Tag Archives: iPhone

My Adventures in Audiobooks

One of the things I always admired about Steve Jobs was his willingness to call out things that just plain sucked.

And so here I am, saying that syncing content with iTunes just plain sucks.

Today’s example:

There’s a good review of the Jony Ive biography over on Asymco. Since I tend to think Horace is a smart guy, I figured his recommendation was reason enough to go get this book for myself. So I followed his link, on my Mac, to the iBookstore.

But just before clicking “buy” I thought to myself, “Well, I have about ten iBooks I haven’t yet read sitting on my iPad. I probably won’t get around to this for a while.” And so I decided to check and see if there were an audiobook version instead. After all, I spend lots of time walking around the city, trying to get some exercise, and it’s been ages since I listened to an audiobook, so why not?

Why not, indeed.

There on the iTunes page for the iBook, I clicked on the “related” tab and saw that there is indeed an unabridged audio version of the same book for sale, on iTunes, no less. Narrated by Simon Vance, even. Perfect. So I bought it.

And at that very moment, I screwed my chances of listening to this book on my iPhone.

You see, unlike most forms of content on iTunes, audiobooks don’t sync over iTunes Match. They also can’t be downloaded more than once. I learned this the hard way, when I turned on my iPhone and fired up the Music app, expecting to see my new audiobook downloading automatically. It wasn’t. I also couldn’t find an audiobooks tab anywhere, even in the “more” section of the Music app. Hmmm. Did they move Audiobooks to another separate app?

I search the App Store. Hundreds of audiobooks apps; none of them from Apple, none that can read files bought on iTunes. I search the Internets. Confirmed. Audiobooks are still in the Music app, though some people are having issues since the iOS 7 update. Not a good sign.

So how to get the book over there?

I know, I’ll put it into a playlist, and that playlist will sync over iTunes Match, right? Nope. Playlists with audiobook files don’t show up in iTunes Match.

Okay, I’ll open up iTunes on my iPhone, search for the audiobook, and just download it again directly on the device, right? Nope. If I want to download it again, I need to purchase it again.

Okay, fine, I’ll bite the bullet and do something I never wanted to to again—I’ll plug my iPhone into my Mac and sync the audiobook using iTunes like a barbarian. First I try to simply drag the book over to the right side of the window to manually sync it. No dice. It gives me a blue highlight, as if to say, “go ahead and drop the file here.” But then nothing happens.

Then I go to the books tab and set it to sync just audiobooks, and I get a warning telling me that since I’m using iTunes in the Cloud on this phone, syncing this one audiobook file manually will force me to erase the entire contents of my music library on the phone first. Am I sure I want to do that?

No, iTunes. I’m not sure I want to erase 50GB of music off my phone to get one audiobook.

Not one to give up so easily, I drop the audiobook file into my Dropbox, hoping I can open the Dropbox app on my iPhone, and use “open in…” to send it over to Music. Nope. (Sidenote: Downcast gallantly attempted to open the file, but couldn’t get past Apple’s DRM. “A” for effort on that one.)

And so here I am, with a 9-hour audiobook on the least-likely device I’ll ever want to use to listen to it: My 27-inch iMac.

Thanks, Eddy Cue. Bang up job you did there.

As an absolute hail Mary play, I decide to plug my iPhone back in one more time and try the manual drag and drop of the file in iTunes. This time, it starts a sync without any warnings, and I get a progress bar at the top. So far so good. My cursor beach balls for about two minutes, but it doesn’t crash. The progress bar switches over to “Finishing Update” and I’m filled with hope. And then it keeps saying “Finishing Update” for another fifteen minutes. Convinced it must still be working on it, I wait. And Wait. If I turn on the iPhone, I can see the Audiobooks tab now in music, and the Jony Ive book appears to be there. But I can’t play it. And iTunes is still “finishing.” So I wait some more.

Forever Finishing

Finally, I get impatient and try to cancel the sync. Won’t cancel. I tap the eject button in iTunes, and I get a warning telling me that the sync is still in progress. Do I want to eject anyway? No. Another five minutes.

Okay, this time, I just want to eject it. So I say yes, I do want to eject anyway. Still “finishing” but I get an additional window, no close boxes or cancel buttons, called “Syncing iPhone.” with its own independent progress bar that never shows any progress. I guess this is iTunes’ way of scaring me into not unplugging.

The Second No Progress Bar

Another ten minutes. Remember, this is all for one audiobook. I realize the file is 250MB, but over a USB cable, what should that take? Maybe two, three minutes, tops?

Finally, I get bored and yank the Lightning cable. We’re already way past the point where any sane human being would have given up, aren’t we?

Look, if it’s all or nothing with iTunes in the Cloud, then everything you sell on iTunes has to work over the cloud. Everything. Not most things. Otherwise, if audiobooks are special and can’t be synced over iTunes in the Cloud, give me some other way to sync them without wiping out my whole library. Is that too much to ask?

And if manual sync is supposed to be the way to do that, then make sure manual sync actually works. Because it sure doesn’t seem to work as far as I can tell.

Also, let’s keep in mind that I’m more than a little savvy with this technology stuff. And so are a lot of my Twitter followers. And none of us could figure this out. If this is possible, and I’m missing it somehow, you get an F minus for usability, Eddy. There’s no way a “normal” person would have tried this many different things.

Seems pretty obvious to me, since you still sell audiobooks on the iTunes Store, that there should be an easy way to listen to books bought on your Mac on any of your iOS devices. I’m not talking about some obscure old content I bought ten years ago. I’m talking about a file I bought today, for crying out loud.

Still, third time’s a charm, right? And I want to be thorough for the sake of this post. So I give it another go. I plug in my iPhone and try the manual drag and drop in iTunes for the third time. I’m about to eat dinner, anyway, so how can it hurt? First three times I drag, it gets stuck in “preparing” to update and I have to cancel. So I quit iTunes and relaunch, drag it a fourth time, and just walk away.

Thirty minutes later when I return from dinner, the progress bar is gone. iTunes is sitting idle. I fire up the Music app on my iPhone, and sure enough, the file is sitting there. Tap it, and it starts playing. More than three hours after I purchased the thing, I can now finally listen to the Jony Ive audiobook on my device of choice.

Isn’t this the sort of thing for which we usually make fun of other companies?

My advice: Don’t ever buy an audiobook from iTunes. Or, if you do, buy it on the device where you want to listen to it, because you won’t be able to move it after the fact without wanting to punch someone.

And this is but one small example of how crappy it is trying to sync content to an iPhone from iTunes. This is no isolated incident. I don’t have the heart to tell you the one where I tried to turn off iTunes in the Cloud and go back to manual syncing all my music last year. That’s a whole day I’ll never get back.

Fix this stuff, Apple. Seriously. iTunes is a multi-billion dollar business. You should be embarrassed of how piss poor this experience is.

Hey Apple, Where’s the Fire?

I know the trend lately is to suggest that Apple is not moving fast enough. That it should be releasing brand-new groundbreaking products every year or two. That iOS needs a complete design overhaul so it won’t be so “boring.” Where’s the Apple TV? Where’s the iWatch? And so on.

Down with Skeuomorphism! Flat Design FTW!

Forget all that. What Apple really needs to do is slow the hell down.

The Mac was released in 1984. The iPod in 2001. The iPhone in 2007. The iPad in 2010. Sure, the revolutionary new products are coming faster now than they used to, but is that a good thing?[1]

Apple has introduced some incredibly cool technology over the past several years that hasn’t come close to reaching its potential. FaceTime, Passbook, iBooks Author, iCloud—just to name a few—were all so promising when they were introduced. But most of them have failed to be completely successful, not because they aren’t great ideas, but because Apple isn’t doing a whole lot to either improve or evangelize them.

If the pattern used to be “release, then iterate, iterate, iterate,” it seems like Apple is not giving itself enough time for the “iterate” part of that process. It’s being pressured to move on to the next thing. And that leaves us with a lot of half-baked products and a ton of unrealized potential.

Let’s take a look at some of these in more detail.

FaceTime

The first time you use FaceTime to talk to your family members from across the globe is a pretty magical experience. We’ve all seen the commercials and gotten teary-eyed. Anyone who has used FaceTime can see the value in making free long-distance video calls, right? But what’s holding FaceTime back from wider adoption?

When Jobs introduced FaceTime, he said that it would eventually be an open standard, that anyone could use the same technology and thus it wouldn’t matter if your kids or wife or whoever also had an iPhone or iPad. You could call people on Android, Windows, etc. What happened to that? Did the standard get rejected? Did Apple ever bother submitting it?

And why is FaceTime still a one-on-one conversation? I can do a video iChat with three people over AIM, for crying out loud. And I can’t share my screen during a FaceTime call, either. The Mac app hasn’t been updated since it was in beta, really. And the carriers are only now opening up and letting us use it over our cellular data plans. Considering how long FaceTime has been around, it’s stunningly similar to what it was at launch.

Update: Rene Ritchie from iMore has informed me that Apple is in the midst of a lawsuit involving FaceTime, and that may have had a strong effect on Apple’s ability to improve the technology, and to open source it. That certainly would explain the lack of progress there. Thanks for the tip!

Passbook

The four times I’ve used Passbook were some of the most delightful retail experiences I’ve had. Who wouldn’t love the idea of never having to worry about losing paper tickets or waiting in line at Will Call again? Every time I buy tickets to a movie, concert, or comedy show, I scan the confirmation email, hoping to see a Passbook link. And more often than not, I’m left disappointed.

I’d be using Passbook a lot more, except few companies seem to be adopting it. This one is a real head scratcher, as from what I can tell the technology isn’t difficult to implement. It appears as if Apple actually got the hard part right, but no one at Apple is selling it enough. I know that Passbook is relatively new, but is anyone out there pushing companies to try it? Does Apple even have Evangelists anymore?

It would help if Apple Retail at least adopted Passbook for Apple Gift Cards and in-store pickups. Talk about eating your own dogfood.

Update 2: @hmk on App.net pointed out that last November, Apple did start allowing online Apple Gift Cards to be transferred into Passbook. The physical cards you buy in Apple Stores and other retail locations are still not transferrable, however. 

iBooks Author

Phil Schiller said Apple wanted to reinvent the textbook with iBooks Author. And what have we gotten since? Is Apple taking this book revolution seriously anymore? Maybe it is, but it’s hard to tell when Apple has been basically silent about it ever since, minus one update that didn’t address most authors’ needs.

Maybe footnotes would be a good start.

iCloud

Lots of stories lately about how Apple is blowing it with iCloud, so I don’t need to belabor the point here. Everyone seems to agree that contact, calendar, and preference syncing is mostly okay, though not perfect. But the real issue is more complex data sync, which is both broken and next to impossible to implement.

iCloud needs developer adoption, and right now the top developers are telling everyone to stay away from it. This is a huge problem for Apple. I know the tendency for Apple is to think of users first, then Apple, then the devs, but this is one case where putting the dev first is actually going to help Apple and the users more. If Core Data sync is truly unfixable, replace it with something better under the hood. Keep calling it iCloud, because no one outside the developer community will know you changed anything. They’ll just be happy it started working.

Conclusion

Behind every one of these products is a brilliant idea. This is not a Ping situation, where Apple saw it had made a mistake and quickly cut it loose. Every one of these and many more could easily become world-changing, competition-killing features with the right amount of polish and some proselytizing. But Apple can’t do that if it starts to adopt a more Google-like “throw it all up against the wall and see what sticks” attitude. This would be harmful not only to the users who get burnt as their favorite new technologies die on the vine, but also to Apple itself as people start to lose their faith that everything new Apple does is golden. It’s also destructive to the talent within Apple who come up with these things. You can’t retain talented people if you abandon the projects they work so hard to deliver.

When the iPhone was first released, and it didn’t have cut, copy, and paste, I wasn’t worried. I wasn’t worried there were no third-party apps. I knew that would all happen eventually. I want to be just as sure about Apple’s newer products.

Even on the hardware side, we’re just scratching the surface of iPad adoption. There are far more people who don’t own a tablet than who do. It’s clear that tablets are destined to become the primary computing device for most people; but not if Apple is already putting all its attention on wrist computers and not addressing the shortcomings that make the iPad impractical for average users’ needs. The current iPads are awesome, but they’re not done. There’s plenty more to improve.

If Apple took the year and worked on half of its existing prodcuts rather than trying to introduce new ones, they’d be doing themselves and us a much bigger favor. If they spent the year fixing the unbelievably sloppy bugs that still exist in iOS and Mountain Lion (I’m talking boneheadedly simple things like drag and drop on the Mac), rather than bringing five new half-baked apps like Podcasts to the platform, our phones and our laptops would be better at surprising and delighting us.[2]

I’ve loved jabbing Adobe for its many flaws over the years, but when they took a step back with Photoshop CS6 and spent the majority of the release fixing all the teeny little annoyances we were complaining about for decades rather than peppering it with a thousand useless new features, you could feel the collective joy from the user base. We were thrilled that Adobe was finally fixing most of the broken stuff. Apple would be wise to take some time to do something similar with iOS and OS X. All those little irritations add up, and every new product you introduce that doesn’t get more love later is yet another breeding ground for discontent.

Maybe that’s not sexy enough to gather all the right headlines. Maybe new features in iWork for the first time in seveal years won’t keep Wall Street or the idiot analysts happy. Maybe the competition is too fierce to afford the time to slow down and get some perspective rather than plowing forward at breakneck speed. (I seriously doubt it.) But all this rushing, all this spreading of resources too thin is starting to show. Allowing pressure from others to set the pace of innovation at Apple would be a very costly mistake.


  1. Personally, I think the iPad was released a few years earlier than it should have been. Jobs wasn’t going to be around much longer, so it made sense that he wanted to see it out in the real world before he passed, but the more I use my iPad mini, the more convinced I am that the mini would have been what Apple released as the first iPad if it had waited a few more years to refine the product to its usual standards.  ↩

  2. The release of the new and improved Podcasts app actually gave me hope. Most of the press only cared about the killing of skeuomorphism, but the more significant UI changes and new features in Podcasts demonstrated that Apple knew exactly what was wrong with the app and how best to fix it. If Podcasts is an indication of where iOS is going in general, then I’m not worried. Let’s hope we’ll see more of this sort of methodical polish in the near future.  ↩

You’re not Michael Simmons, Either

In September 2011, I attended 360iDev for the first time. At the time, Fantastical for Mac was a very new app, and I was happy to see that one of its creators, Michael Simmons, would be giving a talk. After his talk, I told him how much I liked Fantastical and that I was hoping he’d make an iPhone version. He gave me a coy “We’re looking into it” response, and I went home thinking it was likely coming in the next six months or so.

Fast forward to September 2012, and I’m giving a talk at 360iDev. This time, Michael Simmons would be watching me speak, and Fantastical for iPhone was still a few months from release. The day before my talk, I bumped into Michael at the elevator, re-introduced myself, and told him again how much I liked Fantastical. He immediately invited me to hang out with him and his friends for dinner and introduced me to many of the other speakers.

My point here is that Michael is an extremely approachable guy. We had a great conversation over dinner about App Store pricing, and he gave me some valuable advice. He also attended my talk the next day and gave me lots of encouraging feedback.

Fast forward to yesterday, and Fantastical is finally released for iPhone. Somewhere in the middle of the day, I see this tweet from Michael:

For at least a few hours on launch day, Fantastical for iPhone was the number 1 iPhone app. It was beating out Angry Birds Star Wars, a game that combines two amazingly powerful brands held by two multi-million (billion in the case of Star Wars) dollar companies. Flexibits is a small, independent operation. This shouldn’t be possible.

But the image he attached actually tells an even more important story. Angry Birds Star Wars sells for $0.99. Fantastical was selling at an “introductory rate” of $1.99. So that means Fantastical, for at least a few hours yesterday, was making more than double the amount of money that Angry Birds Star Wars was. With a non-game app made by an indie shop that was more than $0.99.

That’s mind-numbing.

Imagine my shock when exactly no one in the tech press wrote that story yesterday.

(Correction: Matthew Panzarino did in fact write this exact story for thenextweb.com. I apologize for the error. And kudos to him for bringing this story some bona fide media attention.)

What’s my point in all this? Well, on Wednesday, I said that you should forget the top charts on the App Store, that you’re never going to get on them. And I still stand by that advice. Because you’re not Loren Brichter, and you’re not Michael Simmons, either. But seeing Loren and Michael break that barrier, get themselves up on these lists as small independent shops, should be encouraging to you, as long as you don’t take away the wrong lessons from their successes.

You see, neither Michael Simmons nor Loren Brichter were trying to get on the top charts. The goal was to create a great app first and then get it into as many hands as possible. The fact that they reached the top of the chart is evidence that they succeeded in their goal, not the goal itself.

Loren made it to the top of the chart with a freemium game. Michael made it there with a $2 productivity app. The price had less to do with either success than most people think.

Another thing I said two days ago was that most iOS developers are great at code, terrible at business. Guess what Michael Simmons is amazingly good at?

You need both a great app and a good head for business to succeed at this thing. If you’re confident that you’re making the best apps you can possibly make, and you’re still not really breaking through in the App Store, it’s probably time to start studying sales and marketing.

Time will tell how long Fantastical will stay high up on the charts. I suspect that it will fade slowly down to a comfortable spot in the top fifty or so, like most popular apps do. But that amazing launch day alone netted Flexibits more money than most apps make in a lifetime. And the giant user base of mostly happy customers who bought Fantastical yesterday is going to evangelize the crap out of Fantastical, bringing a nice steady stream of sales for years.

In short, Fantastical is a role model for how to succeed on the App Store as an independent developer.

So if you want a tip from your old pal, Joe, here it is: Keep an eye on Flexibits. When you come across interviews with Michael Simmons, particularly ones where he reveals some secrets about how to have a successful launch, read or listen to them. When you see he’s speaking at some event somewhere, go watch him talk. And introduce yourself afterwards.

And as you begin to succeed on the App Store yourself, and you bump into someone you don’t know who tells you he or she likes your work, take a few moments to be gracious and encouraging, and share some of your wisdom. Having a reputation for being a genuinely nice, generous person never seems to hurt.

You’re Not Loren Brichter

Realmac Blog – App Pricing and the Freemium Trend: “So what does this mean for us and the future of apps? Given the right product, a freemium model is something that we may have to consider. To throw in some business speak, the right product matched to the right target market is critically important here, and when done properly going freemium could be a massively successful strategy. That said, how it affects the perceived value of our craft remains to be seen.”

(Via. Realmac Blog)

While I agree with Rob that there’s a place for freemium, this disturbing trend of assuming that price is the major factor in a particular app’s success always gives me pause.

I think Letterpress would have done fine if it weren’t freemium. Why? Because it was made by Loren Brichter, and it’s an awesome game. You can’t just look at the pricing model and assume that’s the reason why something hit or didn’t. We have no way of knowing for sure how well Letterpress would have done at $2 or $5, but we can’t assume that it would have done worse. It could have made more money.

A couple of things to keep in mind if you’re getting into the App Store software business, especially if you want to make a productivity, or some other sort of “non-game” app:

  • The vast majority of iPhone and iPad owners only buy games. Actually, to be more accurate, most of them don’t buy games; they download free games. And then a very small percentage of those folks actually pay the $1 or whatever for the “advanced” features. Those hundreds of millions of devices that Apple talks about at every keynote? Most of them are never going to run your app at any price. Not because these users are cheap. They paid for an iPhone or iPad. They have a few bucks to spare. Not because they hate you. They don’t know you. It’s just that paying for apps is not on the radar. They just like playing casual games once in a while, and that’s all they need from their phone. So forget them. They’re not your customers. There are hundreds of thousands of other iOS users who are interested in your product and do pay for software regularly. Don’t confuse those users with everyone else. They are two very different groups of people. You don’t need to get them all.
  • The Top Grossing Apps list is a complete waste of your time. Repeat after me: You will never be on this list. Furthermore, the apps on this list have almost nothing to do with your success or failure. Everyone there has all sorts of advantages (connections, press, luck, VC backing, etc.) that you don’t have. Trying to emulate anything about any of these apps is an exercise in futility. You can make money just fine without ever paying attention to this list at all. In fact, you’re more likely to make money if you forget the list exists.
  • You’re not Loren Brichter. You’re just not. Maybe you’re a genius, and you’ve made an app that’s even better than anything Loren has ever done. That’s nice, but you’re still not Loren Brichter. You didn’t work at Apple on the original iPhone. You didn’t have one of the early App Store successes with Tweetie. You haven’t guest lectured at Stanford. You didn’t earn the reputation he has for building the highest quality stuff, and you aren’t universally adored in the Apple community as an all-around nice guy. You may be all those things some day if you keep working at it like he did, but you’re not there yet, and you’re not getting there this week. If you want to emulate anything about Loren, emulate his commitment to quality, his ability to take advantage of the luck that comes his way, and his focus on the product rather than the profit motive. Don’t emulate his freemium game pricing model. That’s like donning a white suit and thinking you can dance like Travolta. Not going to happen.
  • There are ten times more failed freemium apps than successful ones. The bottom grossing apps are mostly free or freemium, too. You know why? Because far too many devs embrace freemium as the “only way to make money.” Most devs are smart engineers but terrible business people. Don’t be that.
  • The goal isn’t to get rich quick and retire young. That could happen on the App Store, but there are much easier ways to reach that goal. You haven’t heard many stories about the dev who makes an app in his spare time and hits it big a la Steve Detemer lately because we’re past that stage. Far richer and more connected people have descended on the App Store with well-known brands and armies of resources, and they get the bulk of the attention and the money. But that’s fine. There’s still plenty of room for you. Find a measure of success that’s both realistic and noble, and work towards it. Make something you’re proud of and figure out a way to make a living with it so you can make it better. Be ready for that to take years.
  • Buy apps. And start encouraging everyone you know to pay for quality. If you balk at paying $1.99 for any app that genuinely interests you, get out of the business immediately. You’re part of the problem.
  • If you’re in the apps business to get rich quick or to get into the Top Grossing list, you have to be prepared to play an entirely different game, with venture capital, millions in investment, teams of engineers, and an exit strategy. Just making your app free to play isn’t going to do you any good. That’s one piece of a much larger and very different business strategy.

The Headphone Jack on the Bottom is Not Working for Me

I’m sorry. I’m just not a fan of the headphone jack being on the bottom of the new iPhone. I’ve heard the positive arguments. The lack of a cable draping over your screen. Not having to “flip” the phone around when putting it into your pocket while headphones are plugged in. Whatever. 

My issue is mainly with taking the phone out of my pocket. 

I’m left-handed, but I generally put my iPhone in my right pants pocket. This makes sense, when you think about it. The side of your dominant hand is where you’d generally want to keep your keys, loose change, your wallet, etc. The phone has to live in its own pocket, with nothing else inside it. Thus, it gets moved to the opposite side. A lot of people do it this way.

With the 4S, and all the other iPhones before it, I would place the phone into my pocket, screen facing inside, of course, which put the headphone port on top left. I could accomplish this with the simplest of twist of my wrist. No real effort; one smooth movement into the pocket. Pants pockets don’t tend do be mid-way down your leg, where your hands would rest with elbows straightened; they are at waist height, where your elbows are still bent and thus the phone is still sitting right-side up. To place a phone with the top down into your pocket actually takes more effort than placing it face up, since it involves more elbow movement. You have to pull your elbows up higher to get your hand into your pocket in that manner. 

When I’d take my 4S out of my pocket, I could easily grab the phone between two fingers and pull it up into my palm again, straight up with another simple wrist movement. Even though the phone itself didn’t twist at all, my fingers and wrist could easily make the move while avoiding the cable on the top left of the device. 

With the iPhone 5, the cable is on the bottom left of the device. So first, to put the phone into my pocket, I have to twist my elbow more than I used to. Not the end of the world. But then the headphone cable is sitting on the top right of the device as it sits in my pocket. In order to get the phone out, I have to either dig in completely past the headphone cable and pull the entire phone out in a complete grip, which isn’t easy with jeans and again involves much more elbow elevation, or I have to somehow try and grab the phone with a few fingers, like I used to, only this time with this headphone cord directly in the way, since it’s now on the right. And then once I pull it out with a few fingers, the phone is upside down, so I have to “flip” it. (Nine times out of ten I end up hitting the “home” button while I’m attempting this, as well.) Try as I might over the past few days, I can’t figure out any way to get my iPhone 5 out of my pocket that is anywhere near as graceful and effortless as my old method. 

Of course, your mileage may vary. And I love everything else about this phone. But the headphone port on the bottom? Not a good thing for me.

Forget Maps; There’s a Much Bigger Issue Here

By now you’ve probably seen the thousand or so stories criticizing Apple’s new Maps app in iOS 6. As this is sure to be the Apple scandal of 2012, right up there with “antennagate”, I think I’ll leave it to others to write up their own personal disaster stories. You’re probably bored of that already. 

Instead, I want to talk about what I think is a much bigger problem for Apple: the iOS Clock app for iPad.

Now, bear with me; I know you probably get a heck of a lot more use out of Maps than an alarm clock, and I’m sure that in the scheme of things, Clock was the least of Apple’s worries for this release. But see, that’s the problem.

It’s not the Clock app itself, but rather what the Clock app on iPad represents—an Apple software division that’s overstretched and off its focus.

Take a look at exhibit A:

Alarmclock 1

In this picture, you can see that I have two alarms set up for tomorrow morning. The first one is at around 6 am. (It’s actually 6:02, but you can’t tell the exact time from its placement here.) And the other is at 8:37. So far, not so terrible.

Now, let’s say you want to check on that 6:02 alarm. See what sound it’s set to play. Maybe set it up as a repeating alarm. Maybe delete it. Where might you think to tap? If you said on the alarm itself on the grid there, you’d be correct. Tap it, and a popover will appear with all the relevant settings, right? Wrong. Because this app sucks.

Tapping on the alarm itself in the grid does nothing but highlight the alarm, which is fairly useless. You can kinda sorta drag the alarm, but not really. (Try dragging it to another day if you think I’m kidding.) If you want to change the settings for this alarm, you have to instead tap the “Edit” button at the top left of the screen. Now, at that point, you’d expect the grid to go into “Edit” mode, as that’s what happens with every other iOS app since 2007, but that doesn’t happen. Instead, you get a popover extending down from the Edit button, with a list of all your alarms. Tap one of those, and you can edit the settings.

Alarmclock 2

That’s right, folks. Here we have an iOS app, in 2012, designed by Apple, in which editing requires a level of abstraction for no particular reason. We don’t tap on objects to edit them anymore; we tap on menubar buttons and edit objects from a list in another part of the screen, like it’s 1996.

Are you kidding me?

Hey, I’m not the best UX guy on the planet. I’m in awe of some of the stupidity I’ve shipped over the years. But this is Apple we’re talking about. And this is a built-in app that ships with the device. And it behaves like it was designed by someone who doesn’t get the basic iOS user experience at all.

I remember reading about folks who worked for Apple back in the day. They’d spin tales of having designed the best thing they’d ever done in their lives, and then Steve or someone else would come in and make them start all over again. And after ten more revisions, they’d have the most amazing user experience ever created.

Those days are clearly over. This Clock app didn’t get more than one revision. It didn’t get the attention of anyone in management at Apple. At least I hope it didn’t.

Is this the end of the world? Of course not. Is Apple “losing it” since Steve Jobs died? Well, I’d argue the slide started before Jobs died. But the point is that these little things matter. They are a sign of bigger problems in the organization. When Apple stops sweating the details, that’s a really bad sign.

You can argue that Clock didn’t warrant much attention from Scott Forstall, since he had to worry about Maps and Passbook and so many other “tentpole” features for iOS 6. If that’s the case, then you don’t ship Clock with the product. You leave two or three of the 200 new features out until they are ready to ship in the next version. You don’t ship anything you haven’t had more than ten minutes to play with and make sure it doesn’t suck.

The fact that no one wanted or needed a Clock app from Apple on the iPad is all the more reason that Apple either should have built the best damn alarm clock ever or not bothered. The Apple I know makes those decisions. 

These little slips on the “unimportant” things can be found all over iOS 6, by the way. It’s not just about Clock. (Don’t get me started on the Phone dialer.) And please don’t think I’m criticizing any of the fine designers working at Apple. There’s still a ton of talent going on in Cupertino way beyond my feeble skills.

But every designer pitches a terrible game once in a while. It’s when the manager doesn’t bring in the reliever that you give up runs.

5GHz Wi-Fi on the iPhone 5

What you need to know about the iPhone 5 and 5GHz Wi-Fi | Macworld:

Kish was recently at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C., where a Ruckus Wi-Fi network had been installed, for a live event. He speed-tested his Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone in the network: 60.33Mbps download, and 58.78Mbps upload.

“60Mbps is a serious amount of throughput to a mobile device under real-world conditions!” he says. “I have my fingers crossed that the iPhone 5 delivers similar results.”

(Via www.macworld.com)

This is my favorite new feature of the iPhone 5. I’ve always run my home 802.11n network on 5GHz only; up until now, all my iPhones have hooked on to the alternate 802.11g network I run simultaneously. I wanted my iMac to have maximum speed and throughput in the house, since that was the device most likely to need the extra oomph. (The Apple TV is wired into my Airport via Ethernet.) Finally, the iPhones in the house can join in at proper n speeds without me having to compromise my other devices. Should make those wireless backups and AirPlay run much smoother. 

Username/Password Needs to be Taken out to Back and Shot in the Head

How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking | Gadget Lab | Wired.com: “In many ways, this was all my fault. My accounts were daisy-chained together. Getting into Amazon let my hackers get into my Apple ID account, which helped them get into Gmail, which gave them access to Twitter. Had I used two-factor authentication for my Google account, it’s possible that none of this would have happened, because their ultimate goal was always to take over my Twitter account and wreak havoc. Lulz.

Had I been regularly backing up the data on my MacBook, I wouldn’t have had to worry about losing more than a year’s worth of photos, covering the entire lifespan of my daughter, or documents and e-mails that I had stored in no other location.

Those security lapses are my fault, and I deeply, deeply regret them.”

(Via. Wired)

While it’s tempting to say he’s right here, that it really is his own dumb behavior that led to this, it’s also important to remember that this is a nerd with major street cred we’re talking about. Compared to the average computer user, this guy is way ahead of the curve when it comes to security. And he still got hacked. 

Worse yet, he didn’t get hacked by some brilliant but malicious programmer who figured out a secret path through the back door via sharp technical skills. The guy just called Amazon and Apple and was handed the keys to the kingdom. 

Remember that next time your customer support rep doesn’t believe you’re you, and won’t let you in without proper identification. 

The bottom line is that we have a broken system. Period. Tech companies (I’m looking at you Apple and Amazon) need to be innovating in this area more. The whole username/password thing is way past its expiration date. We’re storing our lives on these machines. We’re trusting companies with our most precious data and private information. We need a better way for the computer to know who it’s talking to. 

No matter how many times you tell people to turn on two-factor authentication, use better passwords with numbers, letters, and symbols, use different passwords for all your accounts, etc., it’s not going to happen. 90% of people are still using their dog’s name with a 1 or 2 tacked on the end. It’s human nature. 

So while I applaud Google for having a better authentication system than Apple on this one, it still puts the burden on the user, and thus is essentially useless. The vast majority of people, even if they were scared into turning two-factor on by this story, will turn it back off again after two weeks of being inconvenienced by it. 

In other words, don’t tell me I have to type a 16-character password every time I want to use my phone. Make a better phone that knows the difference between me and a stranger without me having to do anything. 

The thing that’s made Apple products better than everyone else’s over the last few decades is that they always put the user’s needs ahead of the designer or programmer. It’s time Apple stepped up and did that again, this time with an authentication system that works with near zero effort on the user’s part. Yes, that’s hard. Too bad. It’s the only way we’re going to fix this. 

And meanwhile, Apple, stop using the last four digits of a credit card number as proof of anything. Wow. Talk about bone-headed. That’s worse than the bank using your mother’s maiden name.

My Thoughts on a Larger-screen iPhone

Clearly, something is going on with the next iPhone. The rumors of big screens have been floating around for ages, but there’s a lot more smoke this time around. So I have to think this is at least a possibility.

Personally, though, I’m still not feeling the need for a larger screen. The notion that Apple “needs” to do this because of all the Android phones out there with big screens is preposterous. Android is coming apart at the seams. The big screens were an attempt to differentiate the Android phones from Apple. This wasn’t something most users were clamoring for, and many users who get these devices pushed on them don’t even like the larger screen. They aren’t an improvement, in other words. People in general don’t want larger devices in their pockets. They like their phones small. I think Gruber is right that if the iPhone gets a larger screen, it doesn’t necessarily mean the phone itself will be larger. There’s room for a larger screen without going nuts and making a Galaxy Note hunk of junk. In fact, the screen could be 4 inches without making the footprint of the iPhone any bigger.

(I really don’t think Apple needs to worry about Android in the long run at all, by the way. Maybe that sounds nuts, but watch the numbers carefully. Android’s golden age is already over. It’s peaked, as far as growth rate relative to others is concerned, and it’s nowhere in the tablet race. Google has never gotten the app ecosystem off the ground, and now with all the viruses plaguing Android there’s even less trust from the users, which means even fewer developers are going to make apps. Every OEM making Android devices except for Samsung is losing money. They will jump ship to Microsoft, or whoever else offers them a better deal down the line. And the users will buy whatever the kids in the carrier stores push on them. This is a fickle market. Android will self-destruct without any help from Apple.)

But again, I’ll ask the question none of the nerds seem to be asking. How does a bigger screen make the phone better? More icons on the home screen? Really? That’s it? Widescreen videos a little bigger? Ok. I guess. I have yet to read any compelling argument for how this would improve the iPhone experience. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a compelling argument; I’m just saying that no one seems to be focusing on the only reason Apple would pull the trigger on this.

As far as third party developer concerns, that’s a bit ludicrous, too. Apple ultimately doesn’t care if we developers have to work to get our apps updated to match the new screen size. If they think a bigger phone screen would be better, than they’ll make the phone with a bigger screen, and the developers will fall in line. What choice do we have? They may provide some tools to make the transition easier, but basically, what the developers need or want is the lowest thing on Apple’s hierarchy of concerns. Apple does what is best for Apple, what is best for the customer, and then what is best for developers, in that order. Anyone who has ever opened Xcode knows this.

Now, if Apple announces this new phone, but no apps support it on day one, that’s a problem. And clearly, some apps won’t ever get updated, because their developers have abandoned them long ago. So Apple will need something equivalent to what they did on the iPad with iPhone apps. There will have to be some default way that this new phone adapts older apps to work correctly on the new screen. It doesn’t have to make for a perfect experience—iPhone apps on the iPad are a pretty lame experience—but it does have to work. A stop-gap measure until the developers do the correct enhancements. Other than that, Apple doesn’t need to be concerned about third-party apps at all.

I do worry about the long-term health of the App Store ecosystem, but that’s a subject for a separate post. Right now, Apple is in the driver’s seat, and they can get away with pretty much anything, making us all jump through hoops to be in the Store. But ultimately, it would probably be in Apple’s best interests to start thinking a little more about what kinds of developers are successful in this market. If they’re not careful, they could easily end up in a position where only big corporations like Adobe are back in control of the software side of things. And that’s not in Apple’s best interest.

As soon as someone can tell me why a bigger iPhone screen would be better, I’ll get more excited about this. Whether or not it happens is much less interesting to me than the why.

You call that Compelling?

Compelling idea for moving files from Mac to iPhone | TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog: “There’s iCloud, Dropbox and a host of other services to help us tranfer these files, but there are no solutions as elegant as the concept devised by interaction designer Ishac Bertran.”

(Via. TUAW)

Elegant? I’d say this is anything but elegant. For starters, how is manually holding a phone in one hand while pinching and dragging with the other on a vertical screen more elegant than iCloud automatically syncing the files with no user interaction whatsoever? 

Even Palm solved this problem already much more elegantly with the “bump” feature on the WebOS tablet a few years ago. You see a file on the tablet you want on your phone, or vice versa? Just bump the devices together on the side of the screen, and the file transfers. 

But again, even that isn’t as simple as putting your files in iCloud, where they will simply be available on all devices at all times. Make an update on your phone, your laptop will have it in a few seconds. Make a change on your laptop, and the phone will have it in a few seconds. 

I realize that Apple is just getting started with iCloud, and that they haven’t worked out all the kinks yet, but they’ve clearly demonstrated that this is the plan for the future. There will be no need for the user to ever “sync” anything, because synchronization will be constant and automatic. 

Why you’d try and solve this problem when it’s already been solved is beyond me.