Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Apple's forgotten media

Sometimes Apple adds support for certain media types and then forgets about them. Audiobooks are an example of this. Looking in my iTunes library I have 162 items representing 28.6 days of listening amounting to 12.73GB (all mostly from Audible on the point system plan that saves a ton of money, the iTunes store can't compete price-wise in this category). Unlike Podcasts and Videos there is no "sync all unplayed books" option. When picking audiobooks to sync to your device you get the "all" or "selected audiobooks" option. The selected audiobooks option doesn't scale to handle a library of the size I have and you end up scrolling forever through an oddly sorted list. The reality is unless the guys close to the technology have a passion for the things you care about your particular tastes may get ignored.

The workaround for now is to make and sync a smart playlist with Media kind is Audiobook and Plays count of 0 (or for me an empty rating since I rate all my media and I can directly control rating while playcount can be quirky).

Hey Steve, will you start listening to audiobooks so people will pay attention to the interface?

iPhone 4 -- first impressions

I'm still amazed by the speed next to my iPhone 3G and now understand why some people have tolerated applications that took forever to load like Omnifocus. On the iPhone 4 (and perhaps the older iPhone 3GS) it loads quickly -- blindingly fast next to the 3G. It could still be better optimized etc but its definitely tolerable as an application now whereas before it was so slow I rarely used it.

There's a ton of news on the net about the iPhone 4 antenna concerns but the jury is mostly still out on that. For my own limited testing, within my home office I no longer get reliable coverage with the iPhone 4 where I did reliably with the 3G. Thats a concern. Full disclosure, i'm a righty.

Other than that, with the faster phone i'm enjoying the new folders and overall phone a lot more. One thing i've noticed missing in Apple's advertising is that with about 77% of people buying the new iPhone 4 being upgraders, i'm sure a large percentage of them are like me, iPhone 3G users. They've been touting the new iPhone 4/iOS features over what the 3GS had but they're missing the fact that many of us never experienced those. There's all sorts of new stuff in there not covered by recent press thats new and wonderful to me like voice dialing, compass, etc. Some of the apps also use this like AroundMe where if you use it in landscape mode uses the compass to do a virtual reality like thing showing how far away places are which is really cool:

Its unlike Apple to miss a marketing opportunity and with this antenna business they could use some extra help.

Meanwhile I got my phone back and i'm in love again. I just hope they don't break it once more when iOS5 comes out...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Cloud vs Desktop

Very apropos to where I work, the discussion about phones has turned into one of cloud vs desktop. This is what it ultimately came down to to me and in today's world, cloud doesn't win when it comes to multimedia. Sure, a lot of the time you have good (well, with AT&T reasonable) access to the network most of the time and could stream music, view pictures/videos etc. But there are times when you don't have access like when you're on an airplane. Plus there's still the performance of accessing those large files remotely and more recently the move to cap bandwidth. I believe the cloud makes a lot of sense for many applications and solutions but I also believe you need an offline model that can handle local performance needs and the times when the cloud is momentarily disrupted. While the droid type phones don't implement a pure cloud model, their lack of multimedia management and desktop support shows a real lack of understanding of the times when cloud versus local make sense. 

Anyway, if you're following along you've realized I came to a conclusion that the iPhone is currently the only phone that fits my needs despite wishful thinking there was another choice (and that it would be on Verizon if there was one). If you know me, you'll know once I reach a conclusion i'm quick to move, so it should come to no surprise that i'm now an iPhone 4 (32G) owner. 

The buying experience was great for me. I bought it today (6-25) after yesterday's launch. Yesterday it was a total mob scene from what i've heard and the longest lines for any of the iPhones. Today I called over to the business unit (my company having purchased a lot of macs from them) and, despite the fact that they had officially sold out, they put a phone aside for me (evidently there's some secret inventory they can pull on in a pinch...). I walked over and had 2 people work with me through the buying process which took all of 10 minutes including activation and walked out with a working phone. Apples business unit and support for Macs in the business world needs some help, but I was impressed with the experience.

The desktop won this war. I wonder if Google or whatever new phone OS vendor appears in the future will figure out that cloud alone is not sufficient and will wage a better battle when its time for me to do my next upgrade?

Meanwhile, the iPhone 4 is to the iPhone 3G as a Ferrari is to a Yugo (yes i've spent time in both so I understand what i'm saying!)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Since my iPhone 3G has been terrible anyway I figured there was no harm in updating to the latest OS, iOS4 when it came out on Monday. After the (long) upgrade, it completely hung and was non-responsive. I did a hard reset to reboot it (power off wasn't working) and it came back up and has been running since. Its not more or less responsive than the prior OS version so I didn't lose ground with the upgrade. The iPhone 3G with OS 3 or iOS4 remains a terrible device due to the sluggishness of it.

Meanwhile, I found a little (very little) value in iOS4. The only thing that has been useful to me has been the folders and I could have lived without them. Other things I could make use of in the (limited) iPhone 3G implementation of iOS4, like the unified mailbox, I don't want or need. I don't use a unified mailbox at my desk and like to keep my context in work or in personal stuff and not mix those two contexts. 

Other things I got on the 3G but find useless:

* 5x digital zoom - the camera on the iPhone 3G is terrible, so adding zoom to that is silly.
* iBooks/PDF/Games - since the phone is so slow these are useless.

And even if they had delivered multi-tasking in the 3G, I assume it would have been terrible on the 3G due to the overall sluggishness of the phone. 

Since the iPod piece of the phone is a major asset to me (and a piece that actually does work well even on my 3G except for the odd outages during bluetooth streaming) and the fact that all other phones have poor support for multimedia i'm left thinking about upgrading to iPhone 4 now (once the lines/noise settles) or holding off until the fall hoping Verizon gets lucky. We'll see how patient I am :)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

iPhone 4, any competition out there?

There's lots of buzz about how the various phones and carriers match up to Apple's new iPhone 4. The real issue is perhaps something other than the number of pixels, screen size, battery life, weight, or even carrier and coverage, I think they're missing something fundamental which is where I get stuck on the decision. Usability. Products are about ease of use, especially a multi-function live-with-it sort of device like a smart phone. On the phone itself Apple has shown a lot of polish in the software (we well as some silly mistakes, late deliveries etc) that is still lacking, even on the latest droid based phones like the HTC Incredible.

But, when it comes to a smart phone, it also comes down to getting your content on and off the phone and surprisingly the reviews are all skipping this topic . Email, calendar and contacts are a place to look to start (and even there I worry for non-iPhones). But what about music, movies, pictures, audiobooks, e-books? How well does the phone connect with your desktop and take care of all this for you? As far as I can tell without iTunes this is all a huge mess regardless of what phone you have. And Apple has effectively blocked non-iPhones from connecting to iTunes. 

Specifically for the hot HTC phones their documentation says this:

"HTC Sync is not compatible with Macintosh computers. While you will be unable to use HTC Sync to synchronize your PIM information, you can transfer files such as music, movies, photos, etc. to your DROID ERIS by HTC by mounting the device as a disk drive."

So I have to manually manage my multi-media? What about remembering playback positions in audiobooks? Rating changes on my music? Automatic syncing of unwatched movies/shows? We're supposed to give that all up?

Can anyone really stand up and say that life without iTunes is easy and things just work, and then describe how? Then try doing that for an OSX-based desktop environment. I'm sure there are techno-geek ways to solve the challenges, but for someone who wants it to just work, is there a way? So far my research says no.

Monday, June 7, 2010

iPhone 4

So the new iPhone 4 was announced. It's an impressive phone. Unfortunately the big news was the video chat. Since nobody else in my family is crazy enough to go to AT&T (including my wife), and many of my friends are too poor to pay for the expensive smart phone plans, few I would talk to could take advantage of this. Now, if the phone was distributed on more carriers, then there'd be a better chance of using this new functionality, but, sadly, Apple didn't announce anything with Verizon.

One option i've been thinking about is picking up someone's 3GS (after they upgrade to the 4 since I wouldn't want to pay $99 to end up with a 2 year contract renewal). Apple has a good 3GS vs 4 comparison here. That choice gets me a reportedly more-stable phone than the 3G, multi-tasking on the new iOS4, a much better camera (but without flash), video recording (but not HD). Essentially its a very good upgrade from my current 3G phone. With people upgrading perhaps I can get a 3GS for free/cheap without renewing my contract. That buys more time until something more appealing comes along.

Of course, there's always the need to have the latest and greatest NOW. Perhaps some time with the 3GS on AT&T will make me hate AT&T less and i'll be ready to lock in for longer.

Friday, June 4, 2010

AT&T and new data plans

At first I was pretty upset about the new AT&T data plans thinking it was going to really cost me a lot more, but my current unlimited data plan is $30. The new data plans are $25 for 2GB/month and $15 for 200MB/month. AT&T reports 98% of people are <200MB/month. I went back over the last 2 years of bills and there was only 1 month where I crossed over 200MB (hit 300MB that month). Looks like if you cross over you can buy another 200MB for $15 which would put you up to the cost of the current plan. So it doesn't look to me like this move will cost me more, in fact i'd go for the 200MB plan and save $15/month most months. But, of course, thats only if I stick with AT&T when my contract comes up on 7/11. We'll see.