Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for November, 2011

Making Excuses

The Macalope:

So, cheaper products should just naturally be slow and buggy? Since when? It’s not unreasonable to expect that early adopters will experience bugs, but cheaper devices should not simply be buggier and slower. That’s ridiculous.

Indeed.

Google Should Hire This Guy

This is what the Gmail app for iOS should have looked like. It’s an application called “Sent”, and it’s pretty great. There aren’t any push notifications (yet), but I’m looking forward to the direction this app is going.

Human-Computer-Human Interaction

Adam Lisagor:

From Siri’s acceptance or rejection of our commands or requests, comes a feedback loop that trains us to constrain our thoughts to the crucial data.

Siri has certain expectations of what it needs to know, and as users, we know what we need to tell it. It’s more natural than voice control, but it isn’t natural at all.

Siri will teach us how to talk to Siri but maybe more importantly, how to talk to each other.

Lisagor points out that there’s an increased efficiency of words when talking to Siri. One must coalesce their thoughts before commanding Siri, but this is not the case when talking to a friend, where one can ramble.

This may have a potential benefit, in that common speech will become more efficient and more considered. But it could also lose that inherently imperfect touch that makes something human.

Casellet

A small update on my BookBook, which I reviewed in August: it’s splitting in the card carrying area. It’s not a deal-breaker, but a plastic/metal case simply wouldn’t split.

Casellet is just that. It’s a polycarbonate iPhone case with a back that flips to reveal a wallet area. It certainly looks interesting, but I’d have to play with one first before buying it. I’ve never really liked plastic iPhone cases, but maybe this will change my mind.

The End of Cheap Coffee

Just two quotes are necessary to explain why a cup of coffee simply should not be available for a couple of dollars:

“It’s interesting to me that the same consumer that will go to 7-11 and buy a bottle of Fiji Water for five dollars will go crazy and complain about a cup of coffee,” says Geoff Watts, Intelligentsia’s vice president and green (unroasted, that is) coffee buyer.

“Coffee as cheap fuel for the masses is a historical anomaly,” says Peter Giuliano, director of coffee at the North Carolina-based roaster Counter Culture. “There’s no nutritive value. It’s drunk just for the pleasure of it. It’s a total miracle of global agriculture, a feat that spans cultures and countries.”

The advancements that the industrial age brought allowed for lower prices for goods across the board. As a result of increased demand for these same items, prices are increasing back to their traditional amounts. As more is known about how to harvest and how to roast coffee beans today than it was a few hundred years ago, you’re actually getting a better quality product at a similar price to what would be expected by inflation.

Take Your Pick

Sebastiaan de With:

So today, I read this post showing Samsung’s current product lineup. It reminded me of my lovely mother-in-law (no, she really is lovely!) asking me about Android phones a few weeks ago. And of course, it is confusing to the average consumer what phone to get.

So how many options are there exactly? Let’s limit ourselves to the US. And AT&T, MetroPCS, T-Mobile and Verizon. And I won’t show all the options of colors.

Selis, in the comments:

But diversity allows a more personal experience for the user, right?

Sounds terrific. Happy holiday shopping!

Field Notes “Northerly” Edition

“Northerlies” feature our first-ever coated cover, and it couldn’t be glossier: cast-coated, snow-white Mohawk/Smart Kromekote, milled and finished in Cohoes, New York. The covers feature “Icy Silver” type with an embossed FIELD NOTES logomark.

Do yourself a favour and at least consider buying a pack of these. They’re absolutely stunning. Since I’m Canadian, these will arrive at my doorstep a month after they’re shipped, but it’ll be worth the wait.

“I Can’t Set a Timer With Seconds”

While I’m on a roll of pissing on others’ parades, I attempted to set a timer with Siri for 45 seconds, only to be told “I can’t set a timer with seconds. Sorry about that.” Why not? I just attempted it again with “set a timer for 60 seconds”, and was again told that I can’t do that, despite being able to set one for a minute.

Gmail App Returns to the App Store With At Least 10% Less Suck

Notifications work now, and that’s about the end of the good things I can say about the app. Here comes a wall of text.

It’s still the Gmail website in an app wrapper. It’s still faking inertial scrolling, and poorly at that. Opening the left-hand menu, then tapping in the right-hand half where the main view is still doesn’t slide the main view back into focus. The “Inbox” label in the upper toolbar still isn’t centred. A floppy disk still represents “save as draft”. The paperclip icon in the compose window is still too small relative to the other two icons in the same toolbar. For some reason, there’s a redundant “Save” button in the compose window, and it’s on a separate line from the “Send” button, neither of which are iOS-standard controls and don’t look like they belong anywhere on an iPhone (but they’d look right at home on an Android phone). The buttons in the message view interface look like they were placed by a drunk darts player.

A truly abysmal effort. I’m sure there are people out there who cannot use the default iOS Mail application for whatever reason (they need archives and push, for instance, or labels). But shouldn’t they get a decent experience using Google’s official Google mail application?

Foot Entering Mouth with Superlative Vigour

So Josh Topolsky was all…

Still, there’s no question that the Fire is a really terrific tablet for its price. The amount of content you have access to — and the ease of getting to that content — is notable to say the least. The device is decently designed, and the software — while lacking some polish — is still excellent compared to pretty much anything in this range (and that includes the Nook Color).

And I was all

Sounds a little buggy, but totally awesome and inexpensive. The amount of content that Amazon has to offer coupled with the low price make this a great iPad alternative for those looking for something better than an eReader but less capable than an iPad.

And then Mossberg came crashing down hard on that party:

To be clear, the Kindle Fire is much less capable and versatile than the entry-level $499 iPad 2. It has a fraction of the apps, a smaller screen, much weaker battery life, a slower Web browser, half the internal storage and no cameras or microphone. It also has a rigid and somewhat frustrating user interface far less fluid than Apple’s.

Strangely, he concludes with this paragraph:

At $199, and with Amazon’s content ecosystem behind it, the Fire is an attractive alternative for many people who might otherwise have bought an iPad or another Android device, especially if their principal interest is content consumption.

Translation: it sucks pretty badly, but it’s only $200.

Two Weeks with the iPhone 4S

On October 4th, Apple unveiled their new iPhone, the 4S, and the world saw that it was the same. Bloggers derided it for not being the 5, for not having a new body, and for… I’ve forgotten.1

On October 10th, Apple provided the opportunity to pre-order the new phone, and the world was underwhelmed (if you read Reddit that day). And yet, by some biblical miracle, they managed to sell over a million of the damn things in the first 24 hours of it being on sale in a few select countries. Consumers couldn’t actually touch an iPhone 4S at this point, but they were keen to be the first to do so.

I, on the other hand, waited. I waited first because I didn’t yet have a buyer for my iPhone 4, preloaded with iOS 5, which also wasn’t out yet. A buyer was found, and then I waited some more because there weren’t any models in stock. Hurry up and wait.

I purchased my 4S on November 2nd, a year-and-a-day after I bought my old 4. It’s 64 GB, because I need that extra space for photos, video, and other media. It’s a white one because it looks like an original iPod. It’s beautiful.

After two weeks, I have a few thoughts on some of the newer aspects of the phone, and some thoughts on technology that isn’t new to the 4S. And, to assist organisation of this bit of writing, I’m copping the “S is for x” format from a bunch of other writers.

S is for Speed

It still blows my mind that my phone has a dual-core 1GHz (ish) processor and 512 MB of RAM. Those specs would be astonishing on a desktop PC of just a few years ago. The speed isn’t exactly noticeable until you switch back to an iPhone 4, which feels sluggish by comparison. Rotating the 4S is effectively instantaneous (except in Music, as usual). Rendering is so fast and ever so smooth. Every application opens that little bit quicker, every touch is that little bit more responsive. 

Of course, a valid rebuttal is that I shouldn’t be surprised by this. It should be responsive to touch, otherwise it provides a crappy user experience. Rotating absolutely should be instantaneous. This is something the original iPhone could do really well, and it ran a 400 MHz single-core off-the-shelf ARM stack. But OSes aren’t the same as they were five years ago. iOS isn’t anywhere near the same, as is evident by the OS file sizes. As a result, the performance hasn’t necessarily kept up with the increase in complexity. Remember the iOS 4/iPhone 3G fiasco? Apple partially supported the former on the latter, and it caused all sorts of havock. Numerous customers reported the update made their phones so slow as to render them unusable. This was repeated recently with the iPhone 3GS and iOS 5, though not nearly to the same extent. However, I predict iOS 7 will work as well as iOS 5 does on the iPhone 4S, despite not knowing what that future OS might hold. The 4S is a powerful phone (a really goddamn powerful phone) and likely will stand the test of time.

S is for Shutter

The primary reason I upgraded to a 4S is for the improved camera. The iPhone has been my primary camera since I got my 4 last year. The camera system in the 4S isn’t just a little bit better than that of the 4; it’s in a whole different league.

In terms of still quality, the 4S camera exhibits significantly less noise, a dramatically crisper image and better depth of field. The 2.4 aperture produces some wonderful bokeh in the far background of photos. They also changed the lenses, making for sun glare that looks far less cheap. Apple has noted that they would like to see the iPhone 4S compete with a dedidated point-and-shoot as the camera you’d choose to take with you on a day around town. The resulting photos are good enough in bright daylight that this is a reasonable proposition. There are still shortcomings, obviously, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the 4S replaced a point-and-shoot for most people most of the time.

Video is an even better story. Never mind the upgrade to 1080p resolution — that isn’t too important. The main story is the built-in stabilisation with the gyroscope. I’ve shot more video on my 4S in the last two weeks than I did on my 4 in an entire year purely because of this enhancement. It’s almost like a mini Steadicam, but not quite. Having said that, it is a welcome addition.

S is for Siri

It’s funny that Siri is the most-discussed, most-publicised new feature of the iPhone 4S, and I have yet to use it properly and with any frequency. 

As a non-driver, I have no relation to the advantages it presents while operating a vehicle. It should be less distracting than driving and sending a text message, of course, but I cannot relate.

As the owner of an alarm clock, I do not use the iPhone as one except when travelling. I was away this past weekend and did use Siri to set my alarm, which was much, much nicer than the Clock interface. But I don’t use this on a basis of frequency or regularity.

As a non-American, I cannot use any of the direction features, and that’s very strange. As far as I’m aware, Siri uses Google Maps, which are available in Canada, yet all Siri location services are disabled here. I’m sure there’s a valid reason as to why this is the case, seeing as I can’t think of a reason why Apple would deliberately piss off Canadians. But as a mere consumer, I don’t know why this is the case.

The biggest hurdle, however, is not technical. It’s mostly because commanding a virtual assistant feels very odd, even if it’s in plain language. I’m sure it’s a bit quicker for me to reply to a text message with my voice, or tell Siri to call someone as opposed to finding their name in my list of contacts. But I really, really do not want to. I’m also the kind of person who will find a secluded area to call someone in public, rather than trying to chat while walking down the street.

If, on the other hand, I were the operator of a vehicle who travelled frequently within the United States, I’m sure I’d use Siri a whole lot more.

S is for Summary

The iPhone 4S, then, is a good phone. It probably isn’t a compelling upgrade from a 4, but then again most people are on two- or three-year plans, so it doesn’t need to be. It’s one hell of an upgrade from a 3GS. It’s that little bit better than a 4. It’s a great addition to the family.


  1. The EPA? Oh, a four-inch display. Oops. ↩︎

Microsoft Still Doesn’t Get It

Ignoring for the moment that the interface looks a lot like that other social network

…and that other other social network…

Socl offers a bare bones, three column layout, with basic navigation in the left rail, a social feed down the middle, and invites and video party options on the right.

Replace “Socl” with “Google+” or “Facebook”, again.

Microsoft either produces slick, otherworldly futuristic concepts, or they copy the things other people do better (c.f. Zune, Silverlight, et. al.).

On The Verge

I was expecting a mere audio podcast; The Verge is now providing production levels on the scale of a television show. Incredible.

Evil

Brian Ambrozy:

In an official blog post yesterday, Google announced that they were offering “greater choice for wireless access point owners” by allowing them to opt-out of being entered into Google’s location-based search results.

Bit irritating that it’s opt-out instead of opt-in, but it’s good that Google is offering this option. I mean, their slogan is “do no evil”. Sounds great. Seeing as Google knows what IP address and MAC number I’m browsing from, I should be able to opt out of this with a simple link in my Google settings, right?

The method to accomplish this could be considered almost belligerently inelegant: change the name of your SSID to append the term “_nomap” on it.

Seriously? This is the best you can do, Google?

Furthermore, there is no way to remove your previously-mapped access point from Google’s directory until they get around to re-mapping your neighbourhood.

Square App Updated

The best mobile payment solution received a massive update today, adding integration with receipt printers, cash drawers and better synchronicity with Card Case. Best of all, Sebastiaan de With noticed that the Android version now includes Helvetica, which Square licensed from Linotype.

Siri’s Awareness of its Downtime

Ben Brooks a week ago:

Siri should tell me from the moment I activate it whether, or not, what I am about to do is going to work.

John Gruber, today:

“I’m really sorry about this, but I can’t take any requests right now.”

I got this yesterday afternoon, trying to use Siri. Seems like Apple has added a bit of self awareness regarding Siri’s online availability

The Death of the Spec

MG Siegler:

First, computers kept going more mainstream — the above listed specs look like gibberish to most people. Second, the web took over and most computers quickly became more than fast enough for the majority of users.

Almost anyone can buy almost any computer these days and do all the things they usually do: browse the web, check their email, look at goofy cat pictures, listen to music, and so it goes. Modern computers don’t struggle with these tasks either; one can complete all of these with even the cheapest, lamest machines. The only people who really care about specs are outliers like video editors and gamers.

Siegler doesn’t outright say it, but this is the same reason that iPads is selling as fast as Apple can make them. It’s capable enough for most people most of the time. It also provides an engaging, responsive user experience, which allows people to develop something of a connection to it.

Kindle Fire Review

I think Kindle is to eReaders what iPod is to MP3 players. It is the market, in people’s minds. Every time I’m in a store that sells eReaders, I hear the people playing around with whatever Brand X device note that “it’s like a Kindle”. The Fire is the Kindle’s iPod touch, in a way, but it’s also an iPad competitor (and the iPad is to tablets what the iPod is to MP3 players).

Sounds a little buggy, but totally awesome and inexpensive. The amount of content that Amazon has to offer coupled with the low price make this a great iPad alternative for those looking for something better than an eReader but less capable than an iPad.