Random thoughts on the i-Devices
This is a random collection of thoughts around the new iPhone and the now-old iPad. I’ve had the iPhone coming up on two weeks now, and I feel I’ve had enough real-life experience with it to be able to provide some cogent thoughts. I’ve been using it in conjunction with my iPad so this post will cover thoughts on both.
Over the long weekend, I did a bunch of tech stuff I’d been meaning to do for some time. Most importantly, I installed a clear protector onto our new iPhones. For the first time, I used the BodyGuardz line of protective sheets rather than the InvisibleShield line. The BodyGuardz are a much better value. For $25 you get two sets of protective sheets that fully cover the iPhone’s front, back, and sides. Installing them was relatively straightforward but it conclusively proved why I would never be a surgeon.
There is a level of mental comfort in having these shields on our phones. But to cover up that amazing screen with anything is just a darn shame. No film application is ever perfect, and any bubbles are incredibly annoying. The liquid applicator they provide does create a thin glaze under the film which detracts from the beauty of the iPhone’s screen when it’s off. On the plus side, it does give a little bit more tactile grip to the iPhone. I also think it helps a bit with the attenuation issues people have been suffering when they touch the sides. The side films seem designed to exactly fit the phone but it is exceedingly difficult to apply them so that they run the full length properly. I ended up overlapping the antenna gaps just slightly, which seemed to act as a non-conductive layer between my fingers and the band. I don’t know if this is an intended benefit or not, but it’s relatively cheap to try out if you’re having major issues. I personally haven’t noticed a huge problem with attenuation or service interruption but that could just be me.
For now, I’m planning to keep these on the phone, at least until the cases I ordered come in. This phone is never going to be outside a case anyways so I may decide to remove the front film to let the gorgeous screen shine through.
And if anyone has a good case recommendation for the iPad, could they please contact me? All the cases I’ve tried out so far suck. I don’t want a sleeve and I don’t want a backside-only protector. I need something that I can use on a desk as well as on the sofa, and it needs to support the iPad in portrait and landscape modes. I like the Apple case, but it’s just a little too cheap-looking for me and I’d ideally love a case that has a latchable/securable front protector.
UPDATE (7/14/2010): I’ve had the Bodyguardz film on the iPhone for about a week now, and the glaze underneath has vanished completely. The screen protector is still visible (you can see where the cutouts are for the speaker and the front facing camera) and it feels like there is more “depth” when hitting the Home button. I gotta say that I am really liking the Bodyguardz. I no longer think they interfere with the Retina Display and for all intents and purposes, they’ve disappeared from my perception, which is kind of the point of these things. I’ve definitely noticed a decline in the number of dropped calls as well, though that needs to be heavily caveated. First off, I don’t make a ton of calls so I’m not a great sample. Second, since the issue has been covered to death in every tech blog and news rag, I’ve been more aware of how I hold the phone. Finally, I could never consistently reproduce the issue, so I may not have been impacted. Having said all that, I routinely hold the iPhone 4 in my left hand with the antenna gap perilously close to be covered by the base of my thumb and I’m sure I’ve covered that gap on calls, both before and after the film application. Since I’ve applied the Bodyguardz, I have not had a single dropped call. Period. So perhaps the combination of the side protection plus my clumsy application have created a nice little insulated zone around the antenna openings that is helping my calling? In any case, I’ve become a big fan of these things, and their customer service can’t be beat. They were prompt to answer my emails about returning my extra films, and they were prompt about issuing me a refund. Good on ya, guys – keep up the great work. I am seriously considering buying a set of the iPad 3G protection skins to replace my InvisibleShield cover. The InvisibleShield just seems to attract more dirt, though that could just be due to the increased surface area. But definitely something I’m considering in the longer term…
iPad vs. iPhone
I’m fairly sure that if I had gotten the iPhone 4 before my iPad, I would have skipped the first gen iPad in hopes that the second gen would come with a Retina Display. Apple probably knew this, which is why they didn’t pull out the iPad as a “One More Thing” during the iPhone launch. I still love my iPad but the iPhone is proving good enough for almost everything I need to do when I’m mobile. I have used the iPhone for navigation, for checking newsfeeds, and for recipes. It’s perfectly fine as a quick reference device, especially since the Retina Display makes it so much easier to read despite its small screen real estate. But for consuming books and video, for gaming, and for productivity, the iPad is still the superior device. Am I glad I have both? Yes. Should I have gotten the unlimited data plan for both? Probably not. I’m spending $60/mo on data access for the i-Devices, which is a bit much. I’m seriously considering dropping my unlimited plan on the iPad, except that I’d still like roaming access, so I’d only be saving $5/mo (I refuse to pay for tethering, which is just AT&T saying “please bend over” while holding a very thick broom). I’m really annoyed that Apple didn’t put a decent GPS chip inside the Wi-Fi only version, since that’s the main reason I went with the 3G iPad.
iPhone Antenna Issues
One of my best friends is a bigshot at M&M/Mars. He was once asked to participate on a panel discussion at a telecom conference. The audience consisted of telecom providers who wanted to know how to best sell into the large enterprise market, especially because things like data and messaging were just starting to become popular. One of the audience members stood up and asked him what he looks for in a mobile phone. In response, my friend pulled out his Nokia phone (which was at least 2 generations out of date) and said “I’d like it to work as a phone.” Tech companies really seem to forget this basic concept – it’s a smart phone. If it can’t make calls, it’s not a phone, it’s a mobile device. Apple is being disingenuous when they blame the iPhone‘s attenuation problems on their inability to do math. Too many people are complaining about a problem making calls, which is humorous if you’re not the one suffering from the problem. But when you’re trying to call 911 late at night after you’ve witnessed a crime or been in an accident, it’s really not funny. The bad thing is that I can’t rely on the iPhone as an emergency contact device, issues with AT&T service aside. When I’m trying to call for an ambulance, I really don’t want to worry about whether I’m levitating the phone correctly to maximize signal strength.
It also means that every time I see one of those Apple videos featuring their internal designers talking earnestly about how hard they tried to create beauty and how magical the i-Device is, I’m going to just laugh and blow them off (even more so than I already do) as self-loving nerds. No matter how good they think they are and no matter how pretty their end result, I know they failed. Gizmodo had a great post about just how huge a failure this is on Apple’s part – they’ve fallen so in love with themselves that they are ignoring the fact that good industrial design means that it works, not just that it’s pretty. If I have to think about how to use a product, something’s wrong, and Apple has only themselves to blame. They’ve been promoting that mode of thought ever since they released the first iPhone. Yet now here they are saying, basically, “yes always think about how you’re using your iPhone to make sure you’re not using it wrong”.
Luckily, phone calls are rare and far between in my household, and 90% of my calls are to my fiancée, who is also on AT&T, so those minutes buckets are pretty much unlimited. I really hope, though, that she’s never stuck late at night on a bus coming home from work and trying to reach me.
iPad’s Video and iPod apps
These apps suck. Suck suck suck suck suck. No other way to put it. Why they are split into two apps rather than the single iPod app that’s provided on the iPhone is beyond me. There is obviously some higher design principle at work that I am too pedestrian to understand. But when I can’t skip through a list of video podcasts using the CONTROLS PROVIDED FOR THEM, I consider that a pretty major design flaw. The only way I can move from one video to the next without picking and choosing each one is if I create a playlist. That’s just stupid, Apple. Why should I create a playlist of video podcasts when the Videos app has a podcast section? And is there any reason why you decided that TV shows don’t need to have any identifying information aside from a still image from the show itself? Maybe I’d like to, oh I don’t know, see the SHOW’S NAMES?!?!? You guys are starting to approach Microsoft levels of stupidity with these issues, and I sincerely hope that you fix them in the next version by providing an iPod app, rather than this craptastic Video/Music split function junk.
On the plus side, you seem to have fixed the issue with Smart Playlists not being synced when Live Updating is checked. I think it’s only been about a year now since that issue’s been reported? So I guess I should expect an iPod app on the iPad when you release iPad 3.0?
UPDATE (7/14/2010) – Yea, Apple, your Video app sucks hairy moose testicles. What is the sense in showing one sequence of videos on the iPad and a completely different sequence in iTunes? This weekend I was playing through some TV shows I’d ripped and I realized they were completely out of order on the iPad. Since I’m a metadata FREAK, I quick checked the iTunes versions to see what I’d screwed up. Lo and behold, the iTunes list was in correct order. After much trial and error, I realized that the iPad sorts TV shows using the Track Number while iTunes uses Season and Episode Number. Can someone tell me how the team that created the Video app thought this was a good idea? It’s like they decided to remove the Video functionality in the iPod app but just do a half-assed job of it so that they could piss off as many people as possible. So for those of you trying to figure out why the hell the iPad isn’t sequencing your shows correctly – either fill in both Track Number and Episode Number fields for each show, or just rely on Track Number to do your sorting. Of course, if you choose the latter, I fully expect that one day Apple will fix this stupidity and then you’ll have to go back and re-enter the Episode Number data so you might as well do both now.
iPad memory issues
I’m running a jailbroken iPad, primarily because I can. Now I understand that jailbreak tech is really young on the iPad and developers are still trying to figure out how to do it right. But I’m seriously concerned about the iPad’s lack of RAM. I think Apple made a bad choice when they went with 256MB in the iPad vs the 512MB in the iPhone 4, because when multitasking comes along, apps are going to be seriously memory constrained. Apple’s limited implementation of multi-tasking in iOS (a name I predicted here on this blog well before His Jobs-ness announced it) is a lot more memory-efficient than traditional multitaskers a la Backgrounder. But still – I see memory leaks all the time running apps like Reeder and TweetDeck under the jailbroken iOS 3.2. And I’m pretty sure that it’s not due to leaks in the jailbreak code. TweetDeck reboots itself regularly on the half-hour, even when it’s the only app running on the iPad. Running it on an unjailbroken iPad, the reboot periods are longer but I know they still were happening.
My guess is that iPad iOS 4.0 is going to be based a lot on iPhone iOS 4.0. It’s a little aggressive to have the entire code base made common between the two platforms, but it’s inevitable that that will happen. My guess is iOS 5.0 next year will be the first true common iOS base for all Apple platforms. They can’t keep doing this multi-version iOS thing forever, especially if they release an iOS for AppleTV and for the Mac. That would be four different fragments of the same base, which would make Android look like a bamboo shoot in terms of variety.
Multiple users on the iPad
The iPhone is intended to be a single-user device. No bigs – it’s (marginally) a phone, it’s small, it’s got a fixed identifier (the phone number) attached to it – it’s very personal. The iPad, for all its “magic”, is a multi-user device. I’d like to share my iPad with my fiancée and a regular basis and my son has basically adopted the iPad as his own when he’s with us. I’m totally cool with that, but it means that I’ve removed all my email accounts from the iPad. I’d like some way to have user profiles and app sharing rules set up so that I can control what others accessing my iPad have access to. I know user accounts are a big OS overhead issue, and there would be all kinds of complaints that Apple didn’t allow fast switching etc etc. But basic user-level customization would go a long way to making the iPad a viable family device. There’s no way I’m buying iPads for every member of the family and it’s stupid for Apple to think that people actually will do this.
And while we’re on the subject, Apple’s lack of controls on their Safari browser means that there is no way to control/limit kids’ access to the Internet. Apple only allows binary control – either Safari is on or it’s off. There’s no way to firewall or block access to non-approved sites. Tools like OpenDNS’s Family Shield are a good start, but it’s relatively easy to circumvent.
So what do you guys think? Am I way off base? Spot on? Comment up any of your complaints or compliments!