Posts Tagged ‘apple’

Cards (iOS App)

Cards is one of the lesser quality Apple iOS apps (think MobileMe Gallery rather than Keynote).  The premise is simple: you create a greeting card on your iOS device (just like you would in iPhoto) and through in-app purchasing you pay for it to be printed and sent (anywhere in the world) – unlike in iPhoto where you’d have to order many and they’d be sent to you to then send on.

Aspects of the app are good – the templates are very customisable and generally nice, and it’s a pretty simple process to create a card.  The pricing ($6.50 including postage) is extremely reasonable considering the cost of a decent (not customised) card elsewhere.

However, there are considerable flaws: the purchasing is odd – it doesn’t use the standard in-app purchasing system (I can’t understand why not), so you’re prompted for more information than simply your App Store password; the App is bizarrely iPhone/iPod resolution only (nearly the same interface would work perfectly well on an iPad, where you’ve got access to all your high-quality photos via Photo Stream anyway); and the cards take forever to arrive.

The latter is the most significant flaw, of course.  In a few cases (e.g. “thank you” cards) it doesn’t matter how long the card takes to arrive; in most cases (birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, …) timing is actually very important.  We sent a card while visiting the Auckland Museum at the end of the school holidays, and it took over a week to arrive; one has apparently been sent to us (around the same time) and has yet to arrive.  The “shipping notification” email arrives days before the card does, indicating that the problem isn’t in the printing, but in the delivery (presumably they are being printed in Australia and there’s some sort of international shipping delay causing issues).

It’s likely that this is a problem specific to New Zealand (and perhaps isolated other countries).  Unfortunately, that does mean that it’s less likely that it’ll be quickly fixed.  We’ll probably try this again in a couple of weeks, and see if the speed has improved – if not, then the app is only useable in rare circumstances, which is unfortunate, because we’d likely otherwise use it quite frequently.

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Displaying PDFs via the iPad

I used the iPad’s external screen output for the second time today (the first was trying out Chopper 2 with the TV as the screen and iPhone as controller) – this time not just as an experiment.

I have a set of revision worksheets (all PDFs that I inherited many years ago – I might have Word documents somewhere, but I’m not sure where).  Going over the questions in class, I can simply read the question out loud (but people don’t listen well enough and can’t ‘go back’ to it), or write it on the board (slow, handwriting code is problematic when you’ve got messy writing), but ideally it’s projected. Continue reading

Apple’s Dog Food

The saying goes that you should eat your own dog food. It seems to me that Apple should be doing this with respect to their iOS (specifically iPad) applications. Unfortunately, it’s their apps that I have most to complain about. Continue reading

Google Voice? Who really cares?

I really enjoy listening to Jason Calacanis when he’s on TWiT, and I think he generally makes a lot of sense (and considering his success, he clearly knows more than me).  However, his anti-Apple rant (like so many others) is really off-base (I’m not the only one that thinks so).

There is no technical reason why the iTunes ecosystem shouldn’t allow the ability to sync with any MP3 player

The iTunes ecosystem does allow the ability to sync with any MP3 player (even more so now that music is DRM-free).  You can build an application that uses the XML library description that iTunes creates to figure out where all the music/video is, and do what you like with it.  The way I see it, there’s no reason that iTunes/Apple should be forced to support any MP3 player with their software.  Apple clearly makes some money from the iTunes music/video sales, but it’s clearly not the main profit generator is the ecosystem – the high-margin iPods/iPhones are.  Apple has spent a great deal of time and money building a store and an application to make the players more appealing.  Why should any other player get to piggyback on the top of that?  If (e.g.) Palm wants to create an online music store and develop an application that works with it and the Pre, then they should be able to (and I see no reason they can’t).

I like iTunes more than other media applications I’ve used, but it’s certainly not perfect, and it shows that it started out as a music player and is now a great deal more.  I love the iTunes Store, but Amazon completes with it (I can’t tell how well, since they won’t see to me in NZ) as does the Zune Store – which even offers a subscription model (no idea if this is available in NZ – it’s too Windows-centric for me).  There’s absolutely room for someone (e.g. Palm) to build a better store (or interface with an existing one like Amazon) and built a better application.  Do that, and build a better device, and you’ll get customers.  Don’t expect that Apple should have to help you compete against them.

Think for a moment about what your reaction would be if Microsoft made the Zune the only MP3 player compatible with Windows.

The iPod/iPhone isn’t the only MP3 player compatible with OS X.  However, isn’t the Zune is the only MP3 player compatible with the Zune store?  The “PlaysForSure” idea got thrown out some time ago.

Simple solution and opportunity: Not only let the iPhone work on any carrier,

How many countries is the iPhone locked in?  It certainly isn’t locked here, or in many other countries (e.g. Australia).  This is only an issue in some countries, like the U.S. – it’s a U.S. Apple problem, not an Apple problem.  From what I understand, it makes business sense for Apple to have an exclusivity deal with AT&T, at least for now.  I don’t see anything wrong with that.  If AT&T was bad enough, then people wouldn’t use it, even if it was the only iPhone choice.  If other companies made phones good enough on other carriers, then it wouldn’t matter which network the iPhone was with.  I presume this is a temporary issue and the U.S. will join the other enlightened countries before long and have unlocked phones, anyway.

but put *two* SIM card slots on the iPhone

A nice idea in some ways, but about as un-Apple as you can get.

3. Draconian App Store policies that are, frankly, insulting

This is actually points 3, 4 and 5.

Yes, every application on the phone has to approved by Apple, and if you were interested in something adult in nature…well…you can’t do that.

From all accounts, the approval process needs a lot of work.  One suspects that now that Jobs is officially returned to work (and Schiller is speaking openly about at least some things) that changes will happen before too long.  I think Apple must surely realise that the situation is getting out of control, and will start implementing changes.  For now, there are still a lot of applications that I really love, there are none that I know of (which is an issue, of course) that I wish I had, and only one that has been pulled that I love (which is Amazon’s fault, not Apple’s).  I’m willing to give Apple a bit more time to fix this – I suspect that even they didn’t realise quite how successful this would be.

4. Being a horrible hypocrite by banning other browsers on the iPhone

Again, this is really just a specific case of #3.  Personally, I see almost no demand for Opera anywhere apart from by a few (very extreme) fans.  I don’t even see much desire for Firefox or Chrome on the iPhone.

5. Blocking the Google Voice Application on the iPhone

There’s a lot of talk about this.  It seems overblown to me, considering that Google Voice isn’t even publicly available (I believe it’s an invite-only beta) and is U.S.-only.  I think it’s just that a lot of the noisy tech pundits use Google Voice, and so this impacts them directly.  I think there are much worse cases of App Store approval problems.  In any case, this is again just another instance of #3.

Making great products does not absolve you from technology’s cardinal rule: Don’t be evil.

It seems to me that the cardinal rule is more “make great stuff”.  I’ll still buy from Amazon, even after they killed my favourite iPhone application.  I dislike some of how Apple handles App Store submission, but I’ll still buy various products from them.  I dislike DRM in general, but the iTunes Store is good enough that it’s still worth using.

1. Do you think Apple would be more, or less, successful if they adopted a more open strategy (i.e. allowing other MP3 players in iTunes)?

Less.  A huge part of the appeal of the Apple ‘ecosystem’ is that because they control all parts, everything “just works”.  If you use all-Apple products, everything works so much nicer than if you mix-and-match.

2. Do you think Apple should face serious antitrust action?

No.

3. Do you think Apple’s dexterity and competence forgive their bad behavior?

Yes.

My 2GB, 4 day 0.0.1 iPhone update

A few days ago, Apple released version 3.0.1 of the iPhone OS, which addressed a pretty major SMS vulnerability.  When Olyvia tried updating her 3GS to 3.0.1, something went wrong.  The iPhone entered “Recovery Mode”, which means that it displays an image indicating that you need to connect it to iTunes, and you can’t do anything else (no phone calls, no iPod, no applications – absolutely nothing).  Connecting the phone to iTunes prompted a message indicating that the phone needed to be recovered – doing so downloaded the 3.0.1 update, and then got stuck on the “Verifying Restore with Apple” step for a long time, until it would finally fail with error “3104”.  This process could then be repeated, with the same results.

What this meant in practice was that the phone was bricked as of last Friday.  An update should never be able to brick a (legitimate, not jailbroken) phone! Even more, failing to verify a restore with Apple should never leave the phone in a broken state.

I tried many thing to resolve this:

  • Restoring on three different computers (three OS X Leopard, one Windows XP).
  • Using three USB cables.
  • Using two Internet connections (different router, different physical location, different ISPs).
  • Restoring with five different user accounts, including one that was created solely for this purpose.
  • Removing iTunes and the Mobile Device helper completely and reinstalling.
  • Restoring with an administrator account (both OS X and Windows XP) and a standard account.
  • Redoing the restore at many different times of day, including times when most of the US would be asleep (so the server load should be fairly low), over Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

None of this worked.  It did mean that I downloaded the 300MB+ update six times (one for each user account and once to refresh) over the four days.  That combined with the iTunes installation brings the total download cost to around 2GB.

I eventually gave up.  Google found many other people with this problem, but only a single solution, which involved opening a terminal connection to the phone and changing an environment variable.  I wasn’t particularly comfortable doing that, since if something goes wrong I want Vodafone/Apple to just replace the phone without any argument.  Since there isn’t any real support available over the weekend, I waited for Monday morning.

I wasn’t sure whether to contact Apple (expecting a “please call Vodafone” answer) or Vodafone (expecting a “what do you mean you updated your phone?  Can you do that?” answer).  Thankfully, Vodafone NZ has a very responsive and helpful Twitter presence (@vodafoneNZ).  I tweeted, asking who to call, and was asked for details.  I provided these (going into more detail in an email), and got back a (unfortunately not helpful at all) suggestion.  Since that didn’t work, Paul Brislen provided me with an 0800 number for the “iPhone Team” (I’d call them “iTeam”, subtitled “there’s an ‘i’ in iTeam”, but anyway…).  Unfortunately, since I had to do a lot of travelling and offline things on Monday, I wasn’t able to get to this until Tuesday.

I certainly appreciate a (free) phone number I can call.  However, I don’t have a great deal of time to spend talking on the phone, explaining a rather complex problem and the many steps that I’ve already done to try and resolve the problem.  I also have poor cellphone coverage (Vodafone’s fault) and a rather noisy landline (Telecom‘s fault), so voice calls aren’t a great solution to a problem.  Faced with a (presumably) long and difficult phone call, the ‘hack’ solution of altering the environment variable looked a little more appealing.

I downloaded iRecovery and opened a terminal (shell) connection to the iPhone.  Typing “printenv” gave a list of the environment variables – the ones that had a “P” at the start were presumably non-default values (these included “auto-boot”, “bootdelay”, “backlight-level”, and “platform-uuid”).  The article indicated that the “false” value for “auto-boot” was the problem (and the solution to use setenv to change it, then reboot the phone).  This seemed a reasonably safe thing to do (and also easily reversed), although I imagine that it would be rather scary to a non-programmer (who has no idea what “printenv” or “setenv” might mean).

Thankfully, this worked.  The iPhone rebooted – although it went straight back to the recovery page in iTunes, which wasn’t hopeful.  However, this time the recovery process worked flawlessly (using the existing four-day-old copy of the download).  The phone was recovered from the automatic backup, and then sync’d.  Some of the settings are a bit out as you expect in a recovery, but the phone actually works, which is really all that matters.

I don’t know what would have happened if I called the “iPhone Team” (and don’t need to find out now).  I suspect that we wouldn’t have got far, or maybe would have ended up doing exactly this (or perhaps having to return the phone for service).  I could be wrong about that.  I do feel that Vodafone (specifically @vodafoneNZ) handled this pretty well (and Apple extremely badly).

iTunes applications restricted to US store

What possible reason can developers (Apple?) have for restricting an application like Grocery IQ to the US store?  I would have purchased this, but it’s not available in the NZ store.  I can’t see any reason that it wouldn’t work just as well here.

(I can understand that annoying legalities prevent applications like Puzzlotto being sold, but that’s a whole different story).

This isn’t the only application like this I’ve come across, just the most recent one.  It makes no sense at all.

Hardly news, but: Vodafone NZ sucks

They finally (hard to believe they waited this long) released their iPhone plans (the website is barely up at the moment – they own the second largest ISP in NZ, and can’t handle a bit of load!).

I knew that the data would be expensive here, although I had a little hope when I saw the costs in Australia.  This is much worse than I thought it would be, though.  Are people really going to pay $250 per month?!?  I guess so, but you’re excluding vast numbers of people that would be otherwise interested in this month.

My guess is that the cost is indirectly Apple’s fault.  At the WWDC keynote, Jobs pointed out that the cost around the world would be as low as (or lower than) the new US price – no doubt Apple enforces this in their contracts with the providers.  Vodafone NZ doesn’t want to sell the phone for $199, but has to, so simply raises the contract price until they get what they want out of it anyway.

This is twice as expensive as the US or even the complaining Canadians.  And we have a reasonably decent 3G network, so the phone would have been useful here.

The “250” plan costs $2,619 for 24 months.  For that, you get the phone, 120 minutes, 600 txts, and 250MB of data a month.  I’d pay that, but 120 minutes isn’t enough (we used about 200 minutes last month), and 600 txts are barely enough (580 last month).  It’s the data that breaks the deal – 250MB is about 8MB a day.  IOW, barely enough to check email and use the map occasionally.  My Zabbix status page is about 3MB.  I could check it twice a day.  Ridiculous.

The “500” plan costs $3719 for 24 months, and gives you the phone, 250 minutes, 600 txts, and 500MB of data a month (16MB a day).  Perhaps enough data to use the phone as long as you were really careful and around accessible wifi a lot.  But that’s a big jump in price.

The “1GB” plan (I can’t believe that’s the largest!) costs a whopping $6349 for 24 months (3 and a third brand new iMacs!).  600 minutes, 600 txts, and 1GB of data (32MB a day).  Too many minutes, and still not enough data, although it’d be useable.  But $250 per month?  There’s no way that I can justify spending that, even as a business expense (I would be using it to check the status of servers while out).

A 2GB plan (paying the overage cost) costs $7069 for 24 months.  600 minutes, 600 txts, 2GB for $280 per month.

The other option is to stick with our current plan and add a data pack.  We currently get 60 minutes, 600 txts and also have three “best mates” (unlimited txts, pxts and calls) for $46/month.

With the 200MB data plan added, the cost is $2950.75 for 24 months.  That’s only just more expensive than the iPhone 250 plan, and would suit us much better (the best mates make all the difference).  The difference between 8MB of data a day and 6.45MB of data a day is the difference between barely using the data and barely using the data.

With the 1GB data plan added, the cost is $3430.75 for 24 months.  Less than the iPhone 500 plan!  Twice the data for less money!  What are they thinking?  More importantly, what are the suckers that sign up for this thinking?  Sure you get 120 minutes with the iPhone plan, but we have three best mates that account for vastly more than 60 minutes of call time.  Given that most of the calls and a large proportion of our txts are to those three people, we get better value for exactly the same usage for close to half the price.

So: is it worth another $50 per month (and $1129 upfront) to have the iPhone?  That’s a large chunk of money.  It’s a great device, and we absolutely would use the GPS/mapping/data functionality that our iPod touch lacks.  Lots of thinking in the next couple of days!

A final note: the iPhone itself is $1129, the iPod Touch is $449.  $680 for GPS, calls, txts, and (for lots more money) data while not connected to wifi.  Pretty steep.