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Tuesday, January 31 2012

iOS Multilauncher

Several times a day on my iPhone, I tap: Home, Mail, Home, Tweetbot, Home, Reeder, Instapaper. Then I repeat the cycle, this time waiting for each to finish fetching updates and then reading what they fetched (and clipping to Instapaper from Tweetbot & Reeder) before finally ending up in Instapaper.

I do this in the morning and when emerging from the subway; I perform a variation before entering the subway and giving up 3G, and often when exiting WiFi coverage. On the iPad I have a similar routine, swapping Twitter & Flipboard for Tweetbot.

This is annoying! I am wasting my time on stupid button-mashing with substantial built-in delays -- especially on 3G.

Apple's highly effective sandbox security model, combined with iOS's much-appreciated simplicity (specifically Apple's restrictions on background tasks), mean I cannot use a cron type program to update these apps on a schedule (as I used to do on my Treo 650 for Plucker), and there is no 'wrapper' program which can tell them all to update.

Fortunately there is a way! Apple supports URL schemes for inter-application communication, and these apps use such URLs to communicate with each other -- mostly to clip articles, tweet, and send email. There is even a specification for bidirectional communication: x-callback-url.

Imagine an app named Multilauncher, designed to drive other apps in series via URL schemes. It could register the URL scheme 'multilauncher://', and come with a list of known and supported applications -- each with its own URL scheme, and preferably 'linkback' support.

So on my iPhone, in Multilauncher's settings, I could configure:

  1. Mail
  2. Tweetbot
  3. Reeder
  4. Instapaper

On my iPad, I might configure:

  1. Mail
  2. Twitter
  3. Reeder
  4. Flipboard
  5. Instapaper

I would tap Multilauncher, which would then invoke each of the specified apps. For non-callback apps (such as Mail.app) I would hit Home once they had a chance to update, and return to Multilauncher manually. Even better, though, cooperating apps could automatically relaunch Multilauncher, enabling a string of application launches & updates without manual intervention. On my iPhone, Multilauncher might launch URLs such as:

  1. mailto:
  2. tweetbot://x-callback-url/return?x-source=multilauncher://tweetbot
  3. reeder://x-callback-url/return?x-source=multilauncher://reeder
  4. instapaper://x-callback-url/return?x-source=multilauncher://instapaper

Of course Multilauncher would record what it launched last, so it could resume the sequence even without help from other apps.

Extra Credit

I don't know believe Apple currently supports launching apps from push messages or notifications, but I would be happy to subscribe to a (cheap) service to send my iPhone & iPad push messages in the morning, triggering Multilauncher so those apps could all have an opportunity to update themselves. Repeat shortly before the end of my workday. Set a timer and send a push message 6 hours after the last update. In unattended mode skip over uncooperative apps like Mail to avoid getting stuck in the sequence...

Wouldn't it be neat if the Reminder app knew when we passed in and out of 3G and WiFi coverage? It could update every time I enter WiFi, and when regaining coverage after 30+ minutes off the air. Update at the subway exits I routinely use.

Somebody please build it!

I am aware of App Switcher but it is designed as an interactive launcher -- not what I want.

Tuesday, March 29 2011

AT&T iPad 3G details

We will be taking a couple short trips this year, and now that I have a cellular capable iPad it's time to figure out how I'll have Internet access. TidBITS has covered the 'new' AT&T Personal Hotspot feature on iPhones, and the trade-offs between iPad 3G service vs. connecting through an iPhone hotspot). I don't travel much, so I prefer AT&T's proratable service over Verizon's monthly service. I got the AT&T 3G iPad, rather than the Verizon 3G model or the WiFi-only model.

iPhone: Wireless Features

I thought I would link my iPad to our AT&T family plan, so I could start and stop service with myAT&T.app, but normal iPhone service (including our family plan) is under AT&T's 'postpaid' model, where each month they bill us for minutes/texts/features actually used. The prorated 3G service is prepaid, and doesn't appear to link up with iPhone service or be manageable through myAT&T.app.

Our first trip will be a long weekend with family. In Settings.app, under Cellular Data, I enter my billing info and sign up for the 250mb/30-day plan for $14.99. Hopefully that isn't prorated out to 8.33mbytes/day! The second trip will be over 8 days so I'll sign up for the $25 2gb/30-day plan. Signing up automatically activates autorenewal, so each time I will stop autorenewal after I sign up, and terminate service manually when we get back home. Apparently you can register for AT&T 3G service even without an active contract or WiFi service -- even without a contract the iPad has access to an AT&T (or Verizon) captive network where you can just sign up -- but I don't intend to test this.

iPad: Cellular Data Account

Supposedly http://att.com/ipadlanding provides a web interface to manage iPad 3G plans, but it won't accept my (postpaid iPhone) credentials, and I don't see any reason to register again.

Had I chosen to use Personal Hotspot on the iPhone instead of iPad 3G service, I could have changed from my current "DataPro 2 GB for iPhone" service to "DataPro 4GB for iPhone" (which enables Personal Hotspot) directly in myAT&T.app. Alternatively, an AT&T rep offered to schedule my changes to 4gb/tethering and back to 2gb (no tethering) on whatever dates I prefer, over the phone.

Wednesday, September 22 2010

PC Pro Confusion on iOS vs. Flash & Linux

I read Tom Arah's Apple vs Adobe: some surprising statistics this morning, and was confused by a couple things. First, I guess I'm not surprised that there are more iPhones + iPod touches + iPads than Linux computers on the Internet, but can Linux share (including Android) really be < 1.1%?!?

The linked report claims 0.85% for 'Linux' + 0.09% for Android 2.1 + 0.05% for Android 1.6 + 0.03% for Android 2.2: about 1.02% total. That's shocking -- I thought Linux was much more common, although I guess the large number of Internet-enabled (smart)phones has diluted the Linux desktop market share a bit in recent years.

But the money quote, for me:

Moreover there’s little doubt that, if they were given any say in the matter, the overwhelming majority of that 1.1% would choose to see Flash and Silverlight content (presumably including those who choose to block Flash content by default in their desktop browsers but still install the player).

  1. Aside from browser creators, the only significant chunk of people who actually install Flash are Linux desktop/laptop users. Users never install Flash, or its share would be much lower than 97%!
  2. On the desktop, the trend is very clear: users put a lot of effort into avoiding Flash content. I have used 3 different Flash blockers and find them invaluable. Tom acknowledges this. His statement that users "still install the player" is crap. The best you can say for Adobe is that most users do not delete the Flash player.
  3. Tom's claim that "the overwhelming majority" of users would install Flash if they could is completely unjustified. I don't want to see Flash ads, videos, or games on my iPhone or iPad -- I'd much rather have h.264 videos (no ads!), and simply skip Flash ads and games on my mobile devices. On the Mac I use another plugin to see h.264 YouTube videos instead of Flash.

People who are aware of this struggle understand that h.264's recent growth has largely been at the expense of Flash video, and because iOS doesn't support it. If the iPhone & iPad supported Flash, we'd be watching (or trying to watch) videos in Adobe's broken mobile Flash player.

So what I get from this article: Although iOS/h.264 are clearly in the ascent -- at the expense of Linux/Flash -- it's too early to say the race is over, and Tom Arah either wasn't thinking very clearly, or deliberately warped a few facts to kinda-sorta support his agenda.

FWIW, it would be nice if kids could run Flash games on the iPad, but there are so many good (free) games that this isn't really a problem. I've gotten several Poisson Rouge iPhone apps, and I see a bunch of Club Penguin apps, so it's not a big problem.

PS-The reasons Google supports Flash on Android are pretty clear -- it's not because Google & Adobe are the good guys, and Apple and the Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG) are evil villains.

  1. h.264 is more open than Flash.
  2. Before the Apple/Adobe tiff, I believe (but cannot confirm) that Google stated that Android would not support Flash.
  3. Google and its handset partners use Flash support on Android as a feature differentiator against the Apple iPhone.
  4. Google markets Android as open and embracing of Flash, while they paint Apple as closed and restrictive. But previously Google & Apple were allied in embracing the openness of h.264 video.
  5. Flash on mobiles means Android users will eventually get to see YouTube ads (once the mobile Flash player can handle them). Win! (for iOS users)

Sunday, June 27 2010

The iPhone 4 Camera

Some time ago -- probably back when my iPhone 3G was the hot 'new' phone -- I was annoyed that my trusty Canon SD800IS didn't have GPS for photo tagging. Accurate dates on photos are very useful, as I am painfully reminded every time I combine photos from multiple cameras of the same event (DST often varies, but camera clocks just aren't very accurate). GPS coordinates are less important but also quite handy.

I realized, however, that rather than my next dedicated pocket camera having GPS, more likely the iPhone would eventually have a competitive camera, and the iPhone of course already has decent GPS and accurate time (generally from the cellular network).

The iPhone 3GS camera was much improved, but still completely inadequate for me. Lots of people, including Amy use cellphone cameras exclusively (she's about to move up from my old 3G to my now-old 3GS), but they tend to look at the photos on other phones, and/or post them at sites like Facebook that never show high-res photos anyway.

For me, the only real problems with the 3GS were its camera and its battery life. The battery was normally okay, but recently I'd get to work in the morning, after watching videos for about an hour, and find the battery down to 60% charge. I expect to get it replaced under AppleCare this week, and think Amy will be happy with it. But the camera was useless except for Twitter, and the very rare occasions when I needed a camera but didn't have my SD800IS.

So I was very happy to see Derek Powazek say Apple had done a good job with the iPhone 4 camera.

I took some comparison shots Saturday night in low light, and I'm happy with the iPhone's pictures. I'll probably keep carrying the S800IS on weekends, since I already have it and the habit -- and it does take somewhat better photos, with more room for cropping. But now pictures I post to Twitter will be decent, and I'll be more inclined to take pictures during the week without my Canon. In the future, when the SD800IS dies, I won't need to replace it.

The Canon still has advantages over my T1i for video, though -- it's much more forgiving for focus, and AF on the T1i is loud, not a factor on the SD800IS.

Monday, May 17 2010

iPad & iPhone apps

Friends & relatives have lately asked what apps I use on the iPad & iPhone. Here are my current apps and a few notes. See also February 2009 & August 2008.

pPad apps, page 1 pPad apps, page 2 pPad apps, page 3 pPad apps, page 4 pPad apps, page 5

  1. Apple apps, assorted (mostly built-in)
  2. Video & electronic books/readers
  3. Miscellany
  4. Games & toys
  5. Drawing & game overflow

iPad apps are fewer and simpler. The three of us share this, so I don't keep personal apps like 1Password & Dropbox on it.

I have a simple scheme for organizing apps. Paid apps tend to go to at the top of the screen, as they are often more functional than the free "Lite" versions, and they were important enough to pay for. I haven't tried all of these yet, but thought I might. A few (NPR & NYT Editors' Choice, for example) I don't personally use, but show off when people ask about the iPad.

Note that on both iPad & iPhone, the same cluster appears: Tweetie/Twitterrific, NetNewsWire, Instapaper, & Kindle (sorted from most timely content to most long-running). These are the four apps I use most, although the ebook reader changes as I read books in different formats. I am looking forward to comparing iBooks on iPhone to Kindle.app. On the iPad, I spend most of my time in Dock apps; the remainder is mostly in page 1 & 2 apps, with 4 & 5 largely for Julia, although Amy and I do play games.

cPhone apps, page 1 cPhone apps, page 2 cPhone apps, page 3 cPhone apps, page 4 cPhone apps, page 5 cPhone apps, page 6 cPhone apps, page 7

I've had an iPhone for 3 years, and there are still considerably more iPhone apps than iPad apps. Each iPad page shows up to 20 apps + 6 in the Dock (we have 82 installed), while the iPhone shows 16 + 4 in the Dock (I have 121 installed). On the iPhone, I spend most of my time on page 1, most of the rest on page 2, and fairly little on the other pages.

Facebook is annoying -- I rarely run it, but when I do there's often some message that activates the message counter. It's obnoxious that I cannot turn it off, but successful inasmuch as it prompts me to go back in and attempt to clear that pending message (which doesn't necessarily work -- apparently a Facebook bug).

Saturday, August 22 2009

Hyundai Sonata

We rented one last week, and I was immediately impressed by several thoughtful touches, although they weren't quite as clever as I initially believed. In addition to the lighter socket in the dash, the front seat armrest had an additional 12V socket, a 3.5mm jack, and a USB port. The car stereo included XM satellite radio and MP3 CD-ROM support. This all sounds great! I should be able to play an iPhone via USB, leaving 2 extra 12V and an extra audio port.

Unfortunately, the USB port only provided power with the stereo in AUX mode, and the iPod port didn't work with my iPhone. I suspect it really requires a USB drive with MP3s on a FAT filesystem, similar to the MP3 CD-ROMs which the car stereo also accepts. I don't know if an iPod in disk mode would fit the bill, but iPhones don't do USB disk mode, so no joy for me.

So I left the iPhone plugged into a 12V socket, and it charged whenever the car was turned on. Music was CDs -- I was using the iPhone for GPS (AT&T's worked pretty well), and without physical controls it was a bit awkward to use in the car.

The car also had a semi-smart, semi-dumb transmission. When I put it into Park, the doors unlocked (presumably they locked when put into other gears, but I didn't check). With the transmission not in Park, the keys couldn't be removed -- so far, so good. Unfortunately, with the car turned off, I could not put the car in Park. So several times I stopped, turned off the engine, tried to Park, had to turn the car partway back on, and then was able to Park. That last bit is just dumb.

Sunday, August 9 2009

Google Voice

I was accepted into Google Voice recently. I've been playing with it lightly for a few weeks, and explaining it to a few people. It's amazingly cool, but less useful to me than to other people with different life/work styles. I'm on a fairly predictable schedule, don't use SMS much, and don't worry about calling minutes.

Basically, Google Voice is Google managing your phone service. You can click a 'call' button/link, and Google will call you, then call your recipient, and connect you. They offer free national calling (since Google calls both you and the callee), although this doesn't help with cellular minutes, and loses the benefit of free in-network cellular calling. Google Voice also offers free SMS, but of course received SMS messages are billed normally. I use AT&T's SMS gateway, so don't expect to use this much (most of my friends & family use iPhones). Google emails voicemail audio & transcripts (very handy, but not terribly accurate). GV always rings on my iPhone, and during business hours it also rings at my desk, so people don't have to worry about where to call me.

Kevin recommended GV Mobile for the iPhone, but I wasn't sure which app to use (there were 3 Google Voice apps on the store, and reviews were split). I got GV Mobile Lite, but the Lite version doesn't actually call contacts -- it just lets you punch in numbers, which isn't worth the trouble. A week later, Apple rejected Google's official GV app and deleted GV Mobile and the competitors -- had I known, I would have bought GV Mobile or a competitor while they were still available, as GV seems worth it. Hopefully Apple will re-allow them -- everybody (including the FCC) is angry about this. Fortunately, the iPhone is a good enough phone that I don't really need to call through GV, and their mobile page is usable if I want to. If I was trying to force people to call me through GV, I'd want to only call through GV to avoid them seeing my iPhone number, but this isn't a problem for me.

Since I loaded my address book onto my Treo 600 in 2003, I've wanted the same calling convenience through home and work landlines. Amy has actually taught people how to do this through the phone systems at her current and previous jobs, but I haven't worked anywhere with such sophisticated telecom (although I've had IP phones in my last 3 jobs, so it's certainly been possible somehow). I envisioned a Bluetooth or wired headset with VoIP software and Skype or something like that, but I've never really used Skype, and VoIP at my jobs has been dedicated phone handsets communicating over TCP/IP, rather than calling through a general-purpose computer. I'd even consider something that would let the iPhone initiate calls via WiFi or Bluetooth, since it holds all my contacts & numbers.

During this era, I used one set of earphones for music at work, a wireless headset for phone calls, and another set of noise-reducing earphones with my iPod on the train, with a 3.5mm to 2.5mm adapter for the Treo. The iPhone eliminated the whole ritual of switching connections between iPod and Treo to make/receive calls, which was a big win. Unfortunately, my nice third-party iPhone earphones with mic & button are pre-3GS, and don't have the extra buttons for volume control, but I don't really need that. These days, current Macs support microphone & volume control on the earphones, making them even better for Skype / soft phones.

When I got an iPhone a couple years ago, it was far enough advanced over our home phones that I largely stopped wanting smarter dialing at home, because I just started calling people from the iPhone, except the 20 or so people programmed into all our handsets. Now I only call a few people (who are programmed into all 4 handsets) on our home phones, and the only problem with the iPhone is that the speakerphone is inferior. If we didn't have Julia we would have dropped our home number years ago.

For years, I've wished my work voicemail would send me MP3s of received calls, but again this hasn't yet been available at my jobs. Visual Voicemail shows how convenient it is, and Qualcomm had this implemented long long ago. I'm happy Google Voice does this, and the text transcripts are cool, even though they're not accurate enough to be very useful yet.

I have noticed a couple issues with Google Voice, though. Contacts in Google Voice & Gmail can be stale / out of sync. I updated one and the other didn't update immediately. This is confusing, and they should all be consistent. Also, I tried synching the Mac Address book on 2 Macs against Google, thinking this would let me make changes at work and have them update at home, but it made several duplicates at both home and work (probably Apple's problem, as it's their synchronization tool). My working alternative is to my home address book against Google; at work, I make changes in Google, and treat the Address Book application as read-only. I keep it current with a daily rsync from home.

Since I don't use GV much, it took me a few weeks to stop feeling like I should say "hello" when GV calls me. At this point it's just dead air, since Google calls me first, and then calls the recipient. I kept starting to speak when I picked up the phone and feeling silly.

Giving Google all my contact information felt a bit weird. I decided it was worth it for Google Voice. I would have done it years ago if I'd use Gmail, but have been unwilling to give Google all my email. I had to go through and purge some private date I'd been keeping as notes in Address Book, but this wasn't bad. With all the brouhaha about NetNewsWire using Google Reader, I've been thinking about privacy issues with Google a lot lately. Interestingly, of the 4 types of data I've considered giving Google, RSS is probably the most useful to them -- what links I'm interested in is the easiest to use for advertising. Email is tremendously valuable too, but doesn't map as directly to ads. Feed information, though, is disproportionately useful. Contacts is probably the most valuable data to me, but doesn't map as easily to Google's advertising business -- more to where they want to be, to compete with Facebook. Calendar data doesn't really worry me.

Update 2009/08/27: I just discovered Google Voice's useful keyboard shortcuts.

More useful links:

Thursday, March 12 2009

iTunes 8.1 Is Smarter about Video Compatibility

Amy and I watch video on our Apple TV, and I watch on my iPhone. I rip to filenames ending in .AppleTV.mp4 (for us to watch together) and .iPhone.mp4.

Under iPhone: Videos: Sync movies, iTunes 8.1 now greys out incompatible videos. This is a significant improvement, and makes selecting videos for the iPhone easier & quicker.

Thanks, Apple.

Thursday, March 5 2009

Reading: An Embarassment of Options

As a rule, I read one book at a time. Or perhaps I should say this has been my rule, as it appears to have broken down completely.

For the past several years, I've carried a paperback book which fits in a pocket, and a PDA (Treo with Plucker, now iPhone) with news. I rotate between catching up on Twitter/NetNewsWire/Instapaper Pro/, watching movies and TV shows, and reading, along with the occasional game. My tendency has been to avoid the next book for a while, as I catch up with other things, then as I get near the end, I focus more on finishing the book.

Thanks to Goodreads, I realized that I am now reading 7 books.

  1. I'm reading the Mabinogion from Project Gutenberg on the iPhone.
  2. I just started Weber's By Schism Rent Asunder in the new Kindle for iPhone app.
  3. I'm halfway through reading Moore's Watchmen for about the 4th time. I read this at home, at night -- my compilation is big and I don't want to trash it.
  4. I'm reading DiMassa's The Complete Hothead Paisan at home (too big to carry)
  5. I have been reading Singh's Mac OS X Internals: A Systems Approach at home for over a year (much too big to carry).
  6. When I remember it, I read Gerrold's The Middle of Nowhere at lunch, when I remember to bring it.
  7. Card's Empire is in my jacket, unstarted.

I hope I can continue to keep them all straight!

As someone who doesn't read hardcovers due to cost and size, cannot generally fit trade paperbacks in my pockets, and struggles to find new books to read, Kindle ebooks on the iPhone are a big win. My main reason to carry a paperback is now for when the iPhone battery is dead.

Kindle.app Flaws

  • Paging is awkward. I have to swipe left to advance. This quickly becomes tiresome -- tapping on the top or bottom, or perhaps the right side, should advance. Each book requires hundreds or thousands of page turns, so they should be as quick and efficient as possible.
  • There's no way to get a page number. This makes references & citations problematic.
  • I cannot see a table of contents. This may be Tor's fault, as Kindle.app has a built-in ToC bookmark, but there's nothing on that page -- there's also no cover for either of the books I bought, which is frankly lame. When I tap the page, it shows me the "Location" I'm currently at. If I tap the bookmarks button and then the "Location..." button, I get a field to jump to an arbitrary location, and the app shows the final location number.
  • I cannot see what chapter I'm in. I don't know if the Kindle has provisions for this which Tor hasn't taken advantage of, or if the Kindle simply lacks support for chapters.
  • There's no landscape mode or zoom. By Schism Rent Asunder starts with a map and geography is important to the story. Unfortunately, it's far too small to read. Lame.

Update: May 20, 2009

I occasionally read print volumes, but I mostly read in Kindle.app.

To my delight, Amazon just released v1.1 of Kindle.app, fixing my main complaints:

  1. Tap to page
  2. Zoom
  3. Landscape mode is now available

Next I hope they will provide a progress meter, a la the gauge at the bottom of Stanza windows.

Thursday, February 5 2009

iPhone Beta

Thanks to Peter N Lewis, I tried out a new iPhone game today. My first iPhone beta! It's fun, although somewhat minimalist. Looking forward to the release. And I found a few bugs, so it was successful testing.


iPhone Apps: 2009/01 Recommendations

Update 2010/02/01:

  • Tweetie 2 is much more capable than Twitteriffic.
  • EBook Readers: Bookshelf (or Stanza), Kindle, Eucalyptus, Classics, & B&N eReader
  • Games: Orbital & Snood
  • Free: Amazon, AT&T Mark the Spot, Dragon Dictate, Dropbox, Gallery, Gorillacam, IMDb, Mactracker, Now Playing, Skype, TidBITS, WhiteNoise Lite, Zipcar

I was listing out suggested iPhone/touch apps for a friend (several people have asked for recommendations), and decided to post my current list of suggestions. Note that the Lite apps are also available in Pro versions -- I purchased several after liking the Lite versions. Numbered items are roughly in order of importance. There are several apps I downloaded them because they are interesting, even if I haven't really used them yet. All except the last version are available in free versions, although I have paid to upgrade 3 of my 6 top items.

See also my 2008/08 list.

Highly Recommended

  1. NetNewsWire
  2. Twitteriffic (Lite)
  3. Instapaper (Lite)
  4. Remote
  5. Wikipanion (Lite)
  6. Shazam

Mildly Recommended

  1. 1Password (requires 1Password/Mac)
  2. Facebook
  3. Amazon Mobile
  4. Showtimes
  5. Lightsaber Unleashed
  6. Google Earth
  7. Yelp
  8. Stanza
  9. Darkslide
  10. iHandy Level Free
  11. Rain Stick
  12. Scribble
  13. Shakespeare
  14. White Noise


  • Space DEADBEEF
  • Labyrinth Lite
  • Sol Free
  • Tap Tap Revenge
  • Crossword Light


  • AroundMe
  • iWant
  • iTalk Recorder
  • Joost

Worth purchasing.

  • Classics
  • Toy Bot Diaries (1-3)

Saturday, December 27 2008

iPhone Users: Boycott Clickthroughs

Interstitial ads are annoying on desktop web browsers, but they're much more intrusive on handheld devices like iPhones. I have decided not to click through such ads on the iPhone, and to bail when I come across them, even when this means not reading content I want.

This is in the (likely vain) hope of convincing the people who control those websites that handheld users (at least) won't put up with that garbage.

I encourage you to join the boycott! Maybe we can get half a dozen people and really turn some heads, just like the Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement.

Wednesday, November 5 2008

AT+T Cannot Forward a Phone Number

I need a new phone number for a few months, to forward to my cell phone. Apparently AT&T has an institutional blind spot around forwarding, though. I called AT&T Wireless, and had to explain myself several times (over 25 minutes). She was unable to help, so transferred me to her manager, who could not help either. The Wireless manager forwarded me to AT&T Long Distance (800 222-0300).

After much repetitive explanation, LD said they were unable to help me because I wasn't asking about a long distance number. LD forwarded me to AT&T Local Service (800 288-2747).

The Local sales rep said she(?) was unable to help, and that I needed to speak with AT&T Wireless (since, after all, I want to forward to an AT&T iPhone). I explained that I did not want to speak to Wireless, as they had already explained they can only forward my cell phone to a different number, rather than forwarding a new number to my cellphone. She asked if I had been helped to my satisfaction (part of the script), and I explained I had not been helped yet, and didn't even know who she was about to pass me along to. She apologized, assured me the next group would be able to help, ignored me as I asked (twice) who she was transferring me to, and transferred me back to Wireless. Obviously she wanted to be rid of me, and no longer cared if I was helped.

The next Wireless rep understood better, at least. She checked with 4 managers, and confirmed the Wireless group does not offer forwarding into cellphones. When asked, she passed me on to Wireless Business Services (800 999-5445) -- unfortunately it was Wireless Business Services, and they were confused by my number not being tied to a business account.

Eventually the BWS rep offered me a new wireless contract for $10/month, with a $175 early termination fee any time between 30 days and 2 years. This would get me a new number, and could be forwarded to my existing iPhone. $240 seems like a lot for something I only expect to need for a few months. Interestingly, the residential Wireless reps had mentioned this, but seemed rather confused about it -- among other things, they said the termination fee only applied within the first 6 months. $60 for 1-6 months seems pretty good in comparisoin!

Not an impressive performance, considering I spent over an hour on the phone with Customer Service.

Now I'm looking at the various $10/month web-based forwarding / phone management services. Recommendations welcome (during November)!

Thursday, August 14 2008

Suggested iPhone apps

Frank just got an iPhone, so I was listing off suggested apps, and decided to post the list. Almost all of them are free.

  • NetNewsWire/iPhone: RSS reader which synchs with NNW on Mac, FeedDemon on Windows, and Newsgator Online; all are free
  • Instapaper: Multi-computer bookmarking service -- links to http://www.instapaper.com/
  • (paid) Twitteriffic Premium (Free shows ads): http://twitter.com/reppep
  • Stanza: ebook reader
  • Remote: iTunes & AppleTV control
  • (paid) TouchTerm: ssh client
  • (paid) pTerm: ssh client
  • Facebook
  • AIM (just for free SMS)
  • Now Playing
  • Scribble: need a drawing program to play with Julia
  • Shazam: identifies recorded music the iPhone can "hear"
  • Shakespeare: complete works
  • Yelp (Amy likes)
  • Google


  • (paid) Toy Bot
  • Phone Saber
  • Fire Drop
  • Moonlight Mahjong Lite
  • Labyrinth LE
  • Life
  • Tap Tap Revenge
  • Advent (I don't play it, but keep it for the ecstasy it will someday induce in an old Zork fan)

Monday, August 4 2008

iPhone 2.0 Subtleties

I upgraded to iPhone OS v2.0 a while before I got a 3G iPhone (very worthwhile for me, since I spend most of my time outside Wi-Fi coverage now). Since the upgrade, I have noticed a few things which I have not seen mentioned elsewhere.

Continual pseudo-GPS updating in original models

On my original iPhone under iPhone OS v1.x, tapping the crosshair button in Maps used to locate me -- the button turned blue while the iPhone was fixing my location, then turned grey again when done. To update my location I had to tap the button to get a new location fix. Under v2.0, after tapping the button it stays blue, and the iPhone updates my location automatically until I tap again (to turn it grey and switch location auto-updating off) or exit Maps. This is well-known on 3G models, but I was surprised and pleased to see auto-relocation on the original iPhone.

Pause to rotate (walker unfriendly)

Under iPhone 1.x, I could rotate the iPhone to re-orient Safari while walking. Under v2.0 the iPhone does not reorient while I am walking -- I have to stand still for it to notice the change in orientation and rotate. Annoying, as it means I will have to stop in the middle of crowds to trigger rotation.

More switches to iPod.app when resuming music playback?

Under v1.x, after a sync or reboot, the first time I hit the earphone button to start music playback, the iPhone would switch into iPod mode, but I could stop and start without switching into iPod mode. I have a feeling that it switches into iPod mode sometimes now (after I first started and stopped playback), at times when it would not have before. This is unconfirmed, though.

Upside-down for iPod videos

I believe this changed from v1.1.4 to v2.0, but could be wrong about when. In earlier software versions, iPod movie playback only worked when rotated 90° counterclockwise. Alex hates this, as it puts the speakers behind your right hand. With v2.0, iPod movies can also be played back 90° clockwise, which puts the speakers under the left hand. YouTube still only works counterclockwise, though.

Loss of background functionality with apps vs. Safari

I am very happy with NetNewsWire, Twitteriffic, and Instapaper, but iPhone 2.0 doesn't let them run in the background. This means NetNewsWire and Twitteriffic always need to update when I launch them, as opposed to the Mac apps which update automatically in the background. It also means I cannot multitask -- when I was using NewsGator Online and m.twitter.com, I was able to switch between Safari tabs and Mail, and keep them working in the background as I switched to whichever was done. The apps are much better than the webapps, but the regression of having to wait really bugs me. Fortunately it's lessened somewhat by the 3G iPhone's improved update speed.

Another disappointment is that neither NetNewsWire nor Twitteriffic supports rotation. I thought Apple didn't support it outside Safari proper (both NetNewsWire and Twitteriffic incorporate the WebKit engine Safari uses) until I realized Instapaper supports rotation, and Stanza supports rotation (even upside-down, which Safari does not). I'm sure there are real reasons Brent & Craig have not yet provided rotation in their apps, but as I understand it, they are not allowed to discuss them, or how Instapaper & Stanza do it -- even under NDA, despite the fact that this is released software!

On the other hand, reading Slashdot via NewsGator Online stunk. The delay to get each article was very aggravating, and NGO was useless on the train. NNW/iPhone makes reading Slashdot a pleasure.

Also, Remote is great.

Friday, July 11 2008

iPhone Apps: First Impresssions

I've been waiting for NetNewsWire for iPhone since I first heard of it, and have already registered Twitterrific Premium, which is very slick (although I'm not sure how GPS or photos work). I am somewhat disappointed that NNW/iPhone doesn't proactively download updates; that's one of the nice things about NNW on the Mac -- it's always pretty current, and I never have to wait for an update. On the iPhone, where I may not even be able to get an update on the train, it's problematic. I was hoping NNW/iPhone would proactively sync feeds, so I could use it on the subway while out of coverage, but no joy.

Twice, all apps have failed to launch until I rebooted, and I've had a couple unexpected reboots.

Most apps are very slick, although AIM and iMaze both disappoint. Very much looking forward to using Remote for real, and wondering if I should have gotten an Apple TV for our living room stereo instead of an AirPort Express/n...

There's a trick to replacing the 4 persistent apps in the Dock at the bottom: you cannot drag into the Dock to bump them out of the way; instead you must drag something out of the Dock to make room first, and then you can drag an app into the free space.

It's annoying that deleting an app from the iPhone leaves it on the Mac; moreso that re-synching re-installs the app on the iPhone and forces a full (slow) backup of the iPhone. Adding insult to injury, I cannot control-click an app in iTunes to re-install it, or get rid of the confirmation on every deletion from iTunes.

The AIM client stinks. Not sure if it's push enabled, but it has serious flaws and bugs, both.

Moving apps around Springboard is a bit buggy. As I moved them from one screen to another, Springboard moved a bunch of extra apps to later screens -- many more than were actually necessary to make room. I always have 7 screens of apps, even when they all fit on 6. Under 1.1.4, there were no empty screens -- empty ones were automatically removed; I preferred that behavior.

I expect to get an iPhone 3G Monday -- can't do it this weekend.

Where's the OpenSSH port?!?! I do hope Apple didn't reject a submission...

Update 2008/07/12: The extra screen is correct. When in app rearrangement mode, the iPhone always provides an extra screen so I can move apps there; in normal mode the extra screen goes away.

Sunday, June 15 2008

iPhone 3G Economics

Steve Jobs announced that the iPhone 3G would be "Twice as fast. Half the price".

Ever since Om Malik's interview with AT&T's Ralph de la Vega, people have been noticing and commenting on the fact that this ignores the mandatory 2-year AT&T contract, and in fact iPhone 3Gs will generally cost more, thanks to the higher monthly fees.

Unfortunately, Amy doesn't want my original $400 iPhone -- perhaps a friend who can't justify the 3G charges will buy it for $100.

The $300 16gb iPhone 3G will be worth the money for me -- I spend a significant amount of time each day waiting for pages to load, and still take a Treo 650 & Bluetooth GPS unit on driving trips. But I'm disappointed in Apple for choosing a clearly misleading catchphrase for a product which doesn't need deceit and customer confusion to sell well.

I don't use SMS much, but I do sometimes, and I don't want to worry about the astronomical per-message costs, so I like the $5/month flat rate plan. And I certainly want the $30/month unlimited 3G data plan.

Fortunately, I'm now able to drop back from the 900-minute/month plan I upgraded to, down to the base 450-minute/month plan, which will save $20/month, and nicely offset the additional $15/month for unlimited 3G & 200 SMS.

Now that AppleCare has failed me, and the iPhone isn't as much of a hardware investment, and I don't walk outdoors across campus (drops on carpet are much less destructive than on asphalt or concrete outside), I've decided not to purchase AppleCare or a case for my new iPhone (my 11-month-old plastic incase protector is falling apart, and kept the iPhone from fitting in any dock). I like the idea of leaving the iPhone charging in its dock overnight, rather than lying on a night table.

So with the new iPhone, I'll save $70 on a 2-year AppleCare contract and $30 for the case. This is enough to pay for MobileMe service. Hopefully it will be solid, as opposed to the current .Mac service, based on the unreliable iSync.

I wonder how much turn-by-turn GPS with spoken directions will cost on the iPhone. I know TomTom and Garmin are quite interested, and Google Maps can do real-time driving GPS without spoken directions -- I don't know what the iPhone options will be, though.

I have a couple large questions. First, how well will MobileMe work? Second, how much will turn-by-turn GPS with spoken directions cost? Hardware GPS units are in the several-hundred-dollar range, while Google offers free or cheap GPS with directions but no speech. I'm looking forward to seeing what is available using the iPhone SDK.

I'll have a much faster iPhone (and probably OpenSSH -- hooray!), and next time an attractive upgrade rolls around, I won't have $500 invested in the previous generation.

To sum up, I'll save $20/m on extra minutes, and pay an additional $15/m on 3G data & SMS. I'll save $100 on protection, and pay $100/year on MobileMe. If things don't change over the next 2 years, I'll end up paying $40 more, which isn't bad, but also isn't "Half the price."

Wednesday, April 16 2008

Goodbye to The Register

I've been reading The Register for years. The biggest draw for me is that their idea of what's interesting matches my own pretty closely, so the relevance is very high, and I don't know any other sites/publications that provide timely coverage in roughly the same space.

Unfortunately, they're clowns. They obviously don't edit, and don't fix obvious mistakes when pointed out. For a while they had opposing columnists, one claiming Intel was crushing AMD and another claiming AMD was crushing Intel -- posting supposedly authoritative articles on the same days. My interpretation was that The Register doesn't care whether they print stuff that's flat wrong (obviously at least one of those columnists was, even if they were both personally convinced it was the other guy), so long as it draws traffic. This is one thing if labeled as editorial, but they're not that sophisticated.

Their articles are confused or simply wrong often enough that a couple friends refuse to read anything they publish. I prefer the current facts enough that I am willing to overlook the absurd editorial.

They use FeedBurner, and downloading their articles over EDGE on the iPhone is slow. To aggravate matters, their CSS is screwed up; I have to wait for the page to download, then it resizes, then it pauses and downloads some more, then it reflows. It can take over a minute to get a readable article. The AV Club is even slower to download and reflow, which is one reason I read it less.

But recently The Register has started doing full-page ads before the articles. This is aggravating on a desktop, but completely unacceptable on an iPhone. I've removed their feed from NetNewsWire/NewsGator.

Saturday, February 16 2008

Reading in bed, and iPhone trick

The other day I was lying on my side, trying to read a web page on the iPhone. I turned the iPhone 90° clockwise, but it obligingly re-rotated the text 90° counter-clockwise, leaving me again out of sync. I grumbled something about the irritation of being outmaneuvered by a handheld gadget. Amy's brilliant suggestion: rotate it another 90° CCW. Since the iPhone doesn't offer 180° rotation, this left the text rotated 90° -- aligned with my head.

Thanks, Amy!

Friday, November 30 2007

iPhone Subtleties

Update 2007/12/15: The iPod has two shuffle modes. I'd been going to the list of songs and hitting Shuffle, but this isn't sticky. The trick is to 1) start playing a song, 2) tap on the cover area to get the track position slider, and 3) tap the shuffle icon on the right side. This is sticky, and I now have shuffle play by default! Still no shuffle by album, though...

The iPhone has a few very small features which show a surprising level of thought went into its design before launch.

The do not disturb switch. This has been a signature feature of Treos for years -- completely disabling the speaker. Apple got smarter: the iPhone's side switch mutes incoming calls, SMS notifcations, & calendar alerts. But the alarm clock and immediate actions on the phone, including speakerphone and iPod playback (with earphones disconnected) -- still use the speaker. So Apple has evolved from "mute" to "do not disturb", which is much more useful.

Keyboard key-up. Registering keys on finger lift allows correction without mistyping (if you're paying attention) and provides some really handy tricks, like dragging from shift to I to get a capital I in one (long) tap instead of three -- works for numbers & punctuation too.

iPod stop on earphone removal. When you unplug earphones, the iPhone stops music or video playback. I use this feature at least twice a day, when I get home or to work. If the iPhone is in a holster or bag, this saves the trouble of getting it out to stop playback. Apple could have opted to activate the speaker instead, but people unplug their earphones and stop using the iPod much more often than they switch from earphones to speakers.

Earphone remote behavior. When listening to music, it fades out if the phone rings; I thought this was silly, but it's nice. When I hit the button on the remote, the phone answers; when I hit the button later to hang up, the music resumes. If I'm using the iPhone (in any app) and hit the earphone remote, music starts (or stops) playing; this saves me a few steps on switching into the iPod app and back to what I was doing. When watching video, it pauses and resumes. Between that, the double-click to skip to next track, and the volume controls on the side of the iPod (easily accessible in a belt holster), I don't miss the 6-button iPod remote.

Unfortunately, it's always alphabetical play of everything on the iPhone, so I have to switch to iPod and start Shuffle play the first time; then it stays in Shuffle mode until either a) the iPhone gets confused and stops playing, or b) I plug into a Mac; neither of these should switch me out of Shuffle mode, actually.

And that reminds me: What genius at Apple decided that iPhone users don't want to shuffle by album? So much for "the best iPod ever". Pfeh!

But overall, the iPhone is remarkably sophisticated. Perhaps Ive & Jobs and their 5 closest friends spent a year writing down all the things about cellphones that annoyed them, and brought that into the iPhone design discussions.

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