Tagged with iphone

iOS 5: The Devil’s Details

iOS 5Question: What is a review?
Answer: A thorough, unbiased evaluation with the intention of determining a final critique.

It may not be a proper dictionary definition, but this is what I expect when I read technology reviews. Most of the time, I am satisfied. But with the release of iOS 5, I was consistently disappointed. Gone was the thoroughness. Gone was the proper critique. They read more like summaries of the features listed in an Apple press release. There were some details, of course, but there was also a lot missing.

This is my attempt to fill in some of the gaps. I’m not going to attempt to do a full review. But I want to look at iOS 5 with fresh eyes, explore some of the details overlooked in other reviews, and briefly sum up how it compares to other mobile operating systems available today.

So, lets begin.

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More Fun with Panoramas

Last weekend I went to Boston, and took a few snapshots of Boston harbor.  While these are another great example of how good the iPhone 4 camera is, that’s not the focus of this post.

There is something amiss with these panoramas.  I didn’t spot the problems right away, but as I worked with them, it became obvious.  And the reason for the problem is also obvious: the stitching isn’t perfect if all the elements in the picture don’t line up exactly right.  This is especially true for subjects in the foreground, which move about more as you change positions for each photo.

Anyway, see if you can spot the imperfections in these pictures!

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iPhone 4 Display

One more post about the iPhone 4, and that’s it for now, I promise.  I found this picture that I took when I still had my 3GS: a comparison between the iPhone 4 display, and the iPhone 3GS display.

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iPhone 4 Camera

How good is the iPhone 4 camera?  I haven’t had a chance to really give it a good run, so on my way home from work today, I stopped and took some photos.  Once home, I used Windows Live Photo Gallery to stitch them into a panorama. Using Microsoft software to manipulate photos taken on an Apple device? Unthinkable!

Anyway, in all seriousness, here are the results.  For the most part, I’m impressed — especially considering these are coming from a camera phone.  But, they’re not nearly as detailed as the panoramic photos I took with my real camera while in Spain earlier this year.  Also, the afternoon sun didn’t play nice with some of the shots.

Here are the undoctored (except for being stitched together) photos. Click on them to see the full size pictures (they’re BIG, about 2-3MB each!).

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The Task at Hand

I was reading the latest entry on Paul Thurrott’s Windows Phone 7 Secrets blog, and it got me thinking about the whole multitasking argument that has been taking place since Apple’s iPhone OS 4 announcement.

So first, a quick summary: since the iPhone was launched, multitasking has been next to impossible. Except for a few of Apple’s own stock Apps, it is only possible to run one App at a time.  Once you hit that home button, everything goes away.  In most cases, this is not a big deal.  But sometimes, you just want to listen to Pandora while browsing the web.

Last year, Apple announced push notifications as one answer to the multitasking problem.  For example, on phones where multitasking is allowed, you could leave a Twitter client open, and it could notify you some way when your timeline updates.  As mentioned above, it wasn’t possible to do this on the iPhone.  With push notifications, though, an App developer could set it up so that they would monitor your Twitter timeline, and send a notification to your phone when something changes.  A bit of a roundabout method, but it gets the job done.

On Thursday, at Apple’s iPhone OS 4 reveal, they added another piece to the multitasking puzzle: task-based multitasking.  Certain things, such as listening to music, getting location-based information, or talking on a VoIP call, could be done in the background while you work on another task.  As you can see, this isn’t free-for-all multitasking.  But, it does answer the majority of scenarios that users cite when they complain about iPhone’s lack of multitasking.

What this all leads to is Microsoft’s upcoming Windows Phone 7.  This is almost a complete rewrite of the entire WIndows Mobile experience, and so I imagine that Microsoft is keeping its initial goals simple and straightforward.  I would also not be surprised if Microsoft took note of Apple’s simplistic “one App only” view and decided it was Good Enough for them as well.  But now that Apple is adding some form of multitasking, it has everyone declaring Windows Phone 7 as dead before it even ships.

What Paul’s article correctly points out is that Windows Phone 7 doesn’t need multitasking, because it is built around multiple tasks.  Huh?  Okay, let me break this down a bit.  Windows Phone 7 is built around distinct “hubs”.  There’s the picture hub, the music hub, the “I’m a social butterfly” hub – each one of these has an anchor in a certain theme, but pulls its content from many disparate sources.  So, for example, Pictures not only shows you the pictures you’ve loaded onto your phone, but also dynamic content from Facebook, or Flickr.  Go into your contacts hub, and it not only shows you your contacts and how to get in touch with them, but also their latest updates on Twitter, Facebook, and so on.

So the basic point is: why do you need to worry about multitasking, if everything is already right in front of you, in one hub?

Well, here’s the part that worries me. While this concept is incredibly cool, it puts the responsibility on Microsoft to keep things up to date and fresh.  What the App concept buys you is that when new social networking services crop up (for example), people can write Apps on top of its APIs right away, and before you know it you’re linked in to the service.

With Microsoft’s hubs, how long will you have to wait for Microsoft to integrate a new social networking service?

Sure, Windows Phone 7 supports apps, but can you imagine how annoying it would be if you had to not only view your contacts hub, but also jump out to a third-party app, to see the complete picture?

Or even worse, what if Twitter disappears? Or Facebook?  Or, more likely, what if something better comes along and everyone switches to the new service en masse?  Suddenly, your contacts hub is no longer relevant because no one uses those services anymore.

How long would it take for Microsoft to add support for new services? Would they ditch older services?

Of course, we don’t have a complete picture of Windows Phone 7 yet.  It might be that Microsoft will eventually allow third parties to hook into the hubs, if approved by Microsoft.  That would be a nice way to make sure things stay fresh.

But this worries me a bit.  The concept is amazing cool, and I think is a much-needed reimagining of how a mobile device presents information to you.  But with how quickly the internet evolves, something like this can break down quickly – and what used to be a nifty take on the multitasking issue ends up making things ten times worse.

Just my two cents.

Update: Oh, and yes, I realize that Microsoft’s solution doesn’t solve things like “listening to Pandora while browsing the web”, just like the iPhone  used to not allow.  I am sure eventually Microsoft will bridge this gap.  But there is still a fundamental rethinking, which helps to downplay the need for multitasking.

Update 2: So, Paul just made a new post in response to a recent interview. In said interview, it is mentioned that eventually third parties will be able to extend hubs, but that functionality won’t make it at launch. This is obviously good news, and helps alleviate some of my concern. I still worry about the long-term evolution of how these hubs are maintained, but it’s good to see that they likely won’t stagnate.

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A Few Good Apps

Having my phone for a couple of weeks now, and realizing how difficult it can be to find true gems on the App Store, I thought I would give a few thoughts on some apps I’ve downloaded, tried and enjoyed.

Whole Foods App: I’m still searching for a good recipe app, but this is a decent start.  You can browse, narrow down and search for recipes that Whole Foods hosts on their website.  And their recipes are actually pretty good, presented with a nice UI.  It also has a feature that lets you find nearby Whole Foods store, utilizing the GPS — nice, but not the most compelling part of this app.

Flight Control: This game is in the top ten, and the concept sounded interesting, so I was immediately curious.  After reading a couple of reviews, I decided to take a chance — and it is, in fact, a very fun game! The basic idea is that you have an aerial view of a landing strip, with planes flying in from all directions and speeds, which you have to safely land.  Doing so is just a matter of drawing a flight path from the plane to the runway.  There are different plane types that have to go to different runways, and as the game progresses there are more planes on screen at a time, and paths often cross.  It’s simple, but challenging — always an addictive combination.

Jungle Bloxx: Think of a cross between Boom Blox and Jenga, and you’ll get the idea.  I’ve really only played the demo so far, but the $2.99 price for the full version is tempting.  Again, the premise is simple: there is a jewel balanced amongst a pile of blocks, and so you have to destroy the blocks in such a way that the jewel lands safely in a pile of sand.  If it lands anywhere else, you risk breaking it.  More points are awarded if you "land" the jewel with fewer destroyed blocks.

Jukebox: I think this only came out recently, since the new 3.0 firmware lets apps read the iPod data on your iPhone.  Basically it is like the Music Quiz game that came on older iPods — but spruced up nicely.  Well worth the $.99, especially if you have a lot of music.

WordPress: Update your blog and manage comments on the go with the official WordPress app.  Fairly straightforward, but I get a kick out of being able to control the fundamental details of your blog on the go, and in such a simple way.

Finally, saving the best for last:

Shopper: Ever since I owned a Windows CE device, I’ve been wanting a way to digitize my shopping lists.  But I don’t just want a way to bring a list of items to the store.  I also want a way to make notes of them as I think of them (quickly!) and check them off as I shop.  For a while I was using Google Tasks.  Unfortunately, though, it is a rather new addition to Google’s repertoire and is not only sparse on features, but is difficult to maintain on the go.  Also, it is meant more as a task list (go figure) and is more tightly integrated with Gmail than a standalone tool.  So after getting my iPhone, I looked to see what apps had been developed for this purpose.

There are several, but the $.99 Shopper app caught my attention.  It looked to have a nice interface that was easy to use and manage.  Plus, it had a database of pre-loaded grocery items.  And, it lets you specify what aisle these items are at in the store.  From there, you can set up profiles for each of the stores you visit frequently.  You can specify where they are located, as well as the order of their aisles.  Why?  So that when the phone senses you are near to one of your stores (using its built-in GPS), it can switch to that layout and display your shopping list in the exact order things will be in the store!

You can also specify prices for your items (unfortunately not on a per-store basis), take photos and make templates for common weekly shopping trips, or for ingredients for certain recipes.  For such a cheap app, it is powerful yet simple to use — and may finally be the answer to my digital shopping list fantasies.

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I think most geeks wish for a completely connected world: where all the gadgets they invest in can talk to one another, and information can be shared without restriction.  Needless to say, it is a wish because it has not yet happened.  We come close, of course.  But nothing is ever perfect.

And, sadly, I am not starting off this post with such a wish because the iPhone makes it a reality.  Rather, after using my new gadget for a few days, I want to point out how far we’ve come — and how far we have yet to go.

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