Archive for October, 2008

Is Apple dropping the ball on iPhone features?

Monday, October 27th, 2008

I do really like my shiny new iPhone – it’s a thing of beauty, both hardware- and software-wise – but waiting for new features from Apple can be a frustrating experience.

The newest iPhone firmware, version 2.2, looks set to hit an iPhone near you soon. Its main new feature appears to be Google Street View incorporated into the Maps application. Now, Street View is pretty cool (and getting cooler all the time), and the transit directions do look genuinely useful (if you live in a city). But I do wonder what goes on inside Apple execs’ heads sometimes. How is Street View a more important feature than:

  • Text selection
  • Cut/copy/paste
  • Flash
  • To Do lists
  • Syncable notes
  • MMS

???

At least the update features a revamped Mobile Safari, which hopefully fixes the crashing bugs that plague the current version (I’ve had my iPhone for just over a week, and I swear Safari has quit on me at least 20 times). However I’ve started to get really quite frustrated with no text selection and no clipboard. It makes things like deleting large amounts of text very hard work, and sending multiple links or photos in an email message is next to impossible.

I’m not a big fan of Flash-based websites, but I have come across at least two sites in the last week that I simply can’t view on my iPhone due to no Flash support.

I’ve managed to solve the To Do list problem myself with the excellent Things; however it seems bizarre that Apple doesn’t include To Dos in the iPhone when they’ve even shoehorned them into things like Leopard’s Mail. And what’s the point of a built-in Notes app if it can’t sync its notes with the Mac? Unbelievable.

Oh well – roll on version 2.3…

iPhone: It’s the little things that make it great

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

So I finally caved in and bought an iPhone 3G the other day (I’m not exactly an early adopter you know). I have to say, it’s more impressive than I expected. A lot of what makes it so good is the attention to detail that’s gone into the design of the hardware, software and user interface. Here are some first impressions of its loveliness:

Proximity sensor

When you hold the phone to your ear while on a call, the phone temporarily shuts off the screen (saving power) and locks it (so you can’t accidentally “tap” on the screen).

Keyboard

I wasn’t convinced by the on-screen keyboard at first. But actually it’s possible to type quickly and accurately on it thanks to the predictive word input. You just have to trust it and let it do its thing! A nice touch: you can double-tap the spacebar to quickly add a full-stop (period for my American readers) followed by a space.

Conveniently, the keyboard layout changes depending on exactly what you’re doing. When entering a URL, you get extra “.”, “/”, and “.com” buttons instead of the redundant spacebar; for email address fields, you get “@” and “.” buttons, and so on. This really exploits the idea of a soft keyboard to its fullest.

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OpenOffice.org 3 released: Native Aqua at last!

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

Like a bolt from the blue, OpenOffice.org version 3 burst onto the scene today. You can grab it now from OpenOffice.org. The poor server is groaning under the strain – there’s obviously a lot of demand for free office apps – but with a bit of patience you should be able to download it OK:

I’ve taken it for a quick spin, and so far I like what I see. There are quite a few notable improvements over OpenOffice.org 2.x, including:

  • Speed. The new version has a much quicker startup time than 2.x, with the welcome screen appearing around 4 seconds after launching (on my 1st gen Intel iMac). The UI feels a fair bit snappier, and document opening and saving seem a little faster.
  • Support for the latest MS Office formats. OpenOffice.org 3 can read the controversial Office Open XML (.docx/.xlsx/.pptx) formats – although it can’t yet save files in these formats.
  • Easier app launching. The new UI features a nice welcome screen (see below) that you can use to quickly launch Writer, Calc, Impress, Base, Draw, or Math.
  • Better Vista compatibility. Always good if you happen to use Vista!

However, one of the most noticeable changes to the Mac version is – you guessed it – native Aqua support. Finally, OpenOffice.org looks and behaves like a Mac app! No more having to boot up X11 and put up with an interface only a mother could love. (NeoOffice helps to get round some of the UI problems, but it does lag behind the main OpenOffice.org release by a few months.) (more…)

iTunes movie rentals: Are they worth it?

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

This is probably old news if you’re Stateside (or Europe-side, for that matter), but recently Apple launched iTunes Store movie rentals over here in Australia. I thought I’d give it a spin.

Now, generally I don’t touch DRM-encumbered content – if I buy something, I should be able to do what I like with it, right? – but I figured that movie rentals are a different ball game. Obviously, without some sort of DRM, the concept of renting a movie online wouldn’t work. So, fair enough I guess. And the movies on the iTunes Store are only AUD $3.99 to rent, which ain’t too bad.

However, the range of movies available is tiny, weighing in at around 700 movies last time I checked. There’s also a lot of crap on there; I can’t see myself renting Uptown Girls or Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine any time soon. (Are the movie choices as bad in other iTunes Store countries?)

We decided to rent Groundhog Day, which is one of the better movies available. The process of renting the movie was pretty much as straightforward as buying an album, though it did ask me to authorize my Mac twice. The download weighed in at 1.2GB, which took a couple of hours to download over my ADSL line. (more…)

How to turn off iTunes 8′s store arrows

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

If you use iTunes, you’ve probably spotted those little arrows in circles that appear next to certain columns in the currently selected track. When you click them, you’re taken to the album or artist on the iTunes Store:

If you remember, iTunes 7 and earlier gave you a Preferences option to turn them off. And rightly so – they clutter up the UI in my opinion.

However, for some bizarre (no doubt marketing-related) reason, Apple removed this option from the Preferences dialog in iTunes 8. Thanks guys. ;-)

Fortunately, there’s still a way to turn the arrows off. Quit iTunes, open a Terminal window, and type:

defaults write com.apple.iTunes show-store-arrow-links -bool false

Now relaunch iTunes. The arrows will be gone. To turn them on again, type:

defaults write com.apple.iTunes show-store-arrow-links -bool true

Not so fast…

Before you turn the arrows off, though, you may be surprised to learn that they do, in fact, do more than just take you to the iTunes Store.

This post on macosxhints.com contains a couple of comments which taught me something new: You can actually Option-click an iTunes Store arrow to find stuff in your library. Option-click a track name column or album column arrow to get a list of all tracks in an album; Option-click an artist column arrow to view all tracks by an artist.

So those arrows are actually useful after all! In fact, by changing another hidden preference, you can swap the behaviour of clicking/Option-clicking:

defaults write com.apple.iTunes invertStoreLinks -bool true

Now clicking the arrows takes you to the album or artist in your library, while Option-clicking jumps to the Store.

Obviously, you can revert back to the original behaviour by typing:

defaults write com.apple.iTunes invertStoreLinks -bool false

And there you go! The hidden delights of those little arrows.