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

1 July 2008

I hate, hate, hate getting comment spam without URLs. I know why they do it, but it feels like gratuitous vandalism.

2 July

It’s got screws!

I haven’t watched the iPhone guided tour yet (which is why I haven’t linked or commented it), but — oh my god, the iPhone 3G has two screws at the bottom (apparently).

It’s so weird having a consumer electronics Apple product with exposed screws, you have to wonder if they’re deliberately — but unofficially — making it easy for end users to change the battery.

3 July

iPhone 3G Guided Tour

So… the new guided tour is up, and I’ve wasted thirty minutes of my life because when I downloaded it I didn’t notice there was a separate “See what’s new” video. I heartily recommend you download that one instead, even though it doesn’t seem to work here (the zip uncompresses with no error, but the video won’t play). Listening to iPhone Guy (whom I still don’t like) say “iPhone 3G” out loud all the time is annoying enough as it is, you don’t need to listen to the whole remake of the previous video regarding the functionalities that haven’t changed.

 

Observations:

  • isn’t it weird that the microphone is on the bottom with the speaker (and the infamous screws)? was that already the case?

  • the video indicates that you should press the Sleep button to activate; the Home button better still work (both buttons work on the current-gen iPhone, so I guess there’s no reason for it to change, but I can’t see either why they’d want to recommend using the Sleep button rather than Home)

  • I thought you were supposed to be able to display videos in portrait mode; either the rumor was wrong, or they realized that you may want to watch videos while lying sideways on your bed (and I wish they realized it applies to applications and web surfing too)

  • they haven’t fixed the problem of Ok, Cancel and Edit buttons being all over the place, which is a shame because that was the right moment to make an effort at MacOS-like consistency

  • Safari still sends you to the unoptimized desktop Google search, which makes no sense to me (but may be Google’s fault, actually, if the mobile version doesn’t process and subsidize referrals)

  • tapping the title bar to return to the top of a list is a great, subtle addition (hoping it’s standard across all apps, even third-party)

  • nothing has changed about the keyboard (except for Asian languages), including having to tap a small, moving target to deny a correction

  • guess there’s still no way to blacklist SMS spammers

  • turns out you can already two-finger tap to zoom out in Maps… and only in Maps, which is stupid

  • AIM is in the App Store, even though it wasn’t demonstrated again at the WWDC keynote

4 July

Stevens Creek Software

And this is why Steve Jobs cried himself to sleep for one month when it became evident that Apple had no choice but to provide an application SDK. Hell, it may even be why he lost weight from one WWDC to the other.

The Mac’s limited marketshare saved us from most of the developers who don’t grok the Mac way of things and consequently don’t feel the urge to program for OS X; the iPhone’s supposed popularity, on the other hand, along with the App Store’s great business model, is going to attract all those peons like a Kenny G concert.

5 July

Migrate data from your iPhone to your new iPhone 3G

A pretty long and detailed walkthrough that basically boils down to the official confirmation of what you’d expect to make sense: when presented with a blank iPhone, iTunes will offer to restore one of your backups on it (iTunes automatically backs up your iPhone when you sync it, in case you haven’t noticed). And, if it doesn’t offer, you can just force it.

As obvious as it is, I’m linking it because that’s the kind of information you like to be sure of beforehand. Oh, and you can also expect that the process will fail for a number of people. That’s how computers work.

9 July

Google Lively

Google launches its Second Life and… it’s Windows-only. What the hell?

It seems to look surprisingly pretty, though. I wish I could make a better opinion by running it instead of just watching a YouTube video.

10 July

Google’s iPhone app is US-only. WTF?

I say NO to posting tinyurled iTunes Store links on Twitter without warning.

11 July

“A new iPhone software version (2.0) is available for the iPhone Nekophone.” Hee!

iPhone 2.0

Well, it’s been a long wait — I didn’t jailbreak my iPhone, so I wasn’t about to install a leaked firmware just because I couldn’t wait to try the applications I downloaded 24 hours in advance — but iPhoneOS 2.0 is finally available… if you can get it (and you might not want to hurry).

You’d think, after the difficulties Apple’s servers had with the first iPhone launch, they’d have gotten their act together, and that would be as naive as thinking that .Mac is gonna get reliable just because they renamed it MobileMe and hired good Ajax developers. It turns out that iPhone 3G buyers can’t activate their phones, and it also happens that the same activation platform needs to be contacted when an old iPhone owner upgrades their system — meaning lots of bricked iPhones across the world. Awesome planning, guys. As in, criminally moronic. (Who’da thunk having new buyers and early adopters activate their phones all at the same time might incur some kind of exceptional server load?)

I’ve been lucky, though: after more than half an hour of an infinite progress bar (not counting the twenty minutes it took to actually upgrade the phone), iTunes managed to contact the servers and reactivate my phone, so I’m not stuck with a brick. I’m stuck, however, with a fully-functional iPhone 2.0 that will not sync to my computer because the damn software still wants to contact the iTunes Store when I plug the phone in. Go figure.

But, at least, I can use my phone — and try out the free applications — which is more than many sad users can say tonight.

 

iPhone 2.0

Let’s focus on the OS upgrade itself, first: if you’ve read blogs, and/or you’ve watched the guided tour videos, you already know pretty much all there is to know.

Interestingly, the iPod touch’s Contacts application makes its appearance on the Springboard. Even more interestingly, it has everything the Phone app’s contacts pane has except the shortcut that scrolls back to the top of the list (and its search bar) when you tap the application’s header. So much for hoping that this cool addition was part of the system list framework, then.

And, yes, I’m glad there’s a Contacts application, because (1) I like to select a contact on the list, then click their email address to send them a message (instead of starting from Mail then choosing the recipient), and it doesn’t make sense to go to the Phone app for that; and (2) I don’t like the Phone app anyway, because it aggregates functionalities that are too separate — contacts, voicemail and call logs have no reason to be grouped together when SMS isn’t.

What else? I’m using Gmail and Google Apps, so I won’t enjoy push email for a while. I don’t have enough appointments to care about the improved Calendar. Appallingly, the camera still doesn’t record video, although at least it does record geolocation.

Oh, speaking of which: it doesn’t seem to be every time you launch them, but basically each application that accesses GPS information is going to make the iPhone ask you if you’re okay with that. A lot. It’s going to manage to be more annoying as Leopard’s “security” prompt when you open a downloaded zip or dmg.

And… that’s pretty much it for the OS upgrade, but that’s kind of okay, because Apple had to focus all of its development power on implementing the application SDK. You can expect the next few double-point releases to fix SDK bugs, and then we’ll get to version 2.1 or something and Apple will be back to improving the phone’s UI. Hopefully.

Oh, I forgot: you can take screenshots by pressing the Home and Sleep buttons at the same time. As cool as it is, I’m not sure there couldn’t have been more productive uses of such an exclusive shortcut.

 

The App Store

Well, this is breaking the chronology, obviously, since everybody could access it yesterday, as soon as iTunes 7.7 was available. (I didn’t blog it then, because I was waiting for the OS update to come out a few hours later, which would have been entirely possible and might incidentally have spread out the server load.) And, from a cursory glance at my aggregator, it seems like the general opinion is pretty similar to mine: boy, there’s a lot of crap out there, and a lot of it is way too expensive for what it is.

Of course, there’s a gold rush aspect to it: no matter how mediocre a developer you are, you have an opportunity to prey on stupid customers who discover the App Store and its only five hundred applications (seriously, when you see what’s considered an application, that’s no number to boast about) ; the quality of iPhone software will only improve from here on, so it’s now or never to sell overpriced crap for early adopters.

But there’s also the perverse effect of a $99 entry fee to the developers program: sure, big web 2.0 brands are going to shell it out and offer their applications for free, but as far as individual developers go it’s a little harder to justify the expense if you’re only going to release small freeware stuff. Sure, there will still be a lot of passionate freeware developers going for glory and self-satisfaction, but there’s also a very real incentive to make it worth their while, even if 99$ isn’t a fortune. And Apple is certainly very aware and satisfied with that.

As for the store itself… well, there’s my problem with the iPhone not syncing with the Mac, so I had to download again, from the mobile application, all the apps I’d downloaded through iTunes. I got an email receipt for all the $0 purchases I’d made, which is pretty much akin to getting a receipt for each podcast episode you download. The mobile store is very annoying in that it sends you back to the Springboard every time you download something. And I’ve triggered a weird bug that created two blank spaces in the middle of my Springboard. Ungh.

 

The applications

So, okay, most of what’s there is crap, but how about the apps I did download? I didn’t pay for anything yet — I’ll probably buy Super Monkey Ball and one of the photo annotation programs later — but there’s enough free stuff in there to have a little fun (or lack of fun). I’ll go with those in alphabetical order, since that’s the way they’re listed in iTunes.

AIM: Everybody says it’s buggy, but I didn’t go far enough to notice, because I don’t use AIM and only have two .Mac contacts there. All I know is that persistent conversations don’t seem to work, so it’s pretty much useless. (I read somewhere that the SDK’s notification system, which lets the server ping you, via Apple, when something’s happening, wouldn’t be available before September, so maybe it’ll be more usable then.) I’ll just wait the Google Talk app. Or use Facebook chat.

Evernote: The very existence of an iPhone app might just push me to pay for the Evernote subscription when the beta ends. The desktop application was already the most efficient Yojimbo-like program I’d found, and I was reluctant to use it because it’s going to be subscription-based, but their cross-platform development is so aggressive I might not resist much longer.

Exposure: A Flickr app whose most interesting functionality is that it can display pictures that were taken close to your current locations; that’s pretty cool and well done. I’m disappointed, though, that you can’t actually post pictures with it — even if they probably intend to add it later (and it’s not a big deal because you can very easily email pictures to your account), I don’t quite get why it wouldn’t be available from the start.

Facebook: I wondered when the iPhone web application would implement chat; well, they were saving it for the native application. It’s all very clean and fluid and well-done — except for choking on accented letters in names, which I’m sure will be easily fixed soon.

Google: Not available outside the US, apparently. Not that it’s a big loss — it’s more of a placeholder than anything for now — but why the hell?

NetNewsWire: I’m currently not syncing my feeds with Newsgator, because I found it unreliable in the past. I’m going to have to try again. I would have liked so much to just import a list of feeds via Rendezvous.

PhoneSaber: Hee. That’s much better than jerking a whole MacBook around, isn’t it?

Remote: It’s nice that Apple’s developers had the time to throw us a bone and bring something really new, and fun, to the table. Basically, it’s the exact same interface as the iPod application (minus Cover Flow) and it controls your home computer’s iTunes. And it’s really cool — best free app on the Store, hands down.

Twitterific: Beside the activation servers crashing (which was not surprising), this is the big letdown of the day. The interface is nice and all, but scrolling the list is horribly laggy, of the headache-inducing kind. They’re aware of it, didn’t have time to find a workaround, and will fix it soon, but I really think they should have just skipped the grand opening (which they might not have been able to because they got a design award from Apple). That’s just not acceptable, especially in a program that’s available in a for-pay version.

 

I don’t think there’s been an Apple event that hasn’t been disappointing since the initial iPhone introduction, eighteen months ago. Between technical problems and the lackluster lineup, today is yet another bad day for Apple fanboys.

I’ve actually never been so tempted to jailbreak my iPhone.

14 July

Wow, my bank has an animated 3D favicon while the page loads.

15 July

Phantom Fish - Byline

I’m not going to pay $10 for a Google Reader client when (1) the iPhone-optimized Google Reader web app is perfectly usable, and free (2) the official Google iPhone application, which doesn’t do much and isn’t available outside the U.S. at the moment, will soon offer the same functionality and it’s free (2) NetNewsWire doesn’t do Google but it’s free.

But it’s one of those moments when you really, really wish NetNewsWire hadn’t been bought by Newsgator. Because it would have had been able to sync with Google Reader for a while, now, if the developer was still free.

16 July

“Using a File Erasure Tool Considered Suspicious”

But the wiper programs don’t ensure a clean getaway. They leave behind a kind of digital calling card. […]

I have often recommended that people use file erasure tools regularly, especially when crossing international borders with their computers. Now we have one more reason to use them regularly: plausible deniability if you’re accused of erasing data to keep it from the police.

17 July

Adding a bookmarklet on your iPhone

The Twitterific iPhone application has a very clever trick: in order to let you interactively add a bookmarklet to Mobile Safari (adding it on your desktop computer then syncing your bookmarks will never be a viable option as long as iTunes will sync all your bookmarks rather than a separate folder specific to your iPhone), it sends you to a page on iconfactory.com that includes the bookmarklet’s Javascript in the URL, and displays instructions to bookmark the page, then edit the bookmark to remove the http part.

It’s a very simple, low-tech workaround that they explain much better than I did here.

18 July

Testing Twinkle. Scrolling messages doesn’t lag a bit.

I used to come home, dock my iPhone and pick up listening to my podcasts right where I left off. Now it takes ages for iTunes to back up.

20 July

Forget about privacy on iPhone apps

Why is it exactly that App Store developers seem to have a common tendency to ignore their users’ rights to privacy? After the Loopt debacle (which most of my readers may not know about, because the app isn’t available outside the U.S.: it basically sent a list of all your contacts to the Loopt servers — with little or no warning — and spammed them all with SMS messages specifying your current location — every single one of your contacts), I now find out that I should probably not have recommended Twinkle to my friends.

Twinkle is a cute, functional and efficient Twitter client for the iPhone (unlike Twitterific, which isn’t really usable in its current state) that hooks into the developer’s private servers to geotag your tweets and display Twitter activity close to your location (which works as advertised, and is cool). It never warns you, however, that your Twitter login and password are being saved on Twinkle’s servers* (so that tweets can be stored and resubmitted later if Twitter fails — it’s mostly** well-intentioned, which doesn’t make it okay that a native, local application saves your credentials on a third-party server without asking). Or that your tweets will appear in the Nearby tab even if you set your Twitter account to private (with all that’s happened before, it’s very naive to think Twitter accounts marked as private actually are, but that’s no excuse).

How on earth does a developer launch a 1.0 version on the App Store and think those things are okay? Wouldn’t those people be upset if Firefox saved their banking passwords or personal messages on Mozilla’s servers? It’s exactly the same — especially with people’s propensity to use the same password on everything they log into (not their bank, but e-mail accounts, Paypal, etc.) — except I’d trust Mozilla much more than a little shareware developer (like I trust Google, and maybe I shouldn’t) to store my data with reasonable security.

It’s pretty likely I’m never checking out a Tapulous application again.

 

* I posted a comment requesting clarification, but it’s been “awaiting moderation” for several hours and more recent comments have appeared, so I’m taking that as a confirmation.

 

** I say “mostly” because their real motivation isn’t so much serving your needs as it is to launch their own social network, Friendfeed-style. Incidentally, Friendfeed works perfectly well without asking for my Twitter password.

 

22 July

I know how to fix Twitter using flat files on a memcached-like architecture. Wire me $1 million and we’ll talk.

“Is Aurora Feint the iPhone’s first Spyware?”

Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with these people? Developers thinking it’s somehow okay for a game to make a local copy of the user’s address book, and uploading it to the dev’s servers without any kind of notice? Can you imagine if World of Warcraft did that?

I want to revert to firmware 1.0. This App Store thing is getting scary. You know what? That is a good reason to complain about the iPhone’s closedness: it takes hackers running ssh on jailbreaked phones to find out when a developer does something weird; very few developers would try to pull that kind of stunt on a computer, because people run hard drive monitors and packet sniffers all the time.

Encore désabonné d’un podcast accidentellement, connerie d’iTunes. Qu’est-ce qu’il y avait après (feu?) Pédérama ?

23 July

Please, Apple, give us a Javascript geolocation API and let’s forget about those hungry crashy native iPhone apps.

I had forgotten how good Mobile Safari was. I missed that good iPhone experience.

24 July

There’s finally a free Sudoku on the App Store, and I can’t remember the strategies to place the numbers.

Modal overlays beyond the dialog box

An interesting writeup about what the author calls “modal overlays,” and I usually name “inline popups” such as the many dialogs on Facebook, or the preferences window on the web version of MobileMe.

It is uniquely powerful at quieting these nervous questions. “Where am I?” is a non-starter because you never left the original screen. And “How do I get back?” is trivial when the original screen remains visible in the background.

I’m going to start thinking about using that kind of tricks. (Which goes for Ajax, as well.)

It’s a good rule of thumb to think that if elements in the same context all have the same size, then they must be equally important. Apple’s Preferences modal applies the same principle to the scale of entire screens. The preferences screen is itself smaller than the browser window that plays host to the more important screens full of real data.

26 July

Fun tip: it looks like the iPhone’s Notes app switches to Helvetica if you type Japanese characters.

Speed up iPhone synchronization

You’re unlikely to have much data on your iPhone that isn’t synchronized from a computer; so do you really want to spend minutes waiting for iTunes to back up your phone every time you plug it in? I know I’d much rather lose some stupid game saves than wait ten minutes before I can resume listening on the computer to the podcast that was playing on my phone when I get home.

This might not be a big deal if you only plug your iPhone in to charge the battery and don’t need to sync often (in which case you probably use the AC adapter anyway), but here’s the simple Terminal instruction to disable backups:

defaults write com.apple.iTunes DeviceBackupsDisabled -bool true

Steve Jobs is, like, totally fine

Jobs calls a reporter: “Hi, you’re a moron with no ability for fact-checking but, just so you know, I don’t have cancer anymore and I’m totally fine (but you can’t quote me verbatim on that)” and the conclusion of the article is that Steve Jobs is totally fine.

29 July

Palringo

The first multi-IM App Store client is available, but considering the number of privacy snafus that already happened on the platform I’m going to wait a bit for people to analyze it before I install software released by an alternative and/or complementary messaging network I’ve never heard of before. But, by all means, please knock yourselves out and tell us how it goes.

1Password for the iPhone

The application “free for a limited time,” and considering how the App Store works there’s a reasonable chance that it’ll remain free forever to anyone who download now (there certainly are workarounds if the developers really want to charge you later, but I don’t think it’s quite their style), so you should probably at the very least download it now, just in case, even if you’re not sure you’ll want it.

Getting a web browser on my iPhone that can auto-fill passwords is so tempting it might convince me to buy the desktop application (I had a free license for a while, but every new browser release requires a 1Password update, and I definitely miss it now that all the browsers on my Mac are incompatible with my version), but I’m still resisting because I don’t like the idea of having to use an add-on to have auto-fill when it should be standard functionality, and more importantly I’d really rather not have to use 1Password’s integrated browser instead of Mobile Safari (no matter how Safari-based it is, obviously). And, yeah, obviously that’s also Apple’s fault.

Meanwhile, the iPhone application’s interface for entering new passwords on the phone itself is pretty much unusable (you have to type the URL and the field names, instead of just saving the data from the password prompt as you do on the desktop), so the application is just about useless if you don’t have the latest version on your Mac in order to synchronize your passwords over wifi (with secure encryption, according to the description). But 1Password is an excellent program that I recommend wholeheartedly, and encrypted over-the-air sync sounds very good.

 

P.S. Oh, I forgot: it can also store password-protected, encrypted notes. So, you see, there’s a reason to download it even if you’re not a 1Password user. (If you need to secure notes on your iPhone, I think 1Password is a good choice of an application to trust.)

30 July

apt-get update; apt-get upgrade; # God I love Debian so much. If only my other webservers were as easy to maintain.

My iPhone has a blue pixel in the middle of the screen. Just when I’m gonna want to sell it. Gee, thanks a lot for that.

Disabling iPhone backups (2)

The first trick to getting around an epic iPhone backup is simply to hit the (X) button in iTunes’ status window during the backup process. This will stop the backup and begin the familiar sync process, but clicker be warned: doing this will leave you with a corrupt backup since iTunes apparently trashes each backup on the fly when beginning a new one. Smart move, Apple. We guess we should be thankful that Time Machine doesn’t exhibit the same behavior.

That’s… ugh… geez, really, Apple, backups, security and all that shit don’t go well together. Mind-boggling, honestly. (As pointed out earlier, it’s not like Time Machine is much more reliable.)

 

Meanwhile, I love that the writer named his device “I, Phone” (even though the pun must have been obvious to many people for a while — I’m not too good at puns).

Cracked iPhones

Oh, bother. Why am I not surprised? Why am I so ready to believe it’s true without waiting for further proof and checks?

When I get to upgrading my iPhone, I hope we’ll know whether the white shell is actually more fragile, or the cracks are just more visible.

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