The Tech Upgrade Your Work-From-Home Setup Desperately Needs

Among many other things, 2020 will be remembered as the year working from home went from something some people did once in a while to being the everyday reality for a large chunk of the population. The initial days were a welcome change at least for some, but pretty soon came the realisation that most of us are desperately unprepared for the reality of taking endless Zoom calls from our kitchens.

The “new reality” has been here for between six to eight months now, so I hope you have the basics figured out. That’s to say I hope there’s a dedicated corner of the house that you call your “home office”, though I realise not everyone has the financial means or physical space (often both) to setup a workstation consisting of a(n ergonomic, hopefully) desk and chair at the very least.

Many employers have stepped up to fund or facilitate purchase of different types of equipment to make working from home a more comfortable experience. But the one part of the setup that often gets neglected is one that quite literally enables the work-from-home economy: the humble Wi-Fi router.

Most people continue to use the Wi-Fi router provided by their Internet Service Provider (ISP), which might be good enough for some users, but if you are the guy on Zoom calls whose video is always freezing, or if there are certain parts of your house that are dead zones in terms of Wi-Fi coverage, it might be worthwhile in investing in a better Wi-Fi router.

Yes, I know the last thing you want to do is deal with yet another gadget, and you actually like the fact that your router is hidden away in some corner and it’s something you literally haven’t thought about in months, if not years. But in a world where it’s increasingly common for multiple people to be working and/ or studying from home at the same time — not to mention we are streaming more video than ever before — the router is now (if it wasn’t already) arguably the most important piece of tech in your home, so it’s worth giving your choice a second thought.

Over the years, I have tested and reviewed my fair share of routers, and in a new series of a posts on this blog, I will talk about the things you need to keep in mind while buying a new router; how to know if you even need a new router; as well as share recommendations of my favourite networking gear.

Apple No Longer Ships a Charger With Your iPhone: A ‘Green’ Move?

Apple is a company that’s used to making headlines with its decisions to leave things behind. Headphone jack, optical drive, and — if you go further back — the floppy drive, among others, have found themselves sidelined by Apple’s relentless pursuit of design, technical, and business goals.

The latest to fall by the wayside are the EarPods and humble power adapter that, until recently, came bundled with every new iPhone. While many smartphones — especially those on the budget end of the spectrum — have shipped without any kind of earphones, the iPhone 12 lineup could potentially be the first mainstream phones to ship without a power adapter (aka charger) in the retail box.

For years, I — and countless others — have complained about Apple shipping its most expensive phones with puny 5W chargers, possibly the only “specification” that’s remain unchanged since the original iPhone. This in a world where even the most affordable smartphones — that cost a fraction of an iPhone — ship with a charger that’s at least twice as fast, while manufacturers of more expensive Android phones have been engaged in a “fast charging” race whose heady mix of marketing and actual technological innovation is reminiscent of the “megapixel wars” from a few years ago.

Apple partially addressed this complaint by shipping an 18W charger in the box of last year’s iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max, while the $699 (9,195 SEK/ Rs. 64,900) iPhone 11 continued the 5W charger tradition. That, as we now know, was just a temporary relief, as Apple’s long term solution to those complaints has been to drop the charger from the box completely.

Apple wants you to believe that the move is all about the environment. Here’s what Apple’s press release announcing the iPhone 12 range says on the subject:

Apple is also removing the power adapter and EarPods from iPhone packaging, further reducing carbon emissions and avoiding the mining and use of precious materials, which enables smaller and lighter packaging, and allows for 70 percent more boxes to be shipped on a pallet. Taken altogether, these changes will cut over 2 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually, equivalent to removing nearly 450,000 cars from the road per year.

And here’s what Lisa Jackson, Vice President, Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives at Apple said during her rooftop appearance at this month’s special event:

“And just like we did with Apple Watch, we looked for ways to cut waste and use less material. Customers already have over 700 million Lightning headphones and many customers have moved to a wireless experience with AirPods, Beats, or other wireless headphones. And there are also over 2 billion Apple power adapters out in the world, and that’s not counting the billions of third-party adapters.

So we are removing these items from the iPhone box, which reduces carbon emissions, and avoids the mining and use of precious materials. Removing these items also means a smaller, lighter iPhone box. We can fit up to 70 percent more products on a shipping pallet, reducing carbon emissions in our global logistics chain.”

The message Apple wants you to take home is that the move’s good for the environment (and any financial gains are purely coincidental). But what does Apple gain apart from securing the future of the planet, good PR, and the warm fuzzy feeling that comes from doing the “right thing”?

As many have pointed out, Apple saves on the cost of manufacturing accessories that would’ve otherwise been bundled in each box, but none of these savings have been passed on to consumers. In fact, on average the iPhone 12 range is more expensive than the previous generation, especially in markets like India, though at least part of that is down to higher local taxes and weak INR (the same way that lower Sweden pricing is thanks to a much stronger SEK).


Apple will also point to the fact that all models now come with OLED panels, which more than offsets the “next to nothing” (quotes mine) it costs to manufacturer the charger and earphones you no longer get in the box. This is perhaps the only time you’ll (unofficially, of course) get anyone at Apple to admit that the pair actually cost mere cents to manufacture, so there wasn’t much to pass on in the name of savings, all while continuing to sell them for $29 each until recently.

But my main gripe isn’t that Apple hasn’t reduced the price of the new iPhones. It’s that Apple’s move — when seen in its entirety, as explained below — will actually encourage purchase of more chargers, going against Apple’s public claim of doing good for the environment. Sure, not every iPhone buyer will end up purchasing a charger, but my guess is that a substantial percentage will, and Apple is well positioned to profit from that trend.

Apple is bundling a Type-C to Lightning cable in the box, rendering most chargers that majority of the people would have lying around useless. That, of course, means you’ll be in the market for a new, Type-C charger, one that Apple will gladly sell you for $29 $19.

Even if you do that, the charging speeds you get won’t match what chargers bundled with most Android flagships could provide, but that’s probably better for the long-term health of your phone’s battery and is a topic for another day.

Unless you plan to resell it, or hand it over to someone else in the family, you could decide to continue using the charger and cable from an iPhone you currently own. Well, the joke’s on me, because most people can’t keep their iPhone charging cable from getting destroyed within six months, forget about a year or few, so that’s not really an option either.

So, as it turns out, if Apple dropping a charger from the iPhone retail box wasn’t bad enough, bundling a Type-C cable actually makes the move worse, as the said cable will (by lying unused) only add to environmental waste Apple says it wants to avoid. The company points out there are “2 billion Apple power adapters out in the world, and that’s not counting the billions of third-party adapters” but the real question is how many of them are Type-C? My guess is not many. So what will most people need to do to use the cable that came with their shiny new iPhone? Buy another charger of course.

What about the decision to drop EarPods from the box? Annoying as many will find it to be, that’s a move I can understand, not least because it’s one with precedence within the industry (though perhaps not with phones anywhere near the same price point). Regardless, it’s a decision that will add further fuel to the rocket ship that is AirPods sales.

On Mac App Subscription Service Setapp’s iPhone and iPad Debut

Setapp, the subscription service that provides access to nearly 200 paid Mac apps for a flat monthly fee, recently announced its arrival on iOS (and iPadOS). While the move has undoubtedly been anticipated since Setapp’s launch in 2017, not many would’ve expected it would become a reality given the restrictions on Apple’s mobile platforms.

Setapp launched on iOS (and iPadOS, argh, I hate doing this) in August with eight apps, with two more seemingly added since. Arguably the most high profile of these apps is Ulysses, the text editor that’s gained its fair share of fans — with @prawnway being the most dedicated user I know — since its launch a few years ago.

I too have spent a fair amount of time using Ulysses — in fact I’m typing this in Ulysses, before I post this via MarsEdit, another longtime favourite Mac app available via Setapp — thanks at least in part to the fact that it was included as part of Setapp, a service I was already using. I have never completely embraced it thanks to its few quirks, not least of which is the way it handles links in Markdown.

Before this becomes a post about Ulysses, let’s switch back to talking about Setapp. The new iOS offering also includes apps like 2Do, Paste, and SQLPro Studio, but what’s more interesting than the selection of apps is how Setapp is getting around Apple’s restrictions to effectively “unlock” in-app purchases on iOS and iPadOS.

The Setapp app on macOS has a new section called Available on iOS, which lists apps available as part of the new offering. Open the listing page of any of these apps and you will see an ‘iOS app’ button. Tap on this button and you’ll see two options — one to download the iOS app, if you don’t have it already, and the other to unlock all features of the app.

Both these things are done via QR codes. The idea is to first install the app via the App Store and then, in the second step, to scan a QR code that unlocks all features of the said app. The app then behaves exactly how it would have if you completed an in-app purchase via the App Store.

Setapp has a webpage explaining how this setup doesn’t violate Apple’s policies, but one can’t help but wonder if Apple will one day wake up and decide this kind of behaviour is no longer allowed. That fear aside, the most disappointing fact about Setapp for iOS (and iPadOS, sigh) is probably the limited number of apps on offer right now.

As mentioned earlier, there are only ten iOS apps on offer, and all of them are “companions” to Mac apps that are already available via Setapp. That’s a disappointingly low number, but it’s worth remembering that Setapp’s entry to Mac was similar in terms of the relatively small set of apps on offer, and now the platform has grown to 198 apps (at the time of publishing this post).

Given App Store’s terms of service, it’s unlikely that Setapp will be able to offer access to “standalone” iOS/ iPadOS apps (i.e. ones without a corresponding app on other platforms) anytime soon, but one hopes that at least some other high profile Setapp partners like Screens will include their iPhone and iPad apps as part of the service.

This is especially important given some of the service’s changes around policy and pricing. Even before the launch of Setapp on iOS, the likes of Ulysses were already offering Setapp users unrestricted access to their iPad and iOS apps. But with the introduction of Setapp for iOS, each iPhone or iPad added to a Setapp account counts towards your device quota.

Those on the Setapp personal plan ($9.99 per month) are limited to using their apps on a single Mac, while if you have a Family plan ($19.99 per month) you can enjoy the same access across four different devices. Setapp now lets you add an iPad or iPhone to your account for $2.49 per month, which means if you are using, say, Ulysses across a Mac, iPhone, and iPad, you will end up paying more for that privilege.

With that said, the advantage of using a service like Setapp is unlimited access to 198 fully-unlocked premium Mac apps, including the likes of iStat Menus, Screens, BetterZip, CleanShot X, and many, many more. If you are interested in just one or two specific premium apps, you’ll undoubtedly be better served by signing up for those services directly.

What I like about Setapp is the fact I have discovered a handful of apps that otherwise may not have become part of my workflow. Every time I have a new requirement, the Setapp store is usually my first port of call, and invariably I end up finding something I can use (and at least tolerate, if not like).

Late last year, Setapp also extended its standard offering to business customers, in addition to offering custom plans that provide access to a subset of apps at an agreed per-user price. With a handful of popular developer tools and eduction apps in its portfolio, the company certainly has the potential to target a wide variety of companies. And if my work email inbox is any indication, Setapp certainly knows this too. PS – Sorry Tanya, I promise I will answer your email soon!