iPhone 4S Setup, a post Steve Apple

I’m sad to say that the whole process of upgrading to an iPhone 4S (or 4 Steve as some crazy analysts have been calling it), has been more difficult than I would have expected. I’ll admit that I didn’t take the most conventional route to set this phone up, but my experience has not been pleasant. I feel this is a bad sign for a post Steve Apple.

Here’s my situation. I’ve been running an original Edge based iPhone 16 GB for the past 3+ years. I was waiting for the next new iPhone to come out so I could grab one. I was very excited for the announcement of the iPhone 4S, and unlike everyone in the media, I was not disappointed. I liked the design of the 4, and was happy that they were keeping it a little longer. I really have been wanting some more storage space. I like to have a lot of data on my phone, between my huge photo library and some videos to watch while commuting. So, all in all I was really excited about the new iPhone.

Fast forward, I decide not to rush out and grab it on day one because I wanted to make sure I could get my employee discount, seeing as I work for a company that has a close relationship with AT&T. I ordered it on Sunday. That translated to roughly a week and half delay from when they first started shipping. Still, not a huge deal. It would have been nicer to know when to expect the phone instead of having to check the AT&T website everyday to see if my items had arrived and shipped. To be fair, they sent me an email after the items shipped, but not until I had already been on their website and seen the tracking number.

So the phone arrives last night.

Since I ordered it from the AT&T store, I don’t have AppleCare+, because they didn’t have it when I ordered it. So I stopped by an Apple store on the way home, but they don’t carry +, so they advised me to call. I did, but they were closed by 8, despite the fact that a gentleman on the phone said they would be open until 9 PM PST (The representative I talked to on the phone this morning confirmed this). I tried back twice because I didn’t believe them, still closed. The guy at the store tells me that it’s not going to be an issue if I open my phone tonight, though (he was right about this part).

So I go home and unpack the phone and start setting it up. I’ve been reading on the web that there have been a few issues setting up a new phone based off an existing phones backup. To try and avoid these concerns, I initially decided to try and load my iPhone as a new device. I set it up, and got it running. Was playing around for a bit and then realized that I have tons of data on my phone, like SMS messages and other information.

I woke up early this morning and decided I’d try do it the other way. I went through the process of restoring the iPhone as my old phone. This process only took about 15 minutes and looked to be working pretty well, until I tried to use Siri to set a reminder. It said it couldn’t.

I had to call in this morning to AppleCare to get my AppleCare+ thing taken care of, so I figured I’d ask them about it. It seemed to be related to my iCloud settings. Couldn’t figure out exactly what it was, figured Apple would be a good option in finding an answer. Nope.

I first called in with my serial and before I could even say that I was calling to buy AppleCare+, the representative was on it, and said that I was eligible. I told her that was why I was calling, and she took my credit card information. I didn’t think of it until after, but she never stated how much she was going to charge me. I asked afterward, she said the product was $99, and there might be tax and it could be up to $5.25, but she didn’t think there was. She was VERY polite and kind, but not knowing what you are charging me does not seem right to me. I digress.

I told her I was having issues with iCloud. She walked me through the basic steps of setting up the backup and I kept getting an error message. She put me on hold several times throughout this process and was still unable to help me resolve my issues. Again, she was VERY polite, but did not seem to be able to help.

Finally she gives up and schedules me to talk to an iCloud specialist. Not a huge deal, but the first thing she tells me is that the specialist is going to call me, but when I ask her when, she tells me she doesn’t know. She put me on hold, again, and comes back several minutes later saying that I need to call a specialist. I say, that’s fine, what’s the number and when should I call? She puts me on hold again, only to come back and say that the system was down and she will have to call me back.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8BDdcDTzXkE&w=560&h=315]

When I speak to the specialist, he was very kind, but did not seem to understand the problem I was having. We went through several phone calls, as he required me to have WiFi, but I was out and so did not have access to a WiFi connection.

In the end I spent some time debugging it. It was clear that reminders wouldn’t work if they were turned on in iCloud, but they would work just fine if iCloud sync was off. I went to go look at my calendars and that wasn’t working correctly either. When I went to my .mac account on my phone, asked me for my password. Once I entered that and turned on cloud syncing everything started working.

Also of note, Syncing with iCloud and backing up to iCloud are two very different things. Syncing means having your contacts and mail and calendar on the iCloud server. Backing up is a full device backup. A better explanation of that would have been helpful.

In the end I feel like there was just too much confusion with the setup. Most Apple products have been very plug and play. This device required some serious setup to get it the way I wanted, and it was not clear how to get there. I’m troubled because I’m pretty sure Steve would have taken some peoples jobs over how bad this process is and I’m not convinced Tim Cook has the same mentality.

Sleeping your Mac with a Microsoft Ergo 4000 Keyboard

One of my friends, who will remain nameless for the purpose of this discussion, convinced me start playing around with a Microsoft Natural Ergo Keyboard 4000. I got one at work, then I bought one for the home and I’ve been pretty happy with it. There are just a couple of things missing from my standard mac keyboard.

Firstly, on my old computer, I used to be able to hit the a keyboard combination to get my machine to sleep. I believe it was something like Cmd – Shft – Eject. Well, the Microsoft keyboard doesn’t have Eject. So I’m out of luck there. It does, however, have a set of buttons reserved for favorites. So I decided to code up a little AppleScript and bind it to one of these keys. Here’s the script, and I just saved it as an editable application. Then you can go into the preference pane for the keyboard and assign the whichever key you want to this script. Good luck.

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tell application "finder"
   sleep
end tell

OmniFocus vs. Things (continued)

A while ago I wrote a post about my switch from OmniFocus from Omnigroup to Things by Cultured Code. Both do pretty much the same thing: allow you to make lists of tasks so you can keep track of what you need to get done. Each has their own feature sets. I originally bought OmniFocus, but after some time switched to Things. It’s a great App, and they have an iPhone version that is pretty handy. I work on a PC during the day, so it makes it a little hard to use Things as my primary means of tasks, but I use it for my secondary items.

The real motivation by this revisit is to mention how the Apps have been coming along. Things is the primary product of Cultured Code, whereas OmniFocus is one of several Apps produced by OmniGroup. This has lead to a more rapid development and, in my opinion, a more refined product. Things for iPad was released on the same day the iPad was. OmniFocus for iPad is still in developmental stages. Now, I don’t yet own an iPad, but I’ve looked at the online videos for both OmniFocus and Things and I’m a little disappointed in OmniFocus. I feel like their icons aren’t at the same quality level as Things. Their App feels less refined and it doesn’t feel like they are using all the screen space to it’s fullest ability.

As a little tangent, I’d like to mention that OmniGroup used to be my favorite company. I LOVED OmniGraffle when I was in college. I used it for most of my projects. The new version of OmniGraffle just doesn’t feel right. There are too many features and it is hard to find what I’m looking for. The interface doesn’t really make sense to me. I had this issue the other day when I was trying to set the background color of a canvas. It was not intuitive. I’m very interested to play with OmniGraffle for the iPad and see if the reduced screen and processing power has gotten the company to focus more on a core set of features, thus making the App easier to use.

In conclusion, I’m getting Things when I get my iPad, and I don’t know how much of a market OmniFocus will have.

Best Payment Form I’ve Seen

I purchased the MacHeist bundle today. If you’re not familiar with it, its a collection of Mac Apps that this group puts together and sells rediculously cheap. I spent 20 bucks, only for one app that I really wanted (Flow by Extend Mac).

Regardless, this post is not about that bundle. It’s about my checkout experience. It was amazing. Textbook UI for checkout. Here’s a screenshot of the payment section:

Lets talk about what they did right here. Firstly, they allow you to pick between Credit Card and Paypal. Note, they don’t make you select which type of credit card you are using. They only support Visa and Mastercard, and they can use the digits of the card to determine which you are using, so they don’t need you to provide that information.

Next two fields are standard, “Name on Card” is easy is enough to figure out and if you don’t you know where to find your credit card number, you’ve got bigger problems.

Next is the expiration date. Lets talk about what makes this field so great. Firstly, they list both the month number and the name. This is very clear. It shows you that you are talking about months and displays the context in relation to the month number. The key here is that they number is first. This means that if your browser supports it, you can start typing with the field selected and get straight to the month number. Also note how this field is a two digit number? Add clarity as the numbers will align in the pull down.

Next is the security code, they have a little credit card graphic to indicate where to find your code. Very helpful.

Next you move on to the address information. There is a clear separation between the Credit Card info and the address info. Breaking forms up makes them easier to parse. None of this information is overly hard, but large blocks of form fields can be intimidating.

All in all, this is the best online checkout experience I’ve had for some time.

Percentage of Mac Use by University of Virginia Students

Daring Fireball has a link to the a study of the computer statistics for the student body of the University of Virginia. You can find the article here. The most interesting chart for me is the last one about the number of Macintosh users versus Windows users. The table is interesting, but I would also like to see the percentage of user population, not just the hard numbers. So here is the same data put in percentage of user base using Mac OS and Windows.

Year Percentage Windows Percentage Mac Percentage Other
1997 92.51 6.60 0.89
1998 94.26 3.22 2.52
1999 94.96 3.51 1.53
2000 96.39 2.80 0.81
2001 96.24 2.85 0.91
2002 94.86 3.55 1.59
2003 95.68 4.03 2.90
2004 89.20 8.26 2.53
2005 86.38 12.97 0.65
2006 80.28 19.59 0.13
2007 73.05 26.66 0.29
2008 62.28 37.46 0.26

While the table is interesting its hard to really see the trends. The Bar charts at the original site are useful, but I found a line chart much more conclusive. It cleary shows the trend of macintosh percentage as it climbs. If you’re a fan of Windows, this might be a little disheartening as it very clearly demonstrates that while Macintosh use is on the rise, Windows use is on a significant downturn.

Windows and Mac Percentage at UVA

Apple’s iLife is TOO Good

In an amazing post on Daring Fireball John Gruber quotes the technology directory for a public school in Massachusetts:

However, even iLife has its drawbacks in an educational setting. It simply hands so much to the students that they struggle with software (whether Windows, Linux, or even pro-level software on the Mac) that isn’t so brilliantly plug and play. Yes, iLife rocks in many ways, but the level of spoonfeeding it encourages actually makes me think twice about using it widely, especially at the high school level.

To which Gruber responds

So the problem with Apple’s iLife apps is that they’re too good, and kids never learn that they need to struggle with technical issues before using software to express themselves creatively.

I agree with Gruber. However, I don’t think we should limit the discussion to just creative Apps. Modern day software is built on complexity. A consultant at my company once said that if we made the software too easy to use, then the consultants would be out of work; our product wouldn’t sell because it would to be too easy to use. I don’t necessarily agree with the argument, but the fear is common, and not unique to my current company.

Would easier software put people out of work?

I don’t think so. I think it would change the focus. If we started designing our software with a greater attention to user experience, the access time could be spent on further improving that experience, instead of support calls. Apple’s iLife wasn’t easy to create. Each of the apps has had millions of reviews, UI meetings, discussions, arguments and refinements. This wondrous amount of work has lead to an incredibly intuitive suite of tools. It would be fantastic if we could switch our focus (as an industry), from simply providing more tools, to providing better tools. Perhaps than our software will “too easy” for them to teach in school.

Sun Fishworks vs. Apple iPhone

I’m a big apple fan. Everyone knows that. What everyone might not know is that I’m also a Sun fan. When I was younger I worked for an ISP that used Sun boxes. I worked on a few of them in college. I’m not an expert on a Sun box, but I always liked the company and what they stood for, and had no complaints with the systems I used.

Sun has been having a hard time recently. Their stock isn’t doing too well, and they haven’t really released anything too significant or market changing. In a world that was once dominated by the Sun OS, companies like Google have come along and produced massive success using nothing but linux pizza box machines. Sun is in charge of Java, but I’m not sure how they are developing a large enough revenue stream to support their previous infrastructure.

Sun recently released Fishworks, a product designed to be an integrated hardware and software platform. They used this platform to develop an integrated network storage solution. This post explains how they went from the end product idea to the platform design, through product implementation.

I’m not fully aware of what exactly Fishworks is (Network storage isn’t my area of expertise at the moment), but I just thought it was interesting the difference in approach between Fishworks and the iPhone.

These products are completely different. One is a network storage device, the other is a piece of consumer electronics. There are some important similarities:

  • Both Are Major Engineering Projects
  • Both Are Championed By Computer Companies
  • Both Are Intended to Be Sold to Clients
  • Both Are Considered To, Potentially, Be the Future Of Their Company

Within these similarities it is interesting to note how Sun and Apple differ in their product design cycles. Sun releases a product with a bunch of back end architecture, they announce the product, and don’t keep the design a secret. They share a ton of the technical details, open up the design process for anyone to read on the Internet. It is evident that the focus of the product development cycle, that Sun is not just focused on the end product, but also very heavily on the path and technology used to get there.

Apple releases the iPhone, talks about the functionality, and maybe a very high level overview of how the phone is built, but they keep it simple. Only after it is released do they start to think about developers and extensions. Their primary focus is getting the phone right. In contrast to Sun’s focus, their focus is on the end user, not necessarily the path to get there. Their hesitation on developing an iPhone SDK might have somewhat hindered their initial sales.

This is not say that the iPhone is a better built product than the Fishworks machines. I wouldn’t know, I don’t have experience with Fishworks (or anything else in its product class, either). It is just interesting how different companies present their products and focus. I have several semi-random thoughts:

  1. Apple is growing into a new product space. In the recent past Apple has been mostly a consumer product manufacturer, making relatively the same line of products since its inception. The change from Apple Computer to Apple Inc. carries more than just a name change, but a more global product shift. In this new area, Apple is young, Sun is old. Maybe Sun has learned the lesson about the importance of the technology behind a product.
  2. Sun might be too focused on the technology and not enough on their end users. Sun has been spending much of its time working on products like Java and OpenOffice. These projects are important, they help proliferate the name of Sun Microsystems, but they are both open source. They don’t provided direct revenue for Sun. Perhaps Fishworks will be different, maybe it will follow the same path.
  3. There will always be a place in this world for new hardware design. When I graduated college I was convinced that the future would be software based. Hardware would become irrelevant and software would be where the real innovation would happen. Both of the products I’m talking about here are a marriage of fantastic hardware and great software. While the hardware that I used in college is dying, new hardware products are emerging.

Why I like the iPhone App Store Model

Much of the popular media these days is dubbing the iPhone App store and Apple’s process as:

After thinking about this for a couple of days, I think that the people writing these claims have some valid points, but I’m actually really in favor of the model Apple has set up with their store. I feel that many of these complaints aren’t actually with the process or the store, but really with the execution of the process.

The process that you must follow to develop for the iPhone is more demanding that most developers are used to. You have to come up with an idea, submit it to Apple, be approved, develop an application and then submit the application to be reviewed by Apple. During any point in this process Apple can choose to reject your application for any arbitrary reason.

Why would Apple require such a process?

Lets start with Apple’s brand image. In 1984, during the Superbowl, Apple introduced the Macintosh with a commercial that said “we are against complete control over, we are the company of rebels.” In an age where big companies were completely dominating the market, Apple was trying to change things up. That is what they did the Macintosh. The message presented in that commercial has resonated through the halls of Apple from that day to today. Joel Spolsky mentions this in his book: Smart & Gets Things Done.

The App Store for the iPhone go against this. They require developers to submit their designs and have them approved before they can start selling them to clients. Apple can look at the code, design or any other aspect of the application and decide to deny them the right to sell their App to the public. Apple is taking control over their device, the opposite message of their original premise with the Macintosh.

But the iPhone isn’t the Macintosh. The Macintosh is a computer that sits on your desk and does a bunch of computing, using custom applications and manipulating data in any way choose. You have the freedom to build your own Apps, customize the machine in any way you want to make it work better for you, with a small set of limitations from Apple.

  1. You buy Apple hardware to use Apple software
  2. Certain components of the operating system are protected from developer manipulation
  3. There is no 3rd rule

That is a large amount of freedom, but if your computer breaks, there is usually someone you call for assistance, either Apple, or the guys who made the software you are having a problem with.

The iPhone is a completely different product. Its a phone replacement. Phones are important, they allow us to communicate. Also the standard for using them is different than a computer. Computers have crashed since the day they were created. It is somewhat expected that the computer you are using will crash and you will have to restart it. You hope you remember to save every once in a while, so not too much of your data is lost (I’m saving this post right now), but crashing is a fact of computing. When was the last time your touch-tone phone crashed?

The expected level of performance for a phone is significantly higher. People use phones to call their family, or the hospital. The process of navigating a phone menu can be tedious and annoying if forced to do it several times. Now cell phones, loose reception, and that is something that a cell carrier has to worry about, but if a phone in the middle of an important phone call needs to restart, we have a concern.

When the team at Apple started to develop the iPhone, I’m nearly positive that one of their top priorities was reliability of the device. Apples goal was to build that phone. As the demand for the iPhone out stripped the supply when it was released, I’m pretty sure Apple itself was surprised by the success this phone made. When people started calling for the ability to produce software for the device, Apple had to rush to put something together. Their first answer was web page based. This solved the initial problem of letting people develop for the phone, but not the bigger issue. Developers wanted to put their Apps on the phone, use the phone information, like contact info, location, other pieces of info that weren’t available to web clients.

So Apple made the SDK, and started building out ways for developers to write software for the iPhone, but they still had to be concerned with the reliability of the device. Again, we can’t have this phone crashing because people install bad software. So, Apple created the process: You submit the App, we review it and test, and make sure it fits with our concerns and then we’ll let you sell it. Heck, we’ll even help you market it through our store. Reliability is now mediated by Apple itself.

Here’s where the problem gets sticky. How does Apple decide which Apps should be allowed through? It needs a process, with a team of people reviewing these Apps, making sure they are safe, and then notifying developers of this process. Okay, so that was one sentence, but it is actually a lot more complicated than that. Many eyes need to see his App before it gets approved or released. That is a ton of work on the part of Apple. This is where the breakdown happened.

My guess, and this is just a guess, is that the amount of people working on this project is: 1) not enough for the amount of apps coming through the door; and 2) too large for people to keep up on which other apps are being approved. That is why some apps that seem to be replicating functionality of other approved apps are rejected. Also, because there are so many Apps coming through the doors to this organization, I would guess that default choice is to reject the Apps for anything small, even has a way to reduce the amount of code the reviewers have look through.

The App Store is still young, though. My guess is that Apple is beginning to see the problem and starting to take steps to mitigate it. It won’t happen over night, and those of you expecting this are dreaming, but in time, I believe it will work out. In the mean time, I’ve a got a portable phone with a high reliability factor.

Calling People from a Text Message on the iPhone

Have you ever been using your iPhone, in the middle of sending a text message to a friend when you realize it would just be easier to call them and talk it out? With the current interface you have to leave the SMS application, navigate to your contacts using either Phone or Contacts, find the number and tap it. Not the end of the world if only happened rarely, but I find myself going through this pain quite often.

It would be really great if we could find a way to make the call from the text message. I’ll leave the exact design and implimentation up to the people at Apple, but this feature would totally improve my testing experiences.

How long does a Keyboard last?

I have an older generation Apple Keyboard (this one is german, mine is standard US, but the design is the same and I don’t feel like taking a picture). The problem is, my spacebar key is starting to crap out on me (or I’m losing thumb strength and can no longer hit it as hard). I’ve had said keyboard for probably 3 years or so. Is it reasonable to be expected to go out and buy a new one?