June 20, 2011

I finally got an iPhone

Filed under: Software Blog — marcstober @ 12:27 am

I find the whole “cult” of Apple–people waiting in line at the mall and other such nonsense–to be a turn-off. It’s kept my attention enough to notice that, with the latest releases of their iOS operating system (version 4 and the just-announced version 5), they’ve actually created a great smartphone. So, when my HTC Incredible dropped on the floor and wouldn’t turn on, I switched to an iPhone.

Earlier iPhones reminded me of a European roadster: fun to drive, not very practical. There were arbitrary things that you couldn’t do. Remember the big deal when iPhones got copy and paste? It seemed ridiculous to me that you needed to tether a wireless device to computer for backups and updates (and this only changed with the iOS 5 announcement just this month). Plus, I was a happy Verizon customer and they only ran on AT&T.

Before iOS 4, iPhones did not support multitasking. This is not about being able to run more than one app at a time. It’s about building software that can take full advantage of the computer in your pocket. You should be able to ask an app to do something–keep track of your location, let you know about something, sync some data, play music, whatever–without actually having to be “in” the app using it; shouldn’t computers do things for us? Gradually, Apple has been getting rid of these restrictions. Sometimes this results in more esoteric feature announcements like notifications and task completion. Really, it’s about making the iPhone a seriously capable (and still fun) mobile platform.

Speaking of serious, the iPhone supports full encryption of data synced from a Microsoft Exchange server, which most Android phones do not. Setting aside whether I should be spending time on work when I’m not in the office, this makes it possible for me since I work for a hospital covered by state and federal privacy laws.

I like openness in principle, so I’m not fond of Apple’s tightly controlled app ecosystem. However, I’m encouraged by the DCMA exemption that says jailbreaking is not actually illegal, because it shouldn’t be illegal to do what you want with something you bought. Apple’s support of HTML5 is also encouraging. (I’m not sure Flash support would really be a win for openness.) Every smartphone platform has its issues, and it’s far from clear that Apple’s veto power over apps discourages innovation any more than business decisions made by hardware and software companies with more “open” operating systems.

Rather that a roadster, today’s iPhone is like a luxury SUV. I could tell you I had to buy it for the advanced airbags and all-wheel-drive stability control, but I can’t honestly complain.

June 3, 2011

The last thing I’ll say about PC’s vs. Macs

Filed under: Software Blog, Usability — marcstober @ 8:01 am

I’ve recently started using an iPad. As an old-school (80’s and 90’s) Mac user who has been using Windows for the last 15 years, I’ve been struggling to express what it is about Apple’s UI that I’m having trouble getting used to. I realized it was an issue of the “clutter-discoverability trade-off” that John Cook so nicely explains on this blog:

Clutter-discoverability trade-off — The Endeavour.

It’s interesting how over my career, Microsoft and Apple have switched places on this. I remember when Macs came out in the 80’s–-really up until Windows 95–-the advantage was that everything was discoverable on a menu or as an icon, unlike DOS-based programs where you needed a cheat sheet handy for all the commands. These days, I find Apple products, while beautifully clutter-free, are less discoverable.

For example, a relative of mine recently had to take her phone back to the Apple Store because she had accidentally activated the three-finger-double-tap zoom feature. Gestures that involve taps or swipes with 2 or 3 fingers aren’t very discoverable, IMHO. A big ugly “click here to unzoom” button would have been friendly. (Not that having live people in local stores isn’t friendly in some other way.)

p.s. Back to the article, I’ve also recently started using Emacs, but you could say I took that up just for the challenge of it’s non-discoverability!