Apple… Where are you?

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Apple Computers. The renegades, the designers, the pirates, the company that “Thinks Different“, fighting big blue and bringing research projects to market. Fighting a world of desktop computer monopolies, leading the smart phone market and defining the tablet. And now struggling to differentiate themselves from all the other mass market software providers – really?

In my series on returning to Linux and the Enlightenment desktop I have mentioned a decreasing satisfaction with Apple Mac OSX but as Apple tries to discover who it is without Steve Jobs it’s got even bigger problems.

I didn’t want to jump on the “how will they cope without Steve Jobs” bandwagon – that seemed like propaganda designed to affect share prices, but something’s not the same. It’s been over two years since Steve passed away and the company is starting to show real signs of problems. Such a delay could be expected as he started many projects before he left the company that have only recently come to market. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that – quality started dropping before he left.

We live in a world where people expect software to have problems, to be difficult to understand and to require constant updating. Apple believed in better – systems that just work, a focus on usability and encouraged thorough testing. This was a significant portion of what drove adoption – people were so happy with Apple products that they bought more, they told their friends and they pushed to use their own devices for work as well as play. Sadly the quality is no longer as pervasive. OS updates badly break well running systems, firmware changes can disrupt hardware features, updated system applications can simply not work and hardware failure rates are increasing.

How can this be? Apple is a company with a clear vision and the reputation and infrastructure to deliver. Very little reliance is placed on third parties and the software remains tightly coupled to the hardware it runs on. Vision, it seems, is not enough. Jobs was a visionary, and one that has changed the modern world, but he was also driven and demanded that people delivered what he envisaged. The hard work he expected of people and the perfection he required in everything that Apple released is now legend, but in more ways than one. We should learn from this and make software better. Uncompromising in quality and user experience but without driving people so hard that it’s no longer what they want to do.

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Conquering custom SQLite on Android

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Wow, what a week – puzzles abound and an office move too!
After fitting everyone into the new office space the greater puzzle was left – how can we compile custom functions into sqlite within an Android app?

Well we finally pieced it together and I was able to hook in my custom functions! If anyone is wondering how to go about this a) avoid it b) read lots c) don’t give up – shipping native C code in your Java Android apps is indeed possible but not straight forward. I hope to post here soon on the details but may not have the time for a while.

Celebrations due tomorrow I think…

International iPad Launch

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Well it’s that time – the iPad is about to be launched in 9 countries outside the USA and the question on everyones lips is “should I care?”. Whether or not you have an opinion you can be sure that it will be coming up in many conversations.

Though I have followed the announcements with interest and have played with the devices in person my opinion has not changed. This opinion is as follows: “There is no doubt that the iPad will be a huge hit but I am still not going to buy one. I know I want one but can’t figure what I would use it for or how I can justify the cost.” Fact of the matter is that the device is just a very pretty, high resolution iPhone (without the phone part). Yes that is simplistic and does not convey the “magic” of using the device but there is basically no feature that justifies owning yet another gadget.

My netbook which is more powerful, has a full keyboard and boots faster than the iPad (or iPhone for that matter) can perform for more tasks than the iPad will ever be able to and runs a selection of operating systems. Add to that the fact that it was under half the price and it’s hard to see how owning an iPad is justifiable.

Like I have said to many people – this will be a hit gadget but I don’t quite know why. Who knows, maybe I am just jealous of those lucky enough to own one.

Why the App Store review is not a bad thing, though I don’t always feel that way

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I don’t know if I am the only one or not but I am getting bored with everyone complaining about the AppStore review process and the accompanying chants for it to be opened to a free-for-all. Sure there may be those that begrudge not being allowed to post feature X or show image Y due to some rule or other but why not look at this from the other side?

The 2 week wait for an application to be accepted (if you have followed the rules and it gets in first time) means there is a real push to get it right first time. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that software is buggy by default but when you have to wait 14 whole days to get a patch out to the world you make damn sure that the testing and review processes have been followed! If you could push changes out at the drop of a hat there is a very real risk of early betas being pushed to the customer to the detriment of the software and platform as a whole.

Of course when you do encounter a bug that both your software team and the Apple review team missed it is quite a frustration to have to leave the “known bugs fixed bug pending review…” text in the application description for all to see.

Blogging?

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Oh yeah, there it is – erm – so I write on this thing then?

Well, so I should write about what is on my mind and such. Unfortunately I cannot afford the psych bills and will assume the reader cannot either.

I recently attended the London date of the iPhone Tech Talk World Tour. YEAH I hear you cry? absolutely, but I cannot talk about that as it was a confidential briefing – of course, if they were giving out cool t-shirts then I may have picked one of them up.

As a result I am excited about developing for my iPhone ( and the other 13 Million out there I guess) but am lacking ideas to base the apps on – any ideas just let me know 🙂

Oh, and whilst we were down in London (Michelle and I) we headed to see Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theatre. That was fantastic, one of the finest musicals ever without a doubt. But as it has been running for 23 years I’m not sure what new light to cast on it.

Guess I better sign off now until I think of something to actually write about…

First impressions of the iPhone

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OK, so the iPhone is not really new news as it has been out in the ‘States for 4 months now but that did not stop UK Apple fanatics from being excited about the UK iPhone launch.

The queue at the official Scottish launch in Edinburgh was only around 30 people at 6:02 when the store opened, and some of them were just there to buy normal mobile phones. Nevertheless there was still a buzz in the atmosphere, a calm sophisticated excitement which I have learned to associate with Apple launches. The promotional goodies at the main Edinburgh O2 store included free chocolates, muffins, water and hand warmers. However, in London there were giving away sweatshirts, coffee and pizza! The London queue probably deserved it though as some of them had been there for over 24 hours whereas in Edinburgh the queue only started to form at about 4.30pm.

Apart from the selection of goodies packed in the O2 bag the iPhone box looked like any other well designed phone box such as that of the XDA Orbit. However, when I went to the till to pay that was all I had to do! There was no contract to sign, no monthly rate haggling, no sales banter. All you had to do was pay your £269 and then you could wander out of the shop with your shiny new iPhone. It was more like buying an iPod than a mobile phone.

It is not until you get home that you start the activation process (or rather when you plug it into your MacBook Pro on the move!). This is a pain-free process which took around 15 minutes of my time and about 30 minutes to sync my data and music to the new device. And that includes the time it took to transfer my current number to my new iPhone. So, in around an hour the iPhone was entirely ready to use. That’s impressive in my book – last time I tried to transfer a number it took a week!

However, after I had completed the activation process I noticed a problem. The EDGE network had not been discovered. It was most confusing, annoying and disappointing for a device that seemed to work perfectly in every other way. I followed the advice on the Apple site and did a post-activation reboot (aka turn-it-off-and-back-on-again) which seemed to sort the problem.

Since then playing (sorry working productively) with my iPhone has been a breeze. It’s a joy to use and a wonder to behold 🙂 I’m not surprised that O2 is reporting over 8000 activations on launch day!

DRM is annoying but not new!

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Amazon’s new music store has stirred up the DRM arguments again. Sigh …

In the absence of DRM software music can be copied as many times as you wish. Obviously, this should be done within the terms of your contract. This normally means that you can copy it onto CD’s/mini disk/MP3/(or even tape!) for your own use and your own computers.

DRM at its essence is simply a method to ensure that these usage restrictions are followed. If DRM were correctly implemented it would not hinder your legal use of software you have purchased. However, as yet we lack such a perfect implementation. For example, ITunes, the current dominant music store only lets you copy (the majority of) its music to 5 different computers. This is totally useless if you replace your computer more than five times (currently that will only take me 4 years!)

At the present time the majority of an individuals music collection is ripped from your own CDs. Something that very few people are aware of is that according to UK law you may not make copies of a CD for use at all. You are merely permitted one backup copy which is subject to silly restrictions which make it only useful stored in a cupboard. The point here is that you are not actually permitted to copy your CD on to a portable device (such as iPod) under UK law.

So, sure, Apple restrictions are a pain and Amazon may be on to something with it’s new music store, but what is to stop the recording companies chasing after you for the manipulation of your private music libraries?