Tag Archive for 'iPhone'

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.

A Few Thoughts on the iPad

Here is a jumble of thoughts about the iPad, after finally getting a chance to watch the Stevenote last night. If you haven’t watched it, I think that there are some parts of it that are worth watching, particularly the app developer parts. When I first saw the online coverage of the iPad announcement, I wasn’t that impressed. On the surface, the iPad is pretty unsurprising. It’s a tablet and it’s based on the iPhone OS (or may be we should really be calling it OS X Touch).   

User Interface

One the one hand, the iPad is the same iPhone OS that is familiar to 70 million iPhone users. On the other hand, some of the keynote demos show that the larger form factor is going to have some interesting UI potential.

I usually try to pay careful attention to presentations by game developers. It’s not because I am a big gamer myself, but it’s because the people doing games are usually doing some of the most insane, crazy, and interesting things in the business, and it’s worth paying attention to the things that they say are important. Both of the game demos for the iPad had some pretty interesting UI and commentary on the experience of the machine as a whole.

The other really interesting part of the keynote was the iWork demo. I am very impressed with the way that iWork has been adapted to the touch screen. There are a number of really cool multitouch gestures that were demonstrated. This is going to be the beginning of some very interesting user interface stuff.

Integration

I spent most of yesterday watching the Oracle/Sun strategy webcast, and a major theme was the way that Oracle plans to tightly integrate Sun’s hardware, and to optimize the entire hardware and software stack. The Oracle Exadata database machine was repeatedly touted as an example of this kind of integration. If the benchmarks and early customer experiences are indicative, this integration has paid off handsomely, as it has also with the Sun Storage 7000.

The new A4 processor powering the iPad received only brief mention during the keynote, but here too is the same kind of integration. Details on the A4 are very scarce, but speculation is that it was done by the team that Apple acquired from PA semiconductor. It appears to be an ARM compatible (iPhone apps do run) system on a chip design, and I would bet that it is contributing to the (relatively) low price, long battery life, and high performance (according to Gruber) of the device.

I think that it’s worth noting that companies like Google are also doing this kind of vertical integration, building their own custom PC designs, having custom Linux kernels and other software. Many of us in the “open” world decry vertical integration because it is almost inevitably closed, but the kind of engineering virtuosity that is on display does impress.

Wireless

Apple appears to have gotten iPad users a deal on 3G pricing from AT&T. I am not really sure that this is a step in the right direction. If Apple is to believed, we are entering a world where a person could have no less that 3 devices (phone, pad, laptop) in need of wireless data (and voice) connectivity. A contract/plan for each device might be great for the carriers, but it is horrible for the users. Since even Apple has backed down in the face of the carriers, it doesn’t look like this is going to change much, but it ought to.

Me

Will I buy one? I’ve been toying with the idea of buying Kindle for some time now. I wanted the size of the Kindle DX, since I wanted to read PDFs of books and research papers, but I felt that $499 for the DX was too much to pay for a book reader. The iPad is obviously a much more capable device than a Kindle, and I’d expect Amazon to upgrade their Kindle iPhone app to run on the iPad.   

I think that the iPad would be vastly superior to my iPhone as a means of showing my photographic portfolio. I can also imagine using an iPad as a tethered shooting target, which would definitely be interesting. The tablet form factor could lead to some pretty interesting photography applications, and the iPad CPU appears to be reasonably capable.

I’ll say this much – I definitely want to play with one.

Thoughts on WWDC

Some thoughts on yesterday’s announcements:

MacBook Pros

The laptop refresh was a surprise to me. I wasn’t expecting anything until Intel’s Nehalem based laptop CPU’s and chipsets hit the market late summer or early fall. The basics of the machines haven’t improved that much, and won’t until that happens. I’m wary of the unibody built in battery – I had to have my MacBook Pro batteries replaced recently, and the built-in battery would make that a lot harder. As a photographer, I like the wider color gamut of the LCD, but I don’t like the glossy finish. I also find there replacement of the ExpressCard slot with an SD card slot odd. It would have been more “Pro” to at least use a Compact Flash slot.   

In any case, I’m not in the market for a new laptop, so the minor changes and the nice price reduction don’t mean much to me at the moment.

Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard, on the other hand, is of great interest to me now that my primary box is a Mac Pro. I’m eager to have OS X taking better advantage of the all the hardware threads in the box. I was disappointed that there wasn’t more discussion of this in the keynote, but I also understand that having more than 2 cores is still a bit out there. I’m also disappointed that there was no mention of ZFS in either the workstation or server editions of Snow Leopard.

I guess that Snow Leopard is not as ready as many people (including me) thought. It won’t be shipping until September. Apple has taken a very reasonable approach to pricing the upgrade. The biggest issue for me is that I’ve been having problems with 10.5.7. I uninstalled it from the MacPro, and my work laptop wigged out on me last week during JavaOne, and I am very suspicious that the problems are 10.5.7 related. Jeffrey Zeldman is chronicling his own set of problems with the update. It’s going to be a long time between now and September if Apple doesn’t sort this out.

iPhone 3.0

The iPhone 3.0 stuff was pretty much a rehash of what was previewed back in March. The only surprise was the “Find My iPhone” feature, which really ought to be a standard feature. I’m not sure if I’m going to buy MobileMe just to get this ability. Everybody is going to get an upgrade to this version of the software so there’s nothing but happiness all around.

What’s not so happy is that some of the features will be unavailable because AT&T isn’t ready to support them: MMS and Tethering. I’m not really sure that I would actually use the MMS. I do most of my picture sharing via Twitter or Facebook. I am pretty sure that I would use tethering, either when riding the ferry or when traveling for work. However, if AT&T adds another $30 a month for the privilege, I probably won’t do it. I can get a Boingo account form $10 a month. True that it won’t work everywhere, but it will work on the ferry and in major airports. Does AT&T really think that we don’t know how to comparison shop?

iPhone 3GS

The iPhone 3GS is a nice upgrade. I’d be happy with the speed, but I’m going to get a speed increase (supposedly) from the iPhone 3.0 software. Faster 3G data would also be nice. The battery life improvements don’t cover the 3G radio usage, which is how I pound my iPhone.   

There are two features which really stand out to me: the compass and the camera.

I travel a lot, and I get mixed up a lot. Having the compass to help decipher directions would really be a help to me. I can think of several occasions in the last 6 months, where I could have saved some aggravation if I knew what direction I was pointed in.

The improvements to the camera look really good. Chase Jarvis is calling it the photographer’s iPhone, which is pretty much a no brainer. There was no mention of speeding up the amount of time it takes to get the camera to come on, which is one of my biggest gripes with it. Is it really a decisive moment camera? No way. But it looks like it is a much better camera than what we have now. I could probably justify $199 to upgrade my 16G iPhone 3G – it’d be a lot cheaper than a camera.

Unfortunately, I’m not going to get to do that. At least not until December 2009, due to the subsidized pricing of the iPhone. Lots of people are complaining about this, but that’s the way that the carriers have always worked. It’s not something new, in fact, its a sign that AT&T has a little more pull on Apple that we thought. So I’ll be waiting at least until December. The problem is that if I wait till December, I’m only 6 months away from the next iPhone product launch (if they keep to the current schedule), and as TechCrunch points out, if Apple lets its exclusive contract with AT&T expire in 2010, then you’d actually have carrier choice. That would be a good thing, and since getting onto Verizon’s huge network can only help iPhone sales, I’d bet that the iPhone is on Verizon in 2010. That’s not an impossible thing. Verizon made its first appearance ever at JavaOne this year, a sign that things are starting to change over there. I guess I’m going to wait and see how AT&T treats me between now and then. But they should be painfully aware that people are buying the iPhone, not the carrier.

Lifestreaming, round 2

Macintosh

MRR Software has released a beta of Syrinx 2.0 just in time for PyCon this week (or ApacheCon EU or EclipseCon, if you are at one of those events). My biggest complaint with Syrinx 1.0 was that it was using up a lot of memory and CPU. That’s totally fixed in Syrinx 2.0. I’ve left Syrinx running for over a day with very little discernable growth in memory. I used to have to restart it several times a day. Scrolling and searching are both much faster as well. Retweet and URL shortening have been added, which pretty much takes care of me featurewise, although I’d like a retweet button in the button bar of a tweet, and I’d prefer bit.ly as the URL shortening service. Minor complaints to be sure. The last UI issue for me is that Syrinx 2.0 now expands the current tweet from it’s slightly compressed list element version. This is a problem for tweets that contain links (the best kind), because you have to click once to zoom the tweet, and then click again to open the link. I know that MRR is working on this one.

iPhone

Several week ago I also switch my iPhone client from Twitterific to Tweetie. I love everything about Tweetie except for 2 things:

1. Tweetie goes to the network all the time. This wouldn’t be a problem if iPhone latency was just a bit better.

2. I don’t like the way the Tweetie segments replies and direct messages. I like having tabs to see just those things, but I don’t like it that they no longer appear in the main view. Syrinx is doing it the way that I prefer.

My favorite features about Tweetie are:

1. Network lag aside, Tweetie is speedy.

2. The swipe actions, particularly favorites – I now favorite a lot more. This saves me from losing tweets with interesting links when I am in a hurry. I fave them on the phone and then read the faves from the desktop.

3. Instapaper support. I’m glad this is here, but I use it less than I thought I would, because of favorites

4. The landscape mode keyboard – This is taking some getting used to, but it’s good practice for iPhone 3.0

5. Ability to say how many tweets to load – good for making sure you don’t miss anything

6. Retweeting – too bad it doesn’t fit in the swipe bars.

There’s still no direct message rolodex, something that I am sure I will be wishing for this week at PyCon.   

At least I’ll be well armed for the next few months, where I’ll be at a number of conferences.

What is iPhone?

So a very odd keynote at Macworld yesterday. There was nothing said about Macintosh related products at all, which surprised everyone, and probably annoyed a number of people. Clearly Steve Jobs wanted to send a very direct message about the future of Apple.

As I said before, I wasn’t really that excited about the idea of an iPhone, because I didn’t (and don’t) consider a cross between and iPod and a telephone to be very interesting. I think that how you react to iPhone depends on how you view it. Even though it is a converged device, I think that people still view it through a primary modality: widescreen/video iPod, telephone, or internet device.

As an iPod, there are cool features: the touch screen based interface, the quality and resolution of the display, CoverFlow, the ability to play video. But there also drawbacks, the biggest being the amount of storage being offered.

Most of the coverage that I have read emphasizes the telephone aspects of iPhone. The iPhone UI works the way that I would like a phone to work. The interface for call management, putting people on hold, the ability to use e-mail and the web browser while on a call, and the visual voicemail feature, are the kinds of features that any mobile telephone ought to have, and just about every other phone UI is clunky in comparison. I know that the Series 60 in my Nokia 6600 does. The ability to seamlessly switch between the Wifi network and the cellphone network is also a big plus, although we didn’t see that in action. Perhaps we’ll see this capability in a future Macintosh as well.

There are a lot of issues around the telephone features. Many people will be unhappy with iPhone being locked to Cingular, although the choice of GSM means that the only additional options in the US would be T-Mobile. Part of this is due to the collaboration between Apple and Cingular on visual voicemail, which is one of phone features that appeals to me the most, since I hate voice mail interfaces with a passion. There’s also a big question around the pricing of data plans, but more on that shortly. As a phone device, there are some scary features. Battery life is a short if you look at being able to fully use that converged device throughout the course of an 8-12 hour day. The battery is not replaceable, which seems to ignore the physics/chemistry of battery wear. As a phone, I think that there are some questions about single handed use, although I think the use case is more for texting than for one handed use while driving (scary). The durability of the screen is also an issue since the interface is completely dependent on the screen.

I personally view the iPhone as an Internet access device. This is the functionality that interests me the most, since it is the functionality that I wish for the most when I am untethered.

The promise of having Safari on a phone and being able to run AJAX apps on that form factor is very appealing, and I was very excited about this until I watched the keynote video. In the video, Google Maps is a separate application from Safari. It’s possible that this is a widget style application, which would be okay, but not great. So from what I’ve seen so far, the jury is out on whether we can really do AJAX on iPhone, which I think is important. Also, there doesn’t appear to be a GPS in the iPhone, which is curious given the promotion of Google Maps. I’m sure there must be some hardware related limitation here, but location information is pretty important to mobile applications.

I also liked what I saw of the mail client, especially support for IMAP, since I do a lot of e-mail. The touchscreen isn’t a real keyboard, but I think it’s a step up from a phone keypad.

Steve demo’ed an iChat like interface to SMS, which is definitely and improvement in my mind. It doesn’t look like iChat was present on the phone, and that’s something that I’d like to see. SMS is cool, but in the US, they charge for those messages, and if you want to have things like twitterbot, you’ll go broke inside of a week.

Many people have pointed out the 2G/3G issues and the uncertainty around Cingular’s data plan pricing. Lack of 3G is definitely disappointing. iPhone would be awesome at EVDO speeds, but it doesn’t look like we are going to get that. My 6600 is on GPRS, and the the speed is definitely an issue. You might have Safari, but if the pipe is slow, that’s not much help. You also want unlimited bandwidth usage, so Cingular’s data pricing is going to influence the success of the iPhone, and I can only hope that Steve Jobs managed to work some deal for iPhone subscribers.

The last and perhaps biggest problem is the third party applications issue. Right now it appears that 3rd party applications will not be allowed on iPhone. All the reports that I’ve read say that users won’t be able to install applications. I’ve had a few conversations in person that suggest that this may not be a permanent situation, but until it changes, this is a problem. Couple this with uncertainty about AJAX support in the iPhone Safari, and things start to look a bit less cool.

I was pretty excited about the iPhone. When I was at Apple and the disposition of the Newton division was uncertain, there was a cell handset company that was interested in acquiring Newton, but it didn’t work out. I was really disappointed when that didn’t work out. The concept of the iPhone that we saw yesterday is what Newton should have become, but I think that there are still a few things that will hold the initial iPhone back. I think that all those issues will get fixed in time, but it’s frustrating to see that they weren’t addressed in the initial product.

I’ll end with some good iPhone links:
Engadget’s keynote reportage
David Pogue’s hands on time
Time’s coverage
Some perspectives from Europe
Updated: I incorrectly attributed the Microsoft Watch post to Mary Jo Foley – my apologies!
Microsoft Watch’s view