk losing them…especially because I had already lost several years worth of family photos when our home network was taken over by a Botnet already. I also wasn’t all that thrilled with having to learn an entirely new operating system either. The Genius was correct however, and our getting the Mac Mini did solve our Photo syncing and backup problems, so in the end we were OK with it.

But that’s all we’ve ever used the Mac mini for. Now it turns out that Mac is 1/10th of my current problem! What led me to call Apple Support a few days ago about my current sync problems was when I discovered using that computer that not all of my devices showed up under my Apple ID. So I called Support thinking that they would talk me through how to get all my devices back under my ID. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

My Recent Encounter With Apple Support

The first person I talked to a was a nice enough woman who told me she’d try to help me, but she very quickly got to the heart of the problem. With the purchase of my new iPad 5 there are now more than 10 devices in my name. I was beyond incredulous when she told me I’d have to get rid of some of them! We went back and forth in a conversation for about 15 minutes that sounded something like this:

Me: You mean I can’t have more than 10 devices total?

Her: No

Me: But then what do I do?

Her: Get a new Apple ID

Me: But if I do that I won’t be able to access my information on all my devices, right?

Her: Well, no, that’s not exactly what I mean, but yes essentially you are correct.

Me: So, you mean I really can’t have more than 10 devices? Including computers? Because I thought maybe computers were different. I thought that they fell under a separate ‘5 Authorized Computers Limit’ and that was a separate limit, right?

Her: Well, no, that just means we don’t want you to own more than 5 computers.

Me: Why not?

Her: Because if you do you’re probably a business.

Me: But I’m not a business.

Her: But most people would be.

Me: Really? Why do you think that?

Me: I mean, I do write a blog, but I wouldn’t call it a business. I don’t actually earn any money doing that. In fact I write about Apple products a lot which is one reason I like to have the different ones…to be able to knowledgeably write about them.

Her: Well, no I understand your situation, but it’s unique. Most people with that many devices would be a business.

Me: But, really, if you think about it, it’s not that many. Granted I may be somewhat unique by keeping my old iPod, which I still love, and an old iPhone as a backup one, but other than that, I don’t think I’m that different from most Apple users. I have a Watch, this computer, an Apple TV, my phone, an iPad mini, an iPad Air Original, an Air 2, the 12″ Pro and the 9.7″ Pro and now the iPad 5. So, basically just one of each. But that adds up to 12 devices. And I really love the new iPad 5 and wanted to get another one.

Her: That’s too many devices for one person to have.

Me: Is that a personal opinion or a corporate one?

Her: Both

Me: Doesn’t Apple want people to buy more of your products?

Her: Well…..yes and no…we don’t want people abusing the system.

Me: What do mean abusing the system.

Her: These products are meant for personal use.

Me: But I am a person and I am just using them for personal use…I mean I mentioned my blog right? But it’s not a business, I don’t earn any money from writing it.

Her: But you couldn’t possibly be using all those devices…you must be doing something else with them.

Me: Like what?

Her: I don’t know, I just don’t think that you’re personally using them.

Me: But I am, truly.

Her: Silence

Me: Hello?

Her: I’m here…I just don’t know what to say.

Me: What do I need to do to convince you I’m not abusing the system somehow.

Her: Well, um, how do you use all those?

Me: Well, I like iPads for their mobility and flexibility so when I write a blog post I use an iPad to do that.

Me again: You know how a lot of people have multiple screens on their computer, right?

Her: Of course.

Me: Well, I use my iPads like others do multiple screens on a computer. I multi-task so I use 3 at a time. And then when their batteries die I switch to 3 fresh ones.

Her: Oh

Her: Can I place you on hold a minute?

Me: Yes

As I waited for about 10 minutes on hold I just couldn’t stop thinking “This can’t be real…it’s gotta be some kind of a mistake. Because what company in their right mind wouldn’t want customers who love their products so much that they want to buy more of their products…it just doesn’t make any sense to me.

What I didn’t tell her was that I actually even have more iPads than I mentioned to her. I didn’t mention them out of this odd sense of shame! Sort of like ‘slut shaming’ in the recent Netflix blockbuster ‘Thirteen Reasons Why.’

The New iPad 5 Compared to My Original iPad Air

The New iPad 5 Compared to My Original iPad Air

Because, here’s the thing…I didn’t get those because I wanted more iPads, I got them because ios 8 kept incapacitating my iPads. The first time I encountered this problem I never knew that having a corrupt version of ios was even possible. I think looking back on it what was going on was that Apple had introduced iCloud Drive along with ios 8. But their implementation of it was very poor initially. iCloud had become this massive bandwidth hog that literally knocked everything else on our home network off of it whenever it wanted to. Which ironically led to my writing another post about what to do as a temporary measure when this occurred.

My biggest problem was that I didn’t want to lose the content on them by restoring them…but during the ios 8 debacle, our iClouds weren’t working much of the time, so a lot of my content wasn’t backed up. I had no means to back it up because my Windows computer (that I had built myself along with my son’s help) was currently nonfunctional. It was one more thing on my long list of tech projects that needed fixing, but that I didn’t have either the time or the skill level necessary to address myself. So, during ios 8’s reign of terror I ended up buying 3 more iPads I used as ‘stop gap’ measures to keep me productive until I could restore the ones with corrupt versions of ios 8 on them.

Yet I was confident that my being on hold meant my problem was going to be addressed and get solved.

My 2nd Support Conversation with Marty in the Apple Enterprise Department

Once again, I couldn’t have been more wrong!

A few minutes later she came back on and introduced me to Marty from the Enterprise Department. She told me that because he handled business accounts she believed that he could better help me with my problem.

What followed was painful. Marty literally interrogated me about my devices and my usage. He maintained this smug, arrogant demeanor that was intimidating…and not at all helpful. His manner was odd too.

What I did learn in early on in that conversation was that it’s not that Apple or even iCloud that can’t handle having customers who own more than 10 devices…it’s more a matter of the shortcomings of Apple IDs. Apple ID’s it seems weren’t designed for that, and they are not able to handle anymore than 10 devices per person.

Rather than subjecting you to what was an utter and complete waste of 30 minutes of my life, I’ll just skim over the highlights.

Marty didn’t understand how anyone in the world could ever, or would ever, need more than 4 devices maximum…because that’s what he has. Furthermore, he doesn’t feel that I’m doing things as efficiently as I could or should be. He compared my iPad usage to the experience of buying a new car. He couldn’t seem to grasp the concept that iPads are not cars, and that his car buying analogy was inappropriate and ill advised. His analogy seemed to have something to do with the concept that I shouldn’t have purchased my Mercedes Station Wagon with the expectation that it would be able to handle off-road terrain. This is where he completely lost me.

He didn’t even give me the chance to jump in and say…but my car does handle off-road terrain just fine because it has 4 wheel drive and it’s built like a tank. And how exactly is an iPad even like a car in the first place? He just droned on and on and on…never once giving me the opportunity to speak.

So for the next 20 minutes or so I just tried to get things done only while appropriately mumbling things like “I see” periodically on top of his discourse, until finally he grew tired of listening to himself (or quite possibly finally having realized that he’d lost me 20 minutes back ) and he abruptly decided to give me my case number and end the call. Omg I thought…finally. Oddly, he didn’t even ask me if he solved my problem, nor did I ever receive the standard follow-up email asking me to ‘Rate My Customer Service Experience!.

There was a little more to the conversation, and one good thing did come out of it when I did ultimately realize that there is one older device under my Apple ID that I’m not really using…my old iPhone 4s that I keep for backup and for possibly traveling internationally because I spent a lot of time trying to get AT&T to unlock it for exactly that reason. But even removing that device will not allow me to meet the arbitrary number of 10 maximum devices that Apple will allow me to have.

Find out how many devices are under your Apple ID on ios

Find out how many devices are under your Apple ID on ios

The Reality: Apple Customers Aren’t Allowed to Use and Operate More Than 10 Devices Under Their Apple ID

I swear that I can’t go for more than 2 years time without some huge shortcoming of the antiquated Apple ID system cropping up to make my life miserable.

My 3 Biggest Apple ID Problems in Recent Years

Apple ID Problem 1

The first time a problem arose was when my younger, then teenaged son left for college. I’m sure you all know where I’m going with this. My son had kindly setup my first iPod for me several years earlier. But because he was just a kid himself he had no idea what he was really doing. He was just super excited to be doing something cool for me instead of the reverse. So, he just setup my iPod using his Apple ID. We learned when he left for college what a huge mistake that was and one that we’ve never been able to fully recover from because, guess what?

There is absolutely no way that Apple will allow you to divide your content…and by content I mean everything…your contacts, your photos, your music, your apps and literally everything else that you would use on an ios device, into 2 separate Apple ID’s. EVEN IF YOU DID IT MANUALLY ONE BY ONE!!! Because Apple ID’s weren’t built to be able to handle that.

The end resolution of that sad situation was that my son, an avid Apple fan at the time, left Apple products behind completely for Android…and he’s never looked back!

It really boggles my mind that Apple has chosen to stick with this horrible concept that serves no one well for so many years. Unless it does serve them with some ulterior motive that they just aren’t transparent enough to acknowledge. After all, Google doesn’t limit how many Android devices a person can have? Granted, they do maintain a similar 10 device limit for streaming music…so I suspect that has more to do with digital rights protection than anything. But you can have as many Android devices as you want which share your apps and your data. Certainly Microsoft wouldn’t make such a ludicrous business decision…but then Bill Gates was always a better businessman than Steve Jobs! Not that I’d really consider getting a Windows phone. I mean I’m not sure but are they still even selling those? I don’t mean to sound catty, it’s just that I really never hear about them anymore.

Apple ID Problem #2

I’ve occasionally visited the Apple Support Communities. There were a few instances I considered asking my own question, but forums intimidate me somewhat so I never had. One day I had a question too pressing to ignore. This was the first time that I actually ever asked a question in any kind of forum…both before and after.

Immediately after posting it I was horrified to discover that my real name was publicly displayed next to my question. Worse yet…I couldn’t remove either my name or the question! Since our Botnet encounter was extremely fresh then, I was completely blown away that Apple would do this. I’ve since learned that their Support Communities aren’t directly under Apple’s control…although there is a direct link between them, so go figure. But the only way you could participate in the community forums was by having an Apple ID and signing in using it. Since most people have their real names associated with their Apple ID this just seemed to me to be a terribly unsafe practice.

I’ve managed to block from memory many of the details regarding that incident, but I do remember there were hours upon hours of emails written by me to various support administrators trying to find someone who would remove my name from the question…or the whole question instead. It took days of correspondence before I found someone capable and a few more days of pleading, begging and grovelling before he finally complied. So finally the question was deleted, but I was really shaken. My name had been displayed for about a week before they took it down. I suspect at the time we had just regained our network and a tiny sense of privacy after 2 years of pure hell…which explains my slight overreaction. But our hackers seemed to know us after 2 years of having access to all of our private data…so I didn’t want my name out there at all!

The head honcho who finally remedied it told me that only real people’s names were allowed…and if I didn’t like it I didn’t need to participate. He also suggested creating another Apple ID, but back then you had to associate it with a different email, which meant at a minimum setting up another email account too. It wasn’t as simple as it appeared. An I was already dealing with 2 Apple ID’s from the situation with my son. The last thing I wanted to do after having gone through upwards of 20 email accounts that were repeatedly hacked was start down that path again. I did try to explain all this via emails…but I don’t know that I was successful.

Because overall I was met with indifference at best. At the time I had problems believing that this was their attitude and that it was impossible for someone…or anyone really…to change their display name to something else. Cyber security issues were just beginning to get national attention…so my fears didn’t seem unwarranted. In the end when I finally did prevail…it was only after I swore to promise that I would never, ever, reveal the fact that this was even possible to anyone else.

I didn’t reveal their secret either up until now. It was a long time ago in digital years at least…so probably things are different now…or are they? I probably shouldn’t assume so often! But now, I don’t feel any regret in revealing what in hindsight almost takes on tones of bullying…because I should not have had to devote that amount of time and effort for something so minor and so wrong! At the moment I’m downright angry as I’m realizing that at least twice I was treated really poorly by Apple employees (even if one was a tangential employee.)This behavior appears to me to emanate from a perceived sense of superiority which is exhibited as both arrogance and domineering. It’s not right.

Apple ID Problem #3

Trust me when I say there is one more largely distressing Apple ID incident which I just don’t have the stomach to rehash here right now. I wonder if Apple recognizes the amount of stress and frustration that’s thrust upon users? It appears that this worsens when dealing with their most loyal customers.

Bloomberg article about shrinking profit margins

Bloomberg article about shrinking profit margins

Afterthoughts

I did come to one realization about Marty’s and even the woman’s seemingly suspicious interrogations, which I now think may have had to do with digital rights and piracy. But if they had bothered to inquire, that is a complete nonissue for me. I don’t have or use any of that kind of content…it’s that simple. Other than a very, relatively small old music library from maybe 8 years ago when I got my iPod, I simply don’t consume media content at all. I don’t use my music library either because we were never able to separate my small one from my son’s larger one. So if I were to go look for some old song that I know I downloaded, I generally never find it.

What’s important to me is the data I’ve accumulated from research, drafts I’m writing and the graphics I create to accompany the work I intend to publish online. Right now I’m working on 2 huge feature articles. One is on cybersecurity. It’s a very detailed analysis of alternatives to keep people’s identities and data safe in a whole host of situations. My focus is on firewalls in their many forms which I perceive to be a topic generally not understood. The other is on the nuts and bolts of how to cut the cable and setup suitable alternatives…but again it’s extremely detailed and I cover the entire process from start to finish.

I’m learning to use a new editing app (Ulysses) which is great but it relies on having access to my data using iCloud. That’s why iCloud syncing for me is so crucial and why I wasted my time calling Apple Support in the first place. I don’t take that step lightly. In fact the last time I called them was probably 3 years ago. In the rare instances I’ve gone that route…even when calling Apple Care, my time is usually wasted. But this time, in addition to being wasted I was treated so poorly that I couldn’t ignore the message sent:

Apple Does Not Want Their Most Valued Customers Buying Their New Products

There is simply no other way to interpret the combined evidence of Apple’s choice to impose archaic and secretive limitations which they seem to go out of their way to justify along with their abusive tactics in interacting with customers under the guise of ‘support.’

Interim Conclusion

There should be no surprise about my first conclusion. I won’t be purchasing another iPad 5…even though I do love the new iPad 5 and would really benefit by having it. I’d like to give away some of my older ones, but can’t do that if I can’t have them under the same Apple ID long enough to make sure I’ve transferred everything I need to the 2nd, despite the arrogant Apple Support employee known as Marty, and his utter lack of regard for my problem, I did learn a few more things and then came up with a few workaround ideas of my own.

Here’s the big picture. Not only are Apple ID’s antiquated but Apple has some other hidden limits that they don’t share with their customers, making the entire Apple ID system convoluted and confusing. Things like ‘one computer can only be affiliated with 5 Apple ID accounts,’ and that ‘one ios device is only allowed the create 3 new Apple ID’s.’ Also that ‘computers which have been authorized to use content under one Apple ID, can only change that designation once every 90 days.’

Rereading various Apple support articles failed to shed any more light on most of these limitations. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since Marty’s one cheerful interaction was his mention of the fact that many of these restrictions are buried deeply within the fine print of Apple’s Terms & Conditions which I’ve made PDF’s of to include here. I have to admit though, I didn’t actually read to 50+ pages linked to below.

ios Terms & Conditions

iCloud Terms & Conditions

Game Center Terms & Conditions

iPad 5 Warranty

More helpful is the advice written by MacWorld’s Jason Snell. Last June he wrote a really helpful article which explains clearly and succinctly exactly what the 2 main device limits Apple currently dictates are and how to find which devices of yours that apply.

MacWorld Article by Jason Snell

MacWorld Article by Jason Snell

Workarounds

The day after my support encounter I decided to research this topic a little further. I discovered that there are some interesting and creative solutions to my problem and that despite Marty’s claim to the contrary, I’m not the only user worldwide to find myself in this situation. Other’s have been equally frustrated. So I thought I’d share what I came up with as ways to address the ridiculous data sharing limitations.

Good Workaround Ideas from Ben Greiner

Good Workaround Ideas from Ben Greiner

The best workaround ideas I found are outlined in this article, which also highlights some even more randomly archaic limitations that Apple has forced upon their best customers. My favorite workaround is creating one backup that acts essentially as a template for configuring more Apple devices beyond the 10 by just using that same backup for multiple restores on numerous devices. I took the ideas in Ben Greiner’s article above as the basis for coming up with the 4 workarounds I describe below.

4 Ideas for Working Around Apple’s 10 Device Limit

These are my 4 best ideas for setting up an iPad which typically wouldn’t be allowed by Apple because you’ve reached their 10 device ceiling. Some build upon an idea I got when questioning Marty. He mentioned that you don’t need an Apple ID to use an ios device. He said that all the core apps would be on a newly restored iPad, so you could just use it ‘as is’ but not add content via the App Store, iTunes U., the Music Store, iBooks or using any of Apple’s content solutions.

The downside of course for me is that I use and rely heavily upon iCloud sync for all my own personal data. Everything from Contacts, Payment methods, Safari Bookmarks, Documents, and the most important Photos and Videos…so the Apple ID sign-in aspect is important.

But there are nuances to it. For example, on some devices that I don’t use a lot for productivity I could sign in, load the content I want onto it, and then sign out…I think that the content would remain. Also, through a convoluted assortment of Google Drive, Google Photos, Dropbox, Box, and OneDrive, I could probably, with great effort, set up something that resembles an iCloud connected device with synced data. But I’ve worked with several of these alternatives already in a limited capacity trying to make my iCloud data available on a non-connected device for an app requiring iCloud connectivity…and it’s a cumbersome process that varies a lot by cloud provider. It would require a lot of front end work and documenting the steps would be key for me to keep this working.

So, I’ve outlined 4 possible alternatives below which all have some pros and cons, but which do offer some flexibility for various circumstances.

Of the 4 Methods outlined, the reason Method 1 is best for me is because it’s the only one which keeps the Apple ID intact therefore the iCloud connection is maintained.

Best Method 1 | Create Multiples of the Same iPad

This method relies upon your ability to save a good copy of a backup that you’ll use to restore any new device from. By doing so you’ll essentially be creating multiple copies of the same device. So the difficulties of this method may be differentiating between them sometimes. For example, when you use the share extension feature of opened webpages….and see your different devices…will you still see all the devices setup in this manner displayed? I’m not entirely sure since this is only theoretical right now, but I plan to test this out when restoring an iPad to bring to my 91 year old Dad for reading ebooks.

Steps

  • Setup one ios Device as new – Maybe give it a special name like ‘Favorite iPad’
  • Put all the apps and things I would start with on any fresh devices onto it.
  • Make a backup that I save permanently in some fashion…maybe in a file outside of iTunes.
  • Use that backup file as a template whenever I setup a new iPad…restoring from this backup onto each newly restored device.Method 2 | Create A Bare Bones iPad with No Apple Content Thereby Creating a Static iPad with Non-Updatable Content

Remember Marty told me you don’t need an Apple ID to use an iPad. You’ll have all the core apps and can surf the web…you just can’t download apps or other content. Another thing I discovered is that you can have an Apple ID assigned to a device…but not have a credit card associated to that device for iTunes. You could have the credit card associated with it but then remove it, or set it up from the start without one. So you could setup a device with the apps you want while signed in…and then sign out of either the Apple ID or the Credit card on that device…leaving it fully stocked with whatever apps and content you want…but not able to get any more.

Method 3 | Enhance a Bare Bones iPad with Side Loaded Content

Use Method 2 without ever signing into an Apple ID, then Google something like ‘Side-Loaded apps for iPads and find alternative app ‘stores.’ One side loading alternative I tried and it appears to be a safe option is Tweakbox.

Tweakbox site and app for side-loading apps

Tweakbox site and app for side-loading apps

Method 4 | Jailbreak Your iPad

Since I’ve not done this I don’t know much about it other than that jail breaking voids your Apple warranty if you’re caught and you run the risk of bricking your device. But there is a huge jail breaking community with lots of information. There are complete app stores for jail breakers and it seems you can do a lot of cool things with an ios device that would normally be restricted by Apple. Perhaps one of the largest jail breaking sites is Redmond Pie where you can learn more about it and get lots and lots of great information.

Is Apple’s Demise Inevitable?

Never before has technology advanced at the rate which we’re experiencing today. We sit on the precipice of a bona fide new world. One in which the vast majority of our daily needs, both personal and professional, will be met in by complex interfaces of digital data. These already impact a broad array of our needs. Soon every aspect of people’s lives, our communications, what we eat, the media we consume, the healthcare we receive, our shopping activities, our leisure activities…literally every single aspect of our daily lives will transition to become part of the interconnected framework of cyberspace.

As much as I love my Apple devices today I simply cannot see how they’ll survive these changes. Already change is creating greater user demand for interconnected tools which are growing increasingly necessary for our day-to-day lives. Apple’s inability to function transparently, coupled with their paternalistic style of customer relations, and their need for total control points to their inevitable inability to adapt.

Stated more simply…sharing has never been Apple’s strong suit.

I fear that the handwriting is on the wall…our worlds’ greater need for universally interconnected tools will render Apple’s products irrelevant, signaling the beginning of the end for the corporation.

Taken from Apple's 2016 10K Filing

Taken from Apple’s 2016 10K Filing

What Apple’s Recent Financials Tell Us

I’ve spent some time analyzing Apple’s financials to see if my theory holds water. I needed to do this because if you were to take Wall Street recent reactions literally, you’d think Apple’s future was promising. But we’ve all learned enough to know that taking Wall Street news at face value is a slippery slope.

Apple’s profits are still deceptively solid, in fact even encouraging in 2017. But those can’t be sustained long term under the present set of circumstances. Where profits are increasing the most are in a segment Apple call’s their ‘Services’ business. The segment is composed primarily of revenues from Apple Care, App Store sales, iCloud Storage and Apple Pay.

It makes sense these would be increasing now given the market saturation of Apple hardware, but think about it. These services are dependent upon successful hardware profits. That’s where Apple has shined in the past and in the long term it’s there where Apple needs to be successful to achieve any sort of long term growth in their industry. Unless Apple were to branch out by providing services to non-Apple hardware, growth simply can’t be sustained long term. Without growth of customers for their hardware products, services profits won’t be sustained.

So while the current numbers are causing analysts to applaud Apple’s wisdom and business acumen, in reality I think this is more a situation of fortuitous riding of coattails which will reverse as quickly as it appeared.

Recent trends in Apple profits are telling and support my forecast of eventual degradation of Apple’s financial situation I think. Profit margins for Apple’s hardware have steadily declined which is a bit of an industry trend. More sophisticated technology commands higher costs to produce yet prices can’t be raised enough to offset these costs so margins overall have been going down for years industry wide.

Add to this declining sales, primarily due to customers’ blasé response to new offerings which is a direct result of a lack of innovation that’s exciting on a large scale and the concept of long term profits stagnating or declining seems realistic. So in the end services’ profits can’t help but decline, because it’s success is predicated upon a successful hardware segment.

Final Conclusion

There is only one business model under present day circumstances that might possibly turn this around. That’s a model that values existing customers. Will that be possible for Apple to achieve? Only time will tell.

This is why Apple Should Want Me to Buy Another iPad 5!

NASDAQ Price Earning's Forecast

NASDAQ Price Earning’s Forecast

Below I’ve included links to some of the financial data I used to arrive at my conclusion.

Here’s a link to Apple’s 2016 10K Filing

Here’s a link to Apple’s 2017 Proxy Statement to Shareholders

Here’s a link to Statista’s Chart Showing Apple’s Net Income from 2005-2016

Here’s 2 links to some Bloomberg analyses on why Apple’s Profit margins are Declining – October 2016 Report and Recent Problems With iPad Sales – March 2017 Report

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