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Remembering Steve Jobs – 1955-2011 – R.I.P.

imageI’ve been up and down about Apple products over the years. On the one hand, considering myself a dyed-in-the-wool computer techie, I’ve always kinda sneered at systems that never presented any major opportunities to utilize my talents – ie, things that just ran and didn’t require substantial amounts of configuration or maintenance to prevent things from going wrong, or in-depth troubleshooting when things DID go wrong. In latter years, however, despite the Droid X that I own and the Android “Nom” t-shirt that I’m wearing as I write this, I’ve found myself using Apple products more and more. I use my iPod Touch for ebooks and RSS, Twitter, Google Plus and a desktop clock at work, plus Facetime when the wife or I are out of town. I use my iPad2 for games, news and idle browsing. I did not agree with all of Steve Jobs’ philosophies – the concept of knowing what’s best for everyone and padding a computer’s operating system so comfortably so that nobody can poke their eye out with it, even if they tried – I don’t like that. But the man certainly was a visionary, and like the news sites are saying, the world is a lesser place without him in it. There’s obviously a place and an audience for what he made – and I acknowledge that as a tech guy, it was in no small part due to Jobs making computers “aesthetic works of art” in a way that made them appeal to the masses. It really dawned on me when my 2-year-old toddler picked up the concept of swiping his finger across a screen seconds after seeing it, that Apple products like the iPhone were completely intuitive – for everyone – without needing to know a lot about computers. Great for most people. For me, still fun. But, like a doctor without the prospect of sick people, I’m never happy unless I needlessly complicate things. If it ain’t broke, fix it until it is.

Hopefully the new CEO of Apple will carry the torch forward. Equally, I hope the flopdick hackers out there grow a pair and start TRULY working on hacking new versions of iOS instead of “withholding exploits” because they’re scared Apple will patch them. Physically break open the device, throw in a new chip, defeat whatever RSA encryption is present, break the master key and for christ’s sake let’s make this stuff fun again. I’m looking at you, Asia. Don’t just stop at game console modchips! Sheesh.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Rest in peace, Mr Jobs.

A note to all app authors (Google and Apple)

imageOkay, App Store authors (both Apple AND Google). Check out the list below before writing/publishing your next app. If your app does ANYTHING even REMOTELY similar to the bulleted descriptions, you’re doing something that at least five hundred other apps do and NO, your app WON’T be the best implementation or have the most original twist. Figure out something else to write. Seriously. SERIOUSLY.

  • Game where you need to draw a line with your finger to show a boat/plane/cat/rat/something else which boathouse/airfield/path across a road/path across a traintrack/etc to take
  • Game featuring “doodle-style” graphics which negates the need for you to actually spend more than ten seconds creating the graphics
  • A to-do list, or in fact ANY sort of list
  • A reminder app
  • A calendar app
  • A weather app
  • A clock app (with or without alarm functionality)
  • An app where you can write text and then have it sync to Dropbox as though that’s the coolest thing ever – ignore this bullet if your app syncs with SugarSync, though, since for some reason nobody’s written one of those yet and SugarSync is ten million times better than DropBox (oh, and here’s my SugarSync referral link before I forget)
  • A game which displays random items that you need to “slice” open/apart with your finger
  • A game where you use your finger to pull back a “slingshot”, thereby “firing” something at something else
  • A game featuring zombies where you’re supposed to do something, anything at all, to try and kill the zombies
  • A game where boring-arse creatures of some type follow a boring-arse predefined path across a crappily-decorated “field”, and you’re supposed to drop objects by the side of this path which will then “attack” the creatures as they pass by while you’re then expected to gibber and wring your hands in excitement and do absolutely nothing else except pray that you placed your stuff properly
  • A game where you have to “endlessly” either run sideways or climb/jump upwards
  • An app with one of the following words in the title, REGARDLESS of the premise or execution of the app: ninja, angry, tower, notes, balloon, ball
  • A game where the object is to take a character through a top-down view of lands and towns in the style of a Japanese RPG, where character interactions contain speech in bubbles which comprise 98% of the sum total of the code base of the game and require two hundred finger taps on the screen before the entire interaction concludes, whereupon you get about five seconds of actual "gameplay” before the next interaction
  • A game featuring “retro-style” graphics, either deliberately pixelated or else vectorized, purporting to transport the player back to the halcyon days of their youth where they played this type of game and wished for a future where graphics and sounds were cooler and you could do more than shoot blocky pixels at other, differently-colored, blocky pixels

Double marks subtracted if your app falls into two or more of the abovementioned categories simultaneously. K? Make it happen! (claps hands once, loudly)

My new tech: the iPod Touch 4G (gasp!)

image Boy, it’s been a while. Thank god for Twitter – at least it allowed me to jot down some quick day-to-day notes instead of forcing me to settle down and write a huge, long-winded paragraph about something mundane (like I ever do that). However, I’ve decided to bust WLW out after months of absence due to the following news: I bought an iPod Touch 4G!

This may surprise some and outright flabbergast others, but if you fall into either of these two categories you never really “listened” to anything I’ve said over the years. I’m not anti-Apple, anti-iPod or anything like that. I’ve always liked all sorts of technologies and greatly enjoy playing the good points off the bad for each particular program, platform, device, whatever. What pissed me off most about iPhones after the “flocking” started was, put simply, uneducated decisionmaking. I asked iPhone owners who I actually respected technically what the deal is with them months and months ago, and this is what led to my disillusionment post back in July last year. Since that post, Android arrived and fulfilled pretty much everything I needed in a smartphone. But as predicted, now that everyone else has caught up to (and in several cases, far exceeded) where the iPhone was – at least in terms of the touchscreen display and app store/market concept – Apple has been forced to get off their arses and furiously gallop with the rest of the OS and device manufacturers. Single-tasking isn’t good enough. 320×480 displays were around back in 2002. Cameras on PDAs were around at approximately the same time.

I bought my wife an iPod Touch several months ago. I knew that most of the stuff it did would be stuff she liked, and most of the stuff it couldn’t do wasn’t stuff she would care about. In fact, she now has a DroidX and absolutely loves it – and the old iPod has been filled with toddler games. My kid now enjoys stuff like Angry Birds, Luxor etc when we need to keep him occupied. Fast forward a bit to when the iPhone 4G was released in June of this year. Finally, they’ve updated the resolution on the system – they forged to the front of the pack with a 960×640 display which impressed even me. Still, here in the US, AT&T is classified as one of the worst carriers in the country, and having an exclusive deal with Apple for the iPhone has been a dealbreaker for many, even above the shortcomings of the device itself. Then, on Sept 1st, Steve Jobs announced that the improvements to the hardware and OS in the iPhone 4G would be brought to the iPod Touch product range. And that’s when I decided to buy one.

Make no mistake, I would never choose an iPhone in its current incarnation for a smartphone – I’m still extremely happy with my Droid – but the Touch is a different story. For a screen that still remained more or less the same physical size as the previous Touch, 960×640 is an astronomically high resolution. The single-tasking concept is still there, but with the faster processor this actually works in its favour. Now, with a phone that I run my life off of, I WANT background apps running at all times to give me reminders, tell me the weather, show me my battery usage etc. All that is mandatory. But with a “fiddle device” like the Touch, I prefer that other stuff not be running. Because I plan to just fiddle with it – play games and the like. I won’t be using it for reminders, I won’t be using it for any sort of office productivity – my Droid does all that far, far better. I don’t even think I care much for Apple’s push notification stuff, and I sure as hell will be jailbreaking it as soon as the exploit is available for IOS v4.1 (any day now, apparently) because at a very base level I resent something that I own being sectioned off from me doing whatever I like with it or to it. And yes, jailbreaking is explicitly exempted from the provisions of the DMCA. According to Wikipedia, anyway.

For those who have been under a rock for the last few months, here’s some brief specs on the iPod Touch 4G: 8/32/64Gb models available. Front-facing AND rear-facing camera – about time. Built-in microphone – about time. Slimmer – in fact, at 7mm thick, I would say it’s actually a little TOO slim – very prone to slipping and sliding around in your hand – I’d have appreciated a grippier back, but I’ll get a case for it soon. And that high-resolution display; they say that the pixels are so small that you can’t even see them anymore, and after a lot of squinting I’d have to agree. The visuals are sensational. Came bundled with headphones, but they all do these days. HD video recording – 720p – isn’t anywhere near as good as my Kodak ZI8 but see, that’s why I actually own a Kodak ZI8. The camera allows you to tap on the screen to focus in that particular area and gamma up or down as necessary – a nice touch, if you’ll pardon the pun. Photo quality is blah, but then one can’t really expect too much from a pinhole camera in a device thinner than a typical pocket notepad or ballpoint pen.

image So now I want to talk about the lie that is Apple’s “multitasking”. With the new OS versions, you can double-press on the button at the front to bring up a pop-up dock of the most recently used applications. This allows you to switch to one app from another, without having to go back to the homescreen first. The net effect, my friends, still remains the same. Apple are doing this in a very similar way to Palm OS’s “multitasking” in that almost all apps will simply freeze their current state – usually “remembering” the screen you were on in that app – and then go away and not continue to run when you start a new app. This has a very few exceptions, such as Pandora being able to continue to play music in the background, but it’s not multitasking. In fact, all it does is clutter things up – imagine I use twenty apps, then double-press the home button. All I see are the last twenty apps I used. I can slide left and right to select any of them, but what’s the point? I could hop back to the homescreen and select another app just as quick, sometimes even quicker. I don’t care, because as mentioned the Touch is just something to futz with in my spare time. But I still maintain that nobody in their right mind should ever consider their primary PDA/phone to be a device to that is patently incapable of doing something while something else is running – triggering a backup, showing you a to-do reminder, etc. Android is still streets ahead in practicality. Apple just temporarily leapfrogged Android devices with the screen resolution. I promise, it’ll be a temporary lead – like all tech innovations these days.

image Since Android has allowed developers to access such a vast amount of system internal workings, I think devs have started to get a sort of “unix” complex about programming. A HUGE percentage of apps now on Android concentrate on multitasking, background services and allowing you explicit control over the guts of the thing – battery usage on a per-app, per-time-period basis with graphs and pie charts and the like, the phenomenal Tasker program which allows automated control to an extent that blows my mind, and more widgets and readouts than you’ll ever need in your life. But when you go looking for games on Android, you get what? Connect 4, Solitaire, brick breaker and a couple of other things that a first year compsci student could program blindfolded AND drunk. Admittedly, there’s maybe ten or less actual quality games out at time of writing. But development is slow, and the very feature that makes Android so cool – MULTITASKING – works against the concept of something which has typically needed exclusive usage of all your device’s resources. Bonsai Blast on my Droid, for example, is jerky as hell. And yet there are hundreds of very high quality games on the Apple platforms – PLUS the OS by default gives you everything it has for the foreground app. You know, what Android really needs is a “system exclusive” mode that forces every single third-party background app to freeze while the foreground app runs so that you can get 100% juice on-demand. I hereby copyright that idea *8-) It’s obviously still early days with Android app development now, but I’ve started to get a little tired of waiting for the creative breadth of apps that Apple has to make their way across. Where’s Luxor? Where’s SIDPlayer? Now I don’t have to wait (shrug). And maybe I’d have had to wait a long time..

I’ll leave you with the funniest YouTube video I’ve seen in a long time (thanks Rob J!)