This seems to happen to me every two years, I become bored with all my technology and wait on Apple to wow me with something new. The unconverted peers around me just scoff at the idea of just throwing money away on another expensive Apple product that isn’t worth it to them. Then again, most of them admit they secretly love their iPod, even though they hate Apple. Coming back to my need for a technology fix, I have even walked down the NetBook displays at the local BestBuy and touched one or two NetBooks, thinking to myself, “Why Not?” only to come away with a sense of utter disappointment at how bare boned these NetBooks really are. The majority of them, remind me of the cheap knockoff toys I bought when I was a kid, when I really could not afford the actual Voltron. Pretty much, NetBooks kind of suck. The iPod Touch and current iPhone GS have more appeal than any $400 NetBook.
Aside from Apple, I was in Houston Texas a week ago and stopped by the Sony Store in The Galleria Mall. Other than Apple, Sony is equally appealing when it comes to technology, after all I have only bought like thirty or so Walkmans in my lifetime. It seems Sony is the only PC vendor who makes interesting consumer laptops, but even the coolness of a Sony design was not enough to satisfy me. I guess that is one thing that Microsoft totally dismisses about consumers in their commercials. Sometimes people just want to buy something cool, and all reason goes out the window. I remember years ago, consumers had to buy a Pentium computer for no reason other than it came with that shiny new Windows95 that let you do things like multi-task. Microsoft should remember that for many consumers Minesweeper and Solitaire were the most used applications on Windows. What impressed me more than computers at the Sony Store, were their televisions. The higher end models are internet enabled and allow you to browse the web and access media servers. I assume this is similar to the Playstation 3, so most likely Flash video performance will be disappointing, but still I think this is interesting. Regular television is dying, and consumers really want to see YouTube and other Internet content on their television, especially now that HD Television is standard. Although I did not walk out of the Sony Store that day with a new television, I am considering a new television for this holiday season. Price wise, it was impressive that Sony’s lower end LCD televisions are more affordable than ever. A basic 32 inch with 720 resolution is now $500 and a 42 inch is not that much more. These sets use to cost about $3000 a few years ago.
Due to the economic recession, most companies are in save mode. The best example I can note is the video game industry in which most game developers have scrapped new product releases and instead are pushing out repeat sequels of past successful games. Their hope is that they can save on expenses and survive the economic situation. However we are in now the third or fourth quarter of this recession, and the effect of cost cutting has come and gone and now all you have left is whatever current income you have. This makes it difficult for most companies because the products they have out there are totally unappealing and no matter how you dress them up, consumers know this and won’t put good money towards products that are based on past technology. The coolness factor matters now, more than ever! Without a shiny product, consumers who want to buy will think twice. Impulse buying will be hard to come by this holiday season and this means more bad news for companies.
Given all this, I am still waiting on Apple to deliver. Sure, I will go ahead and get my Snow Leopard Upgrade and think about replacing my iPhone come 2010, but I still need something with a wow factor to burn my money on and I am sure Apple will eventually deliver, but the wait always feels like an eternity.
Recently, I had the opportunity to diagnose a problem with an external Firewire drive and Mac OS X. The drive would no longer mount on the OS X desktop and the only place you could see it (other than Terminal) was in Disk Utility. If you ran Disk Utility – Verify or Repair, the message: invalid content in journal would appear. The fix to make it mountable again was to do the following in Terminal.
The first command gives you a list of all drives and in the right most column, you will need to identify what the Identifier Name is for your volume. Once you have that, run the second command and substitue the IDENTIFIER_NAME with the correct Identifier Name for your volume.
/System/Library/Filesystems/hfs.fs/hfs.util -N /dev/IDENTIFIER_NAME
If it successful, this will mark the disk as no longer Journal, so you can now shutdown the Firewire drive and then unplug it. Wait a minute or so and then start it back up and plug it back into the Macintosh and then you should be able to see the drive mount again.
This allowed me to mount the drive again, but I believe there is still a problem with this drive, so my recommendation was to backyp the drive right away and then reformat it and exchange it for a new drive. I am not sure if the problems with the 1.5TB Seagate drives in RAID configuration apply to other Seagate drives as this one was a 1TB drive, but you never know.
Three months ago I posted my Apple iPhone Review and detailed my initial thoughts of Apple’s entry into the cell phone market; now with a few months of usage I thought it would be a good time to write down some afterthoughts on what the iPhone experience is all about. First let me state that I have only personally used only three cellphones in my entire life: a Blackberry, a Samsung Blackjack, and an old style cell phone, none of which I personally owned. The irony of course is that back in college I worked at a major electronics chain store and sold cell phones as part of my job. Back then I use to sign up people for Motorola phones all the time. Somehow though I never really thought I would ever need a cell phone until now!
Most Used Features
Without a doubt, the feature that I use the most is Safari. I love being able to read my favorite tech news sites and blogs anywhere I go. Everyone is talking about how some day eBooks will become popular, but in reality the real medium is the news site and blogs that get updated daily and which are read more often than most newspaper columns. The iPhone allows you to do what you have always wanted to do, which is catch up on your favorite sites when you are away from your computer. In many ways it reduces the need for people to use their work computer for idle web browsing and lets people be informed anywhere they go.
I personally hate talking to people on the phone, so I prefer SMS texting to actually calling anyone. Sometimes SMS seems more fun than actually talking. I much more prefer to send coworkers a quick message than to actually bother them during a meeting or worse at home in their private time. The iPhone’s keyboard takes a little getting use to, but it soon becomes second nature and you find yourself quickly adopting to its limitations.
As a manager, you often need to catch up on email or learn more management skills, but lets face it there is never enough time in the day to do this. One trick that I use is to email myself anything I don’t have time to read to my GMail account and then later when I get stuck waiting somewhere with nothing to do, I pull out my iPhone and check my email. This way I catch up on everything I wanted to read eventually without interfering with my regular work routine.
Probably the feature I use the most that is not work related happens to be the camera. Like most people I have a digital camera and it is stuck in a drawer somewhere. The iPhone camera is nothing to rave about, but it allows you the freedom to take a few pictures of the family, especially when they least expect it. For the first time I actually I am using iPhoto weekly.
The biggest annoyance is the battery life, until you discover to live within the limitations of the iPhone battery. If you find your battery draining like mine, try the following tips:
- Turn Wi-Fi off when you know there are no access points
- Lower your screen Brightness
- Turn Bluetooth off if not needed
- Do not setup Mail to Auto-Check
- iPod: Turn off Sound Check
- iPod: Turn off EQ
- iPod: Turn off Volume Limit
- If you do not need to take any calls, enable Airplane Mode
The other problem that I use to run into is with Safari. At times Safari would just quit without warning trying to load a webpage. I think this is more of a problem with Safari 3 then the actual iPhone. Safari 3 in Mac OS X is still a work in progress and you will find that while Safari 3 improves on the previous version’s speed, it seems to be a lot more prone to long freezes and random quits. A good cure for this on the iPhone is to clear your cache and shutdown your iPhone completely. Once your power it back up, Safari seems to work just fine for a couple a days at least. The problem only gets worse if you switch constantly from Wi-Fi and AT&T.
Don’t Use It
Other than my kids who seem to think it is hilarious to watch SouthPark cartoons with Pokemon character voices, I really don’t use the YouTube feature much. The iPod part of the iPhone plays better video and unless you are connected to Wi-Fi, YouTube does not work very well at all through AT&T.
I spent last week upgrading to Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. I chose to do a clean install, and so the installation went as smoothly as can be hoped for. Once I manually copied back some of my old settings and reinstalled some of my third party apps, I ended up having a few minor problems. The worst of it was with Eudora 6.2.4, which is the email client I have been using for over ten years. It is has hard for me to say goodbye to Eudora. After all this time the email client just feels comfortable to me and though I have tried Thunderbird, I found it lacking. I thought several times of switching to Apple Mail or PowerMail, but Eudora’s multiple personalities and inboxes were hard to let go. Apparently I am not alone in my Eudora issues with OS X 10.5, there are a few discussions on Apple’s Support Forums about multiple the dreaded beach ball problem and Eudora freezing for no apparent reason. The initial fix is to click on the Window Menu and choose Settings – Getting Attention and change your Sounds from the Eudora defaults to a standard system alert sound. This helps but did not quite fix the problem. Here is a list of other workarounds that seem to have fixed all of my Eudora crashes:
- Settings – Getting Attention: Uncheck Play a sound.
- Settings – Spell Checking: Check Spelling – Only when requested and select Never make suggestions.
- Settings – Mood Watch: uncheck Enable Mood Watch
- Settings – Hosts: Check DNS load balancing.
After implementing all of these, Eudora launches and displays email without any beach ball cursors or crashes.
In the ‘Sounds’ section, for both ‘New mail sound’ and ‘Attention sound’, select a sound OTHER than one that has ‘Eudora’ in its name (ie. NOT ‘Eudora Attention’, ‘Eudora New Mail’ nor ‘Eudora Short Warning’)
After years of denying myself a cell phone, I finally could no longer forestall the inevitable and decided to give more of my money to Steve Jobs. The end result is my new Apple iPhone which I have come to nickname Athena. In the past 12 months I have had to be on-call for my day job and so I have had to carry some sort of company cell phone. The first was a Microsoft Windows Mobile which I must admit was easy to use, if you have had any experience with Windows at all. The second was a 7100 Blackberry which I found user-unfriendly and annoying to use if you were trying to do anything with it that was not phone related. For example, trying to use BlackBerry Browser or even Opera Mini on it was an exercise in futility. It took forever to type in urls, and when it did display a web page it was hard to look at. Some sites were better than others, but overall I really could not do much with the Internet on the Blackberry.
Since the iPhone 1.1 Update came out the day after I got the phone, I never had a chance to really experience the iPhone at 1.0. That much said, after spending $400 for the phone itself, another $25 on a case, then there is the $36 activation plan, and then the $80 plan, the money quickly adds up and in the end you have what many consider an over-priced phone, (that is until you start looking at other smartphones and find out that the iPhone is not even the most expensive phone out there).
My daily experience is that I leave my iPhone charging overnight (connected to my Powerbook). I use iTunes to eject the iPhone and then physically unplug it from its cable. The iPhone comes with a dock, but if you use a case, it is much easier to just use the connection cable without the dock. I have setup the phone to use an unlock code, so after pressing the home button which is located towards the bottom, you then slide your finger on the bottom of the screen and enter your pass code. The iPhone comes up to your last screen, or the Home screen.
The Home screen has all your applications: Text for text messaging all your friends, Calendar for keeping track of your dates, Photos which holds your saved images (on a Mac, this syncs up with iPhoto), Camera for taking quick pictures, YouTube for watching videos, Stocks for seeing how rich Apple is getting everyday, Maps is straight from Google, Weather, Clock which has a world clock, stop watch, and alarms, Calculator, Notes which lets you jot down quick notes, Settings for all things you need to change or know about your iPhone, and iTunes which is the iTunes Store and not your iPod.
At the bottom of the Home screen there is a dock which has four buttons, which are really the four main uses of the iPhone: Phone for making calls, Mail for email, Safari for web browsing, and iPod for listening and viewing your iTunes collection.
Wow, It’s an iPhone!
While I asked everyone what they thought of the iPhone as a phone, the most I heard was that it was adequate as a phone. There is really nothing spectacular about the iPhones phone features. Where the iPhone really impresses is with Web browsing and the touch interface which allows you to be more productive then other phones. Originally I had settled on three choices for a phone, the Blackberry Pearl, a Samsung Blackjack, or an iPhone. Since I really wanted was a good internet browsing experience, it came down to the Blackjack or iPhone, however in the end I can never resist Apple technology, so I am sure it really was not that hard of a choice after all.
Some of the best things I like doing on the iPhone are adding contacts, connecting to WiFi networks, surfing the Web, and checking my email accounts. The contacts are actually under the Phone section and they sync up with the Address Book in Mac OS X. The iPhone automatically can connect to most open WiFi networks, though I have had problems with networks that require a sign-up page in a browser. For my own secure WPA network, it took a while to get it connected due to my long pre-shared key, but now that it is setup, I enjoy very speedy browsing at home. You can even use your iPhone to scan for wireless networks. For email, I was able to setup GMail very easily and personal domain email takes a bit longer to setup, but works equally well.
Overall with the iPhone, you can stay connected all day long to the Internet, to phone calls, to email. It is almost frighteningly to think about if you believe in conspiracy theories.
Given everything that is great about the iPhone, there are some limitations. Namely you are tied to AT&T for two years. You can change your plan at any time without a fee, but plan changes reset your contract, so be aware of this before changing plans! Text Messaging is limited for the cheaper plans, so you might want to upgrade to unlimited messaging. There is no IM client builtin, so you will have to use a web service for instant messaging. Hardware wise, the biggest complaint is the battery, which is not user replaceable. And of course Apple and AT&T have locked the iPhone pretty well from anything that can hurt their business model. If you can live with all these limitations, then the iPhone experience is a pretty amazing one.
More iPhone Opinons
Over the last year, I have mostly been doing support for web based applications. It certainly has been a big change from having to support general Windows and Citrix users. The most obvious thing that struck me about web applications is the large number of problems that users encounter that are simply due to their browser. I quickly learned that there is no perfect browser, and at times there is not even one that works! By this time I have heard all the comments.
There is the adamant user who thinks the world belongs to IE6 and that “industry standard” is a synonym for Windows IE6. While IE6 is not the worst browser on the planet, it is prone to lots and lots of problems, in general everyone has a problem with IE6. Web designers hate it, cause of the CSS bugs that they have had to code for it. End users hate it because IE6 is usually so locked down by network administrators that it is practically worthless for running anything complicated at times. IT admins hate it because they have to lock it down or else all their users will install spamware toolbars and create more problems. Support people hate it cause they have to spend all day, trying to figure out how to disable pop-up blockers, reset security zones to their default level, and of course the old stand-by: deleting temporary internet files.
Then there is IE7, the better cousin of IE6. Except that IE7 has a new fangled interface and very little in real features or improvements. Then there is that whole thing about many sites not even supporting it officially. In other words, IE7 is a big disappointment, in that it has almost all the same problems as IE6.
Now as to the Firefox lovers out there, let me just say that Firefox is one inconsistent browser. It is harder to support, because there is no target version out there as of today, that I can point to and say it is the standard for Firefox. On average I encounter the 1.5 version of Firefox every day! I would even say, that it is more popular than even the 2.0 version! Just yesterday, I encountered 1.0 Firefox running on a Macintosh! While I like the CSS rendering, and love the expandability of Firefox, I also cannot count on any consistency with Firefox. On average I see problems with Firefox acting differently than IE when it goes through a proxy and running scripts. Common Firefox extensions like AdBlock cause tons of support problems, and did I mention that Firefox seriously lags on the Macintosh platform.
Last but not least is Safari, the up and coming star of the Internet. Safari has doubled its usage and if Apple strikes gold with their Apple iPhone, then Safari usage is sure to go higher. The more you think about it, the more you realize that Apple really needs to deliver a Windows version of Safari. It only makes sense to have Safari compete on Windows. Unlike IE6 it has a nice interface design and is simple to use. Apple has ignored add-ons and stuck with a slimmed down browser, while Firefox has somewhat embraced more bloat features with the 2.0 and future 3.0 versions. In general Safari does work well on the Macintosh platform. I can think of only two glaring problems, its CSS rendering does not work very well for sites that only test IE6 compatibility, and it does somewhat slowdown if you do not clean out favicons and pre-fill form data. Making the leap to Windows though would be hard, Apple would have to most likely use SUN’s JAVA run-time on Windows, and utilize more of the Windows operating system. These are all challenges that Mozilla has tackled and done so only much trial and error.
In conclusion, all browsers have inherent problems. Depending on your view, you can find glaring issues for any of the top browsers. According to my own Mint stats for WebKeyDesign.com, most of my site visitors use Firefox and IE, with Safari running a distant third. My personal favorites though would have to be Safari on OS X and Firefox 2.0 on Windows, and even then I find myself having to customize and hack both heavily before I am even comfortable using them. After all who would use Safari without a Tab button (in the toolbar)?