Thursday, October 27, 2011

Is iOS 5 A Disappointment?

iOS 5 was a huge update for iPhone and iPad users, with more than 200 new features, including some that had been major requests for some time, and also dozens of smaller, "nice-to-haves" that make the iPhone and iPad such compelling devices. I was among the millions that downloaded the new iOS on the day it was released, 12 October 2011. In fact, so many people were trying to download it simultaneously that they nearly brought down the internet! As good as it is, iOS 5 isn't perfect. Having lived with it for a couple of weeks now, I thought I would just list a couple of little niggles I have. Note, this is not a review of the iPhone 4S, but rather iOS 5 used as an update to iPhone 4.

Notification Center
This is one of the most sought after features, and the one I was looking forward to the most, having used Android previously. Apple have done a great job, and have improved on Android's offering, but is it too much to ask to include a "clear all" button? It's great that you have the option to clear the notifications from each app individually, but if you haven't checked it all day it can be quite tiresome. One button to get rid of all those stale notifications is a must-have!

For this one Apple looked across the border to RIM to copy their hugely successful Blackberry Messaging service. The intention was great, and the integration with the SMS Messages feature is typical of Apple's seamless approach to software design. The problem is, most of my friends don't have iPhones. I am working on that, but in the last 2 weeks I have not used iMessage once. If Samsung can make messaging cross-platform with their soon to be released ChatON service, why couldn't Apple? For now I continue to use Whatsapp.

My only complaint about Newsstand is that there is no way to hide or delete the Newsstand "folder" if you don't use it. It's faux wood shelves are an unnecessary blot on my pristine iPhone screen! Sure, there is a way to add it into another folder, but this is a work around, and it shouldn't be necessary.

I like the Reminders app, but one of its best features is practically unusable! The ability to add a location to a reminder is great, in theory. Unfortunately, Apple only allows you to add addresses from your Contacts, and I cannot get iOS to recognise my work or home addresses, and I don't have the addresses of shopping centers in my Contacts! Why couldn't Apple just allow the option to set the location by dropping a pin on the map?

iOS brings with it some great improvements for the Camera app, including the ability to go to the Camera app straight from the lock-screen, and to use the volume "up" button as a shutter release. However, the new Photo Stream feature hasn't been fully thought through. In theory it's great! All your photos will be instantly synced to all your iOS devises so if, for example, you shoot a picture with your iPhone, you can use the bigger screen on the iPad to touch it up, and then share it to Twitter from there. Awesome! But what if you're out shopping, and you shoot a photo of the latest Iron Man toy so you can check with your wife whether it's an appropriate Christmas present for your kid, and the kid picks up your iPad to play Angry Birds? Bam! Surprise ruined! The photo streaming idea is great, but it should require some user input for each photo before syncing, and perhaps even a list of devices you want to share it with.

Wi-Fi Sync
This is one of the other features I was really looking forward to. For me it just doesn't work consistently  and I have no idea what I'm doing wrong. It has worked, but most days I see a message to say "incomplete sync", or for whatever reason the iPhone isn't being recognised by iTunes, despite them both being able to access the internet on the same Wi-Fi connection.

Missing features
There are still a number of basic features that Apple seem to continuously overlook. Two of the biggest for me have to do with the newly renamed Music app. I have an old iPod Nano, and it had a feature that allowed me to set a playlist as an alarm. Thus I could wake up to the music of my choice each day. There are apps that try to imitate this, but most require you to open the app and leave it running all night, which is far from ideal. In a similar vein, why is there no sleep mode. If I using my iPhone to play music through a dock, I should be able to set it to turn off after 20 minutes. These aren't sophisticated features, and it amazes me that they aren't included in iOS. Even iTunes doesn't have a sleep function, which is ridiculous!

Wow, when I list my problems like this, there are more than I thought. This may make it sound like I'm unhappy with iOS 5, but I'm not! It's a huge step up from iOS 4.3, and I wouldn't switch back for anything. I'm just a bit disappointed, because it could have been so much better!

Thanks for reading.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Great iPhone Dock

I have long had a mini hi-fi in my bedroom, and for the last 10 years my Onkyo that I bought in Japan has served me well. Initially, I bought it to play mini-discs, which were hugely popular in Japan before mp3s became the the force de jour. However, the Onkyo was versatile, and the “Aux In” allowed me to connect my iPod with relative ease. Unfortunately, the power supply recently packed up, and I decided it was time for an upgrade.

My requirements were simple:

  • iPod/iPhone capable
  • Good sound, but high volume not an issue
  • Solid build
  • Subtle styling
  • Reasonable price

Enter the Yamaha PDX-31. This little desktop audio system ticked all the boxes, and then some. The case, available in black, dark red or light grey has clean, simple lines, but houses a pair of 3.25-inch speakers that sound awesome, despite only a 15W x 2 digital amplifier.

The dock handles iPods and iPhones with a 30-pin Dock Connector, but there is also an auxiliary input for those other media players. The minimalistic design means the only buttons are volume up and down - the unit has auto power on and off, which is ideal for me. I can set the alarm on my iPod to play a specific playlist, and wake up to my favourite music, without having to leave the unit switched on all night. It works like a charm! There is no need for a "mode" switch - the unit will play from whichever source is connected, and will play from both simultaneously if both are connected. Included in the box is a very basic remote, which unfortunately feels a bit cheap, but gets the job done.

Priced at $169.99 from Amazon, but available for as little as $123 if you Google it, I was able to find one in South Africa at R1,770, after tax and duties, which wasn't too bad. Thanks to the great staff at Audio Excellence on Umhlanga Ridge for your patience and assistance!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

There Will Be No iPhone 5... Ever!

OK, so maybe there will be an iPhone 5, but not if Apple follow logic in their naming convention. The first iPhone was launched in June 2007, and was simply known as the iPhone:

  1. 2007 June: iPhone  -  iPhone OS1
  2. 2008 July: iPhone 3G  -  iPhone OS2
  3. 2009 June: iPhone 3GS  -  iPhone OS3
  4. 2010 June: iPhone 4  -  iOS4
  5. 2011 October: iPhone 4S  -  iOS5
  6. 2012 October: iPhone 6  -  iOS6

The list above also shows a neat pattern in the OS numbering, which the iPhone 4S puts out of sync, as it will be running iOS5. As you will remember, there was never an iPhone 2 either, so there is precedent to leave out a number. It therefore makes sense that next year Apple will launch an iPhone 6, running iOS6.

Of course, there is another possibility, and that is if Apple includes LTE next year. Then they may call the new phone the iPhone 4G!

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

iPhone 4S: All You Need To Know!

At last, after 18 months of speculation the iPhone 5 is finally here! Except it's not an iPhone 5 in a sleek tear-drop aluminium case - it's a carry-over design with the A5 dual-processor called the 4S. But what's in a name?

To recap, iOS5 will be available from 12 October. Here are some of the main features:

  • Notifications: Very Androidish - a replacement system for iOS’ otherwise antiquated alerts system.
  • iMessage: A free to use, iOS-to-iOS SMS replacement.
  • Reminders: user creatable time/location based reminders.
  • Twitter integration.
  • Newsstand: Apple’s in-house distribution system for iPad magazines.
  • New and improved camera (One click access from the lock screen, red eye removal, cropping, rotating, etc).
  • Game Center (Recommendation engine, Achievements system).
  • Improved Safari browser (Faster, lighter, tabbed browsing on iPad, and the “Reader” content scraper).
  • Mail app improvements.
  • PC-Free (Activation without iTunes).

But we knew all that. What about the new phone. The iPhone 4S?

  • Externally the same as iPhone 4 - screen size, glass back, etc.
  • A5 Dual-core Processor, dual-core graphics (up to 7x faster)
  • Improved battery life: 8 hours of 3G talk time; 6 hours of browsing; 9 hours on WiFi; 10 hours of video; 40 hours of music.
  • Improved call quality through intelligently switching between the two antennas between transmit and receive. Downloads theoretically 2x faster than iPhone 4.
  • One phone for everyone: GSM + CDMA.
  • Improved camera: 8MP sensor; f/2,4 lens; high speed auto-focus; face detection; auto white balance; 1080p HD video.
  • Airplay mirroring - great for gaming.
  • Voice-controlled personal assistant. You can ask things like “Will it rain in Cupertino?”, or “Can you find me a Greek Restaurant in Palo Alto?”, or “What’s the time in Paris?” and it’ll answer accordingly. This is the culmination of their purchase of Siri back in 2010 - and surprisingly enough, they’re keeping the “Siri” name.
  • Available from launch in black or white.
  • US pricing: 16GB for $199, 32GB for $299, or 64GB (new) for $399.
Key for the US market is the addition of Sprint to AT&T and Verizon as official carriers - this should see a nice bump in sales! Add to that the rumored deal with China Mobile, and this could be the best selling iPhone ever!

For the millions of iPhone 4 users out there, myself included, this launch is great news; your phone hasn't been made completely redundant today. I guess time will tell, but after delaying the launch from the typical June timing, I was expecting more. I believed Apple needed the extra time to finalise some awesome new features! I assume that the revised exterior design, 4" screen, LTE, NFC, etc will be kept for the iPhone 5. Let the speculation begin!

Thanks for reading!