Apps under pressure – how did they perform on a Paris vacation?

By Scot Herrick | Outside the Cube

Jun 19
This will be somewhat long…but I went on vacation to Paris with my family and really worked some applications while there. This is a report of the winners and losers (in my opinion) and thought I would share them with the group. Some of the losers, by the way, will undoubtedly be user error or ignorance — but that’s okay, I think if I can’t get it — an Infrastructure Project Manager and an Apple fan — then others won’t get it either.
So, without further ado…here are my winners and losers:

Winner: the iPhone 7+

I’m a serious iPad guy; I don’t use my phone that much. Circumstances — I’m in the office and the iPad is easier and better device while I am there. But in Paris…traveling, navigating, etc., the iPhone was simply awesome.
Size, battery life, ease of use, ability to see what was on the screen (because of the size of the phone)…all awesome. I’ve never used my phone more, nor was I more happy that I decided on purchasing it.

Winner: iPhone camera

I have a serious SLR camera. For quite a while, I’ve not wanted to take it on trips — weight, not looking like a tourist (and I am a classic looking tourist…)…but my wife insisted. The SLR must come because it is viewed as a better camera than a smartphone.
In the use case of being outside, with a zoom lens, the SLR is pretty hard to beat.
Inside…the Louvre, Versailles, restaurants, the other art museums…the iPhone camera was hands down the better camera. Period. I was quite stunned, actually. The low-light capability of the iPhone camera was simply far better than the expensive SLR. I was surprised.
Given the inside work…and the limited use case of outside, well-lit, zoom needed use case…I may never buy another SLR again (exception: http://light.co/).

Winner: Verizon

I looked on Verizon’s web site to see how I would get service in Paris. Turns out, they have a plan where you get your same plan as in the US — but when you use it in another country, you pay $10 per day for the privilege. Just like a hotel charge, if you will.
And every day, I got a text message telling me when my day would expire along with a number to call with questions.
Turns out, we had US Cellular, AT&T, and Verizon and I was the ONLY one that had cell service in Paris. US Cellular said on their web site that their phone would work…it didn’t. You needed to buy a LOCAL SIM card — essentially, buy a plan while you’re there — to have it work. Yeah, my wife is switching carriers after that fiasco.
AT&T didn’t work…although that may be because you needed to do something with the AT&T web site to make it go and that phone wasn’t controlled by my family, so maybe it would have worked with some effort.
Points taken away from Verizon: they said you could initiate the plan via a text message. I did the text message, but nothing was acknowledged, so who knows if that triggered the plan.
Additionally, their website allowed you to sign up, but even though I signed up, I could never get the signup to complete (do they not test this stuff???).
So I never got confirmation of the plan from the website signup nor the text signup. I don’t know if cellular worked because I showed up in France or if the texting or web site signup worked.
This is not a ringing endorsement of Verizon. UI sucked. Workflow sucked. But I had cell service and the rest of my family did not.
And have I mentioned how many apps are dependent on cell service? No. But, quite a few.

Winner: Apple Watch

Complications. Such an awesome name. The watch was AWESOME. I changed complications to make the watch the most useful quick reference device on the planet.
World clock to see the time back at home so as not to text someone at 2 AM? Check.
Fitness app right up front? Check. Daily miles walked (45.1 miles for the week!).
Weather updated for Paris — in Centigrade? Check.
I was sort of ho-hum with the watch in that I have different complications set up at home and never change them. But the flexibility to change the complications to fit the immediate circumstances? BOOM!

Loser: Apple Photos

This was on two levels. First, Family shared albums just sucked. We set up a Shared Album for Paris so that we could all put our pictures into the album.
Makes sense — and supposedly a proven piece. Not so much.
The app allows you to select multiple pictures — like an entire day’s photos. There were two issues. First, if you tried to move pictures to the shared folder on a laptop, you should be able to select the pictures and just drag them from the day to the shared folder. Nope, didn’t work.
Or, if you used the plus and selected the days pictures (which the app makes it easy to do), you get the “preparing photos” message — not unexpected — but then it never completes. You literally have to keep the app open, do not let the screen go dark, and wait whatever hours for it to go.
If you moved off the app or let it go dark on the iPhone, iPad, or laptop, the move would not complete in the background.
Hence, you could not tell if something actually moved until the next day and if you thought it failed and you did the same process again, you’d get duplicates. I have duplicate photos in the shared folder that I now need to delete and not all of our photos are in the shared folder so I need to re-verify all photos taken by my family to ensure all the photos are in the folder.
Second, the well advertised iCloud sync between devices failed. Completely.
I expected that if I took photos on my iPhone, they would show up on my iPad. My plan was to take the pictures on the iPhone and then edit/enhance on the iPad. Except when the pictures were taken on the phone, they didn’t show up on the iPad until at least the next day.
Seriously. With a 60-MB wifi connection. Even though this works with limited numbers of photos in the US.
So, little editing of the photos. I essentially abandoned moving anything to the Paris shared folder. And here I am back in the States fiddling with Photos to get the stuff set correctly. Lightroom instead? Yes, a serious consideration although, in my opinion, Lightroom is more oriented in pictures taken with SLR’s and managing those images.

Loser: Apple Maps

Seriously, I REALLY wanted to experience the “select site objective, have Apple Watch give me the right and left turns via haptic feedback and navigate like a boss.”
Ummm… no.
This is a UI issue. When I set a destination to a place (The Louvre), the default was always the driving option. We were walking (see: 45-miles above). Under the gun, I couldn’t figure out how to get to the “walking” directions to save my soul. I’m sure it is there, but I couldn’t find it on the streets of Paris with my family looking at me for where to go.
Google maps allows you to put in a destination and every time allows you to select driving, walking, or public transport. Easy…walking.
I literally took Apple Maps off my screens and replaced it with Google Maps. Sad face. But, oh, so worth doing.

Loser: Cloak

Cloak is a VPN app. I love Cloak and use it ALL THE TIME on unsecured, untrusted networks in the US.
In Paris, Cloak experienced it’s first GLOBAL outage. Right when we were connecting from our flat, of course. They had a certificate expire and their process didn’t have it in it to check for expiration so the certificate could be renewed.
Seriously? This is like so elemental blocking and tackling its ridiculous this wasn’t completed.
But even outside of that, Cloak was not real reliable. For example, in our flat — even though I trusted the landlords WiFi network, I still wanted to go VPN. It’s Paris — five story buildings with WiFi in every flat and you pick up twenty networks without even trying hard. So even though I trusted this one network, why would I want unencrypted data flowing out when I can see twenty other WiFi networks?
But I had to because Cloak wouldn’t connect to a VPN node (even though they have them in Europe). I just gave up and connected without Cloak securing the connection.
(Anyone tried like Tunnel Bear for this to work?).

Summary

Thanks for reading this far. I’d love to hear comments; this is obviously one person’s opinion on on trip. But I think it is worth sharing so people are aware that when you put particular apps under pressure — and you have expectations that it will all “just work” — it sometimes doesn’t.
Thanks for reading…Scot
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About the Author

Scot Herrick manages projects at the edge of change. He is the author or "I've Landed My Dream Job -- Now What???" and is also the owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.