Why I (mostly) Dislike The iPhone 4S

iPhone 4S

iPhone 4SIf you’ve even casually glanced at my site or social stream then you’ll know that I’m an Android fan. I am an Open Source enthusiast, in favor of Copyright and Patent reform, so on and so forth. So what am I doing with an iPhone?
It was actually issued to me for work. My Blackberry Bold 9000 was dying, and people in our enterprise have been gravitating away from Blackberry to iPhone, so it was the logical choice. Work doesn’t allow Android devices yet, but our management solution can handle it (as well as Windows phone), so it is not far off.
For my personal phone I use a DroidX on Verizon (running stock Android 2.3.4, aka Gingerbread). I love the Droid and it has served me well.

The Blackberry also served me well for that matter. I disliked moving to a non-touch screen (previous work device was a Treo 650 and personal was the original Android G1), but I really did enjoy the hardware keyboard. I only used the Blackberry for mail and calendar, so the lack of a touch screen wasn’t too big of an issue. I could have done with a larger screen, though.
I have played with a few iPhone iterations, but never “got” it. I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Once ordered, my expectation was that after I lived with an iPhone for a few weeks that I’d fall in love with it and “join the fold” so to speak. Well, it’s been a couple weeks and that hasn’t happened yet.
I’ve gone from mild amusement and admiration for the hardware design to mild contempt. Below I’ll hit the major points of the device compared to the other devices I’ve extensively used.

The screen truly is a beautiful display. Nice and crisp, vivid colors, and good lighting.. but it is so tiny! Comparing the size to my DroidX is like comparing the iPhone screen to the Blackberry. The super duper resolution of the retina display causes text to be on the small side which isn’t too bad for web pages and such since you can zoom. The accessibility options leave much to be desired, though. Rather than increase overall font sizes it allows you to “triple finger tap” to zoom in, then pan around the zoomed screen.
My eye sight is good, so I’m OK with this, but I think it’s something for those with low vision to keep in mind. No surprise, I prefer the accessibility options in Android’s current 4.x incarnation (aka Ice Cream Sandwich) which acts more like traditional operating systems by adjusting font and icon sizes. Gingerbread doesn’t do this, so if you need it make sure the device you choose has ICS or better. ICS  doesn’t quite go far enough since it will not globally change fonts in applications, but I think it’s better than Apple’s choice.

I think this is my biggest gripe with the device. Spacing is OK, and the clicky sound feels natural, but text predictions are limited and the implementation sucks. Text predictions help immensely when typing on the go, and trying to get thoughts down on a small mobile screen. I hardly notice when IOS is predicting for me so blow past the words. When I do pause and look it’s usually wrong in the single guess as to what I want to type.
Another issue is that special characters and numbers require hitting an extra button. Even worse, really common special characters (#, +, *) require hitting a second special button to get to. This is particularly frustrating when you use secure passwords for your lock screen and web sites. Between shift and symbol keys it takes 12 key presses to type in an 8 character password. The Android method of “long pressing” to get numbers and symbols is far more elegant.
I do prefer IOS’s method for zooming through already written text, as well as selecting text to copy. Copy/paste came late to IOS, but they implemented it well.
The clincher for me is that you can’t download alternative keyboards. This is the first place that the locked down Apple experience really started annoying me. Other areas include the App store, the browser, and a few other app areas.
I even preferred the Blackberry hardware keyboard. It too had annoyances with regard to special characters, but doing selections copy/paste with the shift key and trackball worked great.
Unforeseen is that the iPhone keyboard is actually causing me to make more mistakes on my Android phone! Luckily, my existing prediction history and excellent auto correction is helping maneuver this bump. Hopefully my brain will auto compensate for this once I get used to the IOS keyboard.

One of the break out features of the iPhone 4S, and in fact what the “S” stands for is Siri. When this feature was first announced I predicted that it would largely be unused. I haven’t seen difinitive proof one way or the other on this but it seems to be the case, and will likely hold true for me.
The voice recognition is excellent – better than Android’s, but that’s not my issue. The two primary drawbacks to me are that it takes several seconds for Siri to analyze what I’m saying and more often than not she has no idea what I want.
It works well for doing the things in the Apple commercial, but when I try something that I think falls right in line with what Siri should do (for example, “how far away is Biloxi, Mississippi”) she returns brain dead search results that do not infer what I wanted. This is far from a “magical” experience.
Siri is pretty responsive when at home on wifi, but when out and about I can type a search for what I want faster than watching Siri’s blank screen, waiting for her to get it wrong.
I will continue to try queries, and I’m sure I will love the ability to quickly schedule appointments or place calls while I’m driving. I’ll come back and update the post if I do use Siri regularly.

This is another area that the iPhone really shines. It is responsive. It loads into apps and swipes across screens fluidly. Hands down, the best experience I’ve had with a phone in this regard. In my experience, most complex devices start this way, but things get gummed up once you’ve been using it for a few months, so I’ll check back in. My friends with iPhones never complain about them slowing down, so I think performance will continue to be great.

Another excellent mark here. The camera is wonderful. It launches instantly and the pictures are great. Overall a much better experience and better pictures than my DroidX.  I plan on moving to a Samsung Galaxy S III when I am eligible for upgrade and I can’t wait to take the cameras head to head. I’m pretty sure that the iPhone will still come out on top. 
The photo gallery is much more responsive than my Droid as well. The android photo gallery can take forever to open up once you tap it. Once inside it is fluid, and if you re-launch it is fine the rest of the day but then (presumably) the process gets kicked out of memory and it takes forever to launch again.

Battery life is good, but not much better than my DroidX, so this is pretty much a wash. I easily go all day while using the phone pretty heavily and just charge each night as I sleep. I would prefer to have a removable battery with the option to buy something with a longer charge, but I think I’m OK with it. We’ll see in a couple years if the battery starts degrading.
The Blackberry battery is legendary. Well, not the battery itself (though it is removable), but the device’s power performance. You can use it heavily and still not have to charge it for days. This isn’t a fair comparison though, giving the limited processing power, limited data, and limited apps.

Yes, there are a bazillion apps in the App store. But you know what, just about any good app costs money and there are few demo or “light” versions. This is very frustrating coming from Android where it is more common to have ad supported apps with the option to buy an ad free version. I’m not even going to touch the fact that your only option is to use Apple’s store. I may throw the phone against a wall it frustrates me so.
The truth is, I’m rarely disappointed that an app is available for iPhone and not my Android. There are usually analogs that work just as well, or almost as well (and sometimes better) but are free. Yes, there are plenty of stinkers, but the power of user reviews and ratings makes steering clear of those easy.
I hear an area where the iPhone shines is music creation apps. Unfortunately, I can’t really take advantage of playing with these as it is a work phone. Blackberry app choices are abysmal. I’m sure there are lots more out there that I just never found, but I never experienced the same discoverability or ease of installing inherent in the Apple and Android stores.

Other Issues
I haven’t touched on a number of issues, but they’ve all been well documented by other people. Some are device specific, and some are more philosophical. I may write a blog post dedicated to these in the future. Among the other gripes are: the proprietary connector, reliance on paid Apple services for what I consider to be basic functionality, lacking configuration options in many areas (ie: Apple making choices for me instead of giving options), no removable storage, the perils of hacking and jailbreaking, poor task switching and app concurrency, minimal hardware buttons.. That’s most of them. Other small annoyances have cropped up as I’ve used it more.

The Scoreboard
Here’s where I give scores to these three devices. I will rate each aspect from 1 to 10 (10 being best). Best possible score is 100. Let’s see how they did.

Feature:  DroidX  iPhone
Bold 9000
Overall Experience 9 7 4
Screen 9 7 4
Responsivness 8 10 7
Keyboard 9 4 8
Battery Life 8 9 10
Apps 9 8 3
Camera 8 10 4
Configurability 10 6 2
Accesibility 7 6 3
Accessories 9 9 5
Final Score  86 76  50 

OK Apple fans – now it’s your turn to tell me why I’m completely wrong and how I still don’t get it. It has only been a couple weeks, so I’ll come back and update the post in the next month to see if I still feel the same way.

Will people use Siri? I don’t think so

Siri screen capture
A screen cap from Siri

I’m interested to see if the new Siri voice command stuff on the iPhone 4S goes anywhere. I don’t think that it will, but it’s not because Android was there first or because I don’t think it works. It’s because I don’t think people will use it.

Yes, Android had voice commands first, but Siri is very different. It was created by a dedicated company based on military artificial intelligence research – not just a side project to take dictation. Siri was fully fleshed out before Apple bought it. Voice on Android works (if you speak slowly and clearly) but it isn’t “smart”. The breakthrough of Siri is that it works out what you want based on natural language and context, not keywords.

Continue reading “Will people use Siri? I don’t think so”

Memo Nirvana

Since my life started including portable gadgets I’ve been striving for the note-taking Holy Grail: write a note on any device I happen to be using and have that note automatically sync to all of the other devices. There are plenty of solutions for this, but they all have restrictions on what devices, operating systems, or file formats that they’ll work with.

I have finally struck a balance of tools that meet all of my requirements and it is as if a great weight were lifted from my idea-cluttered brain.

First, my requirements:

  • Create, read and edit notes on:
    • Linux
    • Mac
    • Windows
    • Android mobile devices
  • Synchronize said notes to all platforms
  • Notes stored in a secure manner
  • Notes backed up/archived and have revisions tracked
  • Ability to export all of my notes so that I am never “locked in” to a single vendor or tool
  • Ability to search through my notes
  • Extra Credit: be free
  • Extra Extra Credit: be open source
  • Double Extra Bonus Credit: all notes use my own encryption keys

In pursuit of this tool I’ve tried Evernote, Tomboy, Google Docs, and older tools when I lived on a Palm Treo. As I said, each approach has it’s merits, but also has limitations that fall short of my requirements.

What I have ended up using is a combination of tools that surround the SimpleNote service. SimpleNote isn’t Open Source, but it is free. It is a very straight forward service with a good API. On the website you can securely create, view and edit notes through an SSL encrypted connection. You can tag your notes and share them with friends or family. You can search through your notes on the site or locally (more on that later) and all revisions are stored, so you can go back in the lifetime of any of your notes to see what changes were made and revert the changes if you want to.

One negative is that, as near as I can tell, your notes are not encrypted on their servers — so there is risk of your data getting accidentally leaked or stolen. I never keep anything terribly sensitive in my notes: no passwords, financial, or private data – just shopping lists, story ideas, and random notes of stuff to look into – so there would be low impact if my information got out. I wouldn’t be happy about it, since there are song titles, lyrics, and notes on stories in progress or planned to be written some day, but I’m willing to accept the risk.

SimpleNote itself is just a web site, but the API has made it possible for tools on different platforms to sync up to the mother ship. The website has a growing list of projects that use their API sorted by platform. They do offer a native application for iDevices and an official Android version is in the works.

My favorites are:

  • Android: AndroNoter
    • Excellent syncing
    • Search Notes
    • Free, though not Open Source
    • Does NOT support note tags
  • Linux: SimplenoteSync script
    • A perl script, so will essentially run on any platform with the proper perl libraries loaded
    • Syncs your notes into individual ascii text files
    • Free and Open Source
    • Sync only — does not support tags, search or any other features
    • All of the power of Linux can come to bear on your notes: grep, svn, VI, EMACS, gEdit.. they’re plain ascii files so the limits of what you can do with the files are endless
      • This allows me to automatically check all note changes into subversion and keep a local history of revisions on my own server. If Simplenote decides to shut down or go in a direction I don’t agree with, I’ll have all of my data (minus tags) so there is no vendor lock-in!
  • Mac: Notational Velocity
    • Sync to a local database
    • Optional encryption of local notes
    • Intuitive search/create/edit interface
    • Completely keyboard driven, no need to click on buttons
    • Spotlight integration
    • Free and Open Source
  • Windows: ResophNotes
    • Full tagging support
    • Import/export notes
    • Multi-pane format with notes list on left and content on right
    • Internal links between notes with [ and ] (wikilink style)
    • Self contained (portable) app option so you don’t have to install it. You can run it from a flash drive
    • Notes are stored inside of an xml file, but the content is encrypted
    • Option to save all notes as individual ascii text files
    • Free, but not Open Source

It’s certainly not a perfect solution. Notes are not encrypted end to end with my own keys and the tools on each platform are a bit different. But it covers enough of my needs to make me happy.

Actually, if Tomboy had a decent client on Android I would move 100% to it. I really like the consistent interface which is available for Linux/Mac/Windows. So far there is one Android project that enables you to sync and read your notes on Android, however you cannot create or edit them yet. Sadly the movement is very slow going as there are only a couple developers donating time to the project – but it’s getting there!

What are your favorite note taking / syncing tools?

Apps I Can’t Live Without

A lot of friends have been buying Android devices. Naturally, one of the first things people want to know is “what is the best app to install?” This is an open question, of course. The answer depends on what you are looking to do and since there are so many apps out there, it owes a lot to personal preference.

I’ve sent e-mails to some friends with lists of applications that I like. I realized that it would be a lot more efficient to write up a blog post of what my favorite apps are and just point people to it.

Therefore, below are the “Apps I Can’t Live Without”. Well, mostly. I’ve divided them up into a couple different categories. One list of must-have apps. A list of games I enjoy. A list of techie apps that most people won’t be interested in. Finally a list of apps that I could live without, but are way cool – and lets face it, today’s devices have so much storage space that there really isn’t a reason NOT to install an app and try it out! All of the apps on these lists are completely free, ad supported, or have “lite” versions available.

I do intend to update this list from time to time. I am still rocking a hacked and modified T-Mobile G1, but with our contract coming up at the end of October I hope to upgrade to the new hotness. Some applications that don’t run well (or at all) on my current phone will get a good testing once I have a more capable device. – new hotness has been achieved: Viv and I now have the beautiful Droid X on Verizon. I can’t say enough good things about this device.. I’m in love with Android all over again!

Also, when I get time I’ll add in links or QRCodes to the apps so that they are easier to find and install.

One final note for people new to Android: unlike other devices Android has a full refund policy. You can get a refund for ANY app that you install if you don’t like it as long as you uninstall it within the first 24 hours

Random Acts of Chooch