Tag Archives: apple

The iPhone 5

A few weeks before the iPhone 5 was even announced, before all the rumours, part leaks, before all of that, I wondered what I was going to do with my old iPhone 4.

See, I’m on the “good” iPhone cycle: my first iPhone was the 3G, then the 4, and now, the 5. I skipped the first iPhone due to it not being available in Australia, skipped the 3GS due to still being on a contract, and skipped the 4S for the same reason.

For many, this two-year contract cycle is nothing new, the natural progression of things if you’re not a compulsive upgrader, and/or don’t have the funds to buy a new iPhone every year.

In any case, as I pondered what I was going to do with my old iPhone, it dawned on me: why not sell it off and use another phone I had lying around? As I dwelled on this, it began to make more and more sense; by selling the two-year-old iPhone 4 off, I’d get a few dollars more than I would have if I sold it off after the release of the iPhone 5.

Question my committal if you want, but as a test, I pulled out my trusty old Nexus S to see how I’d fare using Android for a few weeks. Jelly Bean had just just been released, you see, and now was as good a time as any to test the latest and greatest Android release, on hardware around the same age as my iPhone 4.

This was my first mistake.

It’s not that I hate Android. Really, it’s not. It’s just that, for me personally, Android doesn’t quite gel as much as iOS does. Things are less fluid. Third party app quality just isn’t there.

But like any curious and “bored with iOS” technology enthusiast, I forged on.

This was my second mistake. For two weeks, it was nothing but constant grating. Me constantly fighting the OS on what I wanted to do versus what it allowed me to do. I’d imagine my experiences with Android during the few weeks of pain would have been an approximation of an abusive relationship of some kind.

Sure, it was stable enough. I only saw a few crashes here and there, mostly from apps labelled as beta in the Play Store. Sure, there were apps available for all the popular things I used on iOS: Twitter, Instagram, Instapaper, and even a Dropbox-syncing, Markdown-supporting, plain text editor.

But the thing is, it’s been a year since I last looked at Android, and I found myself going back to the same apps I used last time around, simply because no better alternatives exist. Actually, that’s not entirely true: there’s now and official Instapaper client for Android. Other than that, the Android app landscape is blacker than black. Where are all the good quality apps?

Suffice to say, my Android experience, Jelly Bean and all, was pretty bad. Two weeks later (I had originally planned to stick it out for at least a couple of months, until the iPhone 5 was out), I was crawling back to my iPhone 4 and begging it to take me back.

In some ways, Android reminds me of the desktop Linux experience. It has its advantages, but probably won’t ever reach mass popularity with non-technology-minded people due to inherent issues with the ecosystem and how things work. Unless its locked down and given a stern talking-to, developers won’t be attracted to it anytime soon. And that means it will stagnate.

But enough about Android and mediocre software experiences combined with stellar hardware specs packaged in the cheapest plastic you’ve ever felt. I’ve since sold off my Nexus S and have acquired the iPhone 5.

It’s amazing.

Thinner. Lighter. Faster. All these verbs are true of the iPhone 5, but I still want to talk about three main aspects which make it all worth it.

Continue Reading →

How Google Builds Its Maps—and What It Means for the Future of Everything

Let’s step back a tiny bit to recall with wonderment the idea that a single company decided to drive cars with custom cameras over every road they could access. Google is up to five million miles driven now. Each drive generates two kinds of really useful data for mapping. One is the actual tracks the cars have taken; these are proof-positive that certain routes can be taken. The other are all the photos. And what’s significant about the photographs in Street View is that Google can run algorithms that extract the traffic signs and can even paste them onto the deep map within their Atlas tool.

[…]

Google Street View wasn’t built to create maps like this, but the geo team quickly realized that computer vision could get them incredible data for ground truthing their maps. Not to detour too much, but what you see above is just the beginning of how Google is going to use Street View imagery. Think of them as the early web crawlers (remember those?) going out in the world, looking for the words on pages. That’s what Street View is doing. One of its first uses is finding street signs (and addresses) so that Google’s maps can better understand the logic of human transportation systems. But as computer vision and OCR improve, any word that is visible from a road will become a part of Google’s index of the physical world.

via How Google Builds Its Maps—and What It Means for the Future of Everything – Alexis C. Madrigal – The Atlantic.

A super-cool read on why Google’s Maps product might be the best thing on the web since Google itself (and why it’ll always be better than whatever Apple can come up with in this regard).

Google drove cars practically everywhere — on multiple continents, in different countries, states, territories — and took photos while they were doing it. That’s pretty mind-blowing in and of itself, but when you consider they can then use that information to enhance digital maps back in Mountain View?

Amazing.

Why Does Every PC Notebook’s Trackpad Suck? (Or Why Microsoft Is Building its Own Hardware) | PandoDaily

But when you move away from those machines into computers that are more like appliances, you get the sort of clunkers that now clog the ultrabook market. They’re cheaper than the Air, they have better specs than the Air, and yet—because of things like terrible trackpads—they fall far short of the Air.

via Why Does Every PC Notebook’s Trackpad Suck? (Or Why Microsoft Is Building its Own Hardware) | PandoDaily.

Form vs Function vs Intention

image design history

Some people give Apple a hard time about having a similar design language from Braun products from the 60s. The thing is, Apple isn’t simply copying visual cues from the past like Olympus or Pentax. Apple is taking what Dieter Rams has learned from Braun and implementing those philosophies into a modern product with a modern approach. Through this process, Apple is not only producing beautiful products but is also pushing the boundaries of materials, like aluminum and glass. Great artists steal. Stealing isn’t the same as copying. The OM-D’s equivalent in Apple’s world would be the next iMac looking like the first generation Bondi Blue iMac just for nostalgia sake.

via Coffee Time: Form vs Function vs Intention  – journal – minimally minimal.

The actual article describes how the new Olympus OM-D pays homage to the humble OM from which it takes many of its design cues, but there’s a nice paragraph about Apple I just had to quote.

Portrait of the Google as a great artist

Apple created and introduced what we now understand to be — and experience as — the modern smartphone.

It threw out inessential crap like hard buttons and extraneous sliders. It revolutionized battery life in high-power devices. It incorporated technology that understands how you’re holding a device so you don’t have to worry about, for example, switching from portrait to landscape displays. It designed an original yet intuitive interface that even the least tech-savvy person can understand immediately…

via Kind of a Hater • Portrait of the Google as a great artist.

Apple’s iBooks Author, Interactive Textbooks, and All That Jazz

Below is an article that I wrote for MacTalk a few weeks ago. Thought I’d post it up here for posterity. Published without pictures unlike the MacTalk version.

Alternatively, Apple’s latest foray into the big bad world of education (and why it matters).

I’ve now had the whole weekend to think about what Apple’s education event means. Somewhere between the new Star Wars MMO, some epic rounds of Battlefield 3, and something that I’m calling “general internet procrastination”, I’ve thought about the implications for the education sector that this event has wrought.

As a quick recap, Apple released iBooks Author for the Mac alongside a plan to shake up the textbook industry as we know it (also featuring the iPad, iTunes U, and a few big-name publishers). There are those that think Apple don’t care about pros anymore, but Apple’s education event held in New York was proof enough that (and perhaps now more than ever), Apple cares about education.

What happens when you can’t see the forest for the trees?
Before we get into the meat of what all this really means for the future of education as we know it, I’d like to dispel a few misconceptions about iBooks Author that seem to have cropped up.

Firstly, there’s a few people getting caught up in the iBooks Author EULA, and how it apparently (depending on your preferred interpretation) dictates, totalitarian-style, what you can and cannot do with the app. Specifically, people have their underpants in a twist over the fact that books created using iBooks Author can only be sold via Apple; the question is, is that actually so unreasonable? Some say the whole situation draws certain parallels to the similar iOS/Mac app and Xcode equivalent, but others still say that’s different because Xcode doesn’t attempt to dictate what you can and cannot do with output from that app — iBooks Author, on the other hand, does. If we’re being really pedantic, there are even those that liken the iBooks Author EULA terms to what would happen if Adobe said you could only use files originating from Photoshop in a certain way. Those people are pretty far off the mark.

Let’s get one thing clear: Apple isn’t taking your copyright away.

Your content that you put into the app is still your content, you still retain full copyright of whatever material you put into an iBook, and pigs still don’t fly. Frankly, I think the whole “iBooks Author is telling me what I can and can’t do with files I produce using the app” is just a cry from those who are overly concerned about proprietary software and certain usage scenarios. Yes, Apple should probably open up iBooks Author (and iBooks themselves) to an iOS-like enterprise implementation, where books can be distributed internally in a company without having first been published to a public iBookstore. For the moment though, selling your iBooks through the iBookstore just means that you’ll get many more eyeballs on your content than if try to hawk it yourself. It’s also important to note at this point in time that you’re still very much permitted to give your work away for free — Apple aren’t preventing you from sticking your iBooks Author-produced iBook up on your website somewhere and letting it people download it for free. No, I guess the message from Apple here is that iBooks created using iBooks Author are much like iOS apps you create using Xcode: feel free to do other things with your iBook, but if you want to sell it, your best chance of success lies in the iBookstore.

Continue Reading →

Graphing Calculator Story

I asked my friend Greg Robbins to help me. His contract in another division at Apple had just ended, so he told his manager that he would start reporting to me. She didn’t ask who I was and let him keep his office and badge. In turn, I told people that I was reporting to him. Since that left no managers in the loop, we had no meetings and could be extremely productive. We worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Greg had unlimited energy and a perfectionist’s attention to detail. He usually stayed behind closed doors programming all day, while I spent much of my time talking with other engineers. Since I had asked him to help as a personal favor, I had to keep pace with him. Thanks to an uncurtained east-facing window in my bedroom, I woke with the dawn and usually arrived ten minutes before Greg did. He would think I had been working for hours and feel obliged to work late to stay on par. I in turn felt obliged to stay as late as he did. This feedback loop created an ever-increasing spiral of productivity.

via Graphing Calculator Story.

Possibly my favourite Apple-related story, ever.

Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner with Android — Part Deux

 

In my previous post in the series, I detailed a few of the more user-facing things about Android, like app management, music syncing, and so on. In this post, I intend to talk more about some of the finer points of things like text selection, general usability, and finally wrap it up at the end with a few choice sentences about Android as a whole and how it compares to other mobile platforms. If the previous post was about a 3 (not quite computer illiterate and yet not quite your average nerd) on the Benny Ling official scale of nerdery, this post is about a 6 or a 7 (getting up there). Not to mention it’s fairly long… You have been warned!

You want to talk about fragmentation? Okay, let’s talk about fragmentation. Fragmentation isn’t an issue. Geeks like us might like to harp on the fact that everything (apps-wise) doesn’t run on, everything (hardware-wise), or that some apps are restricted to certain regions, or that different versions run on different devices, but the fact of the matter is, fragmentation isn’t an issue for most end users. I say “most”, because if you’re one of the unlucky few who has chosen either the cheapest Android phone you could find, or somehow gotten stuck with a manufacturer notorious for releasing updates very slowly, or even worse, not at all, then, then, fragmentation might be an issue. You can hardly blame Google for your fragmentation issues though, as it’s up to manufacturers to release updates for their phones, which also makes it super-easy for them to drop support in way of software updates for a particular phone. Exactly why I would only ever buy an Android phone either from the Nexus series (as you’re guaranteed software updates, it being the flagship Android phone at any given time)), or from HTC, or any of the other big players (Samsung just manages to sneak in here) — any other manufacturer is a crapshoot. I mean, sure you can put the latest ROM or whatever from XDA Developers on your Motorola Milestone, but do you really want to learn about bootloaders, custom restore images, and all that kind of stuff? Perhaps if you’re a geek, otherwise, probably not.

First seen in iOS, there’s a rather nice visual feedback effect to let you know when you have reached the end of a long list, or scrolled to the bottom of a webpage. The UI “bounces” to let you know there’s no more content, the scrollbar appears for a second to do the same, and you can go about your merry business. Android 2.3 brings a similar sort of effect, only instead of a UI bounce, you see a nice flash or orange whenever you reach the end of a scrollable section. It’s pretty nicely done — as you drag more and more away from the edge, you get more and more visual feedback (but only the very edge is tinted with orange, the rest is a semi-transparent white that builds upon the orange effect).

The funny thing is, I can only think of the Windows Phone 7 accent colour whenever I see these orange flashes. Orange is a good colour choice as it manages to stand out against pretty much everything, but it would have been nice if we had a choice of colours to choose from; I’m guessing that their particular implementation of this kinda of visual feedback means that basically any colour will be visible against the background. As it stands, the orange is used lots of other places, too — like when the spacebar can autocorrect a word for you, there’s a orange line that appears on it (more on text entry a little later), and even punctuation keys and suggested words use this orange colour. It’s not bad, but it could have been better. Continue Reading →

One More Thing…

What’s the word for that moment when you realise that the work you do is appreciated by many, many people all across Australia?

Yeah, that.

This weekend was nothing short of amazing, all thanks to a little site called MacTalk.

Back in 2007, I joined a little site called MacTalk. Fast forward a couple of years, a few thousand posts, and many internet arguments later, and I come across a little post by then-overseer and hater of pants, decryption, asking for volunteer writers for some news posts. I put my hand up.

The rest is turtles all the way down.

This weekend was basically the culmination of all that; a dinner with most of the people who have contributed to MacTalk in some way, those who have silently decimated the not-so-silent spam, those who have kept things ticking over behind the scenes, and those who have written articles, reviewed products, or gotten on their perennial soapbox and given a few thousand listeners an earful about how non-developers shouldn’t be using beta releases on the podcast, past and present.

There were a few people missing, but by and large, most of the big players where there and a fantastic time was had by all. Putting faces to online personas is always good fun, even if it can be a little daunting at first. Once you get over that initial awkwardness of “hey, do I follow you on Twitter? What’s your name on the forums?”, then it’s apples, ladies and gentlemen, apples — which is lucky, because that’s pretty much what MacTalk is about (Apple, Inc).

At some point during the night, there was a thing where had to go around the table and tell everyone about ourselves — our Twitter or MacTalk usernames, what we did, and so on.

Some people were known simply by name or by reputation, others had to describe their role in MacTalk a little more. When it came around to me, I simply said “I’m Benny, and I write the news”.

Cue thunderous applause.

In all seriousness, I was kind of taken aback. Stunned, that people recognised me, just from what I had done. Little did I realise how far my daily news posts reached. Little did I know that people actually recognised —nay, applauded — my work.

This isn’t just me being naive, it’s a genuine realisation of the culmination of hours of early morning (and some not-so-early) news posts over last two years. It’s me realising that podcast topics which were formed off the words I had written, it’s about me realising that “whoa, people actually read this stuff — and they like it!” Me realising that the words I type into one of those new-fangled computers actually has some sort of impact.

One comment (from Chrome, I believe): “everyone sets their clock from Greenwich Mean Time, but Greenwich set their time from [me]”.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being appreciated and recognised for your work, which, I guess, was really the whole point of that night; everyone in that room had contributed in some way, shape, or form to MacTalk over the past few years.

This morning I considered writing a piece on Steve Jobs (you know, seeing as he stepped down as CEO) as a sort of editorial on MacTalk (like all the cool kids are doing), but as I thought about what I would write about, I couldn’t think of anything. Seriously, not a thing — not because there wasn’t anything to say, but because anything I wrote about would be so, so, insubstantial compared to the big picture.

And yet it’s times like the above, when I was applauded for simply saying my name and what I do, that make it all worth it.

Thanks guys 🙂