Tag Archives: iPhone

A New Gadget Holy War

It is mere days since the Apple iPhone hit the streets in the States, and the simmering holy war has well and truly burst into life, particularly with avid Nokia N95 fans evangelising their platform.

Perhaps one of the most interesting places to observe the current skirmishes is over on Scobleizer, the reason being that Robert Scoble has been using and enjoying an N95, but having queued with his son to get an iPhone, and then compared the two phones, is coming down in favour of the Apple.

Check out the reaction to this post where he begins:

Let’s just stop here. The iPhone is superior in almost every way to the Nokia N95. The battery life is better. The contact management is better. The Web browser is better. The photo taking experience is better. The screen is better. The wireless management is better.

After that, he does then take a pot-shot back at the Nokia fans.

However, what is happening is what has happened with the iPod before, the fans of other smartphones are quoting feature lists – highlighting that there are a number of key missing features with the iPhone – things like a GPS, 3G support and so on. The thing is though, that as with the iPod the purchasers (of which there have been over 0.5 million in the first weekend alone) are going for looks and basic usability over the feature list.

The iPhone scores highly by being cool, and by doing a few things and doing them well. True the Nokia N95 has a better camera, but the software that drives the camera, which is the same as on my Nokia N73 is lousy – certainly there is no chance of taking a decent picture quickly as you have to fiddle with all the settings every time you open the camera as they always reset to default. Based on comments around the internet, as expected the iPhone is scoring points in usability, an area where the current crop of smartphones often fall down. However much the fans of the other phones quote feature lists, whatever toys a phone has, basic usability is where it matters – I know numerous people who have never worked out how to use even the basic features of their phone – even changing a ringtone.

As to whether I’ll get one, without 3G or the ability to take a decent picture, I’m not keen. Get that sorted out and maybe I’ll take a look – of course it could all go out the window when I eventually get to play with one. Whatever happens though, I’m hopeful that having Apple at the party will give the competition a good kick in improving the usability on their models too.

MyStrands in the iPhone and in the N95 originally uploaded by MyStrands.

Spot the Difference

Safari/Firefox Compare

The announcement of a Windows version of Safari, the default browser under MacOS X has provoked a good deal of discussion.

Personally I’m of the opinion that it’s existence is primarily about providing a platform for iPhone development on Windows – very much that they need a platform, rather than any deep seated belief that the Windows platform needs another browser.

From my point of view that is made even more clear by the lengths to which Apple have gone to make it look and operate exactly like the MacOS X version, even down to the look of the buttons and scroll bars.

The identical behaviour even extends to how the browser renders fonts and graphics. If you take a look at the picture above, this shows the blog open in Firefox and Safari on Windows. Looking at the fonts, you’ll notice that the text looks subtly different – some people regard it as more blurry – this is because the browser is eschewing the usual Windows Cleartype in favour of the algorithm used by MacOS X. In theory, the MacOS X algorithm is intended to produce fonts that are as close to the original typeface design as possible, whilst Cleartype fits to the pixel grid – better screen wise – at the expense of accurately rendering the typeface. Coding Horror has a good article explaining the differences – ultimately it comes down to personal taste.

The other thing to note from the screen shot is the differences in the colour of the sunset picture at the top of the page. This is because Safari on Windows also treats graphics containing embedded colour space information differently. The sunset picture on the top of the page contains the colour space information from the original picture I took – Safari finds this and renders the graphic differently (although not necessarily correctly – ironically only the now defunct Mac Internet Explorer correctly interpreted colour spaces) resulting in the more vibrant orange hues that can be seen in Safari.

All of these duplicate features make it clear that alongside converting Safari, large amounts of MacOS X have been ported too to make it all work! Hence if you compare the memory usage of Safari with other browsers on Windows you’ll find it’s using a lot more than anything else…

Finally, one irony of Safari on Windows though is that whilst I don’t tend to use the browser much on MacOS X – preferring Firefox, I’m using Safari on Windows quite a lot because the text looks way better on the machine at work…

Update: The Safari on Windows debate rolls onward. With the news that the browser has been downloaded over one million times in the forty-eight hours since release, there is an interesting article from a Microsoft employee who initially is bemoaning the fact that Safari does everything itself, and then having read a posting by Joel Spolsky and the Coding Horror posting I mentioned above realises that it is unlikely that things will change!

The Spolsky posting is a good read in terms of the history – the Apple philosophy is very much about wanting to make fonts look as close to the printed original as possible – Joel explains in more detail why this is important to the desktop publishing and design communities. Choice quote of the posting has to be this:

“Typically, Apple chose the stylish route, putting art above practicality, because Steve Jobs has taste, while Microsoft chose the comfortable route, the measurably pragmatic way of doing things that completely lacks in panache.”

He also gives some opinions which go to explain why I’m preferring Safari on Windows – which are as much to do with familiarity as anything else!

Macworld Keynote on iTunes

If you’ve struggled with the streaming download trying to watch the Steve Jobs keynote from Macworld, fear not – a podcast of the whole presentation is now available for free from iTunes. Sit back and watch the show that the CEO of Panasonic left CES to attend. Having said that, if you’ve had quite enough iPhone, take a look at this hilarious dig at the ‘iPhone does everything’ line – especially worth it for the punchline on the end. Also, take a look at a product that Apple hasn’t produced themselves, but has been produced by a third-party, a Mac tablet. What is really galling is that they highlight that they haven’t had to do any special software, as MacOS X has all that is required already, it’s just that Apple have never bothered to make one themselves!

Interesting Insights

Robert X Cringely has some interesting thoughts on the iPhone. Particularly he explores why it is that Apple backed down over calling the Apple TV iTV due to the EyeTV from Elgato, and yet have gone head to head with Cisco over the iPhone. In addition, he also has some thoughts as to why the device isn’t 3G – apparently the Cingular 3G service sells video in RealVideo format – the current setup of the iPhone leaves you with one source for video for the device – the Apple iTunes Store… In amongst all of that, there is an insight into the mind of Apple thanks to a retired physician who wrote a letter to Apple to complain about their attitude, and got a phone call from Steve Jobs in reply…

Wow – Apple Joins the Smartphone Arena

So after all the rumours, and all the predictions of an Apple mobile phone, a widescreen iPod, and a small form factor Mac tablet, today in his keynote, Steve Jobs announced all three – but in one device, the iPhone.

iphoneannounce.jpg

Essentially this is Apple does the smartphone as it thinks it should be done, diving straight into the market that is currently being dominated by the various Symbian models, primarily from Nokia and Sony Ericsson, and with competition from the multitude of Windows Mobile devices. Certainly it is a very competitive market for Apple to enter, so the iPhone needs to be something pretty special and stand out different to compete.

Certainly on paper the iPhone seems to be exactly that. In terms of looks it is more PDA like than phone like – being just slightly smaller than my existing Dell Axim PDA. Resolution wise the screen is only half VGA at 320 x 480 – an interesting choice as high end PDA’s such as my existing Axim have been shipping with VGA screens for a while. Like a PDA it doesn’t have an extensive number of keys – indeed like the classic Mac mouse designs, it has precisely one – on the front. This is apparently the home key, that takes the user back to the main menu.

There are a couple of other buttons on the side, but essentially the whole thing is driven by a touch-screen interface. However again, it’s a bit different from the normal. Whereas most other PDA devices come with some sort of stylus for pointing, this is an interface designed to be used with fingers.

Now whilst this is probably easier to use in some ways, the real test will be how resilient the screen is to sticky, mucky fingers – certainly a big question mark over the design.

The software is definitely more PDA like, with web browsing provided by a version of Safari, the desktop browser that ships with MacOS X. More than that, the whole device will be running a version of MacOS X too, I’d expect one without the overheads of Aqua and the rest of the full scale MacOS X on the top – but the keynote certainly highlighted that a lot of the OS is still there. So whilst you won’t be loading desktop Mac applications onto it, it has the benefits of multithreading, pre-emptive multitasking and memory protection. Alongside the phone and internet functions, the software also includes a full raft of iPod features too, including the ability to play videos in widescreen mode, and also it appears, a version of the Cover Flow interface that turned up in the most recent revision of iTunes. On top of that it also has a hookup with Google Maps, plus a photo management application.

The widescreen mode, or more specifically how the phone changes is one of the really stand out features though. Whilst my Axim, like a number of other PDA’s can operate in both portrait or landscape modes, it usually requires manually clicking a couple of options to rotate the screen. Apparently the iPhone will do it entirely automatically. If you’re holding the device in a landscape position, that is how it will display – if it is in portrait then it will display in portrait mode.

Communications wise, a surprising omission is 3G support – it is only using EDGE, an enhanced version of GPRS. However it is quad-band GSM, so should be able to roam pretty well everywhere. It also has wi-fi and Bluetooth to add to the communications choices. It can also, not surprisingly dock and sync with a desktop.

A camera is included, but it doesn’t seem that it is regarded as a major feature, and it is only 2 megapixel, putting it on a par with other smartphones, but certainly not one to get if one of your requirements is to take good pictures.

So in summary, it certainly looks like an exciting entry into the smartphone market, with a good looking interface and a number of innovative features. Although the lack of a stylus is being pushed as a plus point, I’d certainly wonder quite how resilient to finger marks it’s actually going to be. In terms of being used as a PDA, the big advantage from a Mac users point of view is that it will use the same calendar and contact database designs as the desktop iCal and Address Book so hopefully synchronisation will be much less of a pain as with other smartphones. Having said that, currently it has only been announced for the US market – quite how long we will have to wait for a UK version remains to be seen. Many of the answers probably won’t become clear before the official release in June – and thus far it seems that only David Pogue has really had that much of a play with it.

Looking at the other major announcement, the Apple TV (or iTV as it was know before) was shown – and is pretty much as expected, although there is some surprise that it can’t produce the top HDTV resolutions. Essentially it is a simple wrapper around Front Row moving it off the desktop and into the living room.

Notable by their absence however was any mention of software, for example more details of Leopard, or an overview of the ’07 revisions of iLife and iWork – more to come maybe?

Update: Time Magazine have a very good iPhone article which alongside some descriptions of functionality also has some interesting background tit-bits. For example, Apple has been working on the touch screen for a number of years in response to the Tablet PC hype, but the research ultimately went into the iPhone interface rather than a tablet Mac.

The deal with Cingular is significant, as Apple effectively forced the network to adapt to fit what they wanted to do with the phone – usually it works the other way around with the network calling the shots. A good example of this is the iPhone voicemail functionality that works through a screen based list of messages, not the audio menu that is used on existing phones.

Certainly I’m expecting a long wait for it to appear in other markets, as Apple will have to do precisely the same with every other network – force them to conform to how the iPhone works – certainly it seems that this will extend to the availability of additional software for the device too. Whilst Cingular were willing to bend to what Apple wanted, wider availability around the world will be entirely down to whether other networks will do the same, and that I suspect will come down to how well the device sells in the US. If they can see that the investment in modifying their networks to cope with the iPhone is worthwhile, then they’ll go for it – but I suspect we’ll be paying a goodly amount for the pleasure too to cover their costs.