Wednesday, September 19, 2007

New iPod Redux

Since the new iPod Nano, Classic, & Touch were announced - there have been quite a few reviews, software updates, unboxings, and so on. The Touch has begun to show up in Apple stores, although Apple has failed to fill the pre-orders first. (What's up with THAT?!)
There are already complaints about quality control issues, including poorly mounted nano screens iPhone code  & uninstalled operating systems running on the Touch, Touch display problems, and iTunes Store snafus

Reviews have been favorable, with people raving about the screen and ability to see vids. Here is a typical Nano review. The cons seem to be an unpolished UI (user interface) - and a lot of folks think the new size is great. I would have to say that this iPod isn't really Nano anymore, more like a sawed off classic. And I don't find it easy to hold or use for long periods. The best thing I enjoyed about the 1G Nano was its truly Nano size. Apple has lost sight of this, unfortunately. And I really get fed up with MacSheep like MacWorld that think every Apple product has to have minimum of 4 rating. PlayList (MWs iPod site) gave the Nano a 4.5 rating. Ridiculous. Subjective. Nonsense.

Fanboys think this huge storage tank is great idea, despite the archaic form factor and (still) miscrocopic screen - plus the new 'features'. At least Chris Breen on Playlist hit the Classic with a 3.5 rating (should be 3.0 - but at least he is partially honest). Breen hits on the sluggish UI, useless Coverflow (finally someone at a major Mac media outlet gets it), as well as the lack of compatibility with older iPod games, and the incompatibility of current dock connectors for video out.  Shockingly, AppleInsider gave the Classic a higher rating (4) - mostly overlooking the problems. Fanboys.

Since I pre-ordered the Touch - I've been interested to hear about it. Unfortunately, what I've read is disappointing. First, WTF is Apple doing putting the Touch in stores before shipping to pre-ordered customers? Unacceptable. The people that went to the trouble of making an order in advance should be rewarded, not penalized. Why reward those that have the time to run down to an Apple store? That being said, perhaps a delay will improve the chances I don't get a dog or defective model.

The things that bother me from the reviews/unboxings are the inferior screens (washed out blacks) and the crippled features - like iCal editting. Jobs said it was the same screen as in the iPhone - but for many of the early touch recipients - this is a lie. Not only is it not the same size, the quality problems are not acceptable. Second, when the iTouch first went up on the Apple store - iCal editing was listed as a feature. Now this has been removed. For WHAT? It makes no sense why Apple would remove this small feature.

Further reports suggest Apple is not giving the touch many features that one would expect in a touch screen device with Wifi. This AppleInsider review takes a stab to explain why the Touch lacks these features, and tries to make the argument that the Touch is not an iPhone , but an iPod. The problem with this is that it really isn't an iPod either. You can't play any iPod games on it (WTF - is a touch interface more limiting that a freaking scroll wheel?!), there doesn't seem to be a way to click to advance your song (or a remote) with no visuals, there is no EQ (apparently), and you can't even make it a storage device. 

Although it's not a phone (and thanks be for that), it has all these interactive features that seem to be underutilized with the current OS. The point of having WiFi seems to be solely centered on selling iTunes content (though not videos). Although having a Safari browser is great - that seems to be the only way to view things like pdf files (you have to store them online somewhere and actually access WiFi to view them). 

Hey Apple, I want my freaking media player to actually display all my media - not just what YOU want to sell me!

Omitting a mail app, text browsing, and any sort of reason to type text (except on iTunes store and web browsing) sort of makes it POINTLESS to have such sophisticated text entry capabilities. What is the point of this? Put a freaking Preview App on this puppy?

I'm also irritated by Steve Jobs stating Apple doesn't want 3rd parties to develop apps (unless they don't involve internet) because internet interactive apps threaten the user experience. WTF. 

Hey Steve, did you ever think that maybe people want to use the internet in ways THEY want to? And if you want developers to focus on non-internet apps, why don't you release a developer kit or way to develop Touch/iPhone Apps that doesn't require Safari? Or better yet, how about a file system that allows us to upload what we want and a way to view text/pdfs without connecting to the goddamn internet?

What's the point of putting OSX on this iPod if it's not actually giving us a real operating system? I don't get it.

Don't get me wrong - I'm really looking forward to getting my Touch, and I'm betting I can overlook some of the issues if the thing works well. But I'm starting to wonder if Apple/Jobs wants to control everything to the point where people feel their choices are too limited.

Maybe this is why my brother feels Apple hardware/software doesn't let you do what you want with it.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Two Great Free Software Goodies

I came across two apps that I'm betting many people will find useful on their Macs: Milkyway and RapidoStart.

Milkyway (MW) is a small program by Launay Software that previews your image files with a pop-up window that you can resize. I tried this out because of a complaint from my wife. My wife was told me the other day that she couldn't easily preview images by selecting them with a large enough window in the finder. She also didn't really want to use iPhoto (because it's sluggish as hell, in part).

So, recently, MW popped up on MacUpdate with a new version. I kind of remember downloading this in the past, but it didn't work right - but my memory is fuzzy. When it's installed and you start the app, it stays out of sight. You can choose to show the icon in the menubar (way cool) and you can choose to have it start on log-in.

The MW pop up previews can be resized considerably, and you can also move the window wherever you like on your screen for future pop-ups. It also has this 3D glass effect - nice touch - that you can choose to disable if it's annoying. Give MW a try! I like it, and it's just unobtrusive enough to like.

The other free app I think many of you will like is RapidoStart, by App4Mac - makers of some other free apps with the "Rapido" prefix, like "RapidoWrite". [Note - I sort of recall that this RapidoWrite was shareware at one point - got a note from the developer once. Maybe it didn't sell well.] App4Mac also makes other apps in the shareware or commercial category as well.

RapidoStart (RS) was updated recently and caught my eye in a discussion about uses with QuickSilver. RS is essentially a supplemental dock you can call up when you need it by clicking on a small green tab in the corner - or with a key-command. The pop-up dock is customizable; you can add what ever apps or files you want and even make several sets of things for different purposes (e.g., image manipulation apps, PDF apps, research project docs). For those that don't like the non-visual nature of QuickSilver, it provides a visual way to get at apps you don't have room for on the doc. And if you are someone like me, with many apps I use for different purposes (and you can't remember the names) - RS seems like a great way to get to these apps. Unlike Quicksilver, which learns your patterns and sets up the keyboard shortcuts, you'll have to customize RS your self for the files you want to access.

The pop-up window is gorgeous - well rendered, and the app is very solid. Give it a shot and see if it helps your work flow.

Nano and Classic - Inferior?

A friend of mine took some time to look over the new iPod Classic and iPod Nano at Bic Camera in Shinjuku today. His comments were a bit surprising, but not unexpected.

He sent me a phone message saying that the new iPods were very sluggish, with a 1 second delay when trying to browse via coverflow. I sort of expected this new UI would tax any processor, but assumed Apple would use the appropriate components to avoid this. I asked him for clarifications on sluggishness with Coverflow turned off and this is part of the email he sent me. Keep in mind that this was someone who was set to buy a high capacity classic after seeing the product introductions on the 5th.

"Now that I've had a day for the new releases to sink in and actually touched 2 of the 3 new releases, I think this was a very poor, if not terrible set of updates. The nano is pretty much unusable, especially with my man-sized hands. The scroll wheel is very narrow, and slick, and unresponsive, then add in the frequent delays even in non-graphical menus like settings, never mind when you are looking at album art and other stuff, and you get a very poor user experience. Cover flow is just one option once you click on Music, along with the usual albums, artists, songs, etc. The edges on the nano are razor sharp as well, not something you want to hold and fondle in your hand like the 4g iPod and all earlier versions."

Wow! I don't think he will be the only one to have this impression on the UI and reponsiveness. If this is the case, Apple has made a huge boo-boo. Perhaps some of this can be addressed via an update to iPod firmware.

I'm also surprised about the click wheel. I don't have big hands, but fairly thick fingers and I can use my 1G Nano's click wheel easily. Did Apple use a smaller click wheel on this fatter Nano? He goes on about the edges on the Nano and the Classic.

"I read an article online by some guy who said one of the big subconscious reasons why people wanted an iPod so much was that it was so comfortable and sexy to hold with it's totally round and smooth edges. I love that feature of my 4G iPod and that was one big reason why I was unmotivated to buy a 5G, sharp edges.

The silver classic looks great, like a true Powerbook accessory, but again, has rough edges. And the UI is possibly even slower on the classic than the nano, also the clickwheel is very unresponsive and slick, but at least its a decent size.

I put hands on both classics on display, both sluggish UI's, and one nano, also sluggish..."

I kind of like the shape of my 3G iPod too, but I never had a 5G or used a 5G long enough to have an opinion about the edges. My 1G Nano has sharp edges and I sort of like that form factor more than the 2G Nanos. I'm very surprised to hear that the Classics may be more sluggish than the Nanos. You have to wonder what Apple has done here. Maybe these new hard drives' access speeds are not all that great?

He goes on to disparage what others did about the 3G Nano even before they were released - the shape.

"The nano fatty just looks bad. In person it looks like a horrible square. In hand it feels cumbersome. The rectangle is the ideal shape for an iPod. They've screwed themselves now with the nano. It has a silver metal back as usual, I read somewhere it was all aluminum like the 2G nano and mini, but that's not true, highly scratchable steel on back as always."

If someone like him (a Mac guy) dislikes these new iPods, I can't help but wonder if others feel the same way. Combined with what I feel are awful colors, maybe Apple has lost its aesthetic edge.

If others have seen these units in person - let me know.

I had a chance to look at new Nano and Classic at an electronics retailer in Machida. I have to second the comments above. UI is sluggish with both iPods, worse for the Classic. And the edges are definitely uncool, unpleasant even. You won't want to hold these for long. The problem is the bevel on the front - the corner is just awful. It gives these iPods a cheap, unfinished, poorly designed feel. I can't understand why Apple would do this. I'm hoping that the Touch has a nicer feel to it.

I also spoke with my brother (Windoze User / Mac Hater) about the Touch to get his impressions. He didn't pay attention to the event or even bother to look into these units. When I explained a few details about the Touch, he sounded impressed with the screen but was very disappointed about the storage limitation. He wanted to know why Apple couldn't at least make the thing upgradeable with flash memory cards or something like that. You see this in plenty of phones these days, and some mp3 players had slots for this. I can see his thinking - but wonder if compatibility issues with flash cards (like I have with my SD card) are one reason for omitting these slots.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

New iPods - Oh My

Greetings from Typhoon Central! We are taking a direct hit from typhoon #9 (they are numbered in Japan) in a few hours. Since I'm inland, it won't be so bad.

Stayed up last night to watch the product intros. Most of you probably know the basic details. So, I'll give you my take.

iTunes Ringtones for iPhone
Apple is making it possible for folks to use parts of or make their own ring tones from their purchased iTunes audio content. $0.99 per pop.

The Good

Apparently, this price is cheaper than usual ringtones. (I wouldn't know, as I wouldn't pay much for something like that).

The Bad
Wait a minute - don't we already own these songs?

The Ugly
Profiteering at it's worst. First, they want us to pay for the songs TWICE. Second, isn't the whole purpose of a music phone to be able to use your own music however you like on the phone? It's inconceivable Apple would hose its customers as such. My bet is that ringtones sales are lack luster.

3G Nano "phatty"
Stubby design with wider screen (2"), can now play vids. Kinda like a sawed off 5G iPod. Curves of the nano and the new iPod classic remind me of those old Airstream metallic trailers.

The Good
Can play vids, comes with 3 free games, same price points. Coverflow (if you like that nonsense).

The Bad
Screen horribly small for vids, same size options.

The Ugly
The stubby wide design is fugly to some. The new colors for nano and shuffles are gawd awful over all.

iPod Classic
5G design goes to higher capacities and 'Airstream' stylings.

The Good
180Gb upper size option! Thinner than predecessors. Coverflow. Relatively cheap.

The Bad
Lack of imagination in this design. Apple sticks with the old form factor that was successful, but horribly out of date at present day.

The Ugly
Can't justify the purchase of this for video viewing. The old classic was too small for viewing vids and this one is no different. This design should have been flushed in favor of migrating entire line to iPod Touch (see below).

iPod Touch
New iPod based on iPhone with multi-touch screen interface, but lacking phone functions.

The Good
Gorgeous styling, thin and relatively light weight, has WiFi that can be used with a Safari browser, iTunes store, and Starbucks iTunes store. 20 hour audio play time, 5 hour video time. PDA-like functions, 3.5 inch screen which shifts into landscape mode when you turn the phone. Only real iPod option for viewing movies. We've waited too long for this, Apple.

The Bad
8 & 16Gb only! For the perfect movie iPod, one would expect more storage so we can cram more vid content. Even without video, 16Gb is way to small for many people's audio collection, forcing us to choose between the piss-poor screen Classic and the piss-poor storage Touch. Perhaps the cost and availability of flash memory is the reason for this. Or perhaps the added size from a real hard drive would make it less sexy. Price is a bit steep at $400

The Ugly
Nothing really ugly here. I've pre-ordered mine already, and expect it the first week of October. :-)

I do have questions about whether you can see flash and java content via the browser, as well as pdf files. And doing webmail (gmail!) would rock, but wonder if that will fly.

iPhone Price Changes
Apple decreases 8Gb phone $200 and 4Gb phone drops off the map.

I could care less about this, however, as we aren't gonna see this phone here in Japan for a while. The Touch is the best we can get. It would suck if you bought the 8 gigger at $600 - but you probably have the money to throw away anyway if you bought that.

No Beatles Catalog on iTunes
To be honest, I could care even less about this. The Mac media have spent too much time fretting and fanning the fires over this. We can get Beatles content from other places, ya know. And the iTunes store has survived long enough without it.

I would give Apple an overall grade of B- for this event. Improving nanos is fine, though I question the utility of such a small screen. Boosting the 5G iPods (iPod Classic) without changing the form factor is a horrible mistake. This old horse should have been put to pasture long ago. The shining star of the announcement is the iPod Touch, which makes up for much of the other iPod line. Let's hope that capacities for this increase substantially in the next year.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Conjure - Check it out!

Conjure is a very interesting app. Here you have a virtual pasteboard on your desktop that you can add text or links to any app or folder, graphics or even movies (or screen shots from your iSight).

It's kind of like a 'roll your own' desktop and launcher.

Neat! Maybe a good app for kids learning a computer or even just a way to keep track of various things during your time on the computer.

The app is still a bit rough around the edges, and people trying this out should keep this in mind. I would also think that the price ($35.00) might be a bit steep for now.

If Conjure could be set to your desktop background - or even pop up as a screen saver - that would add some functionality.

I also wondered whether this interface would be great on a mobile phone or even a PDA (or the new OSX iPods?).

I would encourage anyone interested to give this app a try and email the developer with your feedback. He is very responsive to questions and suggestions.