After initially not having the best camera, Apple seem to have realised that people like to take pictures on their phones and with the latest versions introduced a really nice little camera with great optics. Certainly in a lot of situations I don’t bother with a ‘real’ camera and just use the phone. With the iPhone 4S the phone also has great video capabilities, taking really nice 1080p footage, and even allowing it to be edited on the phone with iMovie.
However there is one problem, some people won’t really notice it, but it is pretty apparent with certain sequences especially on a desktop. Take a look at this video of some steam trains:
The problem is apparent as the train comes slowly into the station, every so often there is a slight stall or jitter, more interestingly the problem doesn’t seem to appear watching the original footage on the phone. So what is going on?
The answer is actually pretty simple. We’re all used to being able to hold the iPhone any which way we like to take pictures. With the arrival of the volume button shutter functionality it encourages us to hold the phone with the volume buttons on the top, but in terms of the camera itself, this is actually holding the camera upside down.
With a photo this doesn’t much matter, but with a video it does.
If you watch the raw footage using certain low level video players like VLC you’ll find that the video is actually upside down. The iPhone makes use of a Quicktime feature to tell the video to play in a different orientation, and whilst the iPhone playback appears to have been optimised, desktop playback introduces this annoying jitter.
The answer then is pretty simple, until the same optimisation gets into desktop versions of Quicktime, you need to remember to hold the iPhone with the camera the right way up – the volume buttons should be at the bottom, and the home button on the right. The next video was taken with the same iPhone as the trains above, but, aside from my dodgy camerawork, the jitter is not apparent.
Yesterday we headed down to the opening day of your new store in Festival Place, Basingstoke. First off I have to say that after many years having to either head into London or drive a long way to find an Apple Store it is great having two within a short drive, with you having opened a store in the Oracle, Reading just last month. We did avoid the craziness in the morning but we had a great time none the less.
I went along with my two year old daughter, who has been using Apple products for pretty well all of her life. It didn’t take long for her to get the hang of the touchscreen interface on my iPhone, iPod and iPad, indeed now she expects most devices to have such a screen and gets frustrated when they don’t. This brings me to a first suggestion, your children’s area. Whilst it is nice having a low level table, and child sized seating, the devices there are all Mac’s. Although children do quite easily pick up the concept of a mouse and pointer, my daughter is much happier with the direct interaction of a touch screen – as you have said on a number of occasions recently, we’re living in a post PC world now.
As a result we went to look at the iPad’s which do have children’s software installed, but are all on tables at a very child unfriendly height. In the end my daughter asked for a chair, and one of your excellent staff kindly obliged with a stool from the Genius Bar.
As you can see from the picture that put her on just the right height to play some games on the iPad.
Games weren’t the only thing we tried. My daughter wanted to talk to Mummy, so we thought we’d try out another of the features of the iPad – Facetime.
We have used your video calling application quite frequently at home – calling between Apple products it seems to pretty consistently produce a better quality video connection than the most obvious competitor Skype, indeed in one situation recently Facetime made a connection easily when Skype couldn’t get through at all. However as I’m sure you’re aware Facetime only works over wi-fi.
No problem of course as your stores have free wi-fi. Looking at the strength display it had a full strength signal, however it fairly obviously was not a good internet connection, the demonstration iPad struggled to produce a reasonable picture with a decidedly low quality result. It would certainly be worthwhile investing in some faster wi-fi connections for the store to enable a good demonstration of this feature.
Anyway, one last idea which comes from my daughter – she would like you to provide beds at the Apple Store so she doesn’t have to go home. The store kept her occupied and entertained for all of a wet afternoon, and she didn’t want to leave! I did eventually manage to get her out and heading home, but I am sure we will be back.
At one of my previous employers, in our part of IT you were always well advised to avoid being on out of hours support over the last weekend in March and especially over the last weekend in October, the reason being that these are the clock change weekends, and more often than not one system or other would not cope with the changeover particularly well. Indeed there was one system that we were usually advised to shut down overnight on the Saturday because it really didn’t cope very well with having 1am-2am twice.
Clock change problems are not a new issue, if the system hasn’t been properly coded and tested it’s quite easy to program the system against the local time and run into quite serious issues when the clocks change. The generally accepted technique is to code everything to work from UTC, which doesn’t change, and then present times in local time.
As a result, what happened today with iPhone’s all across the UK came as rather a surprise – especially as it’s not been a problem before.
I have a couple of recurring alarms. One is set for weekdays, but then I have one timed at 8:15am for church on a Sunday.
This morning it didn’t go off. The time on the phone was correct, as was the time in the clock application, but it just didn’t ring. An hour later whilst I was in the bathroom, at 9:15am it did finally go off.
Those people used to time change problems would probably be quite surprised by that – if the alarm hadn’t taken account of the change you’d expect it to go off an hour early rather than an hour late, but from testing recurring alarms are consistently going off an hour late.
What is even more interesting is how I’ve got the alarms to ring at the right time. I tried restarting the phone and changing the timezone to somewhere else and back, and also trying to change the time, none of them appear to work. The one thing that has is something that will work for people in the UK, and that is changing the timezone to Iceland.
The significant point about Iceland is that they don’t observe daylight savings – they are permanently on UTC/GMT, so in the winter their time is the same as the UK, and in the summer an hour different. Switching to that timezone and immediately all the recurring alarms start working at the correct time.
What is perhaps most surprising about the problem is that Apple have known about it for a while, as there were similar problems in Australia and New Zealand when their clocks changed. Apple however haven’t fixed it, and unless something appears in the next week are sailing headlong into a massive problem when the US and Canada change their clocks next week. Best get ready for the uproar as thousands of people who rely on their iPhones to wake them up are all an hour late…
Update Day two after the clock change, and one iPhone worked fine, the other still went off an hour late! The difference between the two is the one that worked had alarms that were recreated in the London timezone after the clocks had changed. Whilst they still rang an hour late whilst in the London zone, they work fine in Iceland. On the other the only change we made was to switch the timezone, so the alarms were created in BST.
Further comment online indicates that the problem doesn’t occur if the alarm is set to repeat every day, only if they repeat on some days in the week.
Alarms have been recreated on the second iPhone, so we’ll see what happens on day three.
Yesterday afternoon the internet was buzzing with details of the launch of Microsoft Windows Phone 7 Series in Barcelona. Only it wasn’t really a launch, it was more a demonstration of a preview version of the platform. It’s predecessor was only launched last autumn, and this pretty well complete rewrite of the Microsoft mobile phone platform isn’t going to be available to buy until around the same time this year.
Whilst it certainly seems to have innovative features – a user interface that does things rather differently from the current favoured multiple pages of icon design that is almost ubiquitous, along with an XBox Live tie up to link your mobile and console gaming – it does seem a pretty brave move to show your rivals what you’ve got planned months and months before anything is going to be released. Even when you take into account that Microsoft are often much more open about showing preview releases of upcoming products than Apple for example, it still seems very early to be showing.
However, when you think about it, if Microsoft wants any part of the rapidly growing mobile applications market, it had to do something.
Microsoft, just like Nokia, Sony/Ericsson and all the rest were caught massively on the hop three years ago by the launch of the iPhone. Smart phones were very much of a niche market, and most regular consumers used a phone to make calls. It was possible to add applications onto smart phones, but again it wasn’t something that many people did.
Roll forward three years and the iPhone has really gone mainstream, it still surprises me how many people have them, and who they are. Many of them, even relatively non-technical are comfortable with the idea of adding applications, reading e-mail, browsing the web and playing games from a phone handset. On top of this Google has moved in on the market making waves with it’s Android operating system. Established players like Nokia have found their market share falling after years of failing to ignite the smart phone market.
Then we get to Microsoft.
They had a niche in corporate markets, and certainly I’d come across techies from time to time using (and more often than not cursing) their Windows Mobile handsets. The ability to program applications in the same languages as desktop applications certainly helped adoption. However they largely dropped the ball. Whilst they have carried on releasing updated versions of their platform they’ve largely been left behind, giving the impression – intentionally or not – that they weren’t interested, that they were happy to relinquish their market share to Apple and Google. In the corporate space Blackberry has grown, certainly in our company those users who are issued with a smart phone are issued with a Blackberry, and many of the executives ask for one by name. Any mobile applications would have to be developed for Blackberry, not Windows Mobile now, and Blackberry provide the tools to do that.
As I’ve said, the iPhone seems to have really gone mainstream, introducing a growing range of people to a smart phone, and the techie space seems to be being filled by Google Android. The iPhone is selling by the million, and producing billions of application downloads.
What Microsoft were showing looks interesting, and if they can sort out the reliability and stability problems that established wisdom say plagued previous versions it would be a good platform, but it would be a good platform if the phones were on the market now. Between now and release Apple, Google and the rest will certainly be releasing updated and new versions of their phones and software. The Microsoft gamble is that having seen the show yesterday, people will be willing to wait, and that come the autumn they will be willing to put aside the previous reputation for being buggy, put down their iPhones, Blackberry and Android phones, write off the money they’ve spent on apps for those platforms – or in the corporate environment infrastructure, and switch over to a Microsoft phone. I’m sure there will be a good few techies who will do so, but the average consumer or the corporate user? It remains to be seen.
Today was the eighth annual(ish) gathering of four hundred of the Microsoft Development community for a day of free technical training. Once again it was spectacularly over subscribed – sold out faster than Glastonbury (all the places went within fifteen minutes) and with no Microsoft speakers had the usual mix of sessions, some of which perhaps you wouldn’t expect to see at Microsoft.
The day started off cold – although there was no snow it was definitely a case of scraping ice off the car, and if you were in any doubt, one look at Rachel Hawley’s footwear could tell you! Having said that, as has become traditional at these events, bacon butties to warm you up awaited those who got there early.
First off a couple of observations. For a Microsoft Developer Day, it was a very good advert for Apple! Of the five talks I attended, two were obviously running off Mac’s. One was about iPhone development, so using a Mac was a given, although the presentation was also given using Keynote (and all the more slick for it) and rather than messing around with font sizes as all the PC based presenters have to do Chris Hardy used the built-in OS X zoom gestures to quickly focus in on what he was showing. The other Mac based presentation given by Ian Cooper wasn’t anything related to Mac development at all, but was presented in MacOS X, using the Mac version of Powerpoint, with a windows development environment running in VMWare. It’s not so long ago that developers would buy a Mac, largely ditch MacOS X and stick Windows on it – it does seem that even with the advent of Windows 7 that isn’t always the case now… The other massive advert for Apple was not surprisingly the vast numbers of iPhones in evidence. I certainly think it would have been worth somebody doing the same as Scoble did at Le Web to get a ball park figure of how many there were. There were a good few Google Android phones around, but few if any Microsoft based phones in evidence. This was also reflected in the sessions – no talks on Windows Mobile development, but there was a talk on using MonoTouch to develop iPhone applications!
As is normal for these days, what I thought I would attend, and what I actually attended were slightly different. I initially thought I’d just take up residence in Chicago 1 for the day, but in the end I fancied a change of pace.
First up I attended a talk by Ian Cooper on Real World MVC Architectures. This in part was because I’ve just done my first ASP.Net MVC project, and I was half expecting to find I’d done it all wrong, as to a large extent I’ve put it together as felt right rather than following any explicit paradigm. To my relief it seems all the talk of proper architecture seems to be sinking in, and the way I’ve constructed it is pretty much as was suggested, even to the point that I’ve used particular techniques without having read about them as yet in my MVC book in that I understood why they were being used but didn’t recognise the idea by name! I suspect the session might have been pitched a bit too much towards the beginner end of things for experienced MVC programmers, but for me it was certainly a good reinforcement of the techniques.
Next I slipped next door for a change of gear, and a non-technical talk by Liam Westley who was talking about how to be a small software development outfit and not go bust. To be honest, the principles Liam outlined can apply equally well to large software houses, a number of which I’ve come across who don’t get this stuff right, and even to people in a corporate environment like me as getting these sorts of things wrong will at the very least have your internal customers looking elsewhere for their software, or at the worst put you out of a job. Liam gave us a set of broad principles that any software developer should be doing as a matter of course – things like delivering properly tested software, applying proper logging (even in a corporate environment fixing a problem before the users have got round to reporting it scores serious brownie points), and understanding your users, all go to making people happy to give you their software work, and not go elsewhere.
For session number three it was a first for me, in that it was the first time that I have heard Jon Skeet speak. His name will be familiar to anyone who frequents Stack Overflow – and as his reputation is testament to he sometimes seems to answer C# questions within seconds of them being asked. What is slightly more surprising is that his day job is at Google as a Java developer. Even more surprising he fits all of that in with being a Methodist Local Preacher too – but I suspect that stands him in good stead for being able to deliver material well, as from the experience today his reputation is well deserved. The latest version of C# brings in some interesting, but quite complex new ideas, and he did manage to put them over in a way that even with the early start on a Saturday I pretty well followed them. Having said that whilst I liked the presentation, and many of the new features, I was less than impressed by the return of the ubiquitous VB variant data type, in the guise of the dynamic type. Whilst I am well aware that the way the variant and the dynamic work are rather different, it’s much more about how it will end up being used, or more likely abused. I’m with Jon Skeet on this in that I much prefer a situation where the types can be validated at compile time. Whilst there are legitimate reasons for adding dynamic, and as an exercise in language design the implementation is very impressive, as with the variant I am quite sure it will end up being thoroughly misused, and will lead to many a difficult to nail down bug.
Next up was lunch, and was the traditional scramble for a lunch bag. Unfortunately it seems that the entire occupants of the Chicago 1 side went the same way and got all the non veggie and non seafood sandwiches (I have to watch having too much of certain types of seafood with my gout) and as always it was a bit of a lucky dip as to what else you got, so I ended up with a sandwich, crisps and an apple that I wanted, and a can of diet coke and a snickers bar that I didn’t want. I know they’ve tried various things over the years, but I still think there has to be a better way than this, as it was pretty obvious looking around that not everybody wanted what was in their lunch and there was a lot going to waste.
The lunch time Grok Talks had relocated this year, and were in the atrium in building four. This certainly gave a bit more space, but did seem to make the security guards mighty jumpy – I got a stern “I’ve just seen you behaving strangely” from one for taking this picture – I just liked the look of the clear blue against the white of the building structure and was going to make some comment about the weather! The Grok Talks were marred rather by problems with the technology. For a start the speakers were badly positioned in relation to where the presenters were standing leading to endless feedback problems. The talks also took an absolute age to get started, and when they did people seemed to overrun, which as a result led to people who were further down the running order being disappointed. There were a couple of interesting talks though, and it was especially interesting watching Gary Short intensely watching somebody else demonstrate Code Rush! Looking at the response hopefully there will be a few more converts from Resharper, a jump I made many years ago!
After lunch was one of my personal interest talks. As an iPhone owner and software engineer I’ve always quite fancied giving an bit of iPhone development a go. The problem is that as well as learning a new platform and new environment, developing for the iPhone requires learning a new language, Objective-C. However Chris Hardy was demonstrating a way that I could leverage my existing C# skills using the Mono environment and an add on to it called MonoTouch. Whilst developers still need to be able to read Objective-C to understand what is going on, and still need to learn their way around the Apple API’s, it allows them to develop entirely in familiar C#, and even brings advantages in terms of some of the extra type safety that C# brings. I have to say I was pretty impressed at the environment and what it can do. I was less impressed by the price – $399 for a personal license, which only covers you for a year of updates, with even more for a corporate license – far too much for your average hobbyist programmer to even consider. I can’t help thinking that they are missing a trick here, and providing a low cost or free license for developers in return for a share of the revenues, maybe using some sort of phone home code to keep track would certainly broaden the base of programmers using it.
My last session of the day, to be honest I would have gone to even if Barry was just reading the phone book, as this was potentially his last appearance at a Developer Day before he loses the essential qualification for being allowed to speak of not working for Microsoft, as in a scant few days he will be starting a new job working for Microsoft at one of their offices in Redmond. As always there was the classic banter with people he knew in the audience, in particular Jon Skeet who was attempting to pose increasingly difficult questions it seemed. Barry also started off by hijacking the session next door as Ben Hall, the speaker had a birthday and was foolish enough to tell somebody! What I was also expecting, and got in spades were interruptions marking his departure from the UK development scene. His book Beginning ASP.NET Security featured in several. In the first Liam Westley gave a touching and heartfelt tribute, and said how much he had been looking forward to the arrival of the book – as it was just the right size to prop up his wobbly table. In another they spoofed the winter cold adverts, suggesting that the book was good fuel to keep the elderly warm. The session finished off with a clip from his appearance many years ago on The Crystal Maze, and several of the organising team appearing in T-shirts especially prepared for the occasion. All in all it was a memorable way to finish off the day, and hopefully a memorable occasion for Barry as he heads across the Atlantic. The one question that remains is whether all the spelling mistakes in the presentation were down to Barry, or whether somebody did get at his presentation before he went on…
All in all it was an excellent day, and although I know there were a couple of sessions that had problems, the ones I attended were all excellent, and well worth the spare time given up. It was great to catch up with friends from the community, previous developer days and previous jobs. Whilst it does appear that the day is very much a victim of it’s own success (even with local developer days around the country people still travel from far and wide to attend this one in addition to their local days) hopefully a way can be found to allow it to keep running in future years, and all credit to the organising team, and the staff at Microsoft for keeping the whole day running smoothly.
Thoughts from, and the lives of a Canadian and a Brit living in Southern England.