Tag Archive for 'gadgets'

iPhone 4 and iPad update

I’ve been using my iPhone 4 and iPad for several months now, so I thought I would give a hard real use experience report.

iPhone 4
I love the phone. I do see the much written about antenna attenuation problem, but day to day it doesn’t affect me as much as AT&T’s network does. One of the prime times for me to use my phone is while standing in line waiting for the ferry. The worst time is during the afternoon, because there are several hundred people all packed into the ferry terminal, all trying to pull data on their iPhones. The antenna has nothing to do with this.

In every other way, the phone is fantastic. My iPhone 3G would frequently hit the red line on the battery indicator by the time I hit the afternoon ferry, and that was after I had carefully managed my use of the device during the day. With the iPhone 4, I don’t have to worry about managing the battery. That alone has made the upgrade worth it for me.

The upgraded camera has been a huge success for me. I attribute this to a single factor – startup time. I was always reluctant to pull out my iPhone 3G for use as a camera, because quite frequently I would miss the moment by the time the camera came up. I’ve been using Tap Tap’s excellent Camera+ and I like it quite a bit. Unfortunately, you can’t get it on the app store right now, because the developer inserted an easter egg that would allow you to use one of the volume buttons to trigger the shutter. Apple then pulled the app from the store. This is the first time that App Store policy has affected an app that I care about, and I’m obviously not happy about it. It seems to me that Camera+ could have a preference that controlled this feature, and that users would have to turn it on. Since the user would have turned on that feature, they would’t be confused about the takeover of the volume button. It seems simple to me. I really like Camera+’s light table feature, but I really hate the way that it starts up trying to imitate the look of a DSLR rangefinder. The other area where Camera+ could use improvement is in the processing / filters area. It has lots of options, but most of them don’t work for me. I have better luck with Chase Jarvis’ Best Camera on this front. In any case, I’m very happy with the camera as ” the camera that is always always with me”. The resolution is also very good, and I’ve been using it to photograph whiteboards into Evernote quite successfully.

iPad

I’ve been carrying my iPad on a daily basis. I’m using it enough that when I forgot it one day, it made a difference. One thing that I’ve learned is that the iPad really needs a case. I got much more relaxed about carrying mine once it was inside a case. Originally, I thought that I would wait for one of the third party cases, but all of the ones that looked like a fit for me were out of stock, so I broke down and ordered the Apple case. It does the job, but I am not crazy about the material, and I wish that it had one or two small pockets for a pen, a little bit of paper, and perhaps some business cards.

I am pretty much using the iPad as my “away from my desk device” when I am in the office. Our office spans 5 floors in a skyscraper, and I have meetings on several floors during the course of a day. The iPad’s form factor and long battery life, make it well suited as a meeting device. I have access to my e-mail and calendar, and I’m using the iPad version of OmniFocus to keep my tasks and projects in sync with my laptop. I’ve written some py-appscript code that looks at the day’s calendar in Entourage and then kicks out a series of preformatted Evernote notes so that I can pull those notes on my iPad and have notes for the various events of the day. This kind of Mac GUI to UNIX to Mac GUI scripting is something that I’ve commented on before. Thanks to multi-device application families like Evernote, I expect to be doing some more of this hacking to extend my workflow onto the iOS devices. I don’t have a huge need for sharing files between the iPad and the laptop, but Dropbox has done a great job of filling in the gap when I’ve needed to share files.

Several people have asked me about OmniFocus on the iPad, and whether or not it is worth it. I have a large number of both work and personal projects, so being able to use the extra screen real estate on the iPad definitely does help. I have come to rely on several features in OmniFocus for iPad which are not in the desktop version. There is a great UI for bumping the dates for actions by 1 day or 1 week, which I use a lot. I am also very fond of the forecast view, which lets you look at the actions for a give day, with a very quick glance at the number of actions for each day of a week. Both of these features are smart adaptations to the iPad touch interface, and are examples of iPad apps coming into a class of their own.

Another application that I’ve been enjoying is Flipboard. Flipboard got a bunch of hype when it launched back in July, and things have died down because they couldn’t keep up with the demand. Conceptually, Flipboard is very appealing, but the actual implementation still has some problems as far as I am concerned. I can use Flipboard to read my Facebook feed, because Facebook’s timeline is just highly variable in terms of including stuff from my friends. I don’t feel that I can read Twitter via Flipboard, because it can’t keep up with the volume, so I end up missing stuff, and I hate that. Some of the provided curated content is reasonable, but not quite up to what I’d like. Flipboard is falling down because there’s not a good way for me to get the content that I want. I want Flipboard to be my daily newspaper or magazine app. But I can’t get the right content feed(s) to put into it.   

As far as the iOS goes, my usage of the iPad is making me horribly impatient for iOS 4. I would use task switching all the time. Of course, then I would be unhappy because the iPad doesn’t have enough RAM to keep my working set of applications resident. Text editing on iOS is very painful on the iPad. I’m not sure what a good solution would be here, but it definitely is a problem that I am running into on a daily basis – perhaps I need to work on my typing. There is also the issue of better syncing/sharing. My phone and iPad are personal devices, so they sync to my iTunes at home. I use both devices at work, where I have a different computer. This is definitely an area that Apple needs to improve significantly. At the moment, though, the fact that I am using my iPad hard enough to really be running into the problem means that the iPad has succeeded in legitimizing the tablet category – at least for me.

iPhone.next?

Apple’s WWDC is next week, and I’ll be attending for the first time. There’s a lot of speculation swirling around the next iPhone, especially given the prototype obtained by Gizmodo. As I wrote previously, having an iPad has definitely cut into my iPhone use, and at the same time has raised the bar on my expectations for my next phone, iPhone or otherwise.

iPhone

I am using a 3G iPhone now, and I’m not having the best user experience at the moment. There are lots of lags and stutters at inopportune moments, both in the user interface and in the performance of AT&T’s 3G network. I’ve grown used to the briskness of the iPad, and I expect that on my phone now. Apple has set their own bar here. So getting me to iPad level responsiveness is job one. Job two is to get me decent battery life. My iPad lasts way longer than my iPhone. I understand why, but I don’t like it. I really, really want to be able to use my phone without redlining it every day. The last of the big items has to do with AT&T or a rumored second carrier. I want to be able to rely on the phone for accessing data. Right now it’s not as reliable as it needs to be, and I think that everyone knows that. It’s not at all clear to me that a second carrier will do any better, because I doubt that they are prepared for the level of traffic that is coming their way once they get the iPhone. Sprint and Verizon crumbled at Google IO, so let’s not kid ourselves that the other carriers are going to magically fix things. But maybe if a bunch of people jump ship to another carrier, things will get better on AT&T.

There are some secondary issues:    16GB has turned out to be less space than I anticipated, but since the 3GS already comes in a 32GB size, I expect the next generation to come in at 64GB, although I won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t. I expect there to be camera upgrades, and I am pretty sure that I’ll be happy with what happens there. The real trick in cameras is the lenses not the megapixels, and all camera phones are on the same footing there.

This time around, there’s a “but”.

Android

After the Android 2.2 (Froyo) announcements, I am considering an Android phone as my next phone. There’s no question that today, the iPhone user interface is more highly developed, polished and intuitive than Android. At the moment fragmentation of the Android platform is a reality, despite Google’s assurances that this will get cleaned up in the future. There are numerous good apps in the Android Marketplace, but some of the applications that I use the most are not there, because they are the iPhone counterparts of Mac desktop applications. That’s a fairly large problem. These are all good reasons to stick with the iPhone.

There are two big reasons that I am looking more closely at Android. The first is that Android has much much better “integration with the cloud”. One of the biggest annoyances that I have with my iPad is the hassle of moving PDF ebook files from my Macintosh to the iPad. I shouldn’t have to use a cord, and I shouldn’t have to use iTunes. 1Password can implement wireless syncing to the iPad and iPhone, why won’t Apple? The second and more important reason is that I like what I see in some of the directions that Google is taking the user interface. Specifically, I’m talking about use use of voice and (possibly) the use of computer vision as demonstrated in Google Goggles. The iPhone, and more recently, the iPad have done something very interesting with multitouch/gestural interfaces. If you subscribe to the theory that science fiction influence science fact, then we could look at Iron Man 2 for some examples of future interfaces. Tony Stark interacts with his computer via a combination of gestures and voice commands, and from the content of the voice commands, it is clear that the computer is employing something like vision in order to resolve references in Stark’s words. As great as Apple’s advances in multitouch have been, they have done very little in terms of voice. Perhaps their acquisition of Siri is a step in that direction, but Apple’s famed secrecy makes it hard to know. The same is true in vision, except that Apple has made no such acquisition. There’s quite some distance to go before Android’s speech and vision could bring about a multimodal interface like the one in Iron Man, but at least I can see the signs that Google is going that direction. Of course, I could just wait it out on a few more generations of iPhone while Google engineers work all these issues out, but I see signs of Google acting like a leader instead of a catch up player, and I like that.

What about Apple’s recent behavior with regard to languages other than Objective-C? Yes, I am bothered by it, but it’s not as big an issue to me as working well in an internet centric world, or working towards a much more multimodal user interface. Nobody is leaving the web platform because they are unable to write in-browser applications in their favorite language, and lots of people are delivering all kinds of interesting stuff in that space. More choice would definitely be nice, but if choice or freedom are your high order bit, that’s what Android is for.

If nothing else, I think it’s a good sign that there are two mobile platforms good enough to put me in this conundrum.

JSConf US Gear Report

JSConf was my trial run for a bunch of new equipment, so here’s a separate report on those experiences.

iPad

Conference like settings are one of the situations where I felt that I could make the best of the iPad. Apparently, I was not alone, because there were probably somewhere between 5 and 10 iPads at the event.

My flights from Seattle to JSConf included 6 hours of flying time, and hour and a half of layovers, plus the usual waiting around time in airports. During that time I read some e-mail, watched about 90 minutes of video, and read several PDF books / documents. By the time I finally ended up in my hotel room, I still had around 80% of the battery charge remaining. I used the iPad as much as possible during the first day of JSConf, and the battery finished at 49% at the end of the first day. Thus far, the battery life is beyond my expectations.

During the conference, the primary activities that I was doing were e-mail reading, web browsing, twittering, and taking notes. For the first two activities, I used the built in Mail and Safari. For Twitter, I switched back and forth between Twitterific and TweetDeck. I used Evernote as my primary note taking tool.

I started out using Twitterific, but at some point it stopped working and was giving a message about an nvalid server certificate error. Echofon on the Mac was having a similar problem. I had TweetDeck installed on the iPad as a leftover from trying it on the iPhone, so I gave it a try and it worked. On the desktop I am not a fan of Tweetdeck’s AIR based user interface, which outweighs it’s advantage of having columns. When I use Syrinx on the desktop, I just open a stack of windows and that works fine. But on the iPad, Tweetdeck’s column based model makes a lot of sense, especially if you hold the iPad in landscape mode. I was mostly happy with the experience, although Tweetdeck has some weird UI in places:

  • It’s hard to get a sense of when the various columns refresh, and there doesn’t appear to be a way to get individual columns to refresh. I’d love to be able to use Tweetie 2′s pull down to refresh gesture to do this.
  • Favoriting tweets (which is how I keep track of interesting information on a mobile device) takes over the whole screen for a moment, causing an annoying flash/blink effect.
  • In Landscape mode you can’t click links or view profiles (the latest update to TweetDeck has added support for link clicking)
  • If you select a tweet and then discover that you need the additional menus popup, then you need to select another tweet and then reselect the tweet you want to act on

I love Evernote, and I’ve written about that before. The iPad version of Evernote is fantastic, with perhaps one exception. If you try to edit a rich text note, you are put into a weird append only kind of mode. I have some Python scripts that create rich text notes from items on my calendar, so it’s annoying to go back to Evernote on the iPad and then be put into append mode. I would love to see a full rich text editing capability come to a future version of Evernote for iPad (and sure, iPhone). Other than that, it was a workhorse at JSConf.

At many conferences, there are multiple WiFi networks, and you have to switch among them as you go from room to room. This was the case at JSConf. On the iPad, this meant a trip to the Settings app in order to select a new network. It would be great if the iPad would switch among multiple known networks based on signal strength. I can think of some reasons why you might not want to do this, but in my situation, it would have been really convenient.

All in all I had a pretty good experience with the iPad as my primary device. I can definitely see it as my primary conference machine, as well as my “in a meeting” machine. iPhone OS 4.0′s “multitasking” will reduce the annoyance associated with waiting for apps to restart on switching.

MacBook Pro

At work they issued me a unibody MacBook Pro 15″. These are supposed to have much better battery life than their pre-unibody forbears. As far as I can see this is true. I imagine that the recently refreshed models are even better on this count. The only other thing that I noticed was that the power adapter gets pretty hot while recharging the machine.   

GF1

Like many photographers, I’ve been looking for a small, high quality, camera that I could carry with me almost all the time. I have my cell phone at all times, and in a pinch, a cell phone picture is better than nothing. But a cell phone camera, regardless of megapixels lacks the controls that I’ve grown used to when making pictures. I’ve started carrying a Panasonic GF1 with the 20mm lens. The wide aperture prime suits the style that I like to shoot in, and the Micro 4/3 sensor gives pretty decent looking pictures. The GF1 produces 12 megapixel RAW files, which in principle is the same as my D3. Of course, there’s a vast difference in quality of those pixels, but thus far I am pretty happy. It has all the controls that I was looking for, as well as a hot shoe for Strobist shenanigans. It’s going to take me a while to master the controls, but I’m in no hurry. It did seem odd to be setting around with the tiny GF1 while the DSLR toting strobists were doing the photos of JSConf. I’ll be doing most of my Dailyshoot assignments with the GF1 — I’m looking forward to drawing material from downtown Seattle. Here are a few of the shots so far:

Dailyshoot 152

Dailyshoot 153

Dailyshoot 155

Bose QuietComfort 15

I am pretty sensitive to noise. Between commuting on the ferry every day, working in a building with thin walls, and spending time on airplanes, I decided that I needed help in coping with all the noise. Ever since the Bose noise canceling headsets came out, I’ve been interested in them for cutting the noise and helping me concentrate. I’ve started carrying a set of the Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones. These do a great job of cutting out noise. Most kinds of background noise gets cut out, but you can still hear human voices, albeit at a reduced volume. A little bit of music takes care of that quite easily. Like many people who reviewed these headphones, I do experience the sensation of pressure while wearing them, but these headphones are much more wearable than the earplug style Etymotic headphones that they are replacing. The only other drawback that I’ve found is that they don’t appear to built super well, so I am taking care to carry them in the semi hard case that they came in, which makes them a little less convenient.   

I think that I am well equipped to survive commuting and office life.