Written by clinton1550 Friday, 25 June 2010 20:06
Early on Tuesday morning, Apple released the iOS 4 update for iPhone and iPod touch users. I got up slightly less early on Tuesday morning, excited at the prospect of playing around with the few iOS 4 features afforded to us iPhone 3G owners. However, my excitement didn’t last long as my experience updating to iOS 4 quickly became one of pain, frustration and misery.
My experience updating to iOS 4 started the night before with some preparation. Up until Monday night, I had two iTunes Libraries. One — which lived on my Mac mini — contained apps, videos and podcasts; the other — which lived on my PowerBook G4 — contained all of my music and nothing else. Up until Monday night, my iPhone was synced with my Mac mini’s library, which meant it had apps, videos and podcasts but no music. I’ve wanted to merge the two libraries for some time so that I could have all my media on my iPhone.
I rather foolishly decided that the night before the release of iOS 4 was the best time to make the move.
Why did I think the night before the release of iOS 4 was the best time to merge my libraries? Earlier in the week, I heard that the iPod app had a few enhancements that I was keen to try out, Playlist Folder support in particular. Naturally, I needed some music and playlists on my iPhone so I thought I would sync all my music and playlists.
Why did I have two iTunes libraries in the first place? I’ll leave that for another time. But, why was it foolish? With the help of Home Sharing, I quickly transferred the media that I wanted from my Mac mini to my PowerBook, so all I had to do was sync my iPhone and I was ready for iOS 4.
What I didn’t take into account was syncing over 2000 songs to my iPhone — plus re-syncing all my apps, videos and podcasts — would take a long time. I started syncing at about quarter past eight and didn’t finish until sometime after midnight. No big deal really, but the full folly of my decision didn’t sink in until the next morning.
I woke up at 7:00 on Tuesday morning, rolled over to my PowerBook on the bedside table — with iPhone still attached — and attempted to click the "Update" button in iTunes while only being able to see unfocused blobs of colour. I was successful, and after clicking through several dialog boxes and waiting a few minutes, iOS 4 had been downloaded and began installing.
It was about this time that I realised I had made a mistake the night before. During the install process, I quickly became concerned that my iPhone was not updating, but restoring. I later found out that it was supposed to do this but at the time I was under the impression that I had clicked the wrong button.
I hadn’t clicked the wrong button. Clicking the “Update” button to install iOS 4 triggers a full backup, erase and restore process, presumably so Apple has fewer support calls from iPhone and iPod touch users complaining about things not working properly. While this strategy suits Apple and some of the more paranoid among us, it was most inconvenient for people like me, especially me as I would have to go through the entire four-hour sync that I had gone through the night befor
I didn’t have four hours to spend re-syncing my iPhone, so instead of letting iTunes restore my iPhone, I tried to cancel the restore and change the sync settings in order to get myself up and running a lot quicker. Cancelling the restore didn't go smoothly, as I accidentally clicked the wrong button when iTunes asked if I really wanted to stop restoring my iPhone. iTunes wouldn't allow me to cancel the restore a second time, so I restarted my iPhone. Once my iPhone had restarted and reappeared in the iTunes source list, I changed the sync settings to only sync one playlist with 25 songs, one episode of Top Gear, one podcast and a selection of my most-used apps.
With the new settings, I expected my iPhone to be ready to use in about 15 minutes. It ended up being a lot longer than that because iTunes decided that it didn't want to sync the 25 songs I told it to — it wanted to sync 375 songs instead. No matter what I did, iTunes still wanted to sync those 375 songs. I stopped and started the sync several times, to no avail. When I unchecked all my music except for the 25 songs I wanted, iTunes complained that it couldn't find the songs it was looking for.
I cannot truly convey my frustration at this point, but I was prepared to throw my iPhone in a bin. I was prepared to throw my iPhone 3G into a bin, never retrieve it and never buy a replacement. I was prepared to give up on the iPhone forever. Instead, I punched my PowerBook's trackpad and force-restarted both my PowerBook and my iPhone.
One restart later and I decided to give my iPhone a last chance to redeem itself. This time, when iTunes started syncing, it informed me that it was trying to restore my iPhone from a corrupt backup. Restarting my iPhone during the restore process probably didn't do it any good and the corrupt backup was the cause of all the trouble. I deleted the backup and the sync went ahead without any problems. The 25 songs were successfully synced along with the videos and apps.
Finally, after two hours of wrestling with iTunes, I had my iPhone in a usable state. A lot of my lousy experience was my fault. Before updating I thought it would be a fantastic idea to sync all my media to my iPhone. I didn't anticipate any problems because previous iOS updates have been pretty straightforward. I don't recall last year's 3.0 update requiring a full backup, erase and restore. I also don't recall Apple warning me that iOS 4 would require a full backup, erase and restore.
Then again I didn't read any of those dialog boxes I hastily clicked through before downloading iOS 4. Maybe it was mentioned in there somewhere, maybe it wasn't.
I can see why Apple decided that a full backup, erase and restore was the best way to install iOS 4. For many years, the best way to install Mac OS X was to backup your data completely to an external drive, erase your startup disk and perform a clean install. This ensures you don't run into any compatibility problems with the new OS.
Remember the Blue Screens of Death many users got when upgrading to Leopard a few years ago? Those were caused by Unsanity's haxies, unsupported modifications to OS X that provided — to some — welcome enhancements to their computer.
Perhaps the full backup, erase and restore strategy employed by Apple had something to do with jailbroken iPhones. Remember when Apple "bricked" jailbroken iPhones with an early OS update? Perhaps Apple wanted to avoid the support calls and bad press that came with "bricking" iPhones.
I don't know the real reason for Apple's decision but I do know that it complicated the iOS 4 update for some people — some more than others and especially me.
So what have I learnt? I've learnt that if I want to rush into these things, I need to do some real preparation. Next year, I'll erase my iPhone myself and set it up with the bare minimum of stuff to try out new features. Then when Apple erases my iPhone, the restore process won't be such a pain.
How did your iOS upgrade go? Any problems?
Discuss it with me at MacTheForum!
Written by Alex Kidman Tuesday, 22 June 2010 09:43
6:30am. I wake up, somewhat weary. Rather coincidentally, random shuffle on my iPhone throws up the following lyrics:
"Wake up in the morning, and I raise my weary head/Got an old coat for a pillow, and the earth was last night's bed"
Well, that would explain why my back hurts. I can only hope that the upgrade to iOS 4 doesn't involve being shot down in a blaze of glory. It would give me an excuse to upgrade to an iPhone 4, but I'd have to wait at least a month for that.
What does seem to be being shot down is my broadband allowance. The update is 378.0MB. I'm not sure why iTunes needs to tell me about the .0 of a megabyte it's not downloading. Perhaps it's meant to make me feel better. I'm just hopeful that as my ISP doesn't count iTunes song downloads against my cap, perhaps OS upgrades will be free as well.
Anyone considering the jump should also bear in mind that you'll probably double that figure in App updates alone as well, even if some of them are just noted as "working" under iOS 4 anyway.
The next ten minutes pass in a blur of coffee and toast-making, as well as discovering that one of the fuses for the lights has popped. You probably don't need to know that, but it's ever so slightly more interesting than telling you to stare at a download screen for ten minutes.
While the download processes, I'm left pondering the fate of the early adopter. iOS 4 marks a breaking point, as anyone who grey-imported an original model iPhone, or legitimately purchased a first-generation iPod touch (I'm in that camp) will be left twisting in the wind on iOS (as it's now known) 3. I do wonder what that does to the security of iOS 3 devices. I'm not stupid enough to think that there aren't security holes, but hopeful that the ongoing install base will be small enough to mean that it's not worthwhile for the bad folk to warrant chasing it. It's a worthwhile bet that iOS 4 has something of a target on its back.
I'm somewhat surprised when, at 7:10am, the update is finished, and iTunes politely informs me that my iPhone is restarting. For whatever reason, a nearby connected iPad starts syncing again. Perhaps it's pining for iOS 4. Not for you, flatty! Not yet, anyway.
It's at this point that my only-just-processing-the-coffee brain remembers that the bulk of my iTunes music resides on a NAS and not locally, and that if the iOS 4 update involves re-synchronising all my music, it's going to throw up all sorts of interesting errors. It might be something of a quiet morning as a result.
My first interesting quirk comes not long after. iTunes tells me that the iPhone Sync is complete. The iPhone itself begs to differ. Do I unplug it, or leave it be? A five-minute wait seems sensible, and thankfully the two devices finally agree that things are in fact in sync with each other.
So, first impressions, then.
For a product that's designed to be "easy to use" and from a company that prides itself on ease of use, there's sweet bugger-all in the way of an introductory tutorial. Where's the slickly-produced video to walk me through all of iOS 4's new features, Apple? At first glance, all I spot is the background photo now being the backdrop (which I don't mind, but could be a lot worse depending on your backdrop photo) and the multi-tasking bar that pops up with a double tap. Nothing is multi-tasking right now, but that's to be expected for a newly-restarted phone.
Ah. Apple's support pages will have something, right?
Wrong. There's a single link for the new features of iOS 4 depending on phone model, but clicking on it reveals this rather unhelpful message:
OK, OK, the English version is above it, informing me that "Due to a scheduled upgrade of Apple's support systems, some features of the website are currently unavailable. We apologize for any inconvenience." I still reckon the Kanji is about as helpful.
Yes, that's right, the Apple Support Store is down. I wonder what new non-products Apple's brewing up now, and more importantly, where can the T-shirt be purchased?
It takes a couple of Google searches on related pages to figure out folder creation —not much more than drag-and-dropping icons on each other, which works reasonably well. I could see it being something of a chore if I had to do some app sorting on the fly if my finger stops in the wrong place, but hopefully that'll be a somewhat rare occurrence. It also gives me a single useful folder for hiding the preinstalled Apps that I never use. Why yes, Stocks and Weather, I'm looking right at you.
It's also somewhat easier to do all the folder creation at the iTunes end on my iMac, but again, that's no great shock. I've got to qualify that with "somewhat", as the icons have this habit of doing an annoying swap-positions dance with each other rather than forming folders. It takes a good dozen swipes to drop iTunes (the App) into my music folder.
The default folder naming strategy is to grab the product category as the folder name, which makes my brain wonder what happens if you create two folders from the same category apps. The answer is that you can seemingly have any number of identically-named folders on the same page, which is a little confusing. I'm either going to have to get organised, or be prepared to squint really hard at even tinier icons.
Then it's time for my organising gene to kick in. When I start, I've got nine pages of applications on my iPhone. When I finish, it's down to three — although half a dozen of my folders are just called "Games", and I'll need some more solid organising time to make sense of my folders. In the context of how I use most common applications it doesn't matter that much, because I tend to find them via Spotlight search. Then again, the limit of 12 applications per folder introduces a new problem. You can put 12 apps into each folder, but tiny icons for only the first nine will actually show up, which means applications 10-12 will hide even more than they used to on pages eight and nine.
I'm also totally sick of icons bouncing to accommodate each other, rather than dropping neatly into their folders. iOS 4 won't nest folders or merge them as far as I can find. They just do the bouncy dance around each other any time I try. I can live with that. It does mean I'll have to do some solid organising of my Apps, and hope and pray that my App database never becomes corrupted. I wouldn't want to have to create all these folders twice.
Many of the other new consumer-facing features are small tweaks here and there. The camera zooms, but it's still a digital zoom, and frankly unless I'm using it for some kind of low-grade, highly grainy surveillance work, I'd rather take the full shot and blow it up in Photoshop. iBooks is on the iPhone! Celebrate! Go wild! Go crazy ... and "buy" free books, as I discussed last week. Universal mail inbox functions, but it's still missing the most vital feature for a phone based email client — namely the ability to mark all messages read with a simple swipe or click of an icon. Frankly, I'd trade the universal inbox and folders for that feature alone. Are you listening, Apple?
What do you think? Is iOS4 everything you hoped it would be? Did it kill your iPhone, scramble your Apps or destroy your photos?
Discuss it with me at MacTheForum!
Written by Alex Kidman Monday, 14 June 2010 09:06
Apparently — if Apple is to be believed — "Reading is a joy on iPad".
Now, I'm a big proponent of reading. I read every day, but then that's hardly shocking for a working journalist ... although I have had some suspicions about certain current affairs "journalists" and sports "journalists" for some time.
I read for work, I read for pleasure, I read to my kids — did you know that my cat likes to hide in boxes? — and I have been known, when bored, to sit in the doctor's waiting room reading the posters regarding medical procedures. Just because I'm bored. As a result, you could say that I'm something of a reader. Also that I know more about pap smears than is technically necessary, but I'm getting off track here.
Anyway, back to reading being a joy on the iPad. That's Apple's claim, and what I'd like to know, as an avid reader, is when exactly that's going to start? The tense would seem to suggest that reading euphoria is happening right now, but that clearly isn't the case.
I'm not fussed, by the way, by the fact that the iPad uses an LCD screen. Shift the brightness down a touch, as full whack is rather garish, and I find it no harder to read than any e-ink product. I don't read much of anything in ten-hour stretches if I can help it, so the battery life isn't the problem, either.
It's the selection of books.
Let's start with Apple's own store, shall we? iBooks in Australia, as it stands at the time of writing, is one big fat joke.
Nothing more, nothing less. The joke, by the way, is on us.
There's no point whatsoever in having a big shiny book-selling interface, and exactly zero books to sell on it. I'm fully aware that books are available via iBooks. It's just that they're all public domain, Project Gutenberg titles. Every single one. Admittedly, Apple scores small points here for not charging for them the way that Amazon will try to do with an international Kindle. But still, I could grab the exact same texts and import them via iTunes any time I felt like it. That's not a bookstore, and as could typically be expected, there's no public timeline on when actual sale books will become available locally. Yes, it would be feasible to pick up a US iTunes store account and then pay some dodgy online iTunes voucher merchant for US iTunes credit to buy actual books, but then I'd be flying in the face of Apple's user agreement and potentially risking all the content I'm paying for, as well as feasibly supporting criminal enterprises selling iTunes vouchers off the back of stolen credit cards. I'd rather keep it legal, thanks.
There are alternatives on the iPad for the book-obsessed that do offer up actual books for actual money. Amazon's Kindle, for example. That application opens up with a nice enough backdrop of someone reading under a tree like they do in all the best movie establishing shots, but clicking on the "Shop In Kindle Store" icon ... opens up Safari. You've then got to sign in, sort out your purchases — which cost more because you're an Australian — and then relaunch the application in order to actually download your purchases. As Yoda might say, Simple This Is Not.
What's really strange here is that my current pick of the best e-reading software on the iPad, Stanza, is owned lock stock and barrel by Amazon, and includes purchasing and store-browsing options from within the application — but not for Kindle books. Just as I'd like to see Apple actually sell some books, it'd be nice if Amazon could work out just what its hive mind actually wants to do.
Borders also offer up an ebook application with inbuilt store, focused around its Kobo e-reading device. The Kobo device itself is fundamentally a cheaper Kindle without the inbuilt wireless, and for its $199 asking price, if all you wanted was an e-reader, it would suffice. Borders isn't that interested in hardware sales, however, and for that reason the Kobo offering extends to PC/Mac and iPhone/iPod and iPad with a universal application. Browsing is a little slow, but all the prices are listed clearly in Australian dollars and Kobo supports synchronising your library to any and all devices that you'd like. I'm on to a winner, here, surely?
The problem here is that the Borders iPad and iPhone applications don't handle all the Kobo's files properly. This didn't happen with every book I purchased, but when it did, it made them near unreadable. As an example, I picked up a copy of Danny Wallace And The Centre Of The Universe, a book which rather surprisingly reveals the centre of the universe to be in Idaho. It's an enjoyable enough humorous read on the Kobo or indeed on my iMac.
On the iPhone or iPad, it's a mess.
This screenshot displays the problem nicely. For whatever reason, the App interprets the same ePub files with a slight offset on every page. It's rather like someone has grabbed a physical copy and jammed it too tightly into a photocopier, leaving the margin of one page spilling onto another. Now that I think of it, it's kind of funny having this kind of spill in an application called Borders. Funny-sad, however, not really funny in the internet-accepted LOL sense.
So what's a book loving iPad owner to do? Aside from the obviously illicit avenues — which I won't point you to, as I make my living from copyright, same as other authors — all I can do is wait and fume.
What do you think? Are eBooks a vital part of the iPad experience anyway?
Discuss it with me at MacTheForum!
Written by Alex Kidman Monday, 07 June 2010 11:40
It's been a couple of weeks now since I picked up an iPad at Apple's Bondi Junction store. It's probably the only time I'll ever set foot in that particular arboreally-assigned retail outlet, but anyone who watched my trek there might have figured that out by now. This also means I've had a couple of weeks to work out what I'm actually going to use an iPad for.
Now, admittedly, I'm in a somewhat rarefied category, in that I can use the iPad as a straight business tool simply by writing about it — including this column, which I'm typing out on that same iPad, for what that's worth.
The most frequent criticism I've hit about the iPad (beyond that whole "it's a really big iPod touch" — well, yes, but that brings with it a whole host of possibilities, folks) is that you'd almost always be better off with a netbook or notebook instead. So I thought I'd put that to the test.
This being a Mac-centric publication, I can't test it against a Mac netbook, because (legitimately speaking) there's no such thing. I'm well aware of the whole Hackintosh scene, and I'll even admit I've mucked about with hardware to make that happen. It's a bit like climbing Mount Everest, in that I did it over one Christmas period because it was right there, but the result was a sub-par netbook that clearly ran better under Windows XP. Make of that what you will.
Oh, and I didn't actually climb Mount Everest. But I suspect you knew that.
What I do have to put up against the iPad, however, is a MacBook, albeit one that's aging a little disgracefully. A 2006 Core 2 Duo Macbook with 3.1GB of RAM in it, to be precise. Up against it, I'm pitting a first-generation 64GB WiFi+3G iPad with a couple of accessories.
First, where does the MacBook beat the iPad?
Optical disc reading. I can show the iPad as many DVDs as I can lift (which is quite a few) but it'll never do much than reflect the covers back at me. No amount of wobbling the cover around will make me think I'm watching a movie.
FireWire, Ethernet and USB built in. Yes, again, I could buy the USB Camera connection kit, but that's a dongle that has to be carried separately.
Removable battery. Although for a new MacBook, that's no longer true.
Tabbed multitasking. For now. iPhone OS 4.0 will shorten this gap, although it's not absolute multitasking. More on that shortly.
Bigger screen. Which is OK for the aforementioned DVD watching, I suppose.
Sitting flat on my lap with the screen in an easy to view position. Fixable with accessories for the iPad, but the MacBook does it straight out of the box.
That would seem to be something of a slam dunk for the MacBook, were it not for the areas where the iPad outclasses the MacBook:
Instant on. That might not seem like much, but with the iPad (if I don't set a security code), it's a swipe of the finger and I'm into working, or playing, or what have you. If I've closed the MacBook while on, it will think for a few seconds, then light up the screen, then bring up some (but not always all) the icons ... then wait a bit longer ... then start thinking about WiFi ... then kick up the fan ... then make the DVD drive chunk for no adequately-explained reason ... and then let me start working. Add a good 30-90 seconds to that whole palaver if I've actually switched it off.
Battery life. No great shock here. I don't think anyone would expect a four-year-old laptop with plenty of metaphorical miles on the clock to have much battery life at all. With WiFi or 3G running, I'll maybe get a couple of hours out of it if I'm careful. Whereas my tests while out and about with the iPad have yet to exhaust it below the 60 percent battery mark, even on a heavy load.
Choice of screen orientation. This again has surprised me, but it works. On a train, there's no way I can open up the MacBook without a fair bit of elbow room around me. Pop the iPad into portrait orientation, and I could even try reading it standing up.
Software. No, really. Yes, I know there are thousands of OS X programs out there, but even after four years, I've really only got around 20-30 actual applications on the MacBook that see regular use. Whereas the iPad's got the full whack of everything I've downloaded for the iPhone, plus its own apps. That started at around the 300 App mark, and I'm cutting down the erroneous applications as I spot them. That happens when you do a roundup of Binary iPhone Clocks, none of which I actually needed.
Lack of multitasking. No, really. Again, not something I would have picked as an upside, but in hindsight I can see how it works and helps. When I can multitask, I can multi-procrastinate. Not a word, strictly speaking, but it should be. A clean white iPad Pages screen just stares at me — as this one has done — and demands to be filled. Filled pages equals happy editors, and happy editors are more likely to pay me — or at least that's the theory.
(Nag nag nag — MJCP)
Light weight. Yes, I know, the standard iPad refrain is that "it's so heavy". Compared to a feather, or a single sheet of paper, or an iPhone, yes. Compared to a MacBook? The iPad might as well not be there.
That might seem to indicate a tie. There's an obvious counterpoint to this, in that a new MacBook might beat out the iPad on battery life and, given Apple's rather competitive pricing on MacBooks, there's not much between the top-end iPad and an entry-level MacBook, especially if you add in a few peripherals such as the keyboard dock or a decent case or screen protector.
That becomes a case of suiting it to your circumstances. My office is already home to a very nice recent-model iMac that handles my heavy Mac lifting for me, and the iPad is rapidly taking over the other around the house and out and about tasks. So for round one, at least, the iPad's taking it on a close judge's decision.
What do you think? Is the iPad just a big iPod Touch, or can it be a productivity tool?
Discuss it with me at MacTheForum!
Written by Matthew JC Powell Monday, 31 May 2010 00:08
The Apple Store Bondi opened last week, curiously enough in Bondi Junction rather than Bondi, but hardly anyone knows they're two different places so why be pedantic about it? The opening of Apple's seventh Australian retail store coincided with the long-awaited Australian debut of the iPad, which meant redoubled interest in the opening and some very keen crowds.
Our own Alex Kidman braved the cold, dark, wee small hours of the morning to get to the Store, watch the opening, and of course buy an iPad. His journey is chronicled in this video.Dim lights Embed Embed this video on your site
That's dedication above and beyond the call of duty.
Discuss this with us at MacTheForum!