iOS Messages App Handles Replies to Group Messages Completely Wrong

Imagine if you will an email program in which Reply All is not only the default reply option but also the only reply option. Most annoying thing ever? Nope: a text application that works like that would be the most annoying thing ever--and as it happens, that's exactly how the iOS Messages application works: if you receive a group message (or group MMS or group SMS or group iMessage message or whatever else) on an iOS device, you can reply to all the recipients of that message but you cannot reply directly to only the sender*. I'm shocked that Apple--that anyone--would implement Reply All as the default for replying to a group message and I'm even more dumbfounded that this is the only reply option available: surely it is not unimaginable to Apple that some users might value the ability to reply back only to the sender of any given group message as a per-message option.** But hey: mistakes and bad decisions are made by all of us in life; it's not the end of the world! But it sure would be nice if it were fixed: Apple, please recognize the disaster that this implementation is (if by no other means than by way of all the annoying group text replies that your employees themselves surely receive as a result of this implementation) and fix it. My thanks!

*Workaround (albeit one that, as well as I can tell, pretty much no one ever uses): create a brand new message to only the sender. The keyword there is "workaround": it is not by any means a justification for not enabling a direct "reply to sender" functionality in the Messages app.

**There is apparently the ability to turn off group messages at a global level in iOS. This apparently prevents you from being able to send group messages; I do not know if it prevents you from receiving group messages or not. Going back to the earlier email analogy, this would be like an email program that won't let you put more than a single recipient on any given email and potentially like an email program that won't let you receive emails unless you're the only recipient on them.

Company & Product Recommendation: ZAGG & the ZAGGfolio

The product recommendation:
The ZAGGfolio for iPad 2. If you're going to get The new iPad (you may refer to it as the iPad 3; Apple isn't referring to it that way, however), you're covered too: ZAGG is already selling the ZAGGfolio for The new iPad and I'm sure it's just as awesome, maybe even more so, as the ZAGGfolio for iPad 2. And Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 users, there's a ZAGGfolio for Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 too.

The backstory:
When Adobe issued me an iPad 2 to use in my job, I...well, I really didn't care. See, I'm not a technology for technology's sake type of person; to the contrary, I'm only interested in technology that can really provide value to me and I just didn't see a tablet doing that. In fact, I already had a tablet, a 7" Samsung Galaxy Tab (also issued to me by Adobe), that I didn't use much. You may be thinking "well, that's an Android device and iOS is the only way to go"; for me this is not true: for me, both iOS and Android have their pros/cons; I have an Android phone (the Motorola Atrix) and so I'm comfortable in Android and my non-use of my 7" Samsung Galaxy Tab was in no way because it is an Android device. You may be thinking "well, a 7" tablet is too small, that's why you didn't use it" and that's not it for me either: to the contrary, the interesting thing is that, for me, one of the great attributes of a tablet to me is portability and because a 7" tablet is more portable than a 10" tablet (I can fit it in the side pocket of my cargo shorts!), I anticipated that the 7" Samsung Galaxy Tab would be my tablet of choice whenever I did use a tablet--so I thought that I would use the iPad 2 even less than the 7" Samsung Galaxy Tab.

The issue for me isn't screen size and the issue for me isn't operating system--the issue for me is whether or not the device has a keyboard I can use approximately as well as a full-size physical keyboard. When consuming content (such as when clicking around the Internet), a tablet is all I need. But when creating content, I need a device with a keyboard--a real keyboard, not a software keyboard on the screen. Both Android tablets and iPads allow the use of any Bluetooth keyboard. However, as previously mentioned, portability is for me one of the key attributes of a tablet and so what I needed was something that would bundle up my iPad2 and a Bluetooth keyboard all in one convenient package. And that's exactly wha the ZAGGfolio for iPad 2 provides.

Before buying the ZAGGfolio, I did a lot of online research into iPad2 cases that include a Bluetooth keyboard. There are quite a large number of them available and most of them cost less than the ZAGGfolio. But only the ZAGGfolio has what I consider to be a faithful recreation of a MacBook keyboard and that was critical to me. You may say "well, I'm a Windows person so I don't care if my tablet Bluetooth keyboard is laid out like a Mac keyboard or not" but I'm pretty sure that if you compare your keyboard to a Mac keyboard, you'll see that they're very similar whereas if you compare your keyboard to the Bluetooth keyboards that come with some of these other iPad2 cases, you'll see that certain keys on those Bluetooth keyboards are shifted around. This made those other keyboards all non-starters for me. So, encouraged by a couple of online reviews calling the ZAGGfolio the best typing experience among iPad 2 cases with a Bluetooth keyboard, I purchased the the ZAGGfolio for iPad 2.

As you can tell from the fact that I'm writing this review, I've been very pleased with the ZAGGfolio--so pleased that when my dad got an iPad 2, I bought him a ZAGGfolio too (and in the spirit of full disclosure I will note that the price of the ZAGGfolio for my iPad 2 was covered by Adobe as a business expense; however, the key point is that I like my ZAGGfolio so much that when paying out of my own pocket for a case for my father, I bought him the ZAGGfolio as well). In regards to comparison with other cases on the market, I can only provide this one small note: my uncle has another iPad 2 case with a Bluetooth keyboard and I used it briefly one day and the mucked-up keyboard layout definitely caused me trouble. UPDATE 2012-07-27: after seeing and using my ZAGGfolio, my uncle expressed interest in one so I bought him one for his birthday and he's loving it and he says it's much better than his previous iPad 2 case+keyboard (which, again, I already knew but the point is that he is very glad he made the switch).

Having the ZAGGfolio has made a night-and-day difference in my use of the iPad 2: far from rarely using it, I use it constantly now. In fact, I typed most of this blog post on it, something I wouldn't dream of doing on the iPad 2 without a good physical keyboard. And, because it's so portable, I take it with me pretty much everywhere I go--in fact, my wife has been known to ask me if I'm really going to take it to such-and-such place that we're going (the answer: sometimes yes, sometimes no). I've been taking notes during church for years by hand but now I've switched to typing them, again something I wouldn't have dreamed about doing on the iPad 2 without a good physical keyboard. Speaking of notes, if I'm not presenting at a business meeting but rather am just taking notes, I'll leave my MacBook Pro behind and just use my iPad2 (by the way, I highly recommend Notability: it's a great note-taking and note-management app that can do a lot of cool things including recording audio and synching it up with the notes you type; last I knew, Notability was a mere $0.99).

What about that 7" Samsung Galaxy Tab? Well, it still has the advantage that it fits in my cargo shorts so it might get some use here and there but since it doesn't have a physical keyboard, it pretty much just sits around. I will note, however, that if you just want to consume content, not create it, the 7" size is really great: it fits in one hand nicely (well, okay, my big hand at least) and it's a lot bigger than a mobile phone and definitely provides a much nicer user experience than a mobile phone--so if you're ruling out 7" tablets without ever using one because you think they're too small, check them out before you dismiss them so quickly.

One last note: if you're thinking that all this sounds well and good but you'll just use your laptop, thank you very much: more power to you! It certainly can be hard to justify the cost of a tablet if you own a laptop. But a tablet does bring increased portability. And don't overlook battery life: my iPad 2 will get 10 hours easily on a single charge whereas my MacBook Pro can't go more than a few hours on a charge. Now, I hear that the MacBook Air with a solid state drive can go a really long time on a single charge and given its size and weight, the portability argument for an iPad is weakened for MacBook Air owners. In regards to user experience: I personally find that it can be more enjoyable to do certain things on a tablet (for instance, I prefer the Weather Channel iPad app over their website though for Windows users they do have a Windows app that looks very similar to the iPad app) and on the flip side, other things are more enjoyable to do on a desktop/laptop; sometimes one being preferable to the other is due to the paradigm of the OS itself but many times it is due to app considerations (as with the example above where Weather Channel has an iPad app but not, at the time of this writing, a Mac OS X app).

Note that ZAGG has run some promos in the past to sweeten the pot a little on the ZAGGfolios so you might look around for those (if you contact me I may be able to see what I can do to help you find a promo).

The company recommendation:

The backstory:
It's important that I broaden things out a little bit to a general company recommendation, not just a product recommendation, because I've had a really good experience with the folks at ZAGG. My nephew accidentally broke a key on my dad's ZAGGfolio; I emailed ZAGG about it, asking if I could get a replacement key and not only did they email me back quickly, they sent me a free replacement key! Now that's a company that stands behind its products! It was through no fault of their workmanship that the ZAGGfolio broke but they went to time and expense to help me get it fixed anyway. I'm tempted to say "that's how business should be done" but I think it's better than that: it would have been perfectly fine for them to charge a reasonable few dollars for shipping & handling. But instead, they went over and above and I think that really speaks highly of ZAGG.

UPDATE 2012-07-27: my dad learned his lesson about letting my nephew use the iPad while it's in the ZAGGfolio--yet somehow my nephew got hold of the iPad in the ZAGGfolio and broke some more keys so dad got in touch with ZAGG and once again they came through with free keys. Awesome! But dad certainly doesn't want to take advantage of the generosity of ZAGG so here's to hoping he can keep the ZAGGfolio away from my nephew!

Super Shuttle Interferes with MiFi

I just had the weirdest experience: my devices connected fine to my Verizon 4G LTE MiFi hotspot immediately before and then also immediately after my ride in a Super Shuttle but during the time I was in the Super Shuttle none of the devices (and I tried 3) would connect to the hotspot. The WiFi network of the hotspot was still there and detected by the devices and upon choosing to connect, I would be prompted for the WiFi password but after entering it, I would get a connection timeout. So strange. What in a Super Shuttle could cause that?!? I should have done a WiFi analysis--that was a missed opportunity! I have previously experienced where in a WiFi-heavy area the hotspot simply did not broadcast an SSID. I later searched for information on this issue and found others have experienced it as well (see and they, like me, consider it a bug that needs to be fixed but in the meantime, the workaround is to set the device to use a specific channel, which I did. Maybe that channel was overwhelmed or something. Is that possible? Is there a circumstance around that issue where I'd be able to see the WiFi network but not connect to it?

Anyway, if you too hit this issue, know that you're not alone. And if you have any thoughts as to how to deal with it, let me know. Fortunately, I have no plans to ride in Super Shuttle again any time soon. But avoiding Super Shuttle in and of itself is all well and good--but there's nothing that says that this issue couldn't crop up somewhere else too, which is why I'd sure love to get to the bottom of it.

Your Website + Mobile Devices

When I first got an iPhone in 2008, mobile websites weren't all that common--and this was perfectly fine because the browser on an iPhone is very capable of working with "regular" websites (save those using Flash, of course). But in the time since, mobile websites have become all the rage. This is a very good thing as mobile-optimized websites are certainly more convenient on mobile devices than are sites that are designed for desktop browsers. But the vast majority of mobile-optimized websites only present a fraction of the content of the full website. So what's a visitor to do if he/she wants to get content that's on the full website but isn't on the mobile-optimized site (or, due simply to personal preference, just wants to use the full website on his/her mobile device)? The obvious answer is "visit the full website" but that's where things get tricky: it has been my experience that more frequently than not, mobile-optimized sites "trap" you and disallow you from getting to the full site.

Trapped on a mobile site--how does this happen? Well, let's talk about how you get there in the first place: you don't go to something like, do you? No, you just go to just like you would on your computer; either that directly presents mobile content to you or it redirects you somewhere like How does the redirection happen? The site is developed such that the User-Agent value in the request header is inspected and when it is determined that the value provided corresponds to a mobile browser, the site serves up the mobile content or redirects you to the mobile site. You're probably then starting to see the "how" of getting trapped on a mobile site: because the site always does this header inspection, you always go the mobile site, no matter how hard you try to get to the full site.

Trapped on a mobile site--why does this happen? This is a bit more of a complex question. The simple answer is the "how" answer. But why are sites developed this way to begin with? The intent is good: referencing back to the first paragraph, mobile-optimized websites are certainly more convenient on mobile devices and so site developers and owners want to give you the most convenient content for your device. But what so many of these site developers and owners are missing is the other things I said in the first paragraph: there's (generally) content on their full site users might want to access plus some users might just simply prefer to use the full site, even on a mobile device. Look, it's your site and you can do what you want. But if what you want is to serve your site's visitors in the way they like best, don't trap them in your mobile site. It appears that many mobile-optimized sites don't even consider this: they don't give you a link to get to the full site and, due to the aforementioned User-Agent request header analysis, they trap you in the mobile site no matter how hard you try to get to the full site. But there's another class of mobile-optimized sites that trap you and these are in a sense far more discouraging: the sites that do give you a link to the full site--but don't bother to test that it actually works. This is discouraging because it starts with a greater understanding as compared to the other class of sites that trap you--specifically, the understanding that site visitors might want to get to content on the full site--it's just not followed through effectively and as a result, it's vastly more frustrating because they leave you hitting their "visit full site" button in futility, looking like a fool. And this is by no means rare--I see this all the time. Folks, you have to test this stuff! Some of you probably think you do: but using an emulator/simulator isn't sufficient (clearly!). I understand: it's hard to test mobile sites properly because you have to actually use a mobile device and that's a pain. But whipping out a mobile device and pressing the "visit full site" button on your site, isn't all that difficult, is it?

Testing is always mandatory, of course, but testing something broken is only going to prove to you it's broken--and if your site always inspects the User-Agent request header and serves the mobile content or redirects to the mobile site, your site is broken (in regards to allowing users to get to your full site). So if you're inspecting the User-Agent request header and serving the mobile content or redirecting to the mobile site in all circumstances, you don't need to test: first you need to make some code changes (and then you need to test those). If you don't have a "visit full site" link on your mobile site, this is complicated--how then do you know if the user wants to be on the mobile site or the full site? Serving the mobile site to mobile browsers by default and providing a "visit full site" link is the best approach. And if you're doing that then the code changes you need to make are to implement a system whereby if the user actually clicks that link, it supersedes the action taken to supply the mobile content based on the User-Agent request header. There are lots of approaches you can take for this but make sure whatever you do, it's permanent, at least for the duration of the user's session. That means you can't simply add something like a URL parameter of "fullsite=true" and expect that to be good enough because then when the user actually clicks on a link within the full site, he/she will be right back to mobile site. Using a URL parameter like "fullsite=true" is a good idea but you need to implement a system to allow the user to stay on the full site until he/she indicates he/she wants to get back to the mobile site (and, by the way, just as it is the best approach to give users a "visit full site" link on the mobile site, you need to give mobile users on the full site a "visit mobile site" link so they don't end up trapped in your full site). You can do this however you see fit--dynamically add something like "fullsite=true" to all the full site URLs, use a cookie variable that you inspect on every request, whatever you want--but be sure you do something or you're only going to create an even more frustrating experience than if you prevent the user from visiting the full site to begin with (and yes, I've seen this issue too).

Bear in mind that you're not in the clear here just because you're only providing the content to software that someone else developed: just today I was looking at a Wordpress site and while it provided a "visit full site" link, even when I clicked on it, I still ended up redirected back to the mobile site. In fact, experiencing this issue in such a widely used system as Wordpress was the catalyst for me to write this post. I guess if you've made these same mistakes as a developer you can console yourself with the fact that even such well-known software has this issue (or at least did as of whatever version it was that was used by the site I was on).

I know I sound crotchety here but a) I guess I am, sorry--I'm just truly flabbergasted as to how often this issue occurs b) seriously, I run into this issue all. the. time. c) did I mention that I see this frequently? and d) I really am trying to help (it took a long time to write this--I didn't do it complain, I did it to shed light on the issue so readers will get this right on their sites).

2012-01-23 UPDATE: I was hoping this post would generate more views, comments, and general traction that it apparently has. I guess it's that I don't have a good mechanism for socializing it properly. But please help me out: if you read this post and agree with it, send the URL to offending sites (via the Contact Us page or whatever)!

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