Archive Page 2

When Pigs Fly! (Day 110 – The Completion)

So, this is really a catch-up/close-out article to my When Pigs Fly! series covering my experience with switching to the iPhone.  You can check out the previous articles here: Day 44, Day 7, Day 3, and Day 1.

Just a random picture that I think is awesome

Why “close-out”, you ask?  Well, after 110 days with the iPhone, I finally sold it off via Craigslist.  To the credit of Apple (and the iPhone), it was very easy to sell, and I was able to get top dollar for it – around $300.  That money was then used to purchase a T-Mobile Vibrant (Samsung Galaxy S), but that’s for another post at a later date.

A natural question to ask, then, is “why”.  Why did I sell off the iPhone?  What, if anything, was wrong with it?  Truth be told, I’m not sure that I can fault the iPhone for a whole lot.  The 3GS was a nicely-built handset – probably the best I’d ever had – while also being very stable, generally speedy, and accomplishing most everything I’d asked of it. 

It wasn’t perfect, however.  I had a few crashes and/or times when the phone *seemed* to lock up for a few moments (they call that being “unresponsive”), although eventually it would return to normal.  Occasionally the device would lag – especially in the animations involved in returning to the home screen (which you do ALL THE TIME), but it mostly kept at a nice clip.

My biggest complaints, however, are perhaps (for many users) among the top reasons for wanting an iPhone in the first place: the Apple ecosystem, and the “yet-another-iPhone” factor.

Let’s discuss.

THE ECOSYSTEM
Basically, there is no escaping the Apple ecosystem when you begin using the iPhone.  Part of the phone activation has historically involved the iTunes software, getting apps onto your phone involves an iTunes account (the constant request for credentials when installing new apps is ridiculous), backing up your phone contents online involves the MobileMe service (from Apple, naturally), the default email signature says “sent from my iPhone” – and all of this while you’re using a phone with a bright n’ shiny silver apple on the back of it!  If you love Apple and all they stand for, then you’re probably fine with this.  If you loathe Apple (and all they stand for), then this is tantamount to unrelenting torture.  If you’re somewhere in-between, well, then you’re probably somewhere in-between.  Technological purgatory, I believe.

This isn’t just an Apple issue, though, as all of the major smartphone OSes have similar requirements.  An Android phone really isn’t being used properly if you’re not signed up with Gmail, Google Calendar, and other Google-centered services.  The Windows Phone is likewise centered around a Windows Live account.  It’s the way things are done these days, but I’m not a huge fan of it.  I use what I want to use, and I don’t appreciate being man-handled toward iTunes, Gmail, Hotmail, or what have you.  Thanks, but no thanks.

All in all, I probably suffered at my own hands in this regard.  Although I was willing to switch to using an iPhone – at least for a time – I wasn’t really willing to commit whole hog to their ecosystem, and, quite honestly, I shouldn’t have to. 

My $.02 on that matter.

YET ANOTHER IPHONE
I was at a birthday party a few weeks ago, and I noticed something sickening startling about halfway thru: at least half of everyone there was sporting an iPhone.  It may have been a higher percentage, to be honest. 

Now, imagine if every other person there had driven up in a dark blue Volkswagen Jetta (maybe a beige Toyota Camry is a more fitting choice).  What would the general reaction be?  Personally, I’d feel pretty lame for driving the same car that everyone else has. I suppose that generally sums up my feelings on the iPhone world.

This may also be best handled in its own blog post, but I’m one of these people that has grown up wanting to look different, listen to different music, act differently, and (generally) go outside the “norm”.  You’d think that Apple’s long-running  “Think Different” campaign would strike a chord with me, but I actually find it rather humorous how non-different the Apple world is.  Their phones, tablets, laptops, and accessories essentially look identical.  There’s nothing “different” about them, when you get right down to it, despite their marketing campaign to the contrary.  In fact, when I began using computers – back in the day – Microsoft Windows was “thinking different”!  Funny 🙂

Let’s get back to the point, though.

The mere fact that I was using yet another iPhone finally became very much of a sticking point for me.  Everywhere was iPhone, iPhone, iPhone, and it got tiresome.  Is that petty thinking?  Perhaps, but it’s honest.  What would I do, then, if “my favorite phone” suddenly became the overwhelming favorite amongst most people?  I probably wouldn’t care a whole lot, to be truthful, but it’s also worth mentioning that the other major platforms (Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, etc.) actually give you choice in what type of phone you’re buying.  They can look different, feel different, and often suit your personal preferences.  Call me crazy, but I like having some choice. 

Weird, I know.

LESSONS LEARNED
All in all, I’m rather thankful for my time with the iPhone.  I went through with the experiment, I did my time, and I got to see how the other half lives.  Quite frankly, though, I’m surprised at a couple of conclusions that I’ve come to. 

#1 — The iPhone handsets are far nicer devices – both in build and quality – than most of the phones out there.  Sure, they’ve had their issues, but they’ve also raised the bar for what consumers expect in a phone.  I’m amazed at how major manufacturers (I’m looking at you, Samsung!) continue to produce phones that feel like toys, creak in your hand, and cannot even seem to get basically functionality dialed-in.  At least Apple appears to really pour over their designs before releasing a new (or updated) device.  I like that.

#2 – Apple doesn’t really have it all nailed when it comes to UI design. 
My understanding (and what I believed *everyone else* believed) was that no one could hold a candle to Apple when it came down to user interface design.  After my time with the iPhone, however, I really (truly, honestly) don’t buy that at all.  They get a LOT right with the iPhone, for instance, and then throw in some very random interface decisions from time to time.  It’s not that you can’t eventually figure things out – you usually can – but it surprised me how often they would make interface decisions that appeared to follow no standards whatsoever – even their own.  Need to change some settings in the Maps app?  Just click the corner page curl, even though no other program has anything like that.  Need to delete a contact from your Favorites page?  Easy, just click on the “Edit” button, then the newly-revealed red circle (which now turns sideways), and then click the Delete button.  So random.

That said, if the iPhone UI is occasionally random, then the Android interface is extraordinarily random – much of it due to 3rd parties adding their own touches, nuances, and applications.  The most consistent UI that I’ve seen thus far (you can argue “best” or not, if you like) is actually found on the Windows Phone.  It is surprisingly simple, consistent, (at times) stark, and yet feels very current.  I’ll give a full Windows Phone write-up at a later date.

SO, WHERE TO FROM HERE?
It’s already been mentioned, but I finally switched from the iPhone 3GS to the T-Mobile Vibrant.

Yes, back to Android, and I wish I never had.  More on that later.

Between selling the Vibrant and purchasing my current phone, however, I borrowed an iPhone 3G (non-S) from my good friend who was gracious enough to loan it to me.  I can say this, though: it’s a good thing that I didn’t start off with a 3G, because that phone had some performance & stability issues.  Perhaps it was just that particular device, but  my understanding is that iOS 3.13 on the 3G handsets is generally known to be underwhelming.  I would call that “confirmed”.  The 3GS (and iPhone 4, I assume) is a much better experience.

Otherwise, that’s about all I have to say on this matter.  I would like to thank my wonderful wife for putting up with my technological fickleness, as well as my friend, Andrew, for the conversation/banter over the years.  Good times!

Thanks for reading.

When Pigs Fly! (Day 44)

jobs-unicorn[1] It’s been awhile since I posted on my “switch to iPhone” journey.  In fact, it’s been roughly 37 days since my last entry.  I’m still alive, my iPhone is still kickin’, and I haven’t been mocked into hiding…yet.

Actually, it’s pretty funny because an event that occurred earlier week was *exactly* what I had been expecting, and yet has happened quite infrequently thus far.  Basically, a co-worker was in my cubicle, my phone rang (and I had to grab this call), and while I’m answering my iPhone, his eyes get wide.  He mouths the words, “YOU…got an iphone?”.  I nod “yes” while continuing my conversation.  The mocking was implied and brief, but ended there.  He’ll probably end up with an iPhone too someday soon.

So, the ridicule has been relatively light, which is somewhat unexpected.  What has gone as planned is that my “utter Apple hatred” has diminished quite a bit, and I find myself feeling much less aggravated at Apple-based coverage, seeing people carrying iPhones, and all that jazz.  It’s a good thing, actually, and part of what I was shooting for – to be less emotional about technology.  No one needs to care that much.

HAS IT ALL BEEN FLOWERS AND BUTTERFLIES?

butterfly and flower_248_tcm4-20860 How can I best sum up my iPhone experience thus far?  In a word: uneventful.  I mean that in a good way.  Whereas my Android experience was wrought with aggravation and times of “oh, I guess I can’t do that”, the iPhone is stable, clever and easy-to-use.  In fact, my biggest emotion in all of this hasn’t been frustration at what Apple has been able to achieve, but rather baffling disappointment at what other phone OSes (and vendors) have NOT been able to achieve.  Honestly, it’s sad.  For all of the success that the Android platform has managed, that whole world is a mess, in my opinion, and is only getting worse with each new Android phone, modified branches of their OS, and sub-standard performance.  It’s ugly.  These phone vendors have had years to get their act together, but don’t seem to be able to.  Personally, my hope is in the next version of Windows Mobile – Windows Phone 7 – which I’m very excited about.  A nice phone + my beloved Zune Pass = one happy camper!

But you probably don’t care about that stuff.

One of the most important things to remember about testing a phone (or any platform, for that matter) is “time”.  Spending 1-week with a device really doesn’t give you an accurate representation.  I would run into this time and time again as members of the XDA forums would tout how a new ROM for their Android phone was “rock solid and fast as heck” – and this after using it for 30 minutes!  Heck, even my posting on my iPhone experiences after 7 days of usage wasn’t entirely accurate.  At this point, though, having used the iPhone for a month and a half, I feel like I know this phone fairly well.

Let’s talk about that.

GIVE US THE STRAIGHT SCOOP

I can sincerely say that the iPhone is a very stable phone, and I’m thankful for that because I’m still using a method of “unlocking” that requires me to connect to a computer when I reboot the phone.  Ugh.  Thankfully that hasn’t been an issue.  Best that I can remember, I haven’t restarted my phone in the past 4 weeks, which is great.

iphone_sadNote: just as I was typing this blog entry, my phone kinda…freaked out.  Pressing the phone button (to call voicemail) gave me a blank screen, and then I received a “sad iPhone” graphic which was followed by a “safe mode message”.  I was able to recover without restarting the phone, but the timing was absolutely classic!

Other sticklers for me are “performance” and “performance-over-time”.  Thankfully, the iPhone performs quite well in general, though that is to be expected since the processor is one of the fastest currently used in mobile phones.  Still, the OS must be taken into consideration as it has to load/unload memory on a regular basis, and in that regard the iPhone OS is surprisingly capable.  Now, I have found that the phone is “chugging” more than it used to – and I see it most often in the screen animations, which can chop from time to time.  Certainly a phone restart would resolve this and make it feel “fresh” again, but that wasn’t really my point, was it?

Of course, stability and performance don’t really account for much of anything if the phone itself isn’t very usable.  The iPhone is, of course, the “king of usability”, or so you could argue.  Spend a few minutes with the phone, and you’re ready to use it in most any fashion.  Still, it’s not perfect.  One of the biggest grips I have is with the Mail application that, for whatever reason, thinks you need to see your folder view before your Inbox.  Switching between my Yahoo! Mail and my Exchange mail, for instance, is a series of many clicks.  If I’m in my work Inbox, as an example, I have to click back to the folder view, back again to my accounts, click on my Yahoo! account, and then once more to get to my Inbox.  That’s fine and dandy, I suppose, except that most of us spend 98% of our time in our Inbox.  It ought to be the default location when I click on an account within Mail.  Hopefully the 4.0 iPhone OS will fix this, but we’ll see.  For most things, though, the current iPhone is far more useable than most devices on the market.  Kudos to Apple for that.

iphone_notification There are some obnoxious things, too.  The iPhone likes to “push” information to you – new email notifications, Facebook updates, text messages, and so on.  Personally, I like to have *some* information pushed, and the rest I’ll check when I get around to it.  In this case, I have my email checking automatically on an hourly basis, with no notifications aside from the homescreen badge stating “9” unread messages, or something like that.  Unfortunately, the Push Notifications live up to their pushy name with screens like the one to the left.  I see that screen almost every time I launch the Words With Friends app.  I’ve connected with iTunes, of course, but it didn’t help.  I could turn off the Push settings as well, but I don’t really want to.  How about a “don’t show me this message ever again” option?  Nope.  For that matter, I really wish that the iPhone would never, ever mention iTunes unless I was in the Music app (which I don’t use).  The tether that this phone has to iTunes is ridiculous, if you ask me.  That said,  you’ll never, ever get Apple to change that.   Such is the nature of the beast.

THAT’S ALL FOR NOW

So… just a passing update on my iPhone use.  All is pretty well, though I do have my eye on those soon-to-be-released Windows Phone 7 devices.  Not until they’re out on T-Mobile, though, so I’m in iPhone-land for a bit longer 🙂

Thanks for reading.

(Note for full-disclosure:  I began writing this post on April 30th, but finished it and posted in on May 3rd – in case you’re wondering why the day count/post-date doesn’t quite add up.)

Adobe Reader installs… like herding cats!

Back “in the day”, the bane of every tech guy (and a lot of end users) was installing anything from Real Networks.  The had-to-have-it RealPlayer was known for not only taking a while to install, but also *sneakily* attempting to get you to install a whole lot of other stuff that you didn’t want or need.  It was pretty aggravating, to say the least.

Thankfully, Real Networks is mostly out of our lives now, but their legacy lives on… thanks to Adobe and their Adobe Reader install process.  “But everyone uses Adobe Reader, don’t they?”  Well, yeah… that’s true.  That’s also part of the reason that Adobe thinks they can co-install a bunch of others apps along with Adobe Reader.  Although there are some fairly easy workarounds, most folks won’t know about it until after they’ve already walked through the unnecessary Adobe install process, at which point they just leave well enough alone.

Let’s take a look at that install sequence, shall we?

THE WRONG WAY

adobeReader01

  • Note the circled areas: Adobe Acrobat.com, Adobe AIR and the Google Toolbar are installed by default, regardless of whether or not you want/need those.  Only the Google Toolbar can be unchecked at this point.
  • Hit the “Download” button and proceed along to the next screen.

adobeReader02

  • In this case, we are prompted to install an add-on called “Adobe DLM”, which has never been mentioned.  The download instructions (below) encourage you to allow this install and continue.

adobeReader03

  • We are prompted once again to install “Adobe DLM”, so we play along… like most people would.

adobeReader04

  • Ahhh!  “Adobe DLM” is actually the “Adobe Download Manager”, which evidently I needed to install Adobe Reader.  Meanwhile, it proceeds to download Adobe Reader and pester me with other crud that I could install, if I wanted to.

adobeReader05 adobeReader06

  • Once completed, I have a new folder on my desktop (“Adobe Reader 9 Installer”) and two new shortcuts.  Just what I wanted.  I also have the “Adobe Reader 9” and “Acrobat_com” shortcuts in my Start Menu.  Thanks, Adobe… more clutter!

adobeReader07  adobeReader08

  • Opening MSCONFIG (great for disabling unnecessary Startup programs… but use it wisely), I find two items that are now configured to start up automatically with my computer: “Reader_sl.exe” (Reader Speed Launcher) and “AdobeARM.exe” (Adobe Reader Manager).

adobeReader09

  • Finally, I now have (4) new options in my Add/Remove Programs dialog.  Somehow my initial 37.85mb install has swelled to 245.96mb.  Certainly makes my day!
  • </sarcasm>

THE RIGHT WAY

adobeReader10

  • Hit the “Download” button to continue.

adobeReader11

  • Forget about the “AdobeDLM” requests.  Cancel those altogether.  Instead, click on the “click here to download” link just below the instructions.

adobeReader12

  • When prompted to “Run or Save this file”, choose “Run” to download and install Adobe Reader.  (Note: you can choose “Save” if you prefer to have the installer for later use, or for redistribution)
  • Let the install finish and enjoy your slimmer and trimmer Adobe Reader install.

THE OTHER RIGHT WAY

adobeReader13

  • Click on the latest major version folder (9.3, in this case)
  • Click on the “enu” folder for English (or choose your language)

adobeReader14

  • Click on the .exe file to download and install Adobe Reader
  • Done… and still “slim”

OTHER NOTES

Sadly, the full install of Adobe Reader is still about 211mb, which is quite large.  If you prefer to use a PDF reader with a smaller footprint, I recommend the free & fast Foxit Reader, which weighs in at under 10mb.  For advanced PDF features, you may still need Adobe Reader, but for 99% of the PDFs out there, Foxit Reader works just fine.

Thanks for reading.

Versions of Windows Movie Maker… on Win7

Windows-Live-Movie-Maker-Beta-Important-Update-Available[1] Opinions have differed over the years on the Windows Movie Maker line, but it’s a capable enough product.  You’re not going to be creating cutting-edge media with WMM, but for the cost (free), well… you get what you pay for.

There was some excitement when it was announced that Windows 7 would have access to an entirely new, refreshed version of Windows Movie Maker.  I say “have access to”, because the new version – Windows Live Movie Maker – would, instead, be a separate download – along with Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Photo Gallery, Windows Live Writer, and a few other things.  Certainly leaving some of those *core* products out of Windows 7 wasn’t everyone’s favorite decision, but it keeps the OS slimmer & trimmer.  That’s a good thing.

Sadly, the new Windows Live Movie Maker is probably not the follow-up that most folks were hoping for.  While it does utilize the updated ribbon bar interface, which is nice, most of the improvements end there.  The ever-usable “timeline” view is gone, taking a “picture from a preview” is no longer offered, and the ability to manually “stretch” objects out to adjust the timing has been replaced with manually typing in values.  It’s too bad, too, because the updated Windows Movie Maker could’ve really hit it outta the park, but the more I use it, the more I find things that I cannot do that I used to be able to.

Thankfully, there is some good news. 

For starters, WMM 2.6 is available for download, and seems to work just fine on Vista or Windows 7 – both 32-bit and 64-bit.  Even better, the WMM version that was updated for Windows Vista (ver 6.0) works on Win7 as well, provided you download the proper version for your OS, and then run a simple batch file.  Version 6.0 (released with Vista) included new effects and transitions, support for hardware acceleration, and some newer file formats.  Also, the UI is a refreshed & improved version of the WMM 2.6 interface. 

Why offer both versions?  Well… the 6.0 version offered some hardware acceleration features that not every Vista machine supported.  For those users, the refreshed XP version of WMM was released as version 2.6.  Confused?  Don’t worry about it.  For most folks, the shipped Vista version (6.0) is the best of the bunch, so…

Let’s take a look at installing that.

First…

Second…

  • Extract the “Movie Maker” folder and copy it to your C:\Program Files directory.  (Note: for 64-bit users, the “C:\Program Files (x86)” folder will not be used in this case, since the 64-bit version of WMM is a true 64-bit application.)
  • Open the “Movie Maker” folder that you just extracted.
  • Right-click on the “reregdlls.bat” file and choose to “Run as administrator”.  Choose ‘yes’ when prompted and allow the batch file to run.  It should only take a moment.
  • Finally, left-click on the “moviemk.exe” file and drag it onto your Start button to “pin it to the Start Menu”.
  • Open the Start Menu, click on “Windows Movie Maker”, and go!

The "reregdlls" batch file will register some important DLL files

Right-click on the batch file and "run as administrator"

Left-click the "moviemk.exe" file and drag it to your Start button

Now you have a Windows Movie Maker link in your Start Menu!

Notes:

  • Although both versions of Windows Movie Maker (2.6 and 6.0) can function along side Windows Live Movie Maker just fine, it appears that the 2.6 and 6.0 versions stomp on each other somewhat.  I recommend that you choose just one of those versions to have running on your Win7 system – with 6.0 being the better of the two.
  • The 2.6 (XP) version works fine on Windows 7, but seems to have a few issues – either by design, or by running on an OS that it was not intended for.  For instance, the “collections” view won’t show your imported video files – those have to be selected directly.  Also, importing video files takes quite a while, and then breaks them into “chunks” rather than the whole video file.
  • The 6.0 (Vista) version is obviously not intended to be ripped from Vista, so your experience under Win7 may vary and/or be problematic.  Haven’t heard of any issues, though.

Windows Movie Maker 2.6 (Vista/Win7 refresh of the WMM XP version)

WMM 2.6 - the older interface WMM 2.6 running on Win7 64-bit

Windows Movie Maker 6.0 (Vista-released version, 32-bit or 64-bit)

WMM 6.0 - the refreshed interface WMM 6.0 running on Win7 64-bit

Windows Live Movie Maker (Downloadable for Windows 7)

Windows Live Movie Maker

Finally, a special thanks to this forum for pointing me in the right direction!

Hope you enjoy using Windows Movie Maker on Windows 7!

When Pigs Fly! (Day 7)

SteveJobs_KoolAid My view of Apple has long been one of the “Kool-Aid Factor”, with Steve Jobs selling you something that you neither needed nor necessarily wanted.  I’m convinced that Mr. Jobs would gladly saw off your leg and sell it back to you – at a profit to himself, naturally.  Some of that stems from my long-held anti-Apple bias, but also from what I’ve seen from him over the years – namely, not a whole lot other than a slave-driver mentality and a “be the best no matter what the cost” work ethic.  Love him or hate him, Steve Jobs is probably both neurotic and slightly genius, though he’s done wonders for Apple Computers.  No doubt about it.

Anyhow, enough of that.

So, it was just over a week ago that, after much sweat + toil + tears, I switched to an iPhone and blogged about the experience.  After a few more days, I blogged again.  It’s blog-a-mania!  Part of me wishes that I would’ve had nothing but hassles and problems with the iPhone.  (That’s the anti-Apple part of me, if you hadn’t figured it out.)  The other part of me just wanted to have a phone that I could be happy with, and the iPhone seems to have satisfied that, for the most part.  Honestly.  I don’t have a lot to complain about, and the complaints that I do have are pretty nitpicky.

IT’S ALL RAINBOWS AND UNICORNS

unicorn-rainbowThat heading is a bit tongue-in-cheek, of course, but my experience with the iPhone over this past week as been overwhelmingly positive.  It turns on when I want it to, checks my email, browses the web, takes pictures, connects to wifi, makes calls, ends calls, uses my Bluetooth headset (without hassle), and so forth. 

As well as those other things, it turns out that I’m “messing with my phone” less than I used to, and I mean that in a good way.  With my Android phone(s), for instance, I felt like I was constantly fiddling with things – settings, volume, killing apps, freeing memory, and so on.  I felt like I was doing more work than the phone was doing, which gets old quickly.  With the iPhone, though, I’ve really been more focused on what I *do* with the phone, rather than the phone itself.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE DETRACTORS

Well, I guess I was one of the detractors, wasn’t I?  Truth be told, I rarely had anything bad to say about the iPhone itself.  My beef was (and has long been) with Apple as a company, and thus my unwillingness to use their products. 

Yeah, I heard that <snort> in the background.  The irony is thick.

There are a few things that folks have knocked the iPhone for over the years:  lack of  multi-tasking, closed ecosystem, no physical keyboard, uncustomizable, lack of “copy & paste”, dropped calls, battery life, no removable battery, lack of Flash support, and others.  Let’s hit on some of these issues.

  • Multi-Tasking:  So, the iPhone does NOT have true multi-tasking as we understand it.  If I’m watching a YouTube video, click the Home button, make a call, and then go back to the YouTube app, I’ll find that I’ve been bumped out of the video back to the select screen again.  The real question is this:  is that a problem?  Both Android and Windows Mobile (6.5 and earlier) have real multi-tasking, which is often touted as a “feature”.  In my experience with both platforms, though, it really ended up meaning that the user needed to work at keeping the apps killed or under control.  In fact, one oftaskiller[1] the first apps I would install on Android is “Taskiller”, with it set to ‘kill background apps’ – and this was just to keep the phone running reasonably snappy.  Sound familiar?  I’m basically trying to emulate what the iPhone does by default.

    When it really comes down to it, multi-tasking should be used in scenarios where it makes sense.  How many things can I really do at one time on my phone?  If I can do more than one thing, is it sensible to prefer that over snappy system response?  Personally, I don’t think so.  I’m also hearing that the upcoming Windows Phone 7 Series will “multi-task” similar to the iPhone.  They’re being pretty much worked over for making that choice too, but I think it’s the right one – at least for now.

  • Closed Ecosystem:  Yeah, the iPhone ecosystem is shut tighter than the Bill Gates’ estate.  Apple has always maintained strict control of their devices, and the iPhone is no different.  I wouldn’t expect this to change until Apple sees it really hurting their bottom line.  Until then, they get to call the shots on what people see, what people use, and (for the most part) how well it works.  I don’t agree with this standpoint, but I don’t disagree with it either.  It is what it is.
  • No Physical Keyboard:  Apple certainly chose this for aesthetic reasons, but the truth is that their virtual keyboard works great.  In fact, I can probably type faster on the iPhone keyboard than I could on my old T-Mobile Dash.  I’m annoyed when trying to access ‘symbols’ to type, but even that works out over time.
  • iPhoneSnoreUncustomizable:  Truth is, *every single iPhone* looks the same.  Sure,  it might have a funky case on the outside, or a wacky wallpaper on the unlock screen, but past that they are identical: a wall of colorful icons.  You can move the icons around, as I have, and even choose to have none on  your homescreen, but hardly anyone does that.  An iPhone looks like iPhone.  Is this an advantage?  Sure.  Apple knows what every iPhone user is going to have in front of them, so supporting it – both for the end-user *and* developer – is much easier.  The down side?  Well, it’s a bit boring.  In the Apple world, we would all have walls of icons, brushed metal status bars, and screens that suck into the trash can like a Ghostbusters gun.  I’d like to see Apple take their mastery of the UI world, and put it toward giving the end-user some real, creative control.  Now *that* would be amazing.
  • Cut & Paste:  This functionality was added with the release of iPhone OS 3.0.  It’s handy and all that, but (honestly) I rarely have a real need for it.  Glad to have it, but the world wouldn’t end if it wasn’t there.
  • Dropped Calls:  Mud has been slinging since day one on the issue of the iPhone dropping calls regularly.  Since my buddy Andy has seen about an 80% decrease in this behavior since jailbreaking and moving (back) to T-Mobile, I’m going to pin this issue primarily on AT&T and their bloated network.  That said, I *have* noticed that my iPhone drops signal more quickly than my previous phones, so there is something there that Apple should own as well.
  • Battery Life:  I’m calling this a relative non-issue.  With most options turned on by default – push email, wifi, Bluetooth – every phone I’ve used has had pretty poor battery life.  The iPhone has faired as well as, if not better, than the MyTouch3G.  Figure out what you *need* to have on, and then turn off the rest.  Dialing back the “push email” to check every hour or so will definitely help with battery life.  Do you really need to have email *instantly* sucked down to your phone when you’re working at your desk – in front of your primary email client — for 8 hours per day?  Yeah.  I thought not.
  • Lack of Removable Battery:  I hear that the next iPhone *might* have a user replaceable battery, but I’ll believe it when I see it.  In the meantime, the geniuses at Apple have to replace the battery for you – and at a significant cost.  That sucks.  Thankfully, the iPhone batteries appear to hold up pretty well, and most people I know go through phones so quickly it probably doesn’t even matter.
  • iphonewithflash[1] Lack of Abobe Flash Support
    Steve Jobs claims that adding Adobe Flash support would absolutely ruin the blemish-free iPhone experience – both in performance, and in battery life.  I call “lame”.  Let users choose to run Flash if they want.  Personally, I don’t really care.  I find *most* Flash-enabled websites to be obnoxious, but “choice” is nice.  You know, choice?

THAT’S ENOUGH FOR TODAY

Alright.  Let’s stop beating this worn-out piñata and call it a day, shall we? 

All in all, my iPhone experience has been very good so far.  Not perfect, mind you, but very good.  I’ll rant about some of those things in a few days.

Thanks for reading.

Making Win7 Even More Usable: Part 1 – Hibernate

Win7moreUsable_logo I haven’t exactly hidden my love for Windows 7.  Having used it for over a year now (including the “Beta” and “RC” versions), I’m pretty darned used to it… and it’s great! 

Now, I was also a fan of Vista – albeit through slightly gritted teeth.  You see, although I didn’t personally have a lot of issues with Windows Vista, I certainly ran across my fair share – especially in the work place, and especially with laptops.  Vista was a very capable operating system, but something was wrong with it.  I don’t know what it was, but it had some deep down issues that are hard to put my finger on.  I don’t normally advise folks to upgrade their operating system as a “fix” for anything, but I make an exception with upgrading to Windows 7.  I have quite literally seen issues *disappear* after wiping Vista out and installing Win7 – no other changes made.

I guess it is what it is.

So, I love Win7, right?  Yeah, I do.  I think it’s great, but it’s not perfect.  Funny thing is, most of the ways that I would change Windows 7 are done through simple tweaks, not major changes.  I thought I’d share those with the masses.

Here we go… my first item to “make Win7 even more usable”:

START USING HIBERNATE

hibernate00 Microsoft made a lot of headway in regards to power management with both Vista and Windows 7, but in my opinion they are rarely utilized as they ought to be. 

Case in point: Hibernation.

People often complain about the time it takes to start up and shut down their PC.  I agree.  Part of the issue is over-installing crapware onto your box, much of which starts itself up when the computer first boots.  Sadly, most people don’t know how to take care of that, and I’m not going to get into it here.  The other part of it, though, is that most folks are doing a full SHUT DOWN every single time they turn their computer off.  Microsoft hasn’t made this any easier, since it’s the default option – and most people I know can’t tell you the difference between Sleep, Hibernate, and Shut Down.

But I’m gonna.

  • Sleep – this mode puts your computer into a low-power state.  Your computer and operating system are still fully running, but in an unusable “groggy” state that uses much less battery/power.  Shaking the mouse, hitting the keyboard, or tapping the power button usually wakes the computer up again, and you’re ready to go back to work – typically within 5 seconds or so.  “Sleep” is the default state for laptops when you close the lid.  Most computers will move to “Hibernate” or “Shut Down” after being asleep for too long.
  • Hibernate – this mode takes the current state of your computer, writes it to the harddisk, and then shuts the computer off completely – typically  faster than a true “Shut Down”.  There is no battery or power being used when you “Hibernate”.  The system is completely off. 
    win7-boot-800x600[1]The biggest benefit, perhaps, comes when you turn the system back on again.  Instead of cycling through the normal Startup process – including services, start up apps, reinitializing devices, etc. – it simple reads from the hibernation file that was created when it was powered off.  This means that the bootup time is typically about 50% faster, and is ready to use when you login – meaning that the system isn’t still loading up services, startup apps, and whatever else when you login.  Getting to the login screen or desktop is all fine and dandy, but what really means something is the Startup-to-Usable-State boot time, and Hibernation is clearly faster in this regard – by quite a bit.  Otherwise, you will find no discernible difference when using Hibernate – just faster to boot up and shut down.  That’s good stuff.
  • Shut Down – most people are familiar with Shutting Down their computer, so I won’t belabor this one too much.  Basically, when you Shut Down your computer, services are stopped, all programs are closed, and the computer is turned off completely.  No battery or power is being used.  Starting up from a previous Shut Down state means that the OS starts up all services, loads Startup programs, and initializes the interface.  It can certainly take a while, and the Startup-to-Usable-State boot time can be quite long, especially if you have a lot of services and/or Startup programs.

Here’s the deal: each option has its purpose.  If you’re walking away from your computer for 15 minutes, especially a laptop running on (precious) battery power, then put it to Sleep.  Do you need to install some updates and turn the computer off, then choose the Shut Down option.  Otherwise, the Hibernate option is the best option for everything else – meaning 95% of the time you need to shut down your computer down for any length of time – be it for a few hours, overnight, or weeks at a time (hibernation files don’t wear out or expire).

Honestly, Microsoft should’ve made “Hibernate” the default option.  As it is, you typically have to run through a bunch of hoops to make it the standard option for powering down.

Here’s how to do that:

  • Check if the Hibernate option is available.  Click on the Start button, select the arrow to the right hibernate01of the Shut Down text, and then see if “Hibernate” is available in your menu of options.  If “yes”, then continue to the next step.  If “no”, check out this page to enable Hibernation.  For most laptops, the option should be there by default.  On desktop machines, however, it likely has to be enabled manually.  It’s worth the effort, though.
  • hibernate02Set “Hibernate” as the default Start Menu option.  Right-click on the taskbar and choose Properties.  Select the “Start Menu” (middle) tab.   Finally, choose “Hibernate” from the Power Button Action drop-down menu.  Hit OK when done.  Now the default option for powering down your computer will be “Hibernate”.  (Note that the “Shut Down” option is still possible by clicking the options arrow to the right of the “Hibernate” text.)
  • Power Button set to “Hibernate” (OPTIONAL).  Personally, I find it *most* handy to have the physical power button set to “Hibernate” as hibernate03 well – especially for a laptop computer.  On our laptop, for instance, the computer “Sleeps” when the lid is closed, and then “Hibernates” when asleep for a certain period of time – say 4 hours, or so.  Otherwise, when I’m done using the computer for the day, I hit the physical power button and close the lid.  The computer hibernates itself and powers off.  Nice.

    So, to do this you need to adjust thehibernate04 Power Options for Windows 7.  Click on the Start button, type “power” in the search field, and then select the Power Options icon when it’s found.   On the left-hand side, select the ‘Choose What The Power Buttons Do’ link.  Select the first drop-down box (“When I press the power button:”) and choose “Hibernate” from the options given.  Finally, hit the Save Changes button and you’re done.  Now hitting the physical power button will initiate the “Hibernate” sequence.hibernate05

    Another option (while you’re changing what the power buttons do) is to “Require a password” when you boot your system and/or resume from sleep.  Although a bit of a hassle to some, protecting your data is serious business, even if it means having to type in your password more often than you’d like.  “Password protection on wakeup” is highly recommended for all users.

WRAPPING UP PART 1

So, that’s all for the first post in this series.  Look for another addition to this guide in a week or so.

Thanks for reading.

When Pigs Fly! (Day 3)

poison_apple[1] Having switched over to an iPhone a few days ago, I thought it best to keep a running blog of how things are going: my likes, dislikes, surprises, frustrations, and so forth.  After all, this is a pretty big change for a guy like me 🙂

The reaction to my switchover has been, more or less, as I expected.  A few “traitor” remarks here and there, some “finally”-type sentiments, and the usual “I think you’ll enjoy it” comments that generally don’t seem to have any strings attached.  The biggest surprise (as far as comments are concerned) are those folks who haven’t said anything at all.  It makes me nervous.

For the most part, the experience so far has lacked much fanfare – and I mean that in a good way.  I had to jailbreak my phone (for use on T-Mobile), and that process was a bit more problematic than I’d expected, but that shouldn’t even factor into my thoughts on the iPhone platform.  I’m trying to keep those types of experiences entirely separate from the rest.

Without further ado, here is a quick run-down of my likes, dislikes, etc:

LIKES

  • Stability has been great.  No crashed apps (not that I’ve used tons) and no real issues to speak of.
  • Performance is snappy and consistent.  One of my grips with my Android phone(s) was the sluggishness that I would come across on a regular basis – whether swiping screens side-to-side, opening the browser, or using the maps app.  For that matter, everything could slow down from time to time, and it was aggravating.  Although I’ve seen a few screens on the iPhone chug for a brief moment, they are few and far between.  Even better, the built-in apps (phone, mail, browser, photos, etc.) typically open up immediately.  That’s nice to see.
  • Fairly intuitive.  This is an interesting line item, because Apple (and theIMG_0286 iPhone, specifically) is touted as being the creme de la creme of user interfaces.  While the interface has by and large been easy to navigate, there are a number of things that I wouldn’t call “intuitive”.  Once you know it, of course, it’s easy to use and remember, but they weren’t exactly easy to find.  Case in point: if in the email list view you swipe the right-hand side of an email message, you are prompted with a “delete” button.  Nice!  But I would’ve had NO idea that was there if I hadn’t seen someone else do it.  Also, that particular behavior works on other parts of the UI, but not everywhere.
  • Battery life is quite decent.  I had been on numerous occasions that the battery life was going to be a real sore spot with me, so I was expecting the worst.  I’ve learned to be pretty frugal with my mobile devices, so I did the same here.  3G is “off” (since I’m on T-Mobile), wifi is “off” by default (‘cause I rarely use it), and push email is “off” (I sync every hour).  I do leave bluetooth turned “on”, but I might change that if I find a decent homescreen toggle for that.  All in all, I usually have well over 50% battery by the end of the day, which is about what my Android phone gave me.
  • Fast camera!  The camera on the iPhone 3GS is pretty darned quick – especially compared to the dog-slow camera on the MyTouch 3G.  Fewer “blurry” shots and missed photos is a good thing.
  • Great virtual keyboard.  The iPhone virtual keyboard isn’t great, but it’sIMG_0287 better than just about every other one I’ve used.  On the Android devices, for instance, the stock virtual keyboard was nice looking and fairly responsive.  The HTC version of the virtual keyboard was a step up in many ways, but at the expense of occasional sluggishness.  The ability to hold down a letter and get an ALT character was really nice, though, and I miss that when I’m typing other characters – question marks, commas, etc..  Certainly room for improvement here, but the iPhone keyboard certainly gets the job done.
  • Stock apps are good.  Apple just had to nail this one, and I think they did.  The basic stuff — phone, mail, messaging, browser, etc. – is very well done.  Never particularly exciting, mind you, but it works and works well.
  • Take a screenshot.  With the iPhone, you can quickly hit the Power button and Home button at the same time to snap a photo of the current screen.  Very cool.
  • Double-tap Home for your ‘favorites’.  I don’t know if this is a stock setting or not, but the ability to double-tap the Home button to access my dialer ‘favorites’ is a super-nice touch.  More or less a speed dialer, which I absolutely have to have.  Nice work, Apple!
  • Proximity sensor.  My iPhone buddy, Andy, doesn’t even really think about this one anymore, because he’s been using an iPhone for so long.  Coming from Android, though, it is the bee’s knees!  Basically, the phone goes dark when I’m on a phone call and my face is against the phone.  Pull it away from my face and it lights up again.  Yes!  Not only is it majorly convenient, but it saves battery life and unnecessary phone press mishaps.  Every touchscreen phone should do this, but I have feeling that Apple owns the patent.

DISLIKES

  • I’m embarrassed.  You’d probably expect this from a long-time Apple hater, but I’m quite frankly embarrassed to have an iPhone.  I find myself trying to hide it when I can, or just leave it in my pocket.  It’s kinda like I just “came out of the closet”, except  that I didn’t.  The embarrassment factor will likely change over time.
  • Animations up the wazoo!  I like a nice visual cue in the form of anIMG_0284 animation as much as the next guy, but the iPhone is totally over the top, in my opinion.  Screens spring open, rotate, roll back, flip around, whizz, bang, and whatever else.  It’s a bit corny, if you ask me, especially the “trash” animations when you delete a photo.  Geeeeeeez.  Also, if you press and hold a home screen icon, you can move them around (fine), but why do they have to shake the whole time?  Crazy… and ugly.
  • Slippery sucker.  I won’t beat this one any longer, but the stock casing is just plain ol’ slippery – almost requiring a case of some sort, which I don’t like.  Apple should get over themselves and fix this.  It’s dangerous.
  • Not always consistent.  Again, from a company that is viewed as “writing the book” on great interfaces, I find some strange disconnects when using the iPhone.  For instance, the Maps app has a little folding corner in the lower-right.  What’s up with that?  Sure it’s neat, but there’s nothing else like it that I can find.  Why does the top bar (battery, time, etc.) have to look different depending upon where I’m at?
  • Some ugly default icons.  This is a personal preference item, of course,IMG_0285 but some of the stock homescreen icons are flat-out ugly.  In particular, the Photo app (sunflower) icon annoys me, as does the App Store icon.  Also, the Weather app icon really ought to show me the current temperature, rather than showing 73 degrees all of the time.
  • Screen is strange when turned off.  Let me explain, if I can.  I’ve never seen this on another mobile device, but the iPhone screen is almost naked when turned off.  It has a very gray/brown color, and I can clearly see the edges, which are a tad smaller than the screen frame.
  • Just another connector for the collection.  I would like to see some standardization with mobile devices and connectors.  Previous to the iPhone, nearly all of my personal mobile devices used a mini-USB connector.  My phone, our camera, bluetooth headset, and so on.  Now I’ve got yet another connector cluttering up my desk, and I find it unnecessary.  To be fair, the Zune has a proprietary connector too.  Why can’t they just standardize on one and stick with it?  Oh, well.
  • Buttons that are difficult to use.  I’ve used a number of mobile devices over the years, and the iPhone’s physical buttons/switches are among my least favorite – save for the “joggr bar” on the T-Mobile Dash (oh… my… word!).  The iPhone volume buttons are hard for me to find while I’m on a call, the “silent” switch is awkward (in my opinion), and the top ON/OFF switch is difficult to reach one-handed.  I’ve seen better implementations of all three.
  • Needs better volume/silent management.  To be fair, Android wasn’tIMG_0283 any better at this, but the iPhone has no way to automatically switch you in and out of “silent” mode.  Windows Mobile has had an “automatic” profile for years that would put your phone in silent mode whenever you were in a meeting (based upon your calendar events) and return to the normal ring mode when done.  I found a pay app called “Auto Silent” that can do this on the iPhone, but it should be built in.  The “Locale” app for Android takes it even further, but for $10 I’m guessing that a lot of folks will go without.  These types of features oughta be stock, if you ask me.
  • Tethered Jailbreak*.  This is specific to my firmware and hardware type, but it really sucks.  Basically, every time I reboot my phone, I have to connect it to my computer and run “blackra1n”.  Really lame, and slightly unnerving.

There you have it!  More to come in the days ahead…