Tag Archives: iPhone

Spotify Post-mortem

For a while now I’ve had a Spotify Premium account, and since I told myself it was an experiment which I would then subsequently review, I really ought to actually do that rather than just letting it roll over and over each month.

I assume most of you are familiar with Spotify; if you’re not, then where the hell have you been the last year? It’s pretty much ubiquitous now.

Anyways, Spotify Premium is £9.99 a month, and that entitles you to higher quality music, offline mode, and use on mobile devices, like the iPhone. A full comparison of the different types of account is available on the Spotify website. The main thing that drew me to paying for premium was the use on mobile devices, like my iPhone, and I have used it pretty extensively.

And, based on that experience, I think I’m going to stop paying for it.

There’s a few reasons for this: the catalogue on Spotify isn’t as extensive I would like, and has a really large number of omissions, the software is occasionally unstable, etc. but the major one is mostly a strictly human limitation. I found myself just listening to the same set of music over and over, or I was undecided about what I actually wanted to listen to on any particular day, and Spotify just isn’t geared up to make it easy to browse to find something you want. The tools available for finding entirely new music on Spotify aren’t really very wonderful, either.

What I could do instead with my £10 is just buy a new album (or two) every month, add it to my collection, and then use tools like Genius playlists on the iPhone to listen to the whole damn lot in nicely selected chunks, which I find a really satisfying way of consuming music. This plan also has the advantage that I get to keep all this music if I every subsequently decide to stop paying monthly.

Anyways, I haven’t made any final decisions yet, so I’d be very interested to see what other people think about this, any tips/tricks or perspectives to share would be great.

(Coming up soon: a series of posts about my holiday to Ireland, and hopefully just more posts in general…)

Adobe vs. Apple

Apple and Adobe have been having a rather public tiff about the use of Adobe’s Flash on Apple’s mobile platforms, the phenomenally successful iPhone and iPad platforms. I’m going to have to split my response to this into two logical parts:

1. The Web

Flash is predominantly used as a container for video content, Flash-based games, and the occasional little widget. Almost every other use is a disaster; I’m sure we all have horror stories of terrible Flash-based websites.

Apple’s argument in this space is one I completely agree with: letting one company, with one proprietary implementation, control several important classes of web application is just wrong. Emerging standards like HTML5 video and canvas tags, and support for them in all the major browsers (Chrome/Safari, Firefox, IE9)  mean that we have no need to stick to Flash. Even if we were to assume that Flash was high-quality, secure, performant, and stable, which it isn’t, letting it have total control of web video would be an incredibly bad idea. The sooner it dies a miserable death, the better for all of us.

2. For The Writing of Cross-Platform Apps

This one is somewhat more of a grey area.

First off, let’s be honest; Flash doesn’t help you build cross-platform apps. It helps you write apps that run on Adobe’s platform. They want you to write Flash-based apps for the same reason that Microsoft wants you to write Windows apps, or Apple wants you to write iPhone OS apps, or Valve wants people to use the Steamworks APIs: they want you locked to their platform, for their own business reasons. There isn’t any altruism here, no matter how much Adobe wants to play the martyr.

This is why Apple is refusing to let apps which target Adobe’s platform to run on their OS. Adobe are making a power-play to subvert Apple on their own platform, and Apple are rightly telling them to go fuck themselves. It’s not an unreasonable position, even from a user’s perspective. One of the reasons that Windows is a cluster-fuck is that fundamentally Microsoft lost control; they need to keep backwards compatibility with almost every Windows app ever written, even the ones that don’t play by the rules and call undocumented APIs in broken ways. That’s a millstone around their neck, preventing them from ever moving quickly. That situation is good for nobody; it hurts application stability, and it hurts innovation.

On the other hand, Apple are keeping control with an iron fist, in a fairly velvety (albeit thin) glove. Call undocumented APIs, don’t natively target Apple APIs, you get bounced out. On the other hand, it means Apple can keep nimble. They know that because all their app developers are playing by the rules, they can change things rapidly. Change CPU architectures? Boom, most apps will just recompile without needing changes. Stick a third-party toolchain in there, and you get unpredictable effects; every app using that third-party system could stop working.  What if Apple want to add new features? If Apple exposes a new API, native apps can start consuming that API straight away. They don’t have to wait for a third-party platform to figure a way to pass through that API, if they ever do. They don’t have to worry about developers only targeting the minimum common feature set.

It’s a Faustian pact. Nobody is denying that. If you don’t like Apple’s strategy, you don’t have to buy an iPhone OS device.

For the moment, I’m happy with the trade-off. When I decide on my next phone, you bet I’m going to look at Android. But I’m happy right now, and I quite want an iPad…

Anyways, if you really want to write cross-platform code, you do it the same way we’ve always done it. Write core code in C++, staying agnostic as possible to the real environment you’re running in. C++ pretty much works everywhere. Hooray for open standards! Also, on another note, I also think that half the time the FSF is full of shit. Or to be less inflammatory, they’re so committed to their ideology that they’re blind to reality. But that’s a story for another day.

iPhone Macro

I’m about to express an unpopular opinion, so I’m just going to come out and say it: I really want an iPad.

Yes, yes, I know, early adopters always get screwed, it’s locked down, doesn’t multitask, there’s no camera, there’s no Flash,  etc. etc.

Sorry, I just don’t care. It’s thin, it’s light, it’s a goddamned multi-touch tablet that’s going to have awesome third-party app support on launch (not only running legacy iPhone apps, but I bet there are going to be dedicated iPad versions of the best apps, e.g. Tweetie) and with a UX that’s pretty much second to none.

The web-browsing experience on it looks phenomenal. I already browse a lot on my iPhone, and being able to do the same on a screen that size? That’s the stuff tech dreams are made of. I’ve been wanting a device like this for over a decade, and now it’s here I’m not going to get sniffy because it doesn’t have a camera. Can you even imagine taking a photo with an iPad? It’d be horrible!

Honestly, I can see something like the iPad quickly becoming my go-to computing device. Need to look something up on Wikipedia? Want to book some train tickets? Quickly checking email? Want to show a friend a YouTube video? You bet you’ll be reaching for an iPad rather than trudging to a desktop or even a laptop computer. It’ll also be great for stuff like iPlayer, Facebook, Twitter… The experience on offer here is already worth the price of entry, no matter what features they’ll put in the second gen.

The one thing that seems like a missed opportunity with the iPad is that even if you get the 3G version, which presumably has all necessary radio-gubbins, it doesn’t support making phone calls or sending SMS messages.

Now, I can almost understand the justification for not supporting phone calls; there’s a real risk of looking somewhat like a 21st Century Trigger-Happy TV sketch, holding a giant iPhone up to your ear.

That problem could be entirely avoided though if it was mandatory to use some kind of hands-free kit to make calls.

The perfect scenario would be Bluetooth; your iPad could sit in your bag, month-long standby life only somewhat curtailed by being connected permanently to a phone network with the Bluetooth radio powered up. All the necessary interaction with the iPad required to make and receive calls could be made wirelessly via a Bluetooth headset. Heck, it would finally validate the existence of the bloody things.

Then I wouldn’t need an iPhone any more; the only time I’d miss it would be those times when I really need portability, like looking at a map while walking about on foot – mostly using iPhone apps while walking is a bad idea anyway (not that’s stopped me walking and tweeting, I might add). This is entirely counteracted by the much better battery life and superior usability afforded by the larger screen.

It seems like such a good idea I’m surprised they haven’t done it.

iPad

As is customary amongst our people, I am going to tell you what it is I think about stuff that’s been going on.

On Wednesday, Apple announced, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, that they were going to release a new tablet computer, monikered the iPad.

Gallons of ink and… what the fuck is the collective noun for pixels? I mean, you have a murder of crows, a parliament of rooks, a school of fish, a clutch of eggs… regardless, a lot of pixels have gone into describing every nook and cranny of the thing, so there’s no need to re-hash it; I always find that Engadget does a good job of coverage.

The real question is: is the iPad a Good Thing, or a Bad Thing?

I must confess that my initial thought process was, “Oh, it’s a giant iPod Touch. Who cares?” The iPhone OS is limited in a whole bunch of ways that are annoying if you’re used to desktop computers: there’s no filesystem, no multitasking, you have to get all your applications through the App Store, etc. and I felt that was just too limiting for a device that size. I also had ergonomic concerns, is it good for typing, for instance?

Then I sat down and watched the keynote video, watched the thing in action.

And I just can’t be cynical. I’ve wanted a device like this for probably more than a decade. And it’s better than the dream could ever be.

The iWork apps on there were, oddly, what finally convinced me. If you pair it with a USB keyboard, this becomes a practical work machine. It’s not a toy, it’s not a joke, it’s a perfectly-crafted touch device in a way you could never get by retrofitting multitouch into an existing OS, because every aspect of the experience is geared towards interacting with it with your hands. It’s utterly marvellous.

People say that it’s just a bigger iPod Touch. And it is, they’re not wrong. But then a Blu-Ray is just a DVD with more pixels. A Core 2 Quad is just a Duo with 2 extra cores. Heck, it’s really just a faster 486! The step up in experience that the simple doubling of the dimensions provides for is just going to be an order-of-magnitude better. Saying it’s “just” a bigger iPod Touch is like saying a Microsoft Surface table is just a bigger iPod Touch. The very nature of the form-factor makes it different.

So yeh, I’m very excited to head down to the Apple Store in 2 months and have a go at holding one in my hands. I might even go crazy and buy one, like a big sucker buying a 1st gen product.

There are niggles; it should be able to run at least one app in the background. Honestly, that’s all I need, or want. One background app for something like Spotify, and one foreground app to actually work in. The second thing is, they need to loosen App Store approval guidelines. There’s only one route to get software onto it, so it needs to not suck.

As far as Flash goes, I really don’t care. HTML5 Video and Canvas are going to wash it away, and the lack of support for Flash in the iPhone ecosystem is going to hurt Flash, not anybody else. Adobe looks pretty scared.

Still probably not ever going to get a Mac, though.

Tethering in iPhone OS 3.0

For the non-cognoscenti, one of the upcoming features of the next version of the iPhone operating system is that, with the approval of the phone network, you’ll be able to use your iPhone as an Internet connection for a computer.

The worrying part of all that is the “approval of the phone network” part, as it’s quite possible that O2 will decide not to offer this feature to UK iPhone users. Which would suck rather a lot, really.

I’m hoping they will allow it, and here’s why:

1) Your SIM card that gives you access to the service is already portable. There’s nothing stopping you putting it into some other device that maybe does support tethering, and using the unlimited data from that device.

2) Lots of people jailbreak their iPhones. You can bet those lot will hack it up to allow tethering, and it would be pretty bad if the legit people got stuffed quite so badly.

3) There’s already an acceptable use policy. Use for web, email etc. is fine, and that’s pretty much what people want tethering for, so that they can use those things from the slightly more comfortable environs of a full-size computer. They could already easily cut off people who used it for BitTorrent or the like with that existing policy.

Honestly though, for me it’s just not that big a feature. Unless you count my Asus EEE, I don’t really have a laptop. My iPhone has rather neatly filled the portable computer niche for me – the only things I would feel uncomfortable using it for would be typing out a lot of text, so long emails and blog posts have to wait for a proper computer.

Short emails and Twitter though – very much iPhone territory.

I have to confess, I’ll be interested to see if Apple announces a hardware refresh, and if O2 will offer any sort of upgrade deal. If the terms are reasonable, I can easily imagine myself taking it up, especially if it fixes some of the slight hardware complaints with the existing phone (poor battery life, no camera flash, no camera video!)

Even with those defects, and the many others, the iPhone is still quite possibly the best gadget I’ve ever owned. You can tell the quality of the product by the number of imitators it’s spawned; the iPhone and the EEE both fit into this commendable category.

iPhone app sorting algorithm

Like any iPhone user, I’ve installed a heck of a lot of app store apps. Trouble is a lot of them are totally useless, while some I use all the time.

So I’ve decided to start using this procedure: any time I use an app, I bump it up one place in the menu. Hopefully the apps I use the most will rise to the top, and the rubbish sink to the bottom.

Anyone have any other suggestions for strategies?

Witchcraft

So here I am, blogging from my iPhone, listening to music that’s digitally stored on my computer, using my phone as a remote control.

I think this is pretty awesome, but I’ve just been thinking that only a few years ago this would be impossible; a few years before that, utterly incomprehensible.

As the sadly missed Arthur C Clarke said, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

If this is what we can do today, I can’t wait to see the future.

Speaking of remote control, anyone know of anything that would work well for controlling computers from an iPhone that’s either free or actually worth paying for?

Anyways, back in London on sunday. Looking forward to it!