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Thursday, October 11 2007

iPhone vs. sieve filtering

The iPhone makes heavy use of email. It's the easiest way to send yourself a URL and the only way to get Notes out of the iPhone (for now, at least).

I generally try to filter as much as possible out of my INBOX, including mail from me (mostly replies to mailing lists I'm on, and I don't need to read what I just wrote), but I want mail from my iPhone to stay in the INBOX where it's easy to find. I was annoyed that my sieve filters apparently cannot match on the body of messages, only on headers, but the solution turns out to be very easy -- I put this at the top of my sieve file, and now mail from my iPhone (but not my Macs) shows up in INBOX:

# personal short circuit
if allof
  header :contains "From" "pepper@",
  header :contains "X-Mailer" "iPhone Mail"
 { stop; }

Saturday, October 6 2007

iPhone: Zoom Zoom Zoom

iPhone zooming is complicated. When designing MobileSafari (the iPhone version of the Safari web browser), Apple opted to preserve the desktop Safari experience as closely as possible. This lets them talk about "the real web in your pocket", and provides Apple an opportunity to sneer at competing handheld devices that present "the mobile web" instead. The reality, of course, is that there's some value to the mobile web, or it wouldn't exist. The issue is that the iPhone is quite limited compared to a Mac or PC 'desktop' (or laptop) computer, so mobile browsers have been making trade-offs for years to come as close as practical to the desktop experience, while accepting that there must be deficiencies.

One area where Apple's desktop mimicry is particularly clear is in page rendering. MobileSafari appears to first calculate how desktop Safari would lay out a particular page, then compress it to fit on the iPod's relatively tiny screen, and let you zoom around the page to read content of interest. This gives great demo, but begs the question: When I'm reading a web site on my iPhone, why would I care what it looks like on my desktop? My desktop has 4,224,000 pixels, a full keyboard, and a 5-button 2D scrolling mouse. My iPhone has 153,600 pixels (less than 1/27th as many) and 10 fat fingers. Denial of these differences is a neat trick, but can never completely succeed.

For comparison, Plucker focuses on getting easy-to-read text onto a handheld device, with optional support for anti-aliased fonts and images up to the maximum display quality of the Palm's screen. This means lines wrap wherever they fit, text is whatever size you choose (although the built-in set of fonts is quite limited), and web pages look nothing like they would on a full-sized computer. Plucker's display model is quite popular, and very much "the mobile web" Steve Jobs scoffed at, although Plucker for offline web browsing -- it predates the iPhone's 802.11g and EDGE standards. A full-sized computer downloads web pages, reformats and compresses them for the Palm, and stores them for later downloading. The Palm part works even without a network connection -- subways passengers, rejoice!

Similarly, one almost always wants to scroll a full page in a web browser and the Palm has physical keys for this, but the iPhone instead scrolls based on how far and fast you flick. I'd prefer an option (at least in MobileSafari) to always scroll by a page. This would save me both the effort of figuring out how far and fast to flick, and time finding my place after scrolling.

My initial reaction to MobileSafari was that the fonts were surprisingly fuzzy and hard to read. Naturally -- they were designed for computers with more and larger pixels, being scaled down by the iPhone's smaller pixels, and scaled again to fit on-screen. Sometimes fonts are scaled up, to make them easier to read. In contrast, Plucker never scales its fonts.

Craig Hockenberry's furbo.org has several articles on the iPhone, including pointers for web designers on how to manage iPhone scaling. It doesn't answer my question, though: How can I choose a particular font size, and get the iPhone to wrap text to fit? Unfortunately, I don't think there is an answer right now.

MobileSafari scaling is complicated and occasionally buggy. I am aware of these scaling options:

When a page is loaded, the iPhone renders it as closely as it can to the way desktop Safari would -- not at all based on the iPhone's capabilities, but instead for a fictitious Mac. Then it shrinks everything down to fit the width of the iPhone's screen (either 320 pixels in vertical mode, or 480 in horizontal mode).

I tried to duplicate the iPhone's default scaling, and it was a pretty good match for a 684-pixel-wide by 695-pixel-high Mac Safari 3 window (475,380 total, over 3 times as many pixels as an iPhone has). At 72dpi that would be 9.5" by 9.65", or 13.54" diagonal; on a 110dpi 15" MacBook Pro it's 6.22" by 6.32", or 8.86" diagonal. In contrast, the iPhone screen displays the same text at 2" wide by 3" high, or 3.5" diagonal. Tiny!!

If you tap twice on a column of text, the iPhone zooms to fit the column to the width of the screen. For pages that have no native width (plain HTML, no layout), tapping twice centers the tapped paragraph on-screen -- very handy for scrolling, as you can just tap at the bottom of the screen each time you get to the end of the page. For pages with layout, tapping twice a second time zooms back out.

If you tap twice on an image, the iPhone zooms to fit the entire image on-screen. It does not work for all images, such Questionable Content -- perhaps because QCs are too tall, and MobileSafari doesn't even try to fit them.

If you place two fingers on the screen and pinch them together, the iPhone zooms out. If you "unpinch", it zooms in. Unfortunately the iPhone does not reflow the text to fit edge-to-edge, so this is almost never convenient for reading -- either space is wasted or text is off-screen.

That's six different zoom options and I may be missing more. But none is the one I want (which would be easiest to read) because the iPhone's browser always wraps text to match desktop Safari, and never to provide the most readable page on the iPhone.

In reality, I double-tap almost every page to zoom a column to full width, and then hope that I can read the text in either vertical or horizontal mode. Usually I can.

I find the whole subject disappointing. I had more readable web pages on the Treo 600 and 650 for years! Apple could make the iPhone a superior device for reading web sites and ebooks, but has instead gotten hung up on "the real web in your pocket" and pretending that iPhones are running desktop Safari.

Update 2007/10/26: Apple's just-released "Safari on iPhone Part II: Optimization" video discloses that the iPhone renders everything to 980w * 1091h, presumably calculated based on the usable width of a browser window on a 1280x1024 17" LCD after menu bar, Dock, and Safari controls. This leaves me wondering why 684w * 695h was such a close match.

I've added a couple lines to a couple of my pages, and they improve iPhone presentation substantially (no, they aren't new, but they do work):

<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width">
<meta name="viewport" content="initial-scale=.8">

Monday, September 24 2007

iPhone Link Farming

The iPhone doesn't support a start/home page. Every time you open a new Safari page (equivalent to a tab) it opens to a new page, unless you open it from another page with a "target" attribute. Fortunately, its MobileSafari browser is very smart about suggesting recently visited sites; typing one or two letters typically brings up the site I want as a suggestion. Email addressing works the same way -- it appears to prioritize recently used addresses, so if you visit the same sitesĀ (or email the same correspondents) repeatedly, it's usually right.

On the other hand, sometimes you want a "link farm" (bookmarks page). I keep one with a bunch of links, both for use on the iPhone itself and also for visiting on Macs for working with the iPhone: http://www.reppep.com/~pepper/iphone/. I'm a big fan of tabbed browsing on desktop computers (ever notice how, in relation to iPhones and other handheld computers, laptops become "desktops"?). On the iPhone, I prefer to keep my bookmark page open, and open new tabs off it. There's a JavaScript bookmarklet to make every link open a new window, but it doesn't do the trick for me.

Instead I keep my iPhone bookmarks on a simple page containing a few lists of links. Since this page changes frequently, I have a BBEdit GREP Pattern to do the necessary. It converts a plain URL, into a proper <a> tag with a unique target attribute (the hostname), and wraps the whole thing in a <li>/</li> pair; this gives me a readable and clickable link that opens in a new window. I tried target="_new" and target="_blank", but no joy. Here's the pattern, to save time for future link farmers...

Search for: ^(https?://)([^/\r]+)(.*)$

Replace with: \t<li><a href="\1\2\3" target="\2">\1\2\3</a></li>

iPhones are not high-security devices

It's worth pointing out that iPhones are not designed to be highly secure. Apple has quite deliberately designed and marketed them as consumer devices, declining to officially enter the "enterprise" market. This lets Apple ignore several of the thornier security features of devices like BlackBerries, such as remote erasure of data. A 4-digit PIN is obviously not intended for high security, and even that is awkward if you use the iPhone many times a day (as I do).

Unfortunately, it also means Apple sees no need to provide strong security on the iPhone. At this point, the thing I miss most from my Treo is the Palm version of Web Confidential. One possibility is to create a web page of passwords, protecting it with SSL/TLS and a strong password (and likely IP restrictions to my home and work networks as well). For ease of adding/updating passwords, it could be a private wiki. Hopefully Web Confidential or something else will be available for iPhone (and Apple won't effectively block it) before I find myself installing a wiki on www.reppep.com.

Since there's no cryptographically protected keychain, I seem to be stuck without IM. Apollo IM, at least, stores the password in its binary configuration file, so Apollo IM is no longer on my iPhone. In addition, hahlo.com, itweet.net, & ipheedr.com all stored my password in plaintext in ~/Library/Cookies/cookies.plist on the iPhone. I deleted the cookies and won't be going back to them. Fortunately twitter.comand m.newsgator.com at least avoid plaintext passwords in cookies...

Sunday, September 23 2007

OpenSSH on the iPhone

One of the most important things the iPhone hacker groups provide (since I'm fine with AT&T service) is Nullriver's AppTapp Installer.app, and two of the most important packages it provides are terminal emulators (I currently use Terminal-vt100 because it if you drag on the top of the screen it provides a donut with arrow keys and a few Control keys). I certainly hope AppTapp isn't destroyed as collateral damage when Apple attacks the non-AT&T activation efforts.

Does anyone know how to get generic control keys out of any of the iPhone terminal emulators? Obviously Apple doesn't provide a Control key on its stock keyboard layouts...

I was surfing around furbo.org and found Craig Hockenberry's Hacking Quicker. I noticed it doesn't match what I see, and realized this is apparently because earlier versions of the "OpenSSH" package installed by AppTapp were not actually OpenSSH. Now that this has been cleared up, the procedures for conveniently sshing into the iPhone are different than Craig described -- note that you should not start by installing the OpenSSH package, as this makes your iPhone vulnerable to miscreants:

On the Mac

  1. From the Mac, install AppTapp if necessary.
  2. On the Mac (or Linux system, etc.), if you don't already have an ssh keypair, create one with "ssh-keygen -t rsa" -- this creates ~/.ssh/id_rsa & ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub. For convenience, use anssh` keychain program to avoid re-entering your private key's encryption passphrase on every use, such as SSHKeychain.

On the iPhone

  1. From Installer (AppTapp), install a terminal program (I use Terminal-vt100).
  2. Launch the terminal program.
  3. In the terminal, type "passwd root". Then enter the new password twice. If it doesn't work, try again.
  4. In the terminal, type "passwd mobile". Then enter the new password twice. If it doesn't work, try again. Note that you can use the same password for mobile and root.
  5. From Installer, install OpenSSH now.
  6. "ssh YourMacIPAddress". Log into your Mac, and type "echo $SSH_CLIENT"; this is your iPhone's IP address. Setting up your iPhone to get a consistent IP address is beyond the scope of this article, but makes connecting to it much easier. If that's not feasible, you can either hit an unused URL and check the web server logs to find the client IP.

On the Mac

  1. "ssh root@iphone" (substitute your iPhone's IP address from the previous step for iphone). This will take a while the first time (~~35 seconds)
  2. Enter the root password you set previously.

From the Mac keyboard, logged into the iPhone

  1. Browse around the iPhone -- isn't it easier with a full keyboard, and Copy & Paste?
  2. mkdir ~/.ssh
  3. chmod go-w / ~
  4. This one must be exactly right, or you could trash your sshd_config -- note the double greater-than symbols: "echo AuthorizedKeysFile .ssh/authorized_keys >> /etc/sshd_config".

On the Mac (in a new Terminal window)

  1. scp ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub root@iphone:.ssh/authorized_keys
  2. ssh root@iphone

If everything worked right, this last command will provide a root shell on the iPhone based on your ssh keys, not your UNIX-style password on the iPhone (it can be difficult to tell the difference if you use the same passphrase for your ssh private key as for the iPhone's root account). If you use an ssh keychain, you shouldn't need to provide a password each time you ssh into the iPhone.

Thursday, September 20 2007

iPhone Earphone Subtleties

The iPhone comes with nice iPhone earphones, but they're not ear-blocking like my old Shure E3cs or my Ultimate Ears. This makes hearing TV dialog of video on the subway significantly harder, and the UEs don't fit the iPhone's headset jack. Now, of course, there are many 3rd-party headsets with iPhone-style stereo + microphone connectors, but they were rare (nonexistent?) when I got the UEs for my birthday. Ouch!

I used the UEs with the Treo 650, using a $5 Radio Shack 2.5mm-3.5mm converter to connect the 3.5mm earphone plug with the Treo's 2.5mm phone jack. Rather than un-wedge the UEs, plug in a standard single-ear-plus-microphone voice headset, make a phone call, then remove the phone headset in favor of the UEs, I just moved the connector from my iPod (for music) to my Treo with the adaptor (for video or voice). Now I wear one headset and it does everything without switching. This is good. It's also nice that I can hit the mic bump on the cord to pause the music/video playback in favor of answering the cellphone, and when the call ends playback resumes.

It will be good when I replace these earphones with a louder/noise-blocking set, but in the meantime I'm appreciating the convenience, and using the mic bump to pause video playback whenever there's loud subway noise or glare prevents me from seeing the screen.

iPhone Replaced

Tuesday, I got a new SIM from an AT&T store (they're all over -- the AT&T rep on the phone apparently just randomly picked Fulton Street, rather than one nearby). The card didn't help.

Then I went to the Apple Store, where they rushed me through (in only half an hour!) before I had to get back to a staff meeting (reorganizing our group, so I did not want to be late). Tuesday afternoon I activated my new iPhone via iTunes. After a brief period where it was configured with a brand-new 646 number, AT&T correctly assigned my cellular number to the iPhone.

Tuesday night I plugged it into my home Mac and restored my configuration & data. This missed a bunch of minor things it should have restored, including alarms, audio settings, time zone, and "Ask to join networks", but these are all easy to fix.


Since I got the iPhone back on the Internet, I have concluded that all the established "Web 2.0" social networking sites have put their existing work on hold to focus on iPhone (and more generally mobile) interfaces. Vineel countered with Facebook, but that appears to be a different group of mostly unknown people & projects trying to break through, using Facebook as a venue. Different than the iPhone-friendly sites like:

It's great that Facebook can automatically import ExtraPepperoni posts as news items, but why can't it automatically pick up my status from Twitter (even with the Twitter app installed)? RFE filed @ Twitter.

I have been delighted to discover that after I moved all the web sites I regularly read from Safari on my Macs into NetNewsWire, and synched that with NewsGator, I can read news on a Mac or the iPhone, avoid reading stuff twice, and get more fresher content than Plucker. Plucker was much faster because all the content was already on the Treo, and it worked on the subway, but the Plucker project is not too active right now. Newsfeeds without full content are now quite annoying -- I may look for full-content feeds with similar coverage (specifically a Register replacement -- I really like their sense of what to write about, but The Register has many serious problems).

I really want Copy & Paste for responding to what I read on the iPhone!

I have been carrying a stylus daily since the Original MessagePad (Newton). I haven't yet adjusted to doing without.

Monday, September 17 2007

More AT&T / Apple Idiocy

Saturday, AT&T told me (twice) that they would have iPhone activation back online by 4am. At 8am NYC time (5am Pacific) my iPhone still hadn't activated. I called AT&T (this was my 4th call, and at least the 4th AT&T rep I have spoken to so far on this issue) today (Monday), and was told that it should have activated after 7am, but if it didn't I need a new SIM. When I asked where, she suggested an AT&T store at Fulton St. I explained this is halfway across Manhattan, and not near my subway line, and asked if I could take it to the Apple Store where I bought the iPhone a week ago. Sure. So I made an appointment with the Mac Genius for 5:45, left work 15 minutes early (not having a cellphone or pager is a big problem), and got to the Apple Store at 5:30. They were "only running 8-15 minutes late" when I signed in to wait.

At 6:22, I finally spoke to an Apple iPod Genius, who listened to my 2-minute summary and told me I need an AT&T SIM. No, they don't have any SIMs -- they are supposed to get them from AT&T, but AT&T hasn't delivered any. No, he doesn't know where I can get one from AT&T. No, they can't just replace my iPhone. He'll lodge a complaint with AT&T, as they should not have sent me to Apple for a SIM.

At this point I've spent an hour or two troubleshooting the iPhone myself. I've called for support 4 times, speaking to 1 Apple rep and at least 4 AT&T reps (who have had little, or no, or wrong, information). These calls have been averaging about 45 minutes apiece -- some are over an hour, so call that at least 3 hours on the phone. I've registered on a website for an appointment with the Apple iPod Genius, and waited 35 minutes past that appointment time, only to be sent away without anything to show for it, about an hour after I arrived.

I called AT&T tonight, but their customer service line is closed. I called Apple, but they know nothing about which AT&T locations might have SIMs.

"Fed up" doesn't cover it. "Thoroughly disgusted" with incapable AT&T and impotent Apple is more like it. FUBAR, in the original sense.

Sunday, September 16 2007

iPhone is currently useless

Friday night, as I was getting home, I noticed the iPhone had no service. I waited a bit, turned it off (hold the power button, then swipe to confirm), then rebooted it a few times (hold down power & home buttons, but Settings:General:Reset All Settings would have been easier). Both before and after I let iTunes Restore everything, the iPhone failed to activate.

Activation is critical -- without AT&T activation, the iPhone blocks access to most of its features. This is why people are so interested in non-AT&T activation hacks, and one reason the iPod touch is interesting for so many folks -- lots of people asked for a non-AT&T iPhone, and due to AT&T's 5-year exclusive contract for iPhones in the US, you can't even (officially) use an iPhone's non-cellular capabilities without paying AT&T. This is part of Apple's contract with AT&T -- there's no reason you couldn't do everything except voice calling & SMS purely over 802.11, and those could be managed through gateways and VoIP. This exclusive contract may also be why Apple has restricted the touch's access to "iPhone" features like email -- either due to restrictions on what communications features Apple is allowed to put in pocket-sized devices, or as a concession to AT&T while the touch cannibalizes some iPhone sales and AT&T revenues.

Anyway, I wondered how both cellular and 802.11 radios could have gone out at the same time -- I normally have 5/5 bars for AT&T + E for EDGE and 3/3 for WiFi in our apartment, and now I had "No Service" in the wireless status area. I couldn't figure out how this could happen. It couldn't be a software problem, because a fresh Restore of the same 1.0.2 image I activated on Monday night was not working. Reading about "No Service", I discovered the 802.11 radio is disabled because the phone isn't activated.

I called AT&T Customer Service Saturday morning. They transferred me to Apple (automatically, for iPhone support), and the Apple rep told me AT&T's activation server was down. Apparently they knew about this, but did not have an ETA for it coming back up. He suggested I call AT&T, and I declined. So the Apple rep called AT&T, and failed to get an ETA for repairs.

I called AT&T again Saturday afternoon, and spoke to 2 AT&T reps. The first was quite nice, but quite surprised their "activation server" was down, and that she hadn't heard about it. She tried to walk me through downloading Apple's Activation QuickTime movie, telling me to click "Go Pro" to get QuickTime Pro, etc. I explained that I didn't need a tutorial on how to activate (I had already done this -- the only thing for to do at this point was plug it into the Mac) and asked her to call Apple to find out what was wrong with the activation server (since they seemed to have a handle on the problem, if not a timeframe for resolution). After a while, instead of conferencing in Apple, she transferred me to a second AT&T rep.

The second rep was also nice, but no better informed. She did call Apple, but didn't really understand what was going on. From what she relayed to me, I believe all iPhones are activated by iTunes (which would make sense -- it shouldn't be substantially tougher than DRMing AAC tracks). Obviously the iTunes system needs to tie into an AT&T database to access the customer records, since AT&T handles billing, phone numbers, porting, etc. Apparently AT&T scheduled some downtime starting on Friday afternoon, and was caught unprepared when they discovered that Apple was depending on this unavailable service to process iPhone activations. I was told AT&T expected it to be back up by 4am Monday morning. It took me a while to understand why the AT&T rep kept telling me that a) activations are handled by Apple, and b) AT&T (as opposed to Apple) expected to have the systems back online by 4am.

She asked if I had gotten email from AT&T, saying I might have gotten a manual activation procedure via email. I explained that I'd gotten a few emails welcoming me to AT&T, and telling me my number started with 347 (that was true for less than 24 hours -- I got the phone Monday evening and got my RU cellular number ported Tuesday afternoon) and one offering me a free ringtone through AT&T MEdia Net (which the iPhone cannot use). There was also a message from "Cingular" in my spam folder, but it wasn't about activation. She then told me she's just confirmed I never got any manual activation message, and wasn't going to.

The sad irony here is that a wipe and reinstall is supposed to be the guaranteed fix. In this case, due to the way Apple implemented their exclusivity clause, the "fix" created an officially insurmountable problem -- nobody at Apple or AT&T can activate my phone right now, and the various third-party efforts are likely to be blocked in the future and might fall afoul of the DMCA (although I believe the cellular companies managed to disgust the US government enough to earn a special exemption for cellphone unlockers).

I definitely had a strange (non-activation) problem Friday night, but at this point my iPhone could be perfectly fine and useless because activation (AT&T's equivalent of copy protection) is broken. I probably won't know until Monday -- hopefully I won't have to get the iPhone replaced at an Apple Store.

On a side note, I'm displeased that Nullriver's excellent AppTapp Installer.app and all its packages are now missing after Restore from iTunes. I don't know if my configuration changes are there, just not the software. Since I'm likely to have to wipe the iPhone again, it's not worth re-hacking & re-configuring the iPhone yet -- and it's pretty useless without network connectivity.

Wednesday, September 12 2007

I got an iPhone

I realized that I want to be able to watch videos all the time, without always adding an iPod to the cellphone on my belt.

I realized that I wanted the smarter phone offered by the iPhone.

I realized that another 8gb is important (8gb on the iPhone is tight for me), but less valuable than cellular service, SMS service, data service (EDGE seems faster than my Treo 650's 1x RTT), Bluetooth (probably missing from the touch), and one less device to carry. Aside from that additional 8gb and some irrelevant size/weight discrepancies, the iPhone doesn't seem to have any disadvantages compared to the iPod touch.

I realized that the iPod touch appears artificially limited. If it's got WiFi and Safari, why not Mail?

I cancelled my iPod touch and picked up an iPhone at the Apple Store. I hadn't been to their 5th Avenue location -- it's really cool architecture. The people there were very nice, including Giovanni who came by the long line asking if we were all paying by credit card. When I said I was getting an iPhone, he pulled me out of line, grabbed an iPhone, and did the whole thing on a Symbol handheld -- with an embedded barcode reader, running Palm OS (they ran on Newtons until Apple dropped them). It would have been slightly faster than the (excellently run) cash register line, except the time it took for them to finally decide there is no educational discount on AppleCare for iPhone

That was an irony -- Apple actually thought I was a Newton VAR for a while. I still have VHS tapes of the conference they brought us to at Cupertino, including me in the audience. We have no VCR, and I never watched the tapes, except perhaps once to verify I was visible in the audience...

The porting process was not too bad, although there were a few steps:

  1. Talk to Telecom.
  2. Send email to IT office manager.
  3. IT office manager sends approval to Telecom.
  4. Telecom calls Verizon to release number.
  5. Telecom, Verizon, and AT&T agree to port the number.
  6. Telecom calls me with AT&T on the phone. Telecom hangs up.
  7. AT&T rep tells me we're ready, and transfers me to another AT&T rep.
  8. Second AT&T rep asks me if RU has a password on he account.
  9. I say "I certainly hope so, but I don't know it. Didn't you guys get this during the setup?"
  10. She says she has no password, but we can hope it goes through. Submits the port request, and starts explaining that my number will be in limbo for a while during the port, due to finish within 3 hours. Reminds me to clear my voicemail.
  11. She gets approval -- I can now make calls from my iPhone using my own number.
  12. She asks if they can help with anything else. I ask about my SMS email address, and get transferred to a 3rd AT&T rep in Customer Service.
  13. While waiting, I attempt to send an SMS from my iPhone to my email address. This is how I discovered my Verizon SMS email gateway address, which we use for Systems Admin paging (very important!). This doesn't work -- the iPhone doesn't allow '@' in SMS recipients, only numbers and limited punctuation.
  14. I ask AT&T rep #3, who tells me it's my 10-digit number followed by @txt.att.net (nice short address).
  15. I explain that I had a custom alias (@vtext.net) for the Treo, and ask how I can set this up with AT&T.
  16. The rep suggests http://www.cingularme.com/, a pre-merger Cingular site for setting these aliases up. Service is down, and it's pre-merger anyway, so wouldn't be likely to work.
  17. He starts surfing through the AT&T Wireless website, attempting to find the new location of the stray webapp.
  18. After a few fruitless minutes, and some conversations with his co-workers, the (very nice) rep apologizes for my wait and says he's going to need some more time. We agree he will call me back.
  19. A few minutes later, he calls to tell me that the Cingular site was taken down (supposedly in response to a security problem) even before the merger, and although people are still asking for this service, he has no information about if or when it will return. Apparently the forwarding is working fine, but there is no interface to change these forwards.
  20. I explain that I was getting a significant amount of spam to my old Verizon address, so I really want to be able to use a changeable address -- not my cellular number, which has been stable for years, and hopefully will remain so.
  21. He understands, but doesn't seem able to do anything about it.

Altogether, it took about an hour and half, during which I got a phone call and a few questions from co-workers (I spent much of it on hold), and conducted a brief iChat (video) session to show off the iPhone, and fixed an email account.

Anyway, my number is ported, Visual Voicemail is nice, and I set up a sieve rule to forward page emails from work and family to my cellular address.

I'm pleased to note that when I get a longer message, AT&T breaks it up into 2 SMSes. This is in contrast to Verizon, where I often only got the headers and very beginning of SMS emails, leaving me wondering what was wrong. Of course, I had unlimited SMS with Verizon, while each such message counts as 2 (or more) for my 200/month SMS service. It should be fine...

Since I haven't had time to get an iPhone case yet, I'm carrying it around in my Treo beltcase. It swims! I think I could keep 3 iPhones snugly in this case!

Tuesday, September 11 2007

Bathed in the Glow

Walking to work this morning (in the rain), my new iPhone asked if I wanted to join a network. When I looked, it offered me 4 pages of networks. Note that this was not in an apartment building -- I was under an overpass on E 61st Street, between 1st & 2nd Avenues. A new kind of urban density...

Page #1 Page #2 Page #3 Page #4

I then turned this feature off -- it's too distracting when walking around. Instead the iPhone uses my home network or Rockefeller's public network (iPhones cannot handle WPA Enterprise, so it cannot join the IT Staff WLAN).

Monday, September 10 2007

Getting Mail off the iPod

I reversed over 10 years of history today, moving my Eudora Folder off my iPod. I've been carrying my email around with me for a long long time.

I will now reply upon IMAP to keep my mail in sync (as many people do -- this is much of the purpose of IMAP). Two main issues kept me carrying around my email after I switched Eudora from POP (which it does wonderfully) to IMAP (which it does less well):

  1. Message Status. I know there are messages I have read and marked as such in Eudora, but where the server has the messages marked as unread. I suspect in some cases this is because Eudora lost connectivity to the server and was unable to update the read/unread status immediately, but I've been shielded from this by carrying my mail (and the ToC files where Eudora keeps read/unread status) with me on disk for years.
  2. I use open Eudora messages as a To Do list, and each copy of Eudora will keep its own independent list of open windows. I don't know if I'll use saved searches or how I'll keep track of messages that require attention yet.

I have (and needed!) several reasons to make the switch:

  1. I no longer have to carry around an iPod all the time. To and from work isn't too bad, since I was often listening to it, and the iPod is much less obtrusive on a belt clip than my VST 10gb 2.5" FireWire drive was, but it's still something else to carry/remember/worry about losing.
  2. I can now once again use my iPod. Previously it was really only available when travelling, because the rest of the time the iPod was plugged into a Mac in FireWire Disk Mode. To take and use the iPod required first quitting Eudora and unmounting the iPod, and later plugging it in and letting Eudora relaunch and open all its windows.
  3. I am getting an iPhone (rather than the iPod touch I ordered last week), and don't want to give up 1.5gb of its 8gb for email.
  4. I cannot leave my iPhone tethered to a computer in disk mode when I walk away from my desk.
  5. I can now easily run Eudora on my work laptop (the iPod was always plugged into my work desktop). I actually started doing this a while ago, and my head did not explode due to IMAP sync discrepancies.
  6. Moving my laptop around our apartment will be more convenient -- I won't have to carry the iPod around (plugged in) on top of the keyboard as I walk up and down stairs.

This is a BFD for me.

Wednesday, September 5 2007

iPod touch ordered

I've been waiting for an 80gb+ iPod with a larger screen since the 80gb iPod video came out in October 2005, shortly after I got the 60gb iPod photo -- which has been full since then. Today Apple presented me with another dilemma:

  • $350 160gb iPod classic
  • $400 16gb iPod touch
  • $400 8gb iPhone (with 2-year contract)

I ruled the 160gb iPod out because I watch a lot of video (mostly from the TiVo) on the subway, and I really want a better screen than the Treo 650's 320x320. Both the iPod touch and the iPhone offer 480x320 -- so twice as many usable pixels as the 320x240 iPod classic or Treo (movies aren't square, so 1/4 of the Treo's pixels are completely unused for video) -- with H.264 support. I expect quality to be three times as good as what I currently watch.

Then it was down to the 16gb touch vs. the 8gb iPhone, for the same purchase price. Fortunately, I spend most of my time at home or on campus, where I have 802.11g available -- EDGE is useful for lunch and walking between the train and home/office, or road trips (less than once per month). If Rockefeller didn't own my Treo 650 and pay for Verizon service, I might have gotten the iPhone, but instead I opted for the 16gb iTouch.

Actually, more than dealing with Rockefeller about the phone, it came down to the fact that replacing my iPod is much easier than replacing my Treo -- I use Plucker a lot, and Vindigo, Web Confidential, TomTom Navigator & Google Mobile Maps not infrequently. The real flaw with the iPod touch compared to my 60gb iPod is storage capacity, and I'm not willing to wait any more for a super-iPod with the large screen and large hard drive. I don't know why Apple won't sell it, but after 2 years it's time to move on. I still keep my music on home and work systems via rsync, and I just decided to bite the bullet and deal with having a subset of my music when I travel.

The reality is that I will listen to / watch the iPod more than I have been doing, because it's currently tethered to a Mac in FireWire Disk Mode most of the time, with my Eudora Folder mounted. I can't take it with me when I walk out without quitting Eudora (which can take a while to close windows and purge the Junk folder), unmounting it from the Desktop, waiting to get the all-clear, and then removing the Dock cable. As a result, I only use the iPod for music when traveling. I briefly tried using a flash drive (first-gen iPod Shuffle) for this purpose, but writing was way too slow.

I've been carrying a single Eudora Folder with me since my PowerBook Duo 230 (33MHz, 640x400 greyscale 1992-1994), which I carried around to have a consistent mailbox, even after the keyboard and screen broke (I used it with an external keyboard and monitor). I switched to carrying a Zip disk (and perfected my backup system -- Zips were notoriously unreliable), briefly to Orb disks, and back to Zip when it became clear that Orbs were even worse. I switched to a portable 10gb hard drive until I got a 10gb iPod. Now I will have to find a new way to keep track of to-do email -- time to try out Eudora 8!

It will be great to escape Apple's broken Palm HotSync support. iPod touch sync should be much more robust, since it uses different versions of the Mac apps, with the same data formats.

I was surprised to notice that the iPod touch's home screen looks different than the iPhone's -- the touch uses a Leopard-style shelf, while the iPhone's is Dashboard-inspired. Likely this will be resolved in the next iPhone update. It's somewhat more puzzling that the iPhone supports Audible formats 1, 2, & 3, while all current iPods support formats 2, 3, & 4

Friday, July 20 2007

iPhone Observations

I had an iPhone on eval for a couple of days, and have learned many things.

iPhone VPN is buggy -- it only accepts numeric passwords (many people have gotten around this; mine hung when I tried), tends to forget them (these are well documented online). It's quite limited -- not compatible with RU's IPsec configuration (we could perhaps fix this if we weren't concerned about attackers using the VPN protocols); not compatible with our (preferred) SSL VPN. It's insufficient -- as Glenn Fleishman pointed out for Macworld, the iPhone won't store multiple IPsec or multiple PPTP VPN configurations, and cannot be configured to always reconnect to VPN when moving between networks.

The iPod functionality doesn't support shuffle by album! It's only by song (which I don't like).

Several people have complained that the iPhone doesn't work with their older earphones. I was pleasantly surprised that it works with my older Apple iPod In-Ear Headphones, although unfortunately it doesn't accept the higher quality UltimateEars 'phones Amy and Julia gave me for my birthday. Most earphone cables have a thicker area around the connector for grabbing to extract the 'phones, and Apple recessed the jack without leaving enough room for those 'handles'.

I thought I could just dump the full-quality MPEGs from our TiVo onto the iPhone, saving the considerable H.264 recompression & scaling time, but they don't work. On the other hand, Dr. Who at 480x320 looks and sounds great. As I try them out, though, I find myself cursing whoever decided not to show file suffixes on the iPhone, or in iTunes, or in the error messages that a file can't be transferred because it's the wrong type. Okay, but which one??? I have a .mov, a .mpeg, and a .m4v -- which is the tall one, which is the good one, and which won't go??? I've made some guesses based on graniness and proportions, but they are guesses, and I shouldn't have to rename the files and spend a few hours transferring and deleting and retransferring to discover what Apple refuses to tell me.

It's great that the iPhone can display PDFs, but annoying that it seems they must be received via email or accessed in real-time via a website.

Pinching doesn't work well one-handed. I tend to spend 2h+ per day walking around or sitting with my Treo 650 in hand, reading or watching video. It's easy to use my thumb to drive the iPhone (or hit keys on the Treo), but no pinch. So to zoom I bring my other thumb to bear, which doesn't work terribly well. Also, due to its size and slipperiness, the iPhone is harder to hold. I dropped it within 24h of getting it. I know the screen is bulletproof, but not the back. I can see marks on the bottom black and the top silver. This is minor, but how many times will I drop an iPhone during its 2-3 year lifetime?

It's annoying that movies must be manually selected in iTunes before they will sync over.

I wish I could set a home page; I have a list of links, and have to keep telling the iPhone to go there. I understand the desire to avoid a heavy page load on connect, but we should be able to have a home page (perhaps even a local one, or start with the Bookmarks list). A wiki would be even better for this; perhaps I'll set up a private one after I get a real iPhone, someday.

Despite the claims that iPhones don't have scrollbars, they actually do. As you flick-scroll through a long document, the iPhone shows a small dark grey proportional scrollbar to give you a sense of position within the document -- a welcome aid to navigation, since when reading there's no indication of how far down the page you are.

I think Apple overcommitted to the "real" Internet in your pocket (meaning something very like Safari on Mac/Windows). Comparing reading the same pages between the Treo 650 and the iPhone, the iPhone was actually inferior. The page loading was slower, since each page had to be downloaded; in contrast, Plucker documents are already in flash, although the CPU can take a few seconds to render them. The iPhone renders all the images, even though on many sites they're purely advertising. Here's a case where Apple's delivering on their claims, but it's a bad thing for usability; a setting (ideally per site) to skip images would be a boon.

Plucker reflows paragraphs to fit the narrow screen width; this works well except on rare pages with hard-wrapped lines. Mobile Safari tries too hard to keep the original web page's column width, meaning many pages are either too tiny to read or can only be read sideways (scrolling twice per line is a non-starter). There's no reason to slavishly honor web designers' specifications for width on a new platform with such different characteristics than these sites were coded for -- perhaps if the iPhone finds an iPhone-specific style sheet its width should be taken seriously, but most web sites just assume 1024x768 or better, and the iPhone suffers needlessly when it tries to play that game. In fairness, some sites, like The Onion AV Club look much better on the iPhone, but the news sites I mostly read don't.

I'm disappointed by the iPhone's font rendering. I can tell it's using 'real' fonts, but anti-aliased Gothic 18 on the Treo is crisper and more readable.

Additionally, when reading web pages and email, you almost always want to scroll a full page. Safari tends to scroll half a page, or a page + 2 lines, or a page down and 1/4" to the right. It's erratic enough that I spend time looking for the last line I read, which is a recurring waste of time. I see that the iPod is trying very hard to respect what I did, but I shouldn't have to start at the bottom, drag to the top, and watch how far it went. I should just make the "scroll" gesture and it should Do the Right Thing, since WIM is obvious.

I do like that (unlike the iPod) the iPhone is usable while plugged in, and can always be disconnected quickly (the iPhone Dock connector doesn't lock like the iPod connector); this is partially because it's not accessed as a hard disk, and partially because people like to charge their phones but still need to answer (make) calls. In contrast, iPods are largely superseded by iTunes and speakers on the computer they plug into.

Bug or design flaw? With the mute button engaged, iPod mode still plays sound on videos. If I have mute engaged, the speaker should be off. Not "only on for those things Apple believes I probably really want to hear anyway", but off. I haven't checked YouTube.

Speaking of which, it's ironic that a small screen with a relatively slow CPU and network connection is such an excellent YouTube device, but that will remain true until Google makes the H.264 streams available through their normal website.

I haven't really used the MobileMail. The PIN isn't adequate security, so I've only trusted it with my unused .Mac account.

I haven't used the calendar much -- I'm working under some unusual constraints, and 2 days isn't enough to switch myself to looking at the iPhone for calendaring, but I find the absence of Week view inexplicable.

I haven't used Visual Voicemail! Rockefeller has a (poor) Windows-based voicemail app which I use sometimes, either to avoid switching headsets or for better control than button mashing. Interestingly, Apple's iPhone implementation looks substantially better, despite the physical constraints. I always knew the app stunk, but apparently the modern ones are all purely Exchange based. Perhaps we'll see some improvements in this area.

Here's a silly one: the iPhone gets dirty so easily that wiping it off wastes a few minutes each day. I have better things to do with my time than polish an (admittedly beautiful) Apple iPhone. Watching video is the worst, since the controls are all onscreen and don't work well with fingernails. After picking a video and hitting Play/Pause a couple times, it gets notably harder to see.

Video controls are poor. They're hard to hit, don't always trigger, and accelerate as you hold them down. The result is that by the end of a commercial break, once I see the show and release, the iPhone has jumped substantially past the end. Then I go back, and often have to watch the last commerical again (3x total: once fast forward, once fast backward, once normal forward) to get to the resumption of the program. Dragging the time slider is way too imprecise. These are fixable in software, and hopefully they will be soon.

Monday, July 16 2007

My iPhone Dilemma

I want an iPhone, of course.

My problem (aside from cash outlay to purchase -- the monthly compares well to my current Verizon unlimited data plan), is that it's not quite what I want.

I have a 60gb iPod photo, which has been full almost since I got it. I stopped using lala a while ago because the iPod can't hold any more music, and I really want it all with me. Ironically, I can't listen to my iPod most of the time, since it's usually plugged into a Mac with my Eudora Folder mounted. On the other hand, using rsync, I keep all my music on all my Macs, so the iPod being unavailable is not a big problem.

I use my Treo 650 very heavily, for the following (roughly prioritized):

  1. Phone: less than 30min in a typical day, but critical.
  2. SMS Pager: light use, but critical.
  3. Plucker: anywhere from 10 to 180 minutes per day.
  4. Address Book & Calendar, many times a day, but iSync keeps corrupting my data.
  5. TCPMP to watch TV: anywhere up to 120 commuting minutes per weekday; unfortunately TCPMP can't handle H.264 video quality, and capacity is limited to an SD card. I think my 2gb SD card is the biggest it can handle, but cannot confirm; I'm not going to carry a bunch of SD cards around to watch more TV.
  6. Web Confidential: Apple's 4-digit PIN is completely inadequate to replace this.
  7. TomTom Navigator: indispensable on trips, and Google Maps doesn't support Bluetooth GPS.
  8. Vindigo: Replaceable by Google & Google Maps, and much less important now that I'm a father. ;)
  9. Documents to Go: iPhone can handle this directly.
  10. Web browsing: I rarely do this over Verizon's network.
  11. Still & video camera: The Treo's stinks, and I carry my Canon SD800IS during weekends.
  12. Salling Clicker: recently replaced by an Apple Remote.
  13. TuSSH/pssh: I'd really really really like an iPhone ssh client with secure private key storage, but the Treo applications are not mature either. Instead I now carry a laptop to all meetings, which is a significant productivity booster, but much bigger and more expensive than an iPhone.
  14. Games: I rarely have time for them, and the iPhone will certainly get some, as it's a much better platform than the iPod.

In contrast, I use my iPod anywhere from 0-120 minutes per weekday for listening to music; the rest of the time it's generally mounted as a hard drive. If and when Thunderbird + Penelope is suitable, I'll be delighted to switch to independent IMAP clients on all my Macs.

So what I want is an iPhone with a 100gb drive, ssh client with encrypted private key support, encrypted data storage, the ability to read Safari web archives (Safari on Mac & Windows would need the complimentary ability to create such archives, like Plucker), and GPS support in Google Maps.

Without a hard drive, it's not a suitable replacement for my iPod, and I will be quite surprised if Apple doesn't offer a 100gb large-screen iPod sans phone by the end of this year.

Without offline browsing, encrypted data storage, and GPS, it's not a good replacement for my Treo 650.

I hope the next-generation iPhone includes 16gb, 3G celluar data, and GPS. If I got a current model iPhone, I'd probably keep 2-3gb of video and 3-4gb of music on it, and deal with the frustration of not having the rest of the music. I really do not want to switch to watching TV instead of reading (computer) news on the train, but I could console myself with surfing as I walk to and from the train. I'd probably bring my Treo on trips for GPS. I'm not sure what I'd do about Web Confidential. Most of the time I could get the same data from a Mac at home or work, but not always. I could put a subset of the data on an SSL and password protected web page for reference, but that's risky.

I currently carry noise-blocking stereo earphones, a phone headset, and a 2.5mm-3.5mm adapter; I switch back and forth a couple times a day. A single high-quality headset with mic and button sounds great, although I'd prefer an in-ear model with more noise blocking than Apple's In-Ear Headphones, which I found inferior to both Shure and UltimateEars 'phones.

Update: I have an iPhone for a couple days on eval, and I've confirmed that although it will accept my WPA Enterprise password, it can't actually join the network. This is a problem as we only allow access to many management interfaces from trusted networks, and the wireless one requires WPA Enterprise.

Saturday, June 30 2007

iPhone RFE: Add web archives, importable from Mac/Windows Safari

I just submitted this to Apple's bug/request tracking system. It's #1 on my wish list...

Please allow iPhone Safari to open web archives. One of my main apps on the Treo is reading Plucker ebooks, which are basically pre-downloaded partial web sites. I spend 1-2 hours per day doing this on the subway, out of cellular/Wi-Fi footprint.

Since the iPhone already has Safari, it just needs the ability to open Safari web archives, and Safari on Mac/Windows would need the ability to build web archives from CLI or AppleScript. The key options for building ebooks are: link depth (follow 0 or more links before stopping), directory or site not to go outside, and file types to fetch (don't bother with Java and other unusable types, but for some sites images are just ads). For bonus points, allow the user to specify max width & height, and scale any large images to these dimensions when building the archive.


Doh! Apple reminded me that I requested this January 19th, after the iPhone was preannounced. Here's hoping...

Tuesday, January 9 2007

Bye-bye Palm & Treo

I've been looking forward to replacing my (quite beat-up) Treo 650 with something newer. I could really use the larger on-board RAM capacity of the 680 or 700p, but instead it looks like I will be switching (in June! Alas alack!) to an Apple iPhone instead. I hope there's a plucker replacement quickly, but with Safari built-in, that shouldn't be terrible.

Actually, guess I will simply whack sites into local directories using wget and browse them that way...

I will miss the 60gb capacity of my iPod photo, though -- I've been looking forward to a larger drive to fit all my music, and didn't want to get the current 80gb video, instead preferring to wait for a larger screen. Now it looks like I can have either 480x320 or 80gb. Right now, I have 500mb of photos on the iPod, and about 50gb of MP3s; I've been dying for more capacity, partially for video...

The 60gb will probably become a permanent part of our home stereo.

Bluetooth has been a long time coming, but who thought an iPod device would support 7 frequencies? a/b/g/n (I don't know if it will actually associate with an 802.11a-only netowork, but apparently .11n includes 5GHz support), BT2, and quad-band GSM/EDGE.

The Apple tv is very nice, but doesn't fulfill an immediate need for us. If we didn't have Julia, buying TV shows from the Apple Store might be a same-cost replacement for our cable + TiVo bill, but it doesn't make that much sense for us right now. That said, if we weren't still dealing with real estate, or had a serious home stereo connected to a TV, Apple tv might be an impulse buy.

Aha! New AirPort Extreme (that also looks like a slice o' mini, or a scale), with draft N. I'm skeptical of Apple's "super-compatible" claims, though...

See also: Playlist: Who's Afraid of the Apple iPhone Megamix.

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