iOS Irritations

iOS 6 has been out a while now, and the changes it brought with it have been by and large known about since back as far as February when the initial previews and developer Betas were made available. It’s not really had much discussion, perhaps because we’ve known so long that there were not going to be any major changes, much as some people would love to replace the simple Homescreen that has remained largely untouched for 5 years with something a bit more flashy, and dare I say it, more ‘Androidy’ – is that a word? It is now…

I actually like the fact that nothing major has changed, the ridiculously simple nature of the Homescreen isn’t a problem for me, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that need attention. I maintained a (very small) list of niggles that I intended to write about before I installed iOS 6 in the hope that some of them might get some love. In the end, it’s no great loss that I didn’t get around to it, because with 1 exception they all remain. So without further ado, here is my hit list of tiny things to change to make the Homescreen that bit more polished:

  • Modal notifications, such as the “20% of battery remaining” message, must be dismissed though a tap on the screen. Nearly every time I get this, I try to tap the Home button to clear it, but no beans. In fact, when such a display is shown, the Home button ceases to function entirely, and as such I think it’s reasonable to co-opt it to be a hardware “OK” button when you are presented with such a notification

  • If you are viewing a Homescreen folder, and don’t want to start an app from within, your only choice is a tap outside of the folder to exit it. Since almost every time I am in this scenario it’s because I went into the wrong folder, then I think that a tap outside that happens to be on another folder, should simply switch folders, instead of requiring a 2-tap process. As a side note, my list complained about the fact that a Home button tap did not collapse an open folder, but that is the thing that did get fixed in iOS 6.

  • Another folder improvement would be to automatically collapse the folder after the execution of an app from within it. As things stand if you open a folder, start an app, then quit the app, you return to the open folder, more often than not requiring a further tap (or at least Home button tap now) to get back to the standard Homescreen

  • Gesture based navigation on the iPad, including the 4 finger swipe to switch between recent apps only works if you are currently viewing an open app. Switch back to the Homescreen and swipe, and you get nothing. I makes sense to me to continue to allow a swipe to move you back to the previous app just like it works if you are already in one, because the alternative is a lengthy (well, by comparison) double tap on the Home button, followed by a screen tap to pick the first app in the list.

So, not really much to complain about from my point of view, and almost all concerned with Folders and the Home button. Will these things ever get fixed? Do they need fixing? Have you got some more? Get in touch.

Minimal Mountain Lion

The recent announcements regarding the forthcoming addition to the menagerie of clawed operating systems from Cupertino was very interesting to me for a number of reasons.

Chief amongst them is “Wooo! New toys!”, closely followed by “Yay, more consistency!” and finally the slow dawning of realisation that an idea which has been floating around in my head for some time can now be put into action: Project Minimal Macbook! But first, some background…

When I first got my Macbook Air I was delighted with it, but had to rigidly enforce some new ideas about how I used it compared to my previous Macbook which had considerably larger storage capacity. I couldn’t even get close to restoring my data onto it, I had too much stuff, and so I had to work from a fresh install and keep in mind that I needed to be at least mindful, if not downright picky, about what software (and importantly “data”) I could afford to allow into it’s hallowed SSD halls.

Straight away out went iPhoto and iTunes. I could fill my puny 128Gb of space with my music and photos alone. Co-incidentally around about the same time that I got the Air I picked up my first non portable Mac, and my iPhone 4. That’s another story, but still, off you go dear data, there’s a nice fat spinning platter just waiting over there inside the iMac… But I couldn’t banish it forever, I may as well not have it if I can’t access it. So thank goodness for iTunes Home Sharing, and iPhoto Sharing. They might not be ideal solutions, but they allow me enough functionality to be get by with only the occasional massive tantrum.

At which point, I suddenly suffer the timeless fate of those who are lucky(?) enough to have multiple machines, made more tedious by the addition of multiple platforms. What about the stuff that hasn’t got a Homeshare equivalent? What about my PDFs, my family tree data, diary entries, password files and so on ad infinitum? What about not just having access to stuff just from my Macs, but from my iPhone also? What about having anything I can use on my iPhone, also available on my iPad? And so the hunt for the ultimate synchronisation mechamism begins.

Suffice to say, I found ways to handle most of my data, either through carefully choosing to use software that had the ability to use Dropbox or iCloud or other mechanisms to sync for me, or through the use of a third party synchronsation tool that monitored half of my home folder, or by just admitting that I won’t do X on machine Y.

At the point in which these steps were largely dealt with and stable (it will never actually be complete) I had amassed quite a collection of methods and software that did the job, but the inconsistencies and sheer number of solutions and amount of times the workflow was only 90% there put a bug in my ear that’s never quite been removed.

Do I really need all this software? Do I really need an App for keeping track of my books and DVDs, or can I just do it in a Spreadsheet? Do I need a recipes App, or just a bunch of tagged Textedit files? Twitter client, or visit the website? Will I only ever play podcasts on my iPhone, or do I want to have more choice?

You can see where this is going. And now I have the chance to put the thought to the test: Can I manage without nothing but the pre-installed default apps on my Macbook Air running Mountain Lion.

Whenever I have previously thought about this, 2 simple words would stop me in my tracks: “Notes” and “Todos”. Ever used these features in Mail and iCal? Then you will feel my pain. Ever tried to sync them from OSX to iOS? Then you will share the nightmares. Many, many, hours and a not inconsiderable amount of pounds sterling have gone into messing around with replacement software that a) doesn’t suck so hard and b) syncs nicely, not just with my other Macs, but with my iOS devices too. Even when I thought I had nailed it, something would come up to bite me on the butt. A new App would appear on the radar promsing to do stuff better. An iOS app that I liked but discounted because it previously didn’t have a Mac client, suddenly would. An iOS app that was previously only for iPhone would get a Universal binary update to allow use on the iPad…

Each of these things would see me striving to compare the new possibilities against my existing setup. Do I need feature Z? Is switching to App X going to be worth the hassle of migrating and converting my data? Do I actually want to be able sync my podcast playback position back to iTunes…

The freedom to have so many options available to me, so many choices to make on how to do just everyday simple things has started to become time consuming and hard work. I don’t want to have to put so much effort into syncing my tasks. I want to tick those suckers off and get some work done! Right now I have 5 task manager apps on my iPhone that I am in the process of either using, evaluating or trying to export the data out of them so I can bin them…

It’s too much, I want another freedom, freedom from choice. And Mountain Lion gives me that. It covers the basics for almost any generalised computing activity, and makes it available across every device I own. There are no obvious holes in the integration. “Notes” and “Todos” (or should I now say “Reminders”) are finally something to look forward to just using rather than researching. Throw in to the mix that any temptation to download additional software has to run the gauntlet of compatibility with an as-yet unreleased operating system, and it’s a pretty powerful reason to try to keep things as stock as possible. Running on a Beta OS probably isn’t to be recommended, but given my data should be safe (and I have a fully operational other computer with all the 3rd party software anyone could wish for) it’s worth an experiment.

So with that in mind, I have the Developer Preview sat on my Macbook Air as we speak. And I am going to try my level best to not install a single piece of 3rd party software on it from now until it hits retail. Straight away I know this is an impossible task (1Password anyone?) so I may make exceptions with strict critera (namely it must be fully available on iOS and OSX via the App Store, as universal binaries, using iCloud or Bonjour sync only).

I’ll let you know how it goes. Wish me luck!

Just another device after all

Today I rebooted my phone for the first time in many many months. Other than for software upgrades I can’t recall a time when I have chosen to fully power cycle the device for reasons other than a dead battery, and even that is a relatively rare occurrence these days.

The reason? Well, it just didn’t feel right. Pressing the home button was encountering odd delays as if it had not registered the key press, and overall the whole thing just felt, well slow. This might not seem an unusual thing for many people, but it had immediately drawn my attention. It’s a testament to the general speed of the device as a whole that you start to wonder what is wrong when a few seconds delay is introduced to tasks, rather than appreciate the fact that you are normally saved from such mundane irritations. Of course, the iPhone hasn’t always been super responsive at all times, the first release of iOS 3 on the iPhone 3G did indeed reduce it to a crawl on text entry until it was patched but these day, well if it was a proper “Mac” I would say it certainly has “teh snappy” these days.

So, that was the reason for rebooting the phone, but not the reason for it feeling slow. Did it fix it? Sadly the answer was a resounding no.

No space at the inn

Running out of space on iOS

So after a morning of confusion I am finally alerted to the culprit. I’m out of space. Thinking back the last thing I did was take video of my daughter playing, and it’s tipped the scales of the device. However, this doesn’t really explain the general slowness of the device satisfactorily to me. I could understand apps not wanting to start, or crashing, or otherwise producing errors of some sort, but just being slow? Odd. It’s not as though it is using any virtual memory to try to shuffle apps around like other mobile OS attempt, so its storage situation should just remain static when performing simple phone operations like setting an alarm or viewing the calendar etc. A bit more digging showed me that I has precisely 0 bytes available:

Zero Bytes Free

Naturally suspicious, I then took a screenshot which as you can see worked, so I suspect that there is a certain amount of leeway in what it considers to be free space or not!

Anyway, the problem identified I went ahead and removed a couple of videos as suggested and we are back to cooking on gas. So, was there anything useful to take away from a simple problem? I think so.

It’s not magical after all

Firstly, it just goes to show how much we take for granted the capabilities of the iPhone and devices like it. It never occurred to me, or rather it has never manifested that there was some finite limit on it’s capabilities that was as mundane as storage. OK, you come across this when trying to stuff it full of films to take on holiday etc, but this is during a time of (for want of a better word) “maintenance”, not necessarily normal use. Day to day, I’ve spent since launch doing whatever I wanted without ever hitting a limit that curtailed my usage, whether than be running out of space, connectivity, speed, or anything else for that matter. Days like today make you realise it’s just a computer after all. Damn fine and all that, but just an operating system, running on a selection of components that have their limits.

Also, always get the biggest device you can afford with regards to storage! With talk of the upcoming 8MP camera in the next iPhone, we can only expect to use up the available space faster than ever before. In a similar vein, I suspect I must have gotten close to whatever invisible threshold iOS deems “full” in the past, but have likely synced in sufficient time to empty out the pictures and videos before hitting the storage wall. I have occasionally synced at the same time as charging, just because that was the nearest USB socket, but with the upcoming Wireless sync and iCloud photo stream that may change my sync strategy, i.e. I may stop doing it at all and thus be more susceptible to running out of space.

There’s an old adage in computing that you will always use the space available to you, whether you have a 20Mb drive, or a 2Tb one. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it eventually happened on the phone too, just perhaps surprised at how long it took.

iBooks Irritations, Notations on Rotation

Just a quick one with regards to the iBooks app on iOS devices. Many people have previously noted the moving “store” icon which trades position depending on if you are using a large or small screen device, but today I found something else which is inconsistent between versions, and that is rotating.

I can understand it when an app is locked to a particular orientation, that’s perfectly fine most of the time (unless there is no reason why it simply can’t work in both) but I have found with iBooks that when used on an iPhone turning the phone upside down doesn’t flip the screen. It does on the iPad version, and it is after all a universal binary, so what gives?

You might be wondering how I found out, or more pertinently why I care – well, I only ever charge my iPad at night using a cable that lives behind the bedstead on a little shelf. It needs charging so irregularly that I just leave the phone charger there to charge whatever needs it at the time. It might be twice as slow as the iPad charger, but they can both share the same cable and I don’t care how long it takes when I know I am going to leave it on all night. This does result in occasionally having a flat iPad before going to bed, so when I fire it up for my nightly dose of Epic Fantasy I need to read with the cable plugged in.

Anyone who reads reclined will know the trick to turning the thing upside down so you can rest the iPad down without it balancing on your charging cable. Just seems a little odd that the iPhone doesn’t support it, because it can be just as irritating.

Anyone else got any daft rotation behaviour, particularly in first party apps?