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Hi! My name is Cédric Bozzi, I make websites and iOS apps, and this is my blog about technology (mostly a Twitter archive, really).

 

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1 September 2009

Unicode Free sur l’App Store. Essayez librement le copier-coller avant de passer à la version premium (plus d’infos).

2 September

“Developers, Be Warned: Apple Has Apparently Trademarked Those Glossy Chat Bubbles”

Chess Wars [sat] in App Store limbo for six weeks. Finally, this morning an Apple representative named Richard called Stump to inform him why Chess Wars was being rejected after the six week wait: the bubbles in its chat rooms are too shiny, and Apple has trademarked that bubbly design. Yes, the App Store has reached a new low.

At some point I’m running out of empathy for the review process. I make it a point to forget about my own problems with the App Store when I blog (or think) about them, but they’re not really doing much with whatever benefit of the doubt you might give them.

Remember that the six-week delay, concluded by a personalized phone call (whereas normal rejections consists in a terse email after two weeks), is consistent with the official assertions that there’s a separate committee meeting regularly to decide on a bunch of contentious cases — meaning this might be an official policy the committee just finally agreed upon. (Or it could also be one rogue reviewer with an ax to grind.)

As a reminder, I’ll just quote one of the article’s first commenters:

OK, I defended Apple on the previous post, but this is just dumb. Don’t they WANT to create some standardized language around their UI? Isn’t that desirable and part of what is considered a good platform?!

“Snow Leopard ditches real math for fake”

if you have a 500,000,000 byte drive, base 10 math would call that a 500gb drive, but base 2 math would call that 476.8gb.

we understand why hard drive manufacturers use the base 10 system; larger sounding drives sell better. now we find out that osx 10.6 snow leopard is using base 10 math to calculate storage space. while base 2 math is the standard storage measurement for operating systems it may at first be difficult to understand why apple would change to a base 10 system. but think about it once more, doesn’t apple have a lot to gain if all the storage-containing-hardware they sell sounds bigger than it actually is?

It’s a very valid point that Apple has a vested interest, as a hardware maker, in making an operating system that makes hard drives look bigger. But:

  • hard drive manufacturers aren’t ever going to move (back?) to base 2, so isn’t it just as well that OSes start using the same math as them anyway?

  • computers are vaguely supposed to be designed for users, rather than the other way around, so what’s the rationale exactly for why base 10 would be the right way to measure how big a drive is?

I’m not saying that Apple doesn’t benefit a little too directly from the change to be honest — but, in the grand scheme of things, it just simplifies things for the user, so that makes it a mostly good thing, doesn’t it?

 

(Reading the comments makes me realize that maybe whoever originally decided that 1kB would be be 1024 bytes might have been so quick to disregard what “kilo” is usually supposed to mean because they didn’t use the metric system personally, so they didn’t figure how confusing it might be. Also, lots of interesting comments on the post I linked.)

I like Yojimbo’s new icon. And… that’s about it.

3 September

“Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: the [Siracusa] review”

As usual, the definitive review of the latest OS X update is on Ars Technica, written by John Siracusa, and he details each and every point so thoroughly that the review is 23 pages long with no table of contents and it’s almost impossible to quote anything, because each point is detailed over half a dozen paragraphs. (You wouldn’t think the guy has a Twitter account.) I’d even say this year’s review is a little more belabored and fluffed than usual, but that may just be because I was tired when I read it (and, like I said, 23 pages).

Still, it’s a must-read, as usual, and it explains in relatively clear language why Snow Leopard is important, and how good and magical some of the new APIs are.

 

The visual sameness of Snow Leopard presents a bit of a marketing challenge for Apple. Even beyond the obvious problem of how to promote an operating system upgrade with “no new features” to consumers, there’s the issue of how to get people to notice that this new product exists at all. […]

Yep, it’s a snow leopard. With actual snow on it. It’s a bit on the nose for my taste, but it’s not without its charms.

That’s a great justification of why OS X’s packaging suddenly got so… pedestrian (not that it was ever subtle, actually). I still don’t like it — and I was surprised not to see more reaction to the images, or was it that I didn’t read the reactions to the first leaks because I couldn’t believe they were true? — but it does make sense.

 

In fact, all compressed Snow Leopard files appear to contain zero bytes when viewed from a pre-Snow Leopard version of Mac OS X. […] Ah, there’s all the data. But wait, it’s in the resource fork? Weren’t those deprecated about eight years ago? Indeed they were.

The reason I’m interested in that idea (which is kind of a clever compatibility hack, although it makes a bit more of a mess of the filesystem) is my personal pet peeve: Dropbox, the best cloud synchronization system, doesn’t sync resource forks. Every time I see someone recommend it (and it happens often, because it’s so well done), I jump on the occasion to remind them that it fucking corrupts anything that relies on resource forks — used to be just icons, web bookmarks and text clippings, but now it’s gonna be all system-compressed files.

I don’t know how transparent the compression process will be to Dropbox, and at how low a level they access the filesystem, but there’s a chance it would motivate them to finally get to work on this. Or not.

 

And then, the final frontier: an entire file’s contents stored uncompressed in an extended attribute. […] When storing information in a data or resource fork, HFS+ allocates space in multiples of the file system’s allocation block size (4 KB, by default). […] When allocating disk space for extended attributes, however, the allocation block size is not a factor; the data is packed in much more tightly.

Now, talk about filesystem hacks. That’s very clever: if a file is much smaller than the drive’s block size, just store its contents in the file allocation table (ok, apparently it’s called “the Catalog” on the Mac, sorry for purists, I’ll admit I never looked at the inner workings of HFS). But Jesus is it hackey.

Also, Siracusa points out later in his review that HFS is inherently unstable, and you always gets corruption over time in your Catalog. So I guess those are files that just won’t ever recover from errors, will they?

 

And, speaking of the filesystem, the thing I’m most eager to try out, as a developer, with Snow Leopard, is the entirely rewritten filesystem APIs: you wouldn’t imagine how convoluted it got for me when I simply wanted Sokusei to follow aliases to files and folders — two dozen lines of unfathomable code for something that, conceptually, should be just one instruction.

Well, now that appears to be solved (according to the article; I haven’t looked at the documentation yet), and… I’m not gonna be able to play with it for a while.

Incidentally, that new API, if it’s really well designed, could very well be the main reason, rather than 64-bit computing or Grand Central Dispatch, why small productivity utilities and all kinds of little applications could quite quickly update to Snow-only versions. I can tell you that Sokusei would probably go that route within a couple of months if my main machine was an Intel Mac.

 

The article makes a nice summary of where Snow Leopard is on the 64-bit front, and where the previous versions of the OS were — an important reminder that Leopard was already very much 64-bit–compatible, and that the only difference in Snow Leopard is that the kernel can run in 32-bit (but doesn’t for compatibility’s sake), and the system (I guess that means the Finder, Dock, Time Machine, and so on?) does run in 64-bit… but all apps could already run in 64-bit with Leopard; it’s just that they didn’t care to.

And that’s followed by another nice reminder of the nicest reasons why 64-bit is more efficient than 32-bit: x86 processors don’t work quite the same way when they’re in 64-bit mode, and let go of some legacy contrivances, making computation faster beyond the fact that it happens on eight bytes at once.

Remember when Apple switched to Intel and Siracusa complained that he could imagine his data going through that tortuous, inelegant architecture instead of the PowerPC’s streamlined RISC instruction set? Well, as I understand it, that’s a little bit of what this is about.

 

Those with some multithreaded programming experience may be unimpressed with [Grand Central Dispatch]. So Apple made a thread pool. Big deal. They’ve been around forever. But the angels are in the details. Yes, the implementation of queues and threads has an elegant simplicity, and baking it into the lowest levels of the OS really helps to lower the perceived barrier to entry, but it’s the API built around blocks that makes Grand Central Dispatch so attractive to developers.

The code examples he gives are just baffling in their simplicity. I had already been amazed when I discovered Leopard’s NSInvocationOperation (which already made it insanely easy to spawn tasks as new threads), but the elegance of Dispatch for creating threads and processing their results back in the main thread is just unbelievable.

 

When a 64-bit application using QTKit requires the services of the 32-bit-only QuickTime 7 back-end, QTKit spawns a separate 32-bit QTKitServer process to do the work and communicate the results back to the originating 64-bit process. If you leave Activity Monitor open while using the new QuickTime Player application, you can watch the QTKitServer processes come and go as needed.

Just like Safari’s plug-ins running in their own processes (for the same reason), the idea that this works, and is even remotely efficient, amazes and puzzles me a bit.

 

Also, [QuickTime Player’s] title bar obscures an entire swath of the top of the frame, and this can’t be moved. I appreciate the compactness of this approach, but it’d be nice if the title bar overlap could be disabled and the controls could be dragged off the movie entirely and docked to the bottom or something.

When everyone described how the the title bar disappeared while a movie was playing, there was never any hesitation in my mind that the title bar had to be outside the movie — like the Finder’s sidebar which just grows out of the window when you activate it.

Having it overlap the whole top of the movie, with not even a bit of transparency, is absolutely bonkers. Like I said in a previous post, there is one or several sociopathic designers in the iTunes and QuickTime Player teams who just won’t let anything go out without imposing their demented mark on the interface.

 

Finally (and I did mention that the original review is 23-page long and the most thorough, documented article you’ll ever read on the internet, so I’ve only been writing here about stuff I had to comment on; it doesn’t in any way replace reading the whole thing), I always assumed that Siracusa would be the one to finally do some testing, and listing, on which applications do and don’t support text substitutions. But I guess he doesn’t care much for that functionality, because it only gets a screenshot and a couple of sentences. Damnit, you can’t count on anyone anymore.

Which reminds me: Do my Mac apps work in Snow Leopard?

TextWrangler 3.0 slightly changed my syntax highlighting colors, and I can’t remember what they were. So I changed it all and now I’m lost.

I’m not one to bitch about a great free service, no I’m not, but how hard can it be to fix Google Reader’s eternally wrong unread counts?

I’ve never been so glad the guys making Adobe’s installers are morons: the fastest way to disable Flash Player’s debug mode is to update it.

“10.6: Take advantage of clipping files’ new features”

Clipping files in Snow Leopard have gained significant features. First, they now work with Quick Look. Second, you can open a clipping file and actually select a portion of the text to copy. Finally, they have a fully-functional title bar, so you can Command-click (or Control-click) the title to see the full path.

Hallelujah. (Funny that two of those are actually regression fixes from Leopard., but it’s the Quick Look part I’m interested in.)

“Sony Walkman Outsells IPod for First Time in 4 Years”

Sony Corp.’s Walkman digital music player outsold Apple Inc.’s iPod in Japan last week for the first time in more than four years, according to electronics research firm BCN Inc.

Wow, that’s amazing. Or maybe it’s just a fluff piece that disregards (yet mentions in passing) that all existing iPods have just been end-of-lifed in advance of the announcement of new models next week. I’m not sure. Wait — yes, I am.

4 September

“Slow iPhone? It’s Your Fault For Using It So Much”

Netflix doesn’t get into some song and dance about being overwhelmed by DVD returns and how those gosh darned paying, movie watching customers with their unlimited accounts are watching too many movies. All the magic could be occurring in some rain forest warehouse with envelope elves for all I care. Netflix delivers. And when they screw up, they refund money, apologize, and explain later. Result: happy, satisfied customers that don’t bolt to Blockbuster.

AT&T could learn a thing or two from Netflix when it comes to customer service, that’s for sure. Or at least hire some elves.

Yeah, good customer service and commercial policy makes good reputation and loyal customers.

Timestamped backups in TextWrangler

TextWrangler 3.0 removed the option to hit a File menu command and create a backup of the file you’re editing, replacing it with a global preference of either keeping backups of every single edit you make, or no backup at all.

That’s damn annoying, because I relied on that option as my own primitive CVS, making a backup of a file whenever I was about to make important edits. (Like I said, primitive, I know, but it’s convenient.)

So here’s how you can restore that functionality, using AppleScript. Go to the Scripts menu (the little scroll icon near Help — I think it’s enabled by default?) and select “Open Scripts Folder”; make a copy of an existing script, rename it to something like “00) Make Timestamped Backup.scpt” (the “00)” won’t be displayed, it serves to order the scripts in the menu), double-click the file to open it in Script Editor, and replace its contents with the following:

tell application "TextWrangler"

set fileAlias to (file of document 1 of window 1)set filePath to POSIX path of (fileAlias as text)

end tell

 

tell application "Finder"

set fileName to name of fileAlias

set fileExtension to name extension of fileAlias

set fileBasePath to text 1 thru -((length of fileExtension) + 2) of filePath

 

do shell script "cp " & fileBasePath & "." & fileExtension & " " & fileBasePath & "." & "`date +’%Y-%m-%d.%H-%M-%S’`" & "." & fileExtension

end tell

 

tell application "TextWrangler"

display dialog "Backed up " & fileName & "." buttons {"Ok"} default button 1

end tell

(Make sure you don’t mangle the assortment of double quotes, single quotes and backquotes on that “do shell script” line.)

Now your TextWrangler has a “Make Timestamped Backup” command, ready to use, that will do just that and not ask you any questions; it will just display a confirmation dialog when it’s done. You can also use the Scripts palette (Window menu, Palettes, Scripts) to give it a hotkey.

I might have to stop using Google because of whatever Javascript makes it impossible to use the up and down arrows when editing a query.

“Unsung Snow Leopard feature: multiple-language spell checker”

But now, OS X offers simultaneous spell checking not only in four different varieties of English, but also in Spanish, French, German, Italian, and six other European languages. You can mix and match these languages in a single document, and the built-in spell checker will intelligently adapt to whichever language it thinks you’ve switched to.

Yay! One more reason why I’m frustrated not to have an Intel Mac. (Although I’m confused as to why it’s limited to ten different languages. Or does spell-checking only ever works in those languages?)

The adaptation seems to happen on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis. In other words, the spell checker doesn’t seem to be intelligent enough to recognize when you switch languages in mid-paragraph, much less mid-sentence.

“John Nack on Adobe: Why your Web content will look darker on Snow Leopard”

Macintosh, in 1984, introduced us to desktop publishing and to displays with shades of grays. Publishing at that time meant printing presses, and the dot gain of a typical press (then and now) corresponds to a gamma of 1.8. As color management was non-existent at the time […] Apple’s pick of a 1.8 display gamma enabled the Macintosh displays to match the press.

[In] 1996, IEC put forth a CRT-based display standard (sRGB) for the Web that would match the HDTV capture standard, having a net gamma of around 2.2. sRGB was slowly adopted first in the PC display market, next in the burgeoning digital camera market, and 2.2 became the dominant display gamma.

Finally cleaned up my Apache logs with a bunch of “RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f”

I can feel the server breathe a sigh of relief.

5 September

“The Macalope Weekly: Good kitty, bad kitty”

First time a Macalope article makes me laugh since he’s gone weekly-for-pay, so I guess it deserves some linking. (It might also just be that I’m tired.)

Apple shipped an older version of Flash with some bugs in it. Now, some will tell you these things take time and you don’t yank out a valuable Web browser asset like Flash at the last minute without doing weeks of regression testing.

But the horny one wonders why not? It’s just going to crash anyway. Do they really do that much testing with Flash? It sure doesn’t seem to be helping if they do.

“Time to test Flash. OK, it crashed. Ship it!”

6 September

Oh, Google’s Advanced Image Search finally has clearer choices for image size.

7 September

Qqn aurait une suggestion pour que les serveurs DNS de Neuf/SFR ne renvoient pas une erreur sur les *.nopicnodial.com non définis en dur ?

“Nerd Venn Diagram”

I’m surprised to say I think the diagram actually works (well, except for “dweeb,” maybe, but they just needed to write something in that space, and I can’t immediately come up with something better). So now you’ll know what to answer when someone asks you to explain the difference between a geek and a nerd.

8 September

Steve or Unsteve?

I’m really puzzled by the number of people, and pundits, who don’t believe that Steve Jobs will present tomorrow’s Apple keynote. Seems like they fail to realize — or take for granted — that skipping this event would be like officially announcing his retirement. And if he was the kind of guy to retire and stop being the public face of Apple, don’t you think he’d have done that before he lost so much weight that nobody could talk about anything else? What would be the sense of stepping slowly away from the spotlight now that the damage is done?

The consensus on the last This Week in Tech was that his presenting the keynote would detract too much attention from the real announcements. Well, yeah, so?! By all accounts, nothing important will be introduced tomorrow (no, I don’t care about the Beatles); so what better time could you imagine to just put Steve on stage and let everyone revel in his nondeadness? It doesn’t matter how thin he is or isn’t; much better for him to appear publicly now, rather than steal the focus from the tablets when he actually does announce them. I know he doesn’t want to acknowledge that his health has become a public topic, but he’s not stupid, either; he knows he needs to show himself, and if he weren’t going to do the very next keynote Apple would already have released some very detailed photographic evidence that he’s back at work.

Unless he’s preparing to retire, you’ll say. We’re talking about Steve Fucking Jobs, I’ll answer, and I’ll probably call you a moron because that’s the way I roll. He went through his first cancer treatment without officially stepping down; he only did so when he had to go through a goddamn transplant, for just a few months, and even then he reportedly spent a good deal of his time supervising Apple’s R&D from home. Now he’s back at Infinite Loop, and you expect him to hide behind the curtains? Nonsense. Just nonsense.

 

As for the announcements themselves:

  • I accept the common assumption that it isn’t the right time for the tablet.

  • Like I said, I don’t care about the Beatles.

  • I don’t see the point of discontinuing the Shuffle; no matter how cheap the Nano gets, the Shuffle will always be dirter-cheaper and have its place in the lineup.

  • I think killing the Classic would be insane, but I don’t discount the possibility. There will always be people who want to carry their entire library in their pocket, and the option that would really make sense would be to replace the Classic with a hard-drive–based Touch. And the name change could satisfy Apple’s trigger-happiness with the product kill-switch, but I’m not holding out that much hope.

“Commodore 64 iPhone app approved, then pulled”

Unfortunately, one of the sticking points of the original program was that it contained a BASIC interpreter, where users could enter their own code. While this functionality wasn’t exposed in the version that made it into the store, turns out it could be enabled through some hokery-pokery.

Apple’s constantly vigilant Extreme iPhone App Squad caught wind of this Easter egg and, to little surprise, the Commodore 64 app has been pulled from the store.

A C64 emulator with a hidden BASIC interpreter gets pulled the minute Apple finds out about it, because it’s against the SDK’s terms; meanwhile, Yelp’s augmented reality easter egg, or Google’s use of undocumented features to detect when you put the phone to your ear, are vastly publicized, but stay unpunished. I can’t decide whether it’s blatant favoritism, or Apple is actually scared of a BASIC interpreter running on the iPhone.

 

P.S. I had assumed the whole “hack” thing was bullshit, but after checking out how it worked I could quite believe that the interpreter’s availability was indeed an accident. (It’s not like they could remove the code that interprets BASIC anyway.) Unlike the Google and Yelp cases.

The Flickr iPhone app’s home screen is so gorgeous it’s hypnotic. How does Apple’s Photos app not work like that already?

9 September

“Daring Fireball: It’s Only Rock and Roll Event Prelude”

The word is that Apple’s “secrecy machine” has been kicked back into high gear ever since you-know-who returned from you-know-what. Anecdotal evidence backs that up: I’ve heard very little about tomorrow’s “It’s Only Rock and Roll” event.

Don’t drop that so casually, it’s scary as hell! I’ve always figured that Apple — the good, successful Apple we mostly love — would die with Steve Jobs, but I thought it would be a slow death, over three or four years; I absolutely do not want to believe that all it takes is Steve taking a six-month leave for unrepentant leaks to suddenly start pouring all over the place.

 

What makes iTunes such an odd duck for Apple is that it’s not just a Mac app — there are far more iTunes users on Windows, but there is no 64-bit Cocoa runtime for Windows. So here’s my pet theory: at some point iTunes will be rewritten using WebKit to render the UI.

Despite the creepy reminiscence of Mozilla/XUL, that’s a fantastic idea that Apple should really look into if they haven’t already. (But I’d wager they have, because it suddenly explains so much better their porting Safari to Windows. And stuff like 3D transforms in WebKit. Behold the full-Javascript Cover Flow that will bring my iMac to its knees.)

“‘Anonymized’ data really isn’t—and here’s why not”

Companies continue to store and sometimes release vast databases of “anonymized” information about users. But, as Netflix, AOL, and the State of Massachusetts have learned, “anonymized” data can often be cracked in surprising ways, revealing the hidden secrets each of us are assembling in online “databases of ruin.“[…]

But it was only an early mile marker in Sweeney’s career; in 2000, she showed that 87 percent of all Americans could be uniquely identified using only three bits of information: ZIP code, birthdate, and sex. […] As increasing amounts of information on all of us are collected and disseminated online, scrubbing data just isn’t enough to keep our individual “databases of ruin” out of the hands of the police, political enemies, nosy neighbors, friends, and spies.

Emphasis mine on the creepy bit. I’m not a privacy nut by any means, but it does make you wonder if you shouldn’t start systematically lying about your birth date whenever you register on a website that isn’t expected to correlate the data with your social security number.

Bear in mind though that the birth date thing only applies to massive-scale automated processes; whatever you do, you can be identified and tracked by someone who really wants to. Like I said, I’m not a privacy nut, but the main reason why I don’t care is that I don’t anticipate to ever look for a 9-to-5 job, and that doesn’t apply to most people.

What I don’t get is why Apple keeps giving detailed measurements of the new iPods to case manufacturers even though they keep leaking them.

Palm Pixi

I can’t quite pinpoint what Palm’s motivation is for announcing their phones on Apple holidays; whatever it is, it’s definitely not rational. They can’t be so delusional as to think they’re actually detracting from the keynote buzz (if they were delusional, they wouldn’t have been able to produce such a good OS), and I still don’t think they profit much from it, either — so is Rubinstein setting Palm on a suicide course just for the petty satisfaction of knowing that he pissed Steve Jobs just a little bit on the morning of his keynote? Well, come to think of it, it’s the kind of thing you could imagine Jobs doing, and Rubinstein looks to be quite the competent Jobs apprentice, so maybe it makes perfect sense after all.

Anyhoo, about the device: it looks very nice, and I’d like to have it in my pocket — here’s hoping its keyboard gets better reviews than the Pre’s, but at least this time there won’t be technical issues with the slider’s hinge. The big surprise (whereas the Pixi is pretty much everything you expected the Centro’s successor to be) is that it’s still a Sprint exclusive, when everyone thought Palm would be in a hurry to deliver a handset to Verizon. I have a hard time imagining the carrier pays Palm such a nice fee for the privilege, but it could be about marketing: I guess, as long as Sprint has the exclusivity, they have an incentive to share the burden of advertising the device and the OS in a way that multiple carriers wouldn’t.

But would you really want to buy a smartphone without wifi? Price hasn’t been discussed yet, but everyone expects it at $99 — the same price as the iPhone 3G, which has the same capacity, a bigger screen (okay, that one’s an arguable choice, since the point of the Pixi is that it has a keyboard), a wifi connection… and it’s an iPhone.

I understand that Palm doesn’t want to be seen as undercutting the iPhonebecause their phones could then be perceived as inferior (and, well, maybe they can’t afford to), but the lack of wifi makes the Pixi a very definitely inferior product selling at or around the same price — not just because wifi allows better connectivity when a hotspot is available, but because there are many useful applications that rely on your device being able to communicate directly with your computers on your home network. Once again, they stop so very short of actually being competitive.

And, really, even if Sprint launched it at $49 or $59, I don’t think that would make up for the lack of wifi; as it stands, the Pixi only makes sense as a nice feature phone — with the cool webOS interface, and a full keyboard, great for calling, texting, and emailing — but not a real smartphone. And, while there is a market for such a thing, it’s still a damn shame when you think of the lost opportunities.

Automatic internationalization is such a mess. Shouldn’t it make sense that, when I go to news.google.fr, that’s because I want the French version?

Guess I’ll remove my tv.com search bookmark and rely on Wikipedia instead. Tired of that Facebook Connect dialog showing up every time.

“This version of iTunes (8.2.1) is the current version.”

click

“This version of iTunes (8.2.1) is the current version.”

click

“This version of iTunes (8.2.1) is the current version.”

RT @Pogue: Something sad about 500 journalists in this auditorium (me too), faces in keyboards, tweeting and blogging—while NORAH JONES performs!

RT @acedtect: Best thing to come out of the Apple press conference today? Be an organ donor. I’m 100% behind you on that one Mr. Jobs.

I will not — repeat, not — download iTunes 9 manually because automatic software update can’t be bothered to get its head out of its ass.

Stevenote 2009.08

Well? Well? What did I tell you? That was the most minor iTunes/iPod event you could have imagined, and Steve Jobs was there. Of course Steve Jobs was there. Damn, you people are stupid. Why do I even bother talking at you?

 

iPhone OS 3.1

I’m not really interested in Genius for applications, because it will by principle only recommend popular applications that I’d already have heard of by word-of-mouth and through blogs, but the update is welcome in that it enables app management in iTunes 9, and that’s a godsend. Drag-and-drop with multiple selection, the ability to reorder whole pages at once… but I guess they won’t have gone so far as to let you hide the iPhone’s default apps you don’t use, will they?

I’m just confused about the mention of ringtones: weren’t there already ringtones on the iTunes Store? Oh, right, maybe you couldn’t buy them straight from the phone. But did Jobs actually dare say that $1.29 is “a breakthrough price”?

 

iTunes 9

So you had Party Mix, then there was iTunes DJ, and now the Genius Mixes… uh, it’s become a little mixed-up, don’t you think? My guess is that there’s an engineer somewhere in the iTunes department who just wants this automated playlist management to work, and will throw every name and every algorithm at the users until one sticks.

Similarly, Home Sharing strikes me as a weird “other way” to do something you could already do (remember you could already install iPhone apps onto several iPhones and iPods from one iTunes), but I guess it’s mostly useful for laptop users — although for that usage I think it would be much more interesting if the laptop behaved like an Apple TV when seen from another computer’s iTunes.

Don’t care about iTunes LP, but I’m not much of an iTunes Store customer anyway; I find it interesting that they’d call it “LP,” as it definitely makes sense, and sounds okay, but harkens back to such an obsolete object that a huge number of buyers actually won’t have any idea what it’s supposed to mean. But how isn’t iTunes Extras — bringing the whole DVD purchase experience to the Store, with real content rather than just pretty photos you could have found elsewhere — a bigger story?

The addition of wishlists and gifts is amazingly belated, yet welcome; but wasn’t there this whole buzz about how iTunes 9 was going to become actually social? I’m sorry, somehow I don’t consider spamming your Facebook and Twitter friends particularly social or, you know, innovative.

 

iPod touch

Blah blah blah great device blah blah success story blah blah hi, I’m an iPod, hi, I’m a PSP — it’s a shame that the Mac/PC ads have been such a success, because they encourage Apple to go on comparing their products with their competitors’, and that’s a really annoying habit. I’m no Sony or Nintendo apologist but, come on, comparing the iPhone OS game catalog with that of the PSP or DS? Is this Apple saying that quantity trumps quality now?

And wait for the cherry on top: presenting in an Apple keynote a Halo clone that uses two on-screen virtual sticks as a control mechanism. Oh, yeah, please do tell how much better that is than Resistance on the PSP. On-screen virtual sticks. By the way, where the hell are those battery+sticks attachments we all expected to flood the market after the release of OS 3.0?

$199 for 8GB is nice, and a 64GB version sounds extra-nice — but you’d better not miss the fact that, unlike the higher-end models, the 8GB Touch doesn’t have the same CPU/GPU upgrade as the iPhone 3GS, which makes it a really bad value proposition when you know there’s a $299 32GB model with twice the power.

 

iPod classic

I still think they should Touch it up but, like I said, it would have been silly to kill it (just like it would have been silly to kill it last year, when everybody said they would, and maybe the year before, I don’t remember). Talk about “the iPod touch as the best netbook,” if it was available with a 160GB hard drive.

Oh, wait, I know why they don’t offer that: it would be less expensive than the 64GB, and possibly the 32GB Touch. And that kind of math is okay when you’re selling the MacBook Air, but it doesn’t work so much with the more general public. (Actually, I checked, and the Air is only available with a 120GB hard drive or a 128GB flash drive, so even in that case it looks like they’re actively avoiding the ambiguity.)

 

iPod shuffle

Yeah, please do keep repeating that the absence of controls on the device makes it “the easiest to use” — that’ll make it true. Straw on the camel’s back, presenting a slide of one of those giant pairs of headphones, with a remote on the cord. Nevermind that the headphones are probably ten times the cost of the Shuffle, why won’t you just offer it to manufacturers as an embeddable solution already? It looks so ridiculous to have that thing be so much smaller than whatever you plug it into.

And ch… ch… chrome? Oh, sorry, that’s polished stainless steel. For a second there I thought it was a chrome finish.

No, seriously. Chrome is back in?! (And it’s even an Apple Store exclusive. What. The. Hell.)

 

iPod nano

Positioning the Nano as a competitor to Flip’s device is a pretty interesting idea (and claiming to cross over into new markets did work quite well for the Touch as a gaming platform, evidently). But the video isn’t widescreen, let alone HD (it doesn’t look bad, though, as long as you don’t want to watch it on your TV), there’s no mention of still photos (no wonder, with the resolution being so low), and the ad presents it as the most awkward video camera a human being has ever held. I’m sure you could hold it by placing your fingers on the top and bottom edges instead, but then I guess it would too easily slip — and, when push comes to shove, you just can’t make good video with a device too light and too small anyway. Still, it does stand a chance of being a hit… well, at least until YouTube’s video players default to HD.

I’m really surprised that the rumor of an FM tuner turned out to be true (how about the other devices then? I wouldn’t mind getting FM with “live pause” on my iPhone). And it’s interesting that the new Nike+ system is presented on Apple’s site, but wasn’t talked about in the keynote (or did I miss something?).

Ah, and it’s chrome, too. Yeesh.

 

The missing link

No camera on the iPod touch, then? There’s no choice anymore but to believe the more recent rumors about Apple having technical difficulties and being forced to pull it, but it still boggles the mind — how hard could it be to integrate the same sensor as the iPhone in the Touch? Or is the iPod actually too thin? That’s just weird.

I can’t imagine they’ll wait a full year to add photo and video capability, so I guess the inevitable conclusion is: do not buy an iPod touch until they update it.

I like iTunes 9’s interface, except for the playback buttons. More about that when the French iTunes Store isn’t the old version anymore.

Every time someone says “I upgraded and I don’t see much difference” I’m gonna kill a kitten and stuff it with angel feathers.

10 September

Ah, still no option to only sync audio podcasts.

I’m sure there’s absolutely no reason for this consequence of iTunes 9’s installation to make me nervous.

Not liking the new iTunes Store. Too much white space, not enough definition of separate areas, and it’s way too damn attention-whore wide.

Waaah, nobody’s added me on Twitter for days. Why couldn’t you just let the spambots live!

You’re not allowed to add iPhone apps to your iTunes wishlist?

“RSSCloud Vs. PubSubHubbub: Why The Fat Pings Win”

Interesting discussion if you’re considering your options to implement push on your RSS feeds. (Which is none of your concern if you’re using a ready-made CMS.)

Blogs have been commenting the keynote for 24 hours and today’s MacBreak Weekly has the hosts commenting it live, in real time.

If @leolaporte doesn’t remember soon he’s got way more podcast listeners than live watchers, I’m gonna have more time to listen to music.

“iPhone 3.1 Software Walkthrough”

Voice Control over Bluetooth sounds nice. So does remotely setting a passcode lock (if it can also trigger the lock). And I can’t believe video editing didn’t have a “Save as” option before.

11 September

“iTunes 9 Focus: Tips for editing your iPhone apps screens”

I feel compelled to reiterate that the coolest part is being able to reorder whole pages at once in the rightmost column (including the light-gray blank pages that creates a new page as soon as you populate it). Because, really, the rest you can do almost as fast on the iPhone itself.

“Motorola CLIQ: first hands-on impressions”

Visually, their customized Android doesn’t hold a candle to HTC’s, and I wouldn’t trust Motorola to ever design something usable again. And weren’t they supposed to quit making phones anyway?

Facebook Lite now available internationally

It’s so weird to enter the URL and have the page appear instantaneously. Problem is, the home page doesn’t offer or take into account the group filters on the news feed, so I’m not interested in using it.

“iTunes 8 versus 9”

A rollover comparison. I like most of the changes, except for the playback buttons and the default new layout for the “Browse” feature (which you can revert to original in the View menu); love the top gradient and the search box.

Thanks to John Siracusa for pointing out that it’s somewhat reminiscent of when OS X 10.6 was supposed to have a new UI named “Marble.”

Typed a tweet. Deleted it. Pressed Cmd-Z. Beep. Beep beep. Blow me, Twitterific. I might be switching back to Tweetie.

Scratch that. In Tweetie there wouldn’t even be an expectation of undo after I’d closed the input window. (Which is stupid. Drafts, hello?)

12 September

“iPod touch 3rd Generation Teardown”

There is a 6mm x 6mm x 3mm space between the Broadcom chip and the wireless antenna. There isn’t enough depth for an iPhone-style autofocus still camera, but just enough room for the camera that Apple used in the 5th generation iPod nano.

That’s interesting. I can’t imagine Apple selling an iPod touch with a camera that inferior to the iPhone’s (so I’ll just go ahead and assume that the 3G’s camera would also fit). And doesn’t this look like they would be planning to also have a front-facing camera?

“Is this Apple’s e-book trojan horse?”

Tyrese Gibson’s Mayhem is a comic book — the first standalone print publication for sale in Apple’s iTunes LP format.

Holy shit, I’d missed that — it pretty much translates to: OS X tablet as an e-reader, confirmed!

Also interesting: seems like iTunes LP uses HTML and Javascript (quite obvious in retrospect, but I didn’t figure it out). Or LP authoring does, but like I said it’s obvious that its display ought to be WebKit-based.

“Cocoia Blog  » Snow Leopard UI roundup”

A couple interesting points you may have not seen elsewhere, with a special mention for sub-pixel rendering of the progress indicator in the QuickTime web plugin.

But I still think the new version of the aurora desktop background looks weird.

“iTunes 9’s New Interface Causing App Sales To Drop?”

iTunes 8 clearly displayed all app categories, such as games, finance, entertainment, and what have you, on the left-hand side of the screen. iTunes 9, however, hides all of these categories under a tiny arrow within the top navigation bar. An arrow that doesn’t appear unless hovered over.

I didn’t notice, because I don’t browse for apps, but hiding the categories that way is indeed a little weird. And I’ll never understand why customers are expected to care about a list of the top-grossing apps.

“Some Notes On iTunes LP”

The LP frame seems to have a width and height of 1280×720. This is nice, but means I get ugly scrollbars all over my 13″ MacBook screen.

Ugh, that’s lame. Remember full-page zoom, guys?

The iTunes LP experience is accomplished with HTML 4.01, CSS and JS. The interface feels very Flash-like, but there is no trace of it. […] I would like to see if it would be possible to roll your own iTunes LP by modifying the included PLIST to point to different sound files.

That could be quite fun.

“iPhone OS 3.1 anti-phishing works; you just need to set it up properly”

After updating to iPhone OS 3.1 the user should launch [Mobile] Safari, connect to a Wi-Fi network and charge their iPhone with the screen off [so that Safari can download the list of phishing sites off the internet].

Now that’s a mess.

13 September

“Microsoft: Windows 7 upgrade can take nearly a day”

Microsoft really did time an upgrade [from Vista to Windows 7] that took 20 hours and 20 minutes. That’s with 650GB of data, 40 applications, on mid-end hardware, and during a 32-bit upgrade.

Would you care to complain again about how upgrading to Snow Leopard was a waste of your time?

16 September

“iTwinge: The Keyboard Sleeve That Turns Your iPhone Into a BlackBerry”

iTwinge, an iPhone sleeve that does the trick in the simplest of fashions: it merely covers the software keys with real, physical ones.

This is not a completely stupid idea, taking the many caveats into account (no landscape mode, hides contextual keys, prevents from selecting alternates and accents…). But what puzzles me is why such an accessory would need to take power from the iPhone’s battery.

Or are they just pretending to be powered so that you think it’s more high-tech than it actually is? I’m seriously considering the possibility.

“M.I.T. students launch $150 space camera”

Sometimes, a basic Canon A470 point and shoot, a little ingenuity, and a beer cooler are all you need. That is what two M.I.T. students used to capture images of the Earth from space, well, actually the upper atmosphere; technically, it wasn’t high enough to be space.

Damn, that’s cool. (I remember reading about it when they “launched,” but now the pictures are online and give a better representation of how damn high the camera went.)

“Finer Things in Mac”

iTunes 9 offers a preference that allows the iTunes Store to use the entire window width. The left sidebar animates when hiding, and an (X) button in the store’s toolbar allows you to leave and get back to your library.

The iTunes Store layout is still too wide, on principle and for my Mini’s screen, but that option makes it just a little bit more usable.

17 September

Drag the layer’s padlock to the trash to immediately unlock the background layer of a Photoshop file (via Layers TV). Yay!

“WebKit Page Cache I – The Basics”

Since the unload event’s purpose is to allow “important work when a page is closed,” all major browsers refuse to put such pages in their Page Cache, causing a direct negative impact on the user experience.

Interesting: if your page has a <body onunload> (or Javascript equivalent), when the user navigates away from the page, then comes back with the “Back” button, it will be reloaded entirely, and the user will just hate how sluggish his browser is today.

(Which makes sense when you think of it, but something to keep in mind if you have an onunload you don’t quite need. Such as freeing resources for that stupid IE6.)

18 September

“Muse’s Matt Bellamy answers Lily Allen’s call to arms”

“My current opinion is that file sharing is now the norm,” Bellamy wrote, adding that internet service providers [ISPs] “are not being taxed by the copyright owners correctly”.

Damn. Now I have to boycott Muse, and stop… uh, buying their records. Right.

21 September

Snow Leopard yay, one hour after the upgrade: start a .mov in QuickTime X, the Mini reboots. Poof.

I don’t like that QuickTime doesn’t start playing anymore when you go to full screen. (Sure, I could use version 7, but X is so shiny!)

22 September

“To install Parallels 4.0, you need to shut down these running, suspensed VMs.”

“You can’t use Parallels 3.0 with this version of Mac OS X.”

“Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking”

Because the keywords meta tag was so often abused, many years ago Google began disregarding the keywords meta tag. […] Even though we sometimes use the description meta tag for the snippets we show, we still don’t use the description meta tag in our ranking.

Webmasters have known this for a while, but it’s so nice to finally have an official article, from Google, explaining to my clients that they don’t need to insist on carefully managing their meta keywords. Could we have more blog posts like that, please?

23 September

“Courier: First Details of Microsoft’s Secret Tablet”

Courier is a real device, and we’ve heard that it’s in the “late prototype” stage of development. It’s not a tablet, it’s a booklet. The dual 7-inch (or so) screens are multitouch, and designed for writing, flicking and drawing with a stylus, in addition to fingers.

The demo video of the interface is fantastic — this is not a netbook, or a tablet computer, or whatever: it’s a digital notebook, with tailor-made software and specific functionality — and I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

But then, the concept itself entails some limitations: since this is not going to run regular applications, it’s not going to replace your laptop, or even your XP netbook, so it better be real cheap. And, with two multitouch screens, it’s gonna have a hard time being affordable.

Still, Microsoft’s Entertainment & Devices division (the same people who designed the Xbox and the Zune) is definitely talented.

 

This video gives new expectations for whatever Apple might or might not release in tablet form someday. The iPhone software is two years old (plus design time) and the visuals and basic paradigms are becoming passé; if the tablet is going to wow us, its software has to be as specific as the Courier’s — I’m suddenly not so much interested in a tablet that would run OS X or iPhone OS. I want this thing.

“Google brings Chrome’s renderer to IE with browser plugin”

Google has a plan to drag IE into the world of modern browsing by building a plugin that will allow it to use Chrome’s HTML renderer and high-performance JavaScript engine.

Wow. This is amazing, and unexpected. Running Google Chrome in an MSIE plugin — it’s so obvious, in retrospect! Those users who resist installing a new browser (or can’t because of lazy sysadmins) will be much more liable to install a plugin, especially one that’s branded by Google.

It’s such a simple idea, why didn’t anyone do it before? (Partly because it’s not that simple, technologically, I’ll wager.)

 

Their ace in the hole? None other than Google Wave, the highly anticipated real-time communication platform that will launch to the public next week. Today, on the Google Wave Developer Blog, the company essentially said this: if you want to use Google Wave, Install the Chrome Frame or drop Microsoft’s browser.

I’m not sure how much power Google Wave is really going to have in driving Chrome Frame’s adoption (YouTube would provide a much better incentive — and I’m sure it soon will, as Google knows this just as well), but that doesn’t matter: as soon as the plugin reaches 1.0 (it’s “early-stage” right now, whatever that means — Google can’t use the word “beta” anymore to denote anything, it would be meaningless), many webmasters will be requiring its installation. The instructions to do so are here, even though it’s a little early for anyone to make end-users install it — but there’s information on how to get your PHP scripts to detect whether Chrome Frame is installed (look for “chromeframe” in the user agent string), and alter your site’s layout and functionality accordingly.

It just takes a single meta tag to get your pages to render in Chrome Frame when it’s available, and I’m going to add it to all my pages right away (and so are you):

<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="chrome=1">

 

This is huge for all webdesigners: even though for most sites you can’t afford to require a compulsory plugin install, it will still become that much easier to convince our bosses and clients that it’s okay to leave vanilla-MSIE6 users hanging dry with a reduced-functionality version of the site, since pretty soon most of the Internet Explorer laggards will be getting the site in Chrome Frame anyway.

iPhone 3.2 request: Please show the app icon on the locked-screen notices so I don’t have to look closely to know if it’s a real message.

24 September

“Justine Bateman Angry At The Internet”

This is so awesome. Twitter’s “Project Retweet,” which embeds entries retweeted by your contacts directly into your timeline, has only been shortly available for some VIPs as a beta test, and already one of those unwitting VIPs freaked out when her timeline was polluted by tweets from people she doesn’t follow — assuming the retweeted authors had just managed to game the system and force their tweets upon her.

I don’t know what kind of deal you cut with TwitterBerry or how much it cost you, but suddenly you’re on my Twitter feed and I NEVER OPTEN TO FOLLOW YOU nor do I wan to.

To be fair, this is probably as much her specific application’s fault as it is Twitter’s (it’s up to the app to display in a clear way that the message is a retweet, and I can imagine that a BlackBerry app unwisely left it out to save some pixels), but the point is: this is a case of a lambda user being right, and “Project Retweet” has always been a bad idea.

I can’t wait to see how Twitter reacts. (That’s what beta-testing is about, isn’t it?)

“Help and learn from others as you browse the web: Google Sidewiki”

Today, we’re launching Google Sidewiki, which allows you to contribute helpful information next to any webpage. Google Sidewiki appears as a browser sidebar, where you can read and write entries along the side of the page.

As a blog owner (and developer), I hate the idea of off-site comments; especially some that I have no control over. There are two problems when applying this idea to blogs: first, you can’t have the whole discussion on Sidewiki (what’s with the stupid name?), because some of your readers will have it and some won’t; second, some users will comment on individual entries, but some will post comments on the home page, and the discussion will be broken further, even among Sidewiki adopters.

The first problem could be circumvented by letting web developers manually embed Sidewiki on their pages for everyone (as of now they can use an API to access and manage the comments, but they have to develop the whole solution themselves — I wonder if WordPress et al. will end up actually adopting that), but it wouldn’t solve all the problems — ultimately, this is something that many companies have tried to do before, and one thing where I hope Google’s weight doesn’t manage to suddenly trigger adoption. Just let us webmasters manage our own conversation.

It’s already hard enough with people responding to tweets, commenting on Facebook and on FriendFeed, and on Digg or whatever; we don’t need even more dilution. Or is too late to worry about that? Maybe we might as well give up.

25 September

Ahh, Twitter spambots are finally back. I was feeling so lonely.

Setting up a new server with Lighttpd was a breeze; damn do I love Debian/Ubuntu. (Also, wondering why I’m still using Apache on the main.)

“Microsoft bashes Google’s Chrome-in-IE plan”

For the record, I agree that Chrome Frame is overkill for IE7/IE8 users — their browser is good enough for most things. But please, Microsoft, don’t come and talk to us about how Chrome Frame compromises security and privacy in Internet Explorer; and this takes the cake:

“If you are a user of IE6, you should get off IE6, not install another add-on,” she said. “It just compounds your problem.”

Shut up. Just shut up. If the general audience wasn’t somehow incapable of upgrading to IE8, they would have done so already and we wouldn’t be having that discussion. And this is all your fault and it will be the fault of the next eight generations of your descendants.

27 September

Does @twitter know that mentions are broken? When protected-update users start a msg with @, they don’t know non-followers won’t see it.

Please let me know when Seesmic Web handles multiple Twitter accounts. It seems like I would like it. (Really tired of Tweetie.)

Gonna try using Splitweet in the meantime. Seems well done and convenient enough.

28 September

That’s weird. Safari has kept me logged into Facebook for several days now.

29 September

Brizzly has a nice interface, but a multi-account Twitter client that only handles 5 accounts is useless for me. (And, yeah, that is sad.)

“Microsoft’s Courier tablet: A Franklin Covey planner on steroids?”

My source said that Courier is an incubation project, meaning it’s further along than a Microsoft Research project, but still not in the commercialization pipeline. That said, he heard the  delivery goal is mid-2010. That seems pretty darn ambitious to me, but he also said Microsoft is currently leaning toward using the Xbox model — in other words, making the device itself, and not relying on its current Tablet partners — so that could speed things up a bit.

I can’t verify any of what my source has told me. But I figured I’d put it out there, as it jibes with what Gizmodo has unearthed.

I find it hard to imagine that a product “still not in the commercialization pipeline” could be slated for mid-2010, but one is allowed to dream.

Meanwhile, the latest rumors reiterate that the Apple tablet will just be a larger iPhone or iPod touch, basically a media player and basic communicator running iPhone OS. And here’s me hoping that Steve Jobs watches the Courier’s demo videos, and decides to halt and reboot the tablet project entirely, once more, even if that means the release is postponed again.

Let me repeat what I wrote recently: I absolutely do not want an iPhone OS tablet anymore. The iPhone still gets away with its drab, monotonous interface because the mobile phone space was such a dreadful mess three years ago that consistency was the most important thing Apple’s software design could bring to the table; that doesn’t to the netbook form-factor. On a ten-inch screen, we now need sophisticated, not streamlined.

30 September

Echofon for Mac (beta)

What, another Twitter client? Well, every developer of a Twitter app for the iPhone with any semblance of success is going to want to transport that success onto the Mac, so why not? (If you have no idea what success Echofon has, that’s because it was better known as Twitterfon.)

Facing Tweetie, or even Twitterific and its simple functionality but fancy black window, Echofon is the plainest Twitter client of them all — and I kinda like that about it. It’s a simple, regular OS X window, with just a title bar, tabs, and a content view; and it handles multiple accounts, Growl notifications, permanent keyword searches and so on.

As for the multiple accounts, they’re modal — à la Bluebird, where you switch from one account to another, and you’re only really logged into one account at a time. Which is not very convenient if you want to monitor incoming messages on all your accounts at the same time, without having to cycle through all accounts on every hour in order to check them up — and I’m still slightly puzzled as to who on Earth wants their multiple-account Twitter client to work like that.

Well, the thing is, I partly do, because Tweetie, with ten accounts open simultaneously, becomes an unreliable resource hog… so I’ve gotten to use Tweetie to monitor my many accounts (for which process I’m currently trying to switch to an online solution — Splitweet seems to work okay) and have Twitterific always running on my main desktop just for my main account. So I can now dump Twitterific for a simpler application, with a less attention-craving interface, that also lets me switch accounts for occasional needs. (The litmus test for me being that it seems to let you seamlessly reply to a message with another account than the one that originally received it — that matters to people who use separate accounts to group their subscriptions, by theme or whatever.)

Oh, right, and it also syncs with the iPhone app, which I couldn’t care less about (I don’t think I ever even installed Twitterfon.)

Conclusion: I’m using it for now, and you should probaby check it out, but seeing how simple it is the final version better not be too expensive. (And, since I’ve never paid for a Twitter application anyway, there better be an ad-supported version, too.)

Dropbox for iPhone: “Favorites are downloaded to your iPhone for fast, offline viewing.” Cool, and well-done.

It occurs to me, if I consider torrenting a dangerous activity for hard drives, I could use a cheap external instead of the Mini’s internal.

I’d like to know why Safari has gotten so slow even when playing an h264 movie in the QT plugin. Used to work great even on my PPC iMac.

Deleted all but 4 files in all my “Internet plug-ins” folders, and now Flash videos are almost watchable. That should just not be the case.

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