iOS and the iPhone 4

As I’m sure everyone knows by now, Apple finally announced the new iPhone yesterday. There are much better sources than here for all the details so, just for grins, I’ll point you at Gizmodo’s summary.

Some of the more interesting points:

  • The processor has been bumped up to be the same as the one in the iPad. That’s good, because it will help with sluggish web page loading, but also because the display has been increased in resolution to the point where it needs the horsepower just to paint it.
  • Speaking of the display, the resolution is now 960×640 which gives it >300 dpi resolution. To keep that in perspective, that’s better than a cheap laser printer. I’m not sure how they have pulled off changing the dpi without effecting the way applications look, but the claim is they’ve got it to work. Let’s hope it’s not the “2x” mode from the iPad. 😉
  • Really for me, the best new feature is an improved camera. I actually use the camera on my 3GS, but it’s absolutely terrible in low light conditions. The new one is supposed to be better resolution, better low light behavior, and it has an LED flash. I guess we’ll see. Any of the example pictures I’ve seen so far still seem to have a fair amount of noise in them.
  • They’ve also added another camera on the front of the display, for doing video conferencing. There’s an app called “Facetime” (ugh.) to support iPhone-to-iPhone calling, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why they didn’t just put iChat on it. If I could video conference with Deb on her Mac, I could actually imagine using it. Also, currently at least, it only supports calling over wifi. boo.

The device will, of course, be running the new version of the iPhone OS, which has been renamed “iOS”. I suspect this was in keeping with the rumours of the new Apple TV box, which is purported to be running this OS. They probably have dreams of running it on other devices that don’t look anything like phones.

The good news about iOS 4 is that will be a free upgrade for any iPhone/iPod that can run it, and should be available June 21. The bad news is that won’t be available for the iPad until “this fall”.

SlingPlayer Mobile for iPhone (Updated)

So, as you may already know, I have a Slingbox Solo. I continue to be quite happy with it, and use it regularly to watch TV on one computer while playing WAR on the other.

One of the things that made this device particularly compelling to me, however, was the claim that they were going to come out with SlingPlayer Mobile for iPhone. When SlingMedia first announced this, they said it would be available sometime in the first quarter… Well, apparently that didn’t work. However, it was submitted to the AppStore early in April.

So what’s going on?

Some people in the industry are reporting that carriers have pushed back on this app, since they didn’t want to support the increased demand on their networks. Others are saying that because of the nature of the app, Apple is just being extremely careful about it. Personally, I find that somewhat unlikely; any company that could (briefly) publish a shaken baby app can’t be all that careful.

In any case, it’s been a full month now that Apple has been sitting on the app, and it’s time to let it go. Either that or, hey SlingMedia, just release it on your website. I’ll jailbreak the phone to use it, so help me Apple, I will.

Update: SlingPlayer Mobile for iPhone is out. Apple and Sling Media bowed to the carriers, and removed the ability to stream over 3G, even though beta versions of the app supported it. That, together with the $30 (!) price tag, was almost enough for me to bail on it. I did decide to buy it eventually, and the capsule review is “works well over wifi”.

Palm Pre and the iPhone

The CES reveal of the new Palm Pre certainly was compelling. Apparently, the markets thought so too, as Palm’s stock went up a something like 35% over the course of the day (oh those damn insider trading laws).

Palm Pre

In watching the Pre being demo’ed, it was clear that Palm’s designers had learned from Apple how to build a compelling UI for a phone, and if anything, they had taken the concepts even further than Apple had. All I can say is, if they can just avoid the brain-dead ways that they have failed in the past, Palm will have provided Apple with it’s first real competitor.

The thing is, delivering on the promise will be hard; early on in the CES presentation, Ed Colligan made a point of saying “We only do mobile” like this was some kind of evidence that they knew what they were doing. Bah! The only reason they needed to even be thinking about the Pre was because Apple, who absolutely did not start out as a mobile company, showed them what people actually want in a modern phone.

Time will tell. With a hardware keyboard, a fast processor, a removable battery, a better camera and A2DP bluetooth audio, the Pre’s hardware is up to snuff. If they can match that with a flawless rollout and buy-in from the developer community then it looks like they may actually have a chance.

iPhones and the need for responsiveness

There’s a pattern I fall for, about once a day, while browsing the web on the iPhone. It goes something like this:

  1. follow a link to a new page
  2. as the page starts filling in, read the first screenful
  3. do the “scroll up” gesture to make more content visible
  4. watch as the iPhone randomly does one of three things:
    • ignores the gesture completely.
    • waits about a second and then scrolls a few pixels
    • starts loading the page pointed at by the link you happened to be over when you started the scroll up gesture

Ok, so it’s not like I don’t understand what’s going on here: The poor thing is busy painting the page, and it just can’t deal with the added processor requirements of recognizing all of the events that make up the gesture. It either misses them all, or gets just a few of them, which leaves it either scrolling “a bit” or treating the gesture as a click on the link.

The thing is, it really doesn’t matter to me whether this is processor limited, or a bug in the OS (i.e. events get lost), or it’s just a bad design (i.e. input handled in the same thread that does the drawing), but the end result is that because I can’t trust what the phone will do in response to my touch, I have to wait until the page fully “settles” before I start scrolling. On pages that have lots of content and go off to ad services to fill in side bars, etc., this means I wait for a long time.

I mean, c’mon Apple; do I really have to tell you about the need for responsiveness?

Anyway, as frustrating as this is, the only real reason I started ranting about it is because it got me thinking about Eclipse, the UI thread, and the multi-core CPU trend. We’re pushing more and more work into multiple threads, drastically increasing the contention at the glass. The Jobs framework and UIJobs are interesting, but don’t address issues like recognizing when multiple jobs are attempting to paint conflicting (or even exactly the same) information in the UI… Anyway, there are aspects of the e4 “modeled UI” that are related to this, but it’s not clear that we’ve thought enough about it yet. Hm…

The iPod Touch is not an iPod.

I keep reading posts where I’m told that it’s ok for the iPod Touch to be missing many of the applications from the iPhone, because it really is just a digital music player.

To my mind, the thing that clearly puts the lie to that theory is the inclusion of the Safari web browser. As a music player, they could have included (with the built-in wifi) just the dedicated iTunes Store client, which would have brought them up to par with the Zune. Once they stepped over the line and included a full desktop grade web browsing client, they have clearly made something else. In fact, The iPod Touch is the first, true portable computer of the next generation. *

I’m not exaggerating here.

Apple has done what they almost always do: Looked at a hard problem, and found a thoughtful, elegant, effective solution. In this case, it was turning the wild west that is current web design into something that works on a small, keyboardless, information appliance. For the first time ever, I’m not tempted to look for my laptop to follow a link I heard on the radio — the iPod works just as well, and I’ve got it in my pocket.

In truth, I almost never plug headphones into my iPod. I’ll admit to watching on it while waiting to pick up a pizza, but in general I just use it as a conduit to the web.

So, it’s in that context, that I find it so painful that they didn’t include many of the absolutely obvious apps from the iPhone:

  • e-mail client
  • note taker **
  • google maps

And don’t get me started on the disabling of the ability to enter new calendar events.

Let’s be perfectly clear about this: This was not an attempt to keep the Touch true to its primary function; it was a transparent play to differentiate it from the iPhone and thereby maintain the iPhone’s value proposition.

Personally, I’m disappointed.

* Yes, the iPhone fits that category too.
** I’m reduced to using the notes field of a contact named “A A”. (ugh!)