Jan 01 2014

Goodbye Jailbreak

I may never jailbreak again. iOS 7 has many of the features that I used to jailbreak for, and the latest jailbreak has been hurried out and the jailbreakers are in bed with Chinese pirates. So thanks but no thanks.

At this point, there are, for me, three reasons to jailbreak:

  • Showcase: little tweak that shows lower case letters on the keyboard when caps isn’t active.
  • sshd: Got to love being able to get to a shell prompt (although to be honest, I rarely ever do).
  • iFile: yeah, this I may miss the most. Being able to download a file and move it to my Dropbox is something I do often enough.

All the other reasons why I jailbroke are either unreliable or rendered moot. sbsettings is mostly replaced by Control Center (although a two touch reboot would be nice). Tethering? I’ve not had much luck with the various commercial tethering services I’ve tried, and believe it or not, HandyLight still works. And as for FolderEnhancer, I’ve forgotten how handy it is to manage my apps inside iTunes. That is all lost when I use FolderEnhancer. Besides, folders can have more things in them (I do miss nested folders, though, maybe Apple will get on that for iOS8).

What else is there? I can’t think of anything.

So MAYBE if a jailbreak comes out that doesn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth, I may jailbreak to install iFile. Or I may find some other way to easily download a link to Dropbox.

 

Jul 19 2010

App of the Week: pixelpipe

One of the new features of the iPhone 4 is the ability to record and (with iMovie and some others) edit HD movies. But it has a limitation. While the iPhone will upload videos to YouTube, it won’t do it in full HD. To upload an HD video to YouTube, you have to first sync it to your computer. Once it’s in iPhoto, you can upload it from there.

But what if you are on vacation, and don’t have the ability to sync it to your computer? Is it possible to upload HD videos before you get home?

Answer is yes. Enter pixelpipe. Pixelpipe is a general image/movie uploader that will upload to a myriad of difference services (113 by my count, but some of them are like “email” and “ftp”). The way it works is, after you configure your destinations, you select the pictures or videos you wish to upload. It uploads them once to pixelpipe’s server, then uploads them from there to all the other servers you want. So if you always post your pictures on flickr, and Facebook, and also ftp them to your home server, it will do all that, and you only have to upload them from your phone once. And one extra bonus of pixelpipe, as I said, is that it will allow you to upload HD videos to any of these sources.

Last week, on Embrace your Geekiness day, I recorded the following video in my car on my iPhone 4, and while I was still on 3G, uploaded it to YouTube. It took a while to upload, and had to be restarted a few times, but eventually got there before I went on Wifi.

One oddity with that is that the progress bar on the upload always started at 0 when I restarted. I suspect the actual upload wasn’t restarted, as the progress bar moved faster every time I restarted. There also isn’t any way to decide based on type where a file will go (eg, say “Videos go to YouTube, and images go to flickr”). You can configure default destinations for everything, and can tag individual files with where you want them to go, but you can’t configure destinations based on type.

UPSIDE:

Will upload to several different services at the same time.

Will upload videos in HD.

Free!

DOWNSIDE:

Upload status bar seems to reset.

Can’t configure destinations based on type.

SUMMARY:

It’s free, so unless you never want to upload pictures or videos to anything, it is a no-brainer.

This pick was Adam Christianson‘s app pick from the We Have Communicators podcast.

Jul 08 2010

iPhone (iOS4) “multitasking”

When I heard about the “multitasking” that was being added to iOS4, my first response was, “FRAUD!!!” My impression was that Apple was being clobbered by Android that has multitasking, and Steve said, “We need something we can call multitasking!”

For clarification, here is what they came up with, and why it’s not true multitasking.

It’s a two prong approach. You have the “fast app switcher”. Double-tap the home button, and it brings up a list of recently-used applications. For applications that are updated to iOS4, they have the ability to temporarily stay in memory so the user can easily switch between them. You’re in Mail. taptap..tap, and you’re in Twitter (or Safari or whatever). Does every app ever run stick around forever? No. When switched, apps save their state and go into a “You can kill me if you need to, but I’m ready to come back whenever” state. Maybe the last 2-3 apps (not counting the standard Mail, Safari, Phone, iPod, that seem to ALWAYS be running!) are still running. They aren’t getting any cycles, but at least they’re still in memory, ready to resume at a moment’s notice.

Then, if the phone is hungry for RAM, it kills off one of these suspended apps, freeing up memory, and everyone’s happy.

The other prong is the ability for an app to perform a limited number of background tasks. These include GPS, audio, download control, and maybe a couple others I don’t recall off the top of my head. But suffice to say, they are very limited.

And that’s why what Apple has done with iOS4 is not what I would consider multitasking. Multitasking means multiple arbitrary programs are running at the same time. It means I get to decide if an app will keep running. But with the exception of a small set of specialized tasks, iOS4 only allows one (3rd party) program to be actually running (not just “in memory”) at a time. What Apple has done is NOT multitasking.  FRAUD!!!

There. I said it.

Contrast this with my iPhone’s previous operating system, a jailbroken 3.1.2. There, the same double-tap on the home key brought up kirikae, a method for easily backgrounding an application. You could background as many apps as you wanted. The apps kept running, kept updating their displays (even though said displays weren’t visible). Pandora audio in the background? No problem. TomTom? Sure thing! Keep an ssh session alive while you check your email? Done and done!

Eventually, of course, the phone would run out of memory, and apps would start failing. But I’ve been multitasking since the Carter administration. I know what I’m doing. If I’m done with an app, I kill it. No problem. I typically kept my Twitter app du jour running all the time (I use Twitter enough that I have some real experience with most Twitter apps, and often switch between them), but almost never used it for anything else, being the responsible multitasker that I am.

And, I gather, that’s more or less how Android and other multitasking mobile platforms works. I’ve not heard of people having problems with Android getting bogged down in too many apps, but then again, most everyone I know I’ve talked with is tech savvy enough to avoid that (or maybe Android doesn’t enable multitasking by default?).

But the fact is, not everyone is that savvy. I remember once, back in the 80s, I was doing tech support for a company. One of the secretaries was complaining that her workstation was getting very slow. Now keep in mind that she wasn’t using a PC, but a dumb terminal attached to a mini computer running UNIX. Some of her work was on another mini computer. But she knew that if she needed to be on one computer, she would type “rlogin yavin” and if she needed to be on the other computer, she would type “rlogin endor”.

When I went there, I noticed that she was logged onto both yavin and endor at least a dozen times. She had, over the course of the day, remotely logged from one computer to the other, then back to the first one, then back to the other one! So every keystroke had to go back and forth between yavin and endor upwards of 20 times. No wonder her computer was slow!

I mention this to point out that not everyone is aware of background tasks, or even what’s going on on their computer beyond what they actually see with their eyes. And I know that someone at Apple had exactly this same thought and knew, “We are NOT putting that on the iPhone!!”.

So here’s what I think was the thought processes behind the design of iOS4 “multitasking”.

Rather than just say, “We need the ability to run multiple apps”, they asked, “Why do we need to run multiple apps? What problem of the end user will we solve when we have whatever we will finish designing today?”

First, the end user doesn’t care that they can have 5 apps running in the background. That means diddly/squat to them. So what do they care about?

They care about being able to go from where they are in one app (in one message, or composing a tweet or something) to another app, then go back to the first one, and not have to see a splash screen and lose all the work they had done.

They care about being able to listen to any music they want (eg. Pandora) while they’re doing something else.

And they care that TomTom won’t let them miss an exit while they’re in the passenger seat, watching a movie.

So, rather than say, “How do we get multitasking on the iPhone?”, Apple said, “How can we solve these issues of end users?”

And that’s what they’ve done.

It’s not perfect. I’d prefer some way to know at a glance which apps are in memory, and which apps aren’t. While they gave the option of removing apps from the switcher, they don’t show you easily why you’d want to. I’ve heard supposedly knowledgeable people thinking that the apps in the switcher are all the apps that are currently running. They’re not. Not by a longshot.

And there’s no easy way to control what apps that would otherwise be running constantly. This is probably more an issue with app developers than Apple (TomTom, I’m looking at you here. You give me no UI way to kill (or properly suspend) TomTom without losing the route. I shouldn’t have to use the switcher).

And of course the app has to be modified to support fast switching. I wish the App Store had an option, “Only show me apps updated for iOS4″. I avoid wherever possible apps that haven’t been updated for iOS4.

But in general, even though it maybe shouldn’t be called “multitasking”,. what Apple has done in iOS4 has certainly solved most, if not all of the reasons why an end user might want to have multitasking.

And frankly, I think their “multitasking” solution is far better than (for end users) than the real multitasking that’s offered by other platforms. Good job, Apple!

Feb 15 2010

Why I like Twitter

Oftentimes, people ask me why I like Twitter. And on the surface, they may have a point. All you can do with Twitter is post 140 character messages. How can that possibly be better than something like Facebook? There are so many more things you can post to Facebook. And there’s no silly 140 character limit.

What first attracted me to Twitter was that, because it had that limit, it prevents you from writing long tomes. If you have a thought that you think others might find interesting, you tweet it, and it’s done. You know you can’t expand on it, so you don’t worry about it. This is why Twitter is called “microblogging”.

But there’s another nice thing about Twitter. It brings you closer to those you admire. If a celebrity you like is on Twitter, you can follow them and be connected in some way to what’s happening in their life. You can also send them an @reply and have a chance (ranging from “slim” to “real”) that they’ll see it, or even reply. Now, major celebrities (who may have more than a million followers), may get hundreds of replies to every tweet. So they’ll probably not see it (but everyone uses Twitter differently; see @BrentSpiner, who uses Twitter mostly to engage his fans in (often funny) dialog). But lesser known ones quite possibly may see it and even @reply to you. And that is way cool.

As an example, take Robert Lee, (@voicework on Twitter). He’s the narrator for Mythbusters (and to date, the only person to ever say, “Ahh, fresh underwear for Mr. Savage” on national television). I like everything about Mythbusters, so follow on Twitter everyone connected to the show. And knowing that voice work is lonely work (insofar as they typically just get their lines and record them and don’t necessary interact with the others on the show), I was curious if Robert had ever been to M5 Industries (where Mythbusters is filmed). So last night I asked

him, and this morning saw a reply from him.

That interaction took probably less than a minute for both of us and didn’t involve anyone else.

Now, let’s look at how that interaction would have worked in the BT (Before Twitter) era. I would first have had to find out how to contact him. I would probably have had to send him mail (either snail or e) care of Discovery channel. Let’s say it was via snail mail. I write a letter, find the address of Discovery Channel (DC), address and stamp it, and take it to my nearest mailbox (few blocks from my house). Some fan mail handler at DC gets it, opens it, and first thinks “who’s Robert Lee?”. Let’s say he figures it out so then looks up the address of Robert Lee’s agent and forwards it to him. Robert Lee’s agent then gets the letter and maybe calls Robert Lee, reading it to him, and maybe Robert Lee answers, so maybe the agent writes a response and puts it in the self addressed stamped envelope I provided). So in the BT world, it would involve at least two more people and more likely than not would not have happened.

Does this work for all celebrities? Certainly not. Robert Lee only has a couple thousand followers and rarely more than 1-2 @replies a day. But if you look at Adam Savage (@donttrythis) you’ll see he replies to his fans, too. That just never happened BT.

Feb 04 2010

Review: Mophie Juicepack Air

Like many people with the iPhone 3GS. I have problems with the battery. Connectivity at work is very bad, so my phone is spending most of the day scanning the EM bands, searching for it’s beloved AT&T. It’s nigh impossible to get through the day on one charge. Consequently, I have chargers everywhere I can predictably be found; by my bed, in the car, at the office, and even on my sofa in the evening. But if I find myself somewhere where I can’t charge it, and I know I’m going to be there using the iPhone for any significant time (Indonesian hen parties come to mind), I know that even if it has a full charge when I leave my car, it will be mostly dead (or slightly alive, no loose change here) when I get back to the car.

It was after one such affair that I decided to do something about it. Mophie makes a couple battery packs that double as extra batteries (to be fair, they only make one now; the other being discontinued): the Juicepack and the Juicepack Air.

Juicepack with iPone. Side view, front view, back view, bottom view

Mophie Juicepack

Blue Juicepack with iPhone, side view, to the right of three others, multi-colored, diagonal view

Mophie Juicepack Air

Both have an external battery that can charge your iPhone. The Air has a switch (I didn’t know the Juicepack didn’t) so you don’t have to leave the phone plugged in all the time (the phone draws less power if it’s not plugged in, so this saves power). Both have battery capacity LEDs on the back. The Juicepack’s battery is 1800 mAh, while the Air’s battery is 1200 mAh.

The Juicepack can be thought of like a backpack; it’s big and bulky and makes you think you really have something extra back there. It has a bigger battery, and uses the standard dock connector, but looks bulky (to be fair, I’ve never seen one in person; only pictures on the web). The Juicepack Air looks like you just have a fatter case but it actually looks like a case. It has a standard micro-USB connector (more on that later), and a smaller battery.

The connector was actually my biggest concern. As I said I’ve practically cornered the market on iPhone chargers. I have, at present:

Apple supplied USB cable & charger by my bed.
Apple cable by my home computer.
Apple charger in the living room (have to bring the cable from the computer if I need to use it).
A standalone charger in the living room (usually used for my wife’s iPhone).
A car charger.
A car charger with a remote control and audio output.
A standalone charger at work.
(Another standalone charger at work but that only works with my iPod).

So getting something that works with all those would be nice. Not only that, but something that easily plays audio in the car would be extra nice. So my question was: which one do I get?

Juicepack

Pro:

My biggest reason for considering the Juicepack was the car. I use the iPhone in the car constantly, and being able to plug the Juicepack into the car directly, especially with the audio working, would be great.

I also like the extra battery life.

Con:

Biggest con is the form factor. I don’t like how it looks. There’s also real concern it might not fit well in my pocket. And it’s more expensive.

Juicepack Air

Pro:

In addition to the form factor and size (which is important), the Air uses a standard micro-USB charger. One nice thing about that is that if I need to charge the pack without the phone (for example, if I don’t want to plug the phone into some strange computer, but want that computer’s power), I can connect the pack to any computer and charge it by itself. This is important at work, as I am unable to plug my phone into my work computer.

Con:

The inability to plug it into my car audio adapter is probably the biggest pain with the Air. I have three options, typically:

  1. Remove the iPhone from the pack and plug it directly into the car audio adapter.
  2. Use an audio cable, plugged into the headphone jack.
  3. Just forego the iPhone’s audio and use my iPod (or enjoy the silence).

I also found that the micro-USB is much more difficult to attach than the iPhone’s standard dock connector (especially in the dark if my wife is already asleep).

I ended up buying the Juicepack Air. One unexpected feature (especially outside in the New England winter) is that when it’s charging, the battery pack gets quite warm, so doubles as a hand warmer. I suspect that won’t be as welcome in a few months.

Finally, as I said above, I didn’t know the Juicepack didn’t have a switch. That in itself might mean the effective capacity of both is comparable (assuming both stay on your phone all the time). I still charge the phone (and the pack) whenever possible, but now I rarely have to worry about both dying.

And if I didn’t make it clear, I really like and heartily recommend the Mophie Juicepack Air. It’s great!

Jan 31 2010

Musings on the iPhone and iPad

As you may have guessed from the previous post, I have an iPhone. I got a 3GS last summer and liked it so much I got a refurbished 3G for my wife (whose technological extent is a few poorly-spelled Facebook updates). The simplicity of the interface coupled with the ginormous number of apps makes it awesome for me. I’ve heard some say that it’s great as an Internet device but not so good as a phone. Fine with me; I don’t talk on the phone much anyway.

Recently, I jailbroke my iPhone.

There, I said it.

I fully expect black shirted, blue jeaned goons with an Apple logo on their lapel to break down my door. If you don’t hear from me after this, send lawyers, guns, and money to Cupertino. Or at the very least, my Apple ID to be revoked or something nasty like that.

That’s probably the worst thing about jailbreaking, the paranoia. That and the resistance to asking for support for apps. I’m afraid they’ll say, “you jailbroke your phone? Well of course our app won’t work then!”

For the record, I didn’t jailbreak my phone to unlock it. I’m perfectly happy with AT&T. I also didn’t jailbreak my phone so I could pirate software. Everything on my phone I got from the official App store, or one of the JB app stores (Rock, Cedia). I jailbroke it so I could have better access to it. I’m a UNIX geek, going back almost to the 70s, and while I knew the iPhone is running OSX (a variant of BSD UNIX), I don’t REALLY know that until I see a command prompt.

But the fact is, it’s been a wonderful experience. I like having far more control over my (yes, Apple, I said, “MY”) iPhone than Apple thinks I should. Before, I would have to go into preferences, then Wifi, to toggle wifi mode. Here, I just swipe the status bar, tap, tap, done.

And multitasking. Don’t get me started there. I’ve been doing multitasking on BSD UNIX computers since the Carter administration. And I haven’t checked, but I’m fairly sure the iPhone is a more powerful computer than the ones I used back then (okay, okay, I just checked. DEC VAX 11/750: 3.125 MHz, iPhone 3GS: 600 MHz (and yes, don’t complain to me about comparing apples and onions)). The iPhone already supports multitasking, it just doesn’t support 3rd party apps doing it. And it lacks any indication in the Springboard (iPhone’s app launcher) that an app is already running.

And having been around UNIX machines for so long, I know the dangers of multitasking. So, in the words of Brian Tong from CNET, I “use it wisely”. And in a way, I’d rather I didn’t have to. I only have one brain, and can only use one app at a time (and what separation I support can already be handled by the multitasking already in the iPhone (right brain enjoying the music on the iPod, while the left brain is doing other stuff)). But until all apps preserve your state perfectly, and are quick to launch, I do it, so I can go back and forth between apps without having 10 extra steps.

So why doesn’t Apple allow it?

I don’t think it would be that hard. One of the multitask managers I played with shows you a graphical screen, with each window being a separate app. It’s analogous to Safari and websites. And just like how Safari limits websites opened to 8 (if you open another one, it closes one of the others), there’s no reason why the multitask manager can’t limit you to, say, 8 apps. It’s not quite that simple (there are many apps that I wouldn’t want 8, or even 4 or 2 copies of running on my phone). But from a user interface point of view, it’s certainly not impossible.

So this now brings me to the iPad. As many have noted, it also doesn’t support multitasking (insofar as it has the same limitation on 3rd party apps that the iPhone has). That’s a more glaring deficiency, what with iWork and the prospect of it being a more useful device.

So, will I get an iPad? As it is now, no. Assuming I can afford it, I’ll get one if and when (a) it supports 3rd party multitasking apps, or (b) it can be jailbroken to do so. And even then, it’s a stretch. It’s much bigger than the iPhone, and doesn’t do much more. It’d be a nice sofa laptop (something you can surf the web with while you’re watching TV), but I couldn’t see leaving my laptop at home and bringing that instead.

Of course, having said that, if someone were to give me one, I wouldn’t say no. :)

Jan 10 2010

Review: Glyder 2

I got my first iPhone last summer and think it’s great. One of the first games I bought for it was Glyder. I loved how effortlessly it gave you the idea of flying. It had several challenging puzzles for you to solve, and I took to the game like, well, a duck to, umm, water?

Anyway, after a while, I stopped playing. Why? Because I solved everything on it. I even solved the entire game without crashing once. Yes, I was that obsessed with it, and it was that much fun.

Why was it fun? Years ago I wanted to hang glide, but for various reasons, never did. I think this game does a wonderful job simulating hang gliding–only better. The controls are intuitive; there’s almost no touch controls, only motion control. If you tilt the phone forward, you fly down and faster. If you tilt back, you go up and slow down. Tilt the phone left or right and you turn.

And everything in Glyder hinges on your flying ability. Throughout the world there are gems floating in the air, and the object of the game is to collect all these gems. There are also different island regions, so you collect all the gems in one area then fly to another area.

And the islands are very different. One has many caves you have to fly through. Another one consists mostly of one big building and you have to fly through the building (can’t land in the building).

It also has challenges, where you land on a colored platform labeled A and must fly to a platform with the same color labeled B within a certain time.

And that’s just Glyder, not Glyder 2.

Glyder 2 is like Glyder (different islands of course), with extras.

The aforementioned challenges act like guided tours where you are shown a series of circles and fly through each one in turn. Arrows show you where each circle is, and going through one reveals the next one. If you make it to the B platform in time, you might get some reward (more on those later).

There are other challenges. These usually take the form of some device shooting things (snowflakes, etc) in the air and you have to capture as many of them as you can in a fixed time. Other times you have to pick things up and carry them somewhere. When you succeed you get a reward.

Glyder 2, like Glyder, requires you to gather gems. But you also have to collect rewards. These can either be different wings or outfits, or could be various artifacts that are needed to solve the game. In Glyder, all you have to do is gather all the gems. But in Glyder 2, solving the game is more complex. You need some things to power other things, and you need various artifacts to power portals, etc. The artifact descriptions are gems of technobabble in themselves. For example, the Quantum Shifter is described as, “The quantum Shifter can link the temporal arc flow to the warp field modulator to enable actuate phase control in the ethereal aura.”

Wings and outfits: in Glyder, there was just one set of wings and one outfit. You couldn’t change it. But in Glyder 2, there are different kinds of wings and different outfits. The wings have different properties. Some are better at soaring high, and others are better at turning. With some, you can collect the energy gems (those shimmering gems that make you go fast) or even updrafts, and release them when you want. I don’t know of any functional difference between the outfits, but you can dress up in many different ways, ranging from ninjas to zombies.

Upside / Downside:

Upsides of Glyder 2: more of the same as Glyder, with new, more complicated challenges. Different wings and outfits give you options.

Downsides: many of the same problems with Glyder. There’s one fixed puzzle. Once you solve it, you’re mostly done. I was able to solve Glyder 2 in a weekend (albeit a very fun weekend). There’s also a bug in Glyder 2 (also in Glyder) where if you set the orientation of the phone at vertical, you’re either climbing really high or diving.

I didn’t buy Glyder 2 when it first came out mostly because I was afraid of the “one fixed puzzle” downside. I waited until it was on sale for a dollar. Would I recommend it? For a dollar, yes. For more, it depends on how easy it was to solve Glyder for you. If it was easy, you might not be happy. But there are a lot of challenges, even after you solve the main puzzle, so yes, you might like it anyway.