MaCinJay’s Musings

another case of inverse vandalism

Posts Tagged ‘iPhone

Macworld Expo Keynote

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I concluded my last post by predicting that Steve Jobs would have a few surprises in store for us. For the first time since I’ve been following the Macworld Expo though I can honestly say that I wasn’t actually surprised by anything revealed in his keynote!

There was no new iPhone announced. Jobs compensated by talking about the new features and enhancements included in its latest firmware update. Not exactly earth-shattering though by Apple’s standards, especially considering that these had been leaked to the rumour sites weeks ago. The update will also be available to iPod touch owners but they will have to pay $20 for what their iPhone-owning counterparts get for nothing – go figure. Also the upgrade is only available via the iTunes Store, which leaves a lot of Apple’s international clients, including me, out in the cold.

The rumour sites were also spot on about Apple’s new ultra-portable, even getting the name right – the MacBook Air! Thin enough to make your average supermodel green with envy, it’s a small engineering marvel that Jobs was able to fit into a manila envelope. Very nice, only it doesn’t have an optical drive and sports slower processors than the less-expensive MacBooks. By leaving out the optical drive Apple seems to be prematurely consigning another technology to the scrapheap, like they did with the floppy drive and dial-up modems. From a connectivity standpoint the Air is limited to USB, WiFi and Bluetooth. It isn’t all about aesthetics; the Air shares the iPhone’s Multi-touch technology for zooming images and rapid scrolling using its generous touchpad and there is a flash-based version that should improve boot-up times. But I have to wonder if the Air is going to find a market considering all the design compromises that had to be made so that Apple could market it as the “world’s thinnest laptop”. Time will tell but I’m certainly not regretting buying my MacBook Pro now.

Jobs also announced a wireless storage and networking solution to work hand-in-hand with Leopard’s back-up utility Time Machine called, aptly, Time Capsule. I may actually consider buying one of these for back-ups and to provide a wireless connection to my printer, as plugging and unplugging cables into my MacBook Pro everytime I need to move it has become a chore. Still, not really a headline-grabber.

As predicted, Jobs revealed that movie rentals were coming to iTunes. He also detailed related changes to the Apple TV, which will allow users to view, rent or buy media directly from the device instead of having to synch it with their computers first. The upgrade will also enable high-definition content. No doubt this will address criticisms of the original product. (The improvements will be available to existing Apple TV owners as a firmware update.)

That was the meat of it; of course there was the usual padding about how many billion songs had been downloaded from iTunes and all the rest. But this is not what keeps Mac fans glued to their computer screens for updates from the Expo blogs. Sadly I fear this year’s Expo will leave many of them disappointed.

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Written by macinjay

January 16, 2008 at 11:43 am

Firmware updates

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Apple has released firmware update 1.1.2 for the iPhone and iPod touch. This has inter alia added support for international keyboard layouts and – in the case of the touch – the ability to add and update events in the calendar. The latter feature addresses the touch’s most glaring weakness from a software point of view.

I’ve had a chance to use the touch for a week now and have been really impressed. For my money the best feature isn’t the music player, it’s the Safari Internet browser. I’ve always been lukewarm about the desktop version of Safari, preferring Firefox’s greater flexibility, but it works great on the touch. A nice feature is that when using your finger to scroll up or down in a web page there is a “bouncing” effect when you reach the limit of the page. It’s an effective way of showing that you can’t go any further – like hitting a wall in real life, only without the pain. A small touch but one that nicely showcases Apple’s legendary attention to detail.

My only real complaint is that it is too easy to accidentally activate links, which I mentioned in my last post. (That and the fact that it would be nice to have a larger viewing area – is there an Tablet Mac in the works?) It makes me wish that it the touch was not reliant on Wi-Fi so that I could use it all the time. When oh when will Apple release the iPhone in South Africa?

Written by macinjay

November 13, 2007 at 10:20 pm

iPod touch

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Yesterday my mother returned from a two week trip to the UK and brought back an iPod touch for me. The touch is essentially of course an iPhone without the calling and emailing features although it is possible to use web mail via the touch’s Internet browser (providing you have wi-fi access). But I am jumping ahead of myself as I mean to recount my experience with the touch from the beginning.

First of all the supporting documentation is sparse to say the least, just a warranty and a very short quick start guide. The lack of documentation isn’t really an issue though, as the touch is really easy to use. Also there is no iTunes install disk so be prepared for a long wait if you don’t have version 7.4 loaded on your computer or a fast Internet connection; you have to use this version to set up the touch before you can start using it.

Once the iPod was registered on iTunes I was able to access the touch’s menu by pressing the Home button under the screen (this can also be done by a brief push of the Power key located at the top left-hand edge of the casing) and swiping the onscreen slider. The iPod’s applications and settings are activated by touching icons on the screen. Another set of icons provide access to music, photos and videos, as well as Apple’s new wi-fi iTunes feature. Regrettably though this last feature will not work in South Africa due to the lack of a local iTunes Store. The resolution of the screen is excellent – it’s ideal for viewing photos and video. (There was an problem when the touch was first released with the quality of video playback but this seems to have been resolved.)

The touch’s stripped-down Safari web browser provides a convenient way of surfing the Internet when you don’t feel like lugging your laptop around. Unlike the iPhone though the touch is not EDGE-enabled so you will need a wi-fi connection. It’s easy to zoom up web pages by “pinching” and “unpinching” the surface of the screen with thumb and fingers. However I found that occasionally my digits would inadvertently activate a hyperlink when trying to zoom in – it would be nice if there was a “Deactivate Links” feature. Also the browser doesn’t support Flash, although this is probably as much a blessing as a curse. Otherwise the touch delivers a surprisingly good web browsing experience given the limited dimensions of the screen. You can even use it for blogging and posting using the onscreen contextual keyboard. A caveat here though: it is easy to select incorrect characters on the keyboard due to the lack of tactile feedback.

I didn’t delve too much into the YouTube application due to my limited Internet bandwidth but video looked crisp and sharp.

The weakest application on the touch is the calendar, which is completely passive due to the lack of an event-creation feature. Hopefully this will be rectified in a future firmware update.

Contacts on the other hand is one of the strongest applications and for my money is more user-friendly than Address Book in Mac OSX. It’s going to be a lot easier to access my contacts’ information once I have loaded them onto the touch.

The Clock includes world times, alarms, a stopwatch and a timer. Curiously though the time and date is set via Settings. (In fact, all settings are adjusted here rather than in the applications themselves.) Also the touch’s external speaker isn’t all that loud, which hampers the effectiveness of the alarm.

The Calculator has limited features but is very effective for the basic maths functions.

When Steve Jobs demonstrated the iPhone at January’s Macworld in San Francisco I believe he called it “the best iPod ever” and he wasn’t wrong, at least until the touch came along. The iPhone and touch may not have the huge capacities of the Classic iPods but they present a massive step forward in terms of the user interface. To be honest I haven’t had a chance to listen to a lot of music on the touch yet but the sound quality is at least on a par with our nano.

As mentioned the touch’s hi-res screen is great for viewing photos. The Photo Library has a refreshingly simple look, with pics closely arranged in a grid. Individual photos are selected by a tap and can be zoomed up by spreading your thumb and finger apart over the screen’s surface. There is also a slideshow option.

And that in a nutshell is the iPod touch. It has a few minor flaws but these are far outweighed by the positives. I am looking forward to the promised software developers’ kit that should be available for the iPhone and the touch in the early part of next year. This will give developers the tools to produce some really exciting applications for these devices.

Written by macinjay

November 8, 2007 at 10:50 pm

SDK for iPhone

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steve-jobs-and-the-iphone.jpgIn September I wrote that Apple would need to consider officially endorsing the development of native third-party applications on the iPhone as the lack of these was regarded as a handicap in some quarters. Apple also received a lot of bad press following the iPhone’s recent firmware update, which disabled third-party applications that certain users had installed on their handsets by hacking the iPhone’s software.

Now I see that CEO Steve Jobs has written an open letter on Apple’s website promising an SDK by February next year that will give developers the tools to produce applications for the iPhone. He writes: It will take until February to release an SDK because we’re trying to do two diametrically opposed things at once—provide an advanced and open platform to developers while at the same time protect iPhone users from viruses, malware, privacy attacks, etc. He goes on to say that the threat of cell phone viruses has been understated and that companies like Nokia have already taken steps to combat the problem. According to him Apple are working on an advanced system which will offer developers broad access to natively program the iPhone’s amazing software platform while at the same time protecting users from malicious programs.

I think that the phrase “broad access” is a telling one. It will be interesting to see what sort of restrictions Apple will impose on development and whether it will bar certain applications that may negatively affect their revenue, such as VoIP and instant messaging. But at least now there is an SDK in the works.

Written by macinjay

October 18, 2007 at 6:38 am

iPhone update raises hackles

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Last week I touched on the controversy caused by the iPhone’s recent firmware update. Now Macworld journalist Chris Breen has construed this as evidence that Apple has somehow lost its way, or as he puts it “is on the wrong path”. He cites a whole range of issues to support his theory, from the iPhone’s recessed headphone to dull-coloured folders in Apple’s upcoming 10.5 Mac Operating System, codenamed Leopard.

He makes some valid points. Charging their clients twice for the privilege of putting ringtones based on songs that they have already bought is daylight robbery. (Though to be fair other service providers charge even more.) It is also a little rich of Apple to expect clients to replace their iPod accessories when upgrading to the new models.

However his argument falls down on several fronts.

First of all his contention that Apple were either negligent in releasing the firmware update or, worse, maliciously “bricked” iPhones hacked to operate on non-AT&T networks is flawed. The fact of the matter is that Apple had no obligation to protect the hacker’s interests as the latter were in contravention of the EULA (end-user license agreement) that they entered into when buying the phone. Despite this Apple did provide a warning that hacked phones could be disabled by the update. Surely then if the owner of a hacked iPhone goes and runs the update he or she has no right to complain about the consequences? Ultimately Apple is responsible for protecting the interests of itself and its business partner AT&T against the small minority of customers who have put their own necks on the block by hacking their phones.

As I pointed out in my earlier post though, disabling third-party applications is more contentious. There is no clear threat to Apple’s or AT&T’s interests here (unless you count instant messaging applications, which may reduce text messaging revenues). Still, I don’t believe that Chris fully appreciates Apple’s dilemma here. If it altered the update (assuming that this was possible given the usual resource and time constraints) to somehow accommodate the applications, Apple would thereby be tacitly endorsing them. This would fly in the face of its decision not to allow third-party development of native applications, at least for now.

Secondly, Apple has been criticised about its hardware designs many times in the past. Two examples that spring to mind are the decisions to discontinue floppy disk drives and later built-in dial-up modems in the Mac. Compared to this the iPhone’s recessed jack is small beer (although audiophiles may disagree); in any event it hardly represents a new departure for Apple.

Chris’s other complaints hinge largely on his own personal tastes. For instance he dislikes the new Apple keyboard but his opinion is by no means universal as the keyboard has received a lot of praise from other quarters.

It is a given that no company is going to please all its customers all of the time. While not all of Apple’s decisions will necessarily sit well with every one of its customers, I believe that it gets it right at least most of the time and I certainly don’t agree that it is on the wrong path.

iPhone suit

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It had to happen! Somebody is suing Apple following the recent iPhone price-cut.

I know that these sort of fatuous lawsuits are common in the US but this is ridiculous. It would be understandable if Apple had a market monopoly or was providing an essential service; quite the contrary, the smart phone market is very competitive and no one has to have an iPhone (even if they think they do).

In any event it is hardly a secret that early adopters always pay more than those who have the patience to postpone their purchase; it was evident that the iPhone was pricey to begin with when compared to other phones with similar feature-sets. The price cut may have been particularly sudden and steep but was hardly unprecedented.

I hope that the judge in this case has a bit of common sense and throws this woman and her lawyer out of his court.

Written by macinjay

October 2, 2007 at 8:10 am

Posted in Apple Mac

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iPhone update

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iphone.jpgOn Thursday Apple released a software update for the iPhone. Not surprisingly this disabled iPhones that had been hacked to use with non-AT&T SIM cards. It also disabled hacks used to install third-party applications. (Currently Apple does not officially allow third-party development of native applications for the iPhone.) Preventing the use of non-AT&T SIM cards is an understandable move on Apple’s part; it needs to protect the interests of its partner, especially considering that it takes a cut of AT&T’s iPhone revenue. Disabling the other hacks is more controversial though. Some regard the lack of native iPhone applications as a big minus and at some point I think Apple will have to officially endorse development of these. It would certainly be preferable to the current free-for-all.

Written by macinjay

September 29, 2007 at 3:42 am

Posted in Apple Mac

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