rant

iPhone Satisfaction

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Today AppleInsider reports on a 99% satisfaction rate with the iPhone 3gs. I am not surprised. My new phone has been fantastic. The increased speed is great for games and even better for OmniFocus. Likewise there are a lot of other small tweaks that demonstrate Apple is trying to refine and perfect the product.

I know Apple has taken a beating over the App Store lately. I really took offense to the Ninja Words dictionary modifications. However, looking at the above numbers just reminds me that so much of these complaints are merely the ramblings of the digirati. I think even Apple now agrees the App Store needs work but how many "normal" iPhone users even know that Google Voice exists? I simply don't see a mass exodus of iPhone developers. There are too many devices sold and too much money to make.

Perhaps even more important, Apple needs to rethink its carrier relationship. Never again should it be at the mercy of a carrier with unreasonable demands and inadequate networks. I see the failings of AT&T as the single largest vulnerability to the iPhone. The good news is there are some very smart people at Apple even more intensely aware of this than I.

Regardless, with customer satisfaction of 99%, I don't think the sky is falling just yet.

Some Old Fashioned Censorship

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I haven't commented much on the developing App Store fiasco. In case you've been living under a rock, I'm talking about Apple's baffling system of denying and withdrawing application approvals in what appears to be completely random fashion. John Gruber wrote today about the most asinine decision yet. Apple, after approving numerous dictionary applications, decided that one particular dictionary, Ninjawords, isn't allowed to have naughty words. That is right, they censored a dictionary.

Not only did Apple force the developer to remove objectionable words, it also made them resubmit the application and start over. Enough is enough. It is nonsense like this that could allow Apple to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with the touch platform. I know there are explanations for some of the shenanigans that have taken place but for Ninjawords, there is no possible excuse.

I Think Windows Hates Me

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After watching all the hubub about the new VMWare Fusion, I decided it was time to give VMWare a spin. I've been using Parallels since it first hit the streets and I hadn't bothered with VMWare because for the very few applications I need windows, Parallels works just fine.

But I thought it was time to look at the competition. I actually planned to write a comparative review of the two applications. So I've been struggling with getting it working. The Parallels converter failed on me so I tried a fresh install. The first one stopped in the middle because windows said some obscure file didn't copy. I tried again and it finished but the first time I booted it up, Windows informs me my license code has been registered too many times and I need to buy another copy of windows. Just to be clear, I bought this copy of windows for Parallels. I've used it a total of one time. So now I have to choose between spending more money on a windows license or becoming a pirate and going to find a cracked license code. Actually, I'm leaning toward a third option and just sticking with Parallels.

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I'm sure VMWare is an excellent program but if I had to choose between spending another hour trying to get Windows to work or sticking my hand in an electric socket, a little shock doesn't seem like such a bad idea. There was a reason I switched.

Creative Withdrawal

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Between the slow death of my MacBook Pro and waiting for the new one to show up, I've been without a "fun" machine now for about a month. It is the computer equivalent of the doldrums. This combined with an overdose of dragon slaying at the day job has left MacSparky, as of late, a very dull boy. I have to admit it is dragging me down a bit. I miss playing with all the great creative stuff and plunking away in Logic. The loss of the MacBook Pro has also put the screencast production schedule on hiatus. I'm crossing my fingers that the new one will show up tomorrow. It would be really nice to get it set up over the weekend. Stay tuned.

Psystar ... I Don't Care!

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Things have been a little crazy lately in the day job so I've not had much time to keep up on Mac news. Tonight I decided to take catch up with my RSS feed and was surprised to see so many posts and articles concerning Psystar's Apple clones. Apparently a few of them are in the wild and everyone seems very excited about it. I must admit, I'm baffled.

So it is great that folks have gone commercial with the hackintosh concept but I can't understand why anyone would want to buy one. They may be slightly cheaper but then again, they may also just turn into a brick with the next software update. Furthermore, they really aren't that much cheaper. I remember back to 1987 when getting a new Mac and printer would run you about four thousand dollars minimum. Back then a hackintosh would have had a toehold. But these days Apple's prices are not that bad. On the low end, a Mac Mini is very affordable. On the other end there really isn't that much difference (either in hardware or price) between a MacBook Pro and a Dell XPS which can cost up to $4300.

Call me a fan boy but I'm sticking with Apple hardware. I've got 20 years of trench warfare experience on the PC side fighting hardware, software, and operating systems made by different people with no intention of cooperating. To the arguable extent you are paying a premium for Apple products, you get it back in saved time almost immediately. With Apple's current pricing, I will be very surprised if any of these commercial clones get any traction.

Sparks on Tech - More thoughts on the Kindle

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I've started doing an occasional opinion piece for my friend Steve Stanger on TheMacAttack podcast. I did my first installment in episode 81 that released today. For my first recording for Steve, I expanded a bit on my opinions of the Kindle and Sony readers. As I've blogged before, I think the combination of DRM and no proper annotation leaves these products in the category of "toys" more than "tools".

Having publicly said that, I heard Andy Ihnatko (whom I think is both hilarious and much more tech-savvy than myself) extolling the virtues of his review Kindle. Andy's praise aside, my opinion still hasn't changed. I still don't think those products are ready for use until I can put material on the machine as easy as I can my Mac and annotate it as easily as I can with my pencil. When they pull that off, I'll be first in line.

Weighing in on Electronic Book Readers

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There is a lot of hubbub on the internet lately about these document reader devices. Sony has one and now Amazaon is pushing its "Kindle" which also is supposed to do the trick. The idea behind them is to replace your books with an electronic device that displays as well as the printed page. So you can be sitting on your couch or in a coffee shop and read newspapers, blogs, books, or anything else that strikes your fancy. In principle, I think this is a great idea. However, I don't think the existing products are there yet. Let me explain.

I like books. I like their heft. I like the texture of the paper under my fingers. I like rifling through a book with my thumb to find a particular passage. But when I read a book, I don't just "read" it. For me it is a more interactive process. I put checks in margins, underline passages, dog ear pages, draw lines and arrows in the margin, and tear pages out of magazines. I even sometimes argue with the author in the margin. This is usually with non-fiction reading but I've been known to rant with fictional characters as well. That is right, I am a librarian's worst nightmare.

When looking at these new readers I realized there are a few things that just have to be in place before it could be useful to me:

1. The display must be friendly to the eyes. Really!



Screen technology is improving every day. But if I am going to spend three hours reading a screen, it needs to be perfect. I saw the Sony reader in a store and it actually looked pretty nice. For 10 minutes. I don't know how it would feel after hours.

2. Universal Access - PDF



I added the letters "PDF" during the edit of this story. Because I can think of no other way to pull this off. Any system that requires me to wait on Amazon, Apple, Sony or any other corporate gang is not going to cut it. Whether I am reading a 1903 legal decision or an article on recent changes to Applescript, I want it in my electronic reader. Furthermore, I'm not sure I like the idea of everything having to be text. With the PDF format, you can have unique formatting, styles, and pretty pictures to boot.

Using PDF's would also help solve the problem of dicey book DRM. As it stands with Amazon's reader, you pay $400 for the device, then $10 for a book, then $15 for a newspaper subscription. It is in a format that can only be read on that machine. Who is to say there will be anything that can read that file five years. On the other hand, I am looking forward to passing on my copy of Camus' "Myth of Sisyphus" to my daughter when she graduates high school. It is well worn, well annotated, and DRM free. Good luck with that one Amazon.

3. Annotation Must Be Supported



Without annotation, I think this would be nothing more than a toy for me. Fun for reading fiction but useless for "work". I am open to ideas on this annotation but doubt anything can beat my current analog system consisting of a few pencils. This technology exists on current tablet based computers but that is really not good enough. The pixelation is horrendous and clunky.

4. It Must Be User Friendly



I've promised myself I will no longer purchase consumer electronics that look like they were designed by a monkey. Call this my Apple bias but it is not. I just like things that work well and were designed with idea of accommodating me more than some manufacturing equipment in Taiwan. The Sony reader looks stylish enough but it falls apart when it comes to features. The Amazon Kindle just strikes me as ugly. It reminds me more of my old Atari 800 computer more than anything designed in the 21st century.

The things that I don't need in a reader are a bunch of internet bolt on applications. No email or productivity applications. Wifi would be nice for obtaining content but I am not even convinced I would need a browser. At least not a browser in the traditional sense. I would prefer a simple way to wirelessly sync content and annotation.

As the technology gets smaller and cheaper we may find that the idea of a reader is simply a passing fancy. The 2007 equivalent of the personal jet pack. If anyone gets tablet computing right it could easily include these features with a few more. The advantage of a reader would, hopefully, be a lower price but with the increasing use of flash ram and better electronics, we may just leap frog the digital reader entirely and use tablet.

So there you have it. Could a device like this exist in the near future? Sure. Does it exist? No. So it looks like I will just have to continue abusing books. For now.

The "Controversial" 1.1.1 iPhone Upgrade - Cry Me a River

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Over the weekend I was talking with a tech-savvy friend who knew of my Apple fixation and he asked me, "Boy, you must really be torqued over the iPhone fiasco."

Really. He said that. Now it is a "Fiasco."

This comment got me wondering how exactly we have come to this point. The iPhone launch was a smashing success. Apple wanted the phone locked but apparently didn't do a very good job of locking it with the initial release. They fixed that a few months later and told everyone words to the effect, "If you have tampered with it, we may (I interpreted that word to mean "will") brick your phone so don't do it." We had a few days to consider this statement and then 1.1.1 released. At that point Apple puts a specific dialogue on your screen.

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So after getting this second warning people who had hacked their phones for use by other carriers ended up with disabled phones. The word of art for this is "brick" used both as a noun and a verb. (i.e. those mean corporate types bricked my phone. My phone is a brick.) I don't want to understate the popular use of the term "brick" because I think for a lot of folks that seems to be half the fun. Anyway .. I digress.

Since the unlockers ignored the warning and their phones are disabled there is this perceived outrage over the terrible things Apple has done. Lawsuits are being filed, articles are written about Apple's PR nightmare, and tech friends are asking me about the "fiasco." I actually have two points about this hubbub. First, I don't lay blame at Apple's feet and second, I don't think this is as big of a deal as most people are making of it.

Why should Apple have to spend time and resources making product upgrades for what was sold as a closed system device compatible with hacks and unlocks? They told the hacking gang that they shouldn't upgrade and they could have all kept their phones at 1.02 forever without having any troubles. I, frankly, would prefer that Apple spent their time making the system work better for the 90 percent of the owners that don't want to hack their phones.

My second point relates to the perceived outrage over this event. There are some very vocal bloggers documenting this event as the turning point for Apple when they have abandoned the Mac Faithful. I don't really see it that way. I think Apple has always been a bit ruthless to their customers. One of the reasons it took me so long to buy a Mac was because when I initially became interested in them you had to buy the whole system (hardware, printers, floppy drives *no hard drives then*, and software) from Apple and it was really expensive. That was their business plan. It still is on some levels. With the iPhone, you are buying the product they want you to have in your hand. If you want something hackable, there are many smart phones out there that you can get. I had a few of them. On my Treo, I ran about 20 third party applications and yet it still wasn't as functional (or nearly as stable) as my iPhone. I'm comfortable keeping my smartphone experience in Apple's hands. If I wasn't, I wouldn't have bought the phone. I think a lot of people agree with me.

As for the extent of this "fiasco", I think it really boils down to a group of perturbed geeks. For example, I was talking to my brother-in-law this weekend. The iPhone is his only Apple product and he loves it. He checks his fantasy football scores on it while sitting on the couch and couldn't be happier. He told how he updated his iPhone. I asked him if he heard about the problems with the update and he replied, "what problem?" I think for most of the iPhone users out there, this is a complete non-issue.

I really don't have an axe to grind against the hacking community. I put installer.app on my phone but found nothing of much interest so I removed it. I really don't need a dorky game on my iPhone where I zap Microsoft Zunes. I sure hope that Apple eventually does open the phone up to some limited third party development but not at the cost of stability. I just think the attitude that because you've hacked your phone, you are entitled to some special consideration is ridiculous.






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