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Friday, April 30, 2010

Putting It Another Way

I've thought quite a bit about this Apple, Adobe, and Flash issue. I think it comes down to this: Adobe is saying "Hardware doesn't matter." They have an idea for an app (for a smartphone) or an idea for a desktop application (for a Mac or a PC), and then they try to make it run on all of the machines they can. They don't care which phone you use-- iPhone, Droid, Blackberry, something else-- they just want to get their program to work on it, and if they're able to make it work on your phone, you can be sure that it will look exactly the way it looks on someone else's phone. Even if you have an iPhone with lots of cool hardware features, and the other guy has some other phone that isn't as good. Adobe starts "at the top" with an idea of how they want their app to work. The hardware that it runs on is irrelevant to them.

Same thing with their desktop applications (Photoshop, InDesign, etc.). They have an idea of what their program should be, and then they try to fit it onto Macs and onto PCs. They ignore much of what makes a Mac special, because that's not interesting to them. Adobe's focus is on getting Photoshop to run on as many machines as possible-- and to look exactly the same, whether you're running a Mac or a PC. Again, the hardware doesn't matter to them.

The problem with this, of course, is that some machines are simply better than others. Some phones have accelerometers, and GPS devices, and touch screens. Others don't. Macs have features that PCs don't, notably the Mac OS X operating system and a set of user interface guidelines that make using a Mac a consistent, predicable experience-- unless you're using Adobe applications, with their own Print and Save As and Open dialog boxes, a complete thumbing of the nose to the ones Apple provides for all developers to use.

If you're making smoothies it doesn't really matter if your blender is a Waring or a Hamilton Beach. If you're painting a house you can use a brush from Ace or from Home Depot (but use the one from Home Depot, I have stock). In cases like that, nobody cares about the hardware, because when you get right down to it all blenders blend, and all paint brushes paint, and there's not a lot of difference between them. When you're dealing with phones, and desktop/laptop computers, there IS a lot of difference between the offerings from different companies, and when Adobe ignores those differences, you (the iPhone and Mac owner) end up with the same crummy experience that people with lesser phones and computers get. And it's not very good.

In my opinion, hardware DOES matter. It matters a lot. So does the operating system. Adobe doesn't think so, Apple does, and that's the root of this conflict.

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Apple, Adobe, and Flash

You may have heard that Apple's iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch do not run Flash. Flash is Adobe's plug-in software, used by web designers for animations and video. Apple doesn't like Flash because it's buggy and slow, and-- I suspect-- because it leads to sloppy, cheesy websites with gratuitous rollover action.

Adobe gives away the Flash plug-in-- you probably have it. They sell the tools that developers use to MAKE Flash (you watch it for free, but the people who make it pay to make it). This is a nice business for Adobe, with no real competition. They'd like to keep that going.

Adobe also makes tools that help people make applications for cellular phones-- including, but not restricted to, iPhones. Using Adobe's tools, which they sell, a programmer could write ONE program and have it work on an iPhone, a Blackberry, a Google Droid, etc. That's not possible with any other tool today. You can imagine how appealing this is to a programmer-- write your app once, and sell it to everyone with a smart phone, whether that device is an iPhone or not.

The trouble with Adobe's write once, works everywhere approach is that all smart phones are not created equal. A programmer then has to develop for the least common denominator-- that is, the set of features common to all smart phones. (Example: iPhones have accelerometers built in, so when you rotate the screen your email and your web page etc. can rotate automatically. Other smart phones don't have accelerometers. A programmer writing an app for a wide audience would not include features reliant on accelerometers because those features would only work on the iPhone.) The result is a watered-down, dumbed-down, why-did-I-spend-all-this-money-for-an-iPhone-if-the-apps-don't-take-advantage-of-its-features experience. It was the same way with Java-- you might remember. I remember, and Apple remembers, and Apple's not going to let it happen again.

Apple's recently changed its agreement with iPhone app developers to say, in effect, "use Apple software to create your apps. Otherwise, they won't be approved for sale in the App Store." Pretty compelling argument to the developer! Apple wants to ensure that applications take full advantage of the features they've built into the iPhone, the iPad, and the iPhone OS, and eliminating a middle-man (Adobe) that may not be motivated to do so is a good move in terms of guaranteeing a high-quality experience for users of Apple's devices.

Adobe's come down on Apple, officially and unofficially, saying that not supporting Flash is bad for users, nevermind bad for Adobe, and that forcing app developers to use Apple's tools will lead to stifled creativity etc. This has gone on for a few weeks now, played out on blogs and in interviews, but now Steve Jobs has addressed the issues in a nice long letter. It's interesting reading. Provide the coffee and I'll talk it over with you.

Here's the link to Steve Jobs' letter.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Make Your iPhone Battery Last All Day

When it comes to the iPhone, I hear two complaints over and over:
1. AT&T is the pits, and
2. The battery runs down too quickly.

I'm not thrilled with AT&T either but I can't solve that problem for you. I can, however, help you make the battery last longer. Do it my way and it will last all day.

First thing you do: turn down the brightness on the screen. Turn it way down. Here's where mine is:

A bright screen will run down your battery like nothing else. So fight back by dimming things down.

Second thing you do: set the "Auto-Lock" to 1 minute. This means that your iPhone will shut off its screen automatically in one minute. Yes, it's an irritation, but it's a lot less irritating than running out of battery power.

Third thing you do: turn off WiFi when you know you won't be using it. Turn it back on when you get home or to the office or Starbucks or wherever it is that you use WiFi. (The internet stuff is MUCH faster with WiFi than with the 3G network, so remember to turn it on when it's available.)

Fourth thing you do: turn off Bluetooth unless you need it. (You need it if you have a Bluetooth headset.)

Fifth thing you do: get yourself a couple of extra chargers and get in the habit of plugging the iPhone in when you can. I have one in the car and another at my desk. If you need a link, here's one for a car charger that costs $2.84, and here's one for a USB cable that provides power from your Mac that costs only a penny. You'll get both, shipped, for less than ten bucks.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Option Key tip #10: System Profiler

Apple System Profiler
I have to admit, I thought I might not get to Option key Tip Number 10... but here it is!

I'll bet you've chosen "About This Mac" from the Apple menu-- it shows you a box something like this.

Processor, Memory, Startup Disk-- all interesting stuff to know.

The "More Info..." button launches the System Profiler application, an important trouble-shooting tool. But, if you hold the Option key, the first item in the Apple menu changes from "About This Mac" to "System Profiler," saving you a click. It doesn't sound like much but they all add up.

And that's 10.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

iPhone Photo of the Week

Here's a picture of bluebonnets, taken with my iPhone in Austin, Texas.

Here's a link to more photos of Texas wildflowers (taken with my other camera, an Olympus Camedia C-720).

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

iPhone OS 4 Coming Soon

Apple showed off its upcoming iPhone software update, the so-called iPhone OS 4. It really looks great but to most people, it won't "look" at all because it's mostly under the hood, which is how it ought to be. All you'll know is your iPhone (and iPad) will be easier and more fun to use.

There are plenty of things to like about this new version but the thing I'm looking forward to the most is Multi-tasking. Multi-tasking means that with iPhone OS 4 the iPhone can do more than one thing at a time. This lets you receive Skype phone calls on your iPhone even if you're doing something else. It lets you listen to Pandora radio while you do other things. It lets you use the very cool "Line2" voice-over-IP app even if you switch away from the Line2 app. (It also lets you move between apps very quickly. This will solve a problem for ME-- the one where I'm reading a book and want to adjust the brightness. It used to be hit the Home button, find the Settings, go to the Brightness, then back to the Home screen, then find the book app, then finally tap it. Yikes. Now it's going to be about three taps. About. Yay.

I'm also looking forward to organizing my apps in iPhone OS 4's new "folders."

You can watch Steve Jobs and Co. introduce iPhone OS 4 by clicking the link. You'll see multi-tasking, folders, and a whole lot more.

The iPhone OS 4 software will come to us this summer. Watch for it.

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Apple's Sold 300,000 iPads

300,000 iPads sold so far. Pretty impressive for something that no one thought they wanted or needed-- really, an extra device, not a replacement for anything else-- until Apple showed it to us in January.

Correction: it's 300,000 iPads as of midnight Saturday April 3rd (the first day they were available). That's even better.

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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Option Key tip #9: Special Characters

Our Option key Tip-a-Palooza continues...

Your documents will look better if you use the right characters. For example, mañana looks better than "manana," and resumé looks better than "resume." The Mac's always been able to generate these characters (not true for PCs), so why not learn how and start using the right characters today. Check out the handy table below.

Character Keystroke(s)
• (bullet) Option-8
¢ Option-4
ñ Option-n, then n
é Option-e, then e
® Option-r
º (degree symbol) Option-0 (that's a zero)

You may be wondering how you'll ever remember these things, but take a look at the keyboard and some of them will become fairly obvious. For example, the cent sign (¢) is on the same key as the dollar sign ($). The bullet (•) is on the same key as the asterisk (*), which some people use for bullets (until they read this blog entry).

OK now-- that's 9.

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Option Key tip #8: Option-Empty Trash

Ever try to empty the Trash and get a message like this?

Of course you have. Then you click "Empty Trash" (or hit Enter on the keyboard), and then you might get this message too:

(I say "might" because if you're on Mac OS X 10.6 AND you have some locked items in the Trash you will, and if you're using 10.5 or lower you won't.)

Most likely you will click "Remove All Items" and then-- finally-- the trash empties. Yay.

Skip all of this trouble by holding down the Option key when you choose "Empty Trash" from the Finder's "Finder" menu. Then it's a one-stepper. No messages, just a satisfying whooshy-crumpling sound.

Note: when you don't hold the Option key, the Finder's Finder menu looks like this:

Hold the Option key and it looks like this:

A little different, and as it turns out it makes a difference.

You noticed of course that without the Option key, the menu says "Empty Trash…" but with the Option key the ellipsis is gone. The menu now reads simply "Empty Trash" (no dots). Those three little dots in the menus actually mean something, namely that you are going to get a dialog box when you choose that item. Dialog boxes almost always have a "Cancel" button in them, and that gives you a chance to bail out without doing anything. This goes for every menu item with three little dots-- every menu item in every menu in every program. Watch for it and see. Three dots equals "dialog box coming up." Really.

And that's 8.

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