This week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE featured a return visit by Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider, who recounted his encounters with Steve Jobs during Apple shareholder meetings, where he asked a number of questions. He also attempted to dispel some of the rumors about Jobs’ public behavior, where he states that the alleged excesses of Apple’s co-founder have been greatly exaggerated.
Now it’s not that Daniel was a friend of Jobs. But he felt that the answers to his sometimes hard questions were thoughtful and sincere. During the session, he also pointed to an example of where he felt the media totally distorted Jobs’ conduct at one of those meetings.
From the NPD Group, industry analyst Stephen Baker discussed the initial prospects for the iPhone 4s, and the state of the PC industry.
You also heard from Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director of Laptop magazine, who covered the iPhone 4s, and the fallout from the serious network outage experienced by BlackBerry maker Research In Motion last week. Certainly nobody is immune to network issues. Apple had a few during the Wednesday rollout of iOS 5, iCloud, Mac OS 10.7.2, and various and sundry updates.
It is very possible that cloud-based systems of this sort still need a fair amount work. Apple and RIM are just two of a long line of companies who have confronted occasional service issues when trying to integrate massive server networks. In Apple’s defense, perhaps they just couldn’t prepare for the onslaught of traffic, despite that huge new data center in North Carolina. But it brings back memories of the 2008 debacle where Apple, once again, tried to do too much in a single day. And, yes, there were activation glitches during the launch of the iPhone 4s on Friday.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a very unusual episode, featuring Aaron Kaplan, author of “Deep Analysis: Frightening Conclusion,”which purports to link a number of historical events to create what he believes to be a compelling picture about humanity’s future. With the permission of the author, we have posted a copy for you to download in The Paracast Community Forums.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt — Now with New Design! We’re taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.
To understate the obvious, the iOS 5 upgrade must have been a huge undertaking for Apple VP Scott Forstall and his hardworking crew. They are to be congratulated for carefully crafting a useful set of changes and feature improvements and yet keep performance of your Apple mobile gadget at a high level.
Yes, I did encounter some glitches in performing the upgrade on an iPad 2 on Wednesday, but, after all is said and done, it appears Apple’s servers just weren’t ready to handle the load. That’s something hard to predict, and difficult to scale for, so I’ll cut Apple some slack. It’s not as if Amazon, Google, and certainly Research In Motion, are free of server problems.
I also have iOS 5 also running on a GSM iPhone 4, where the upgrade went smoothly. Just as a quick test, I worked on a friend’s iPhone 4s and, despite claims of stellar performance boosts, only sensed a modest improvement in launching apps, navigating through apps, and getting online. Then again, the friend has a Verizon Wireless account, which may account for Internet speeds that do not task the device’s limits.
My main interest, though, is how well Apple addressed the iOS’s shortcomings in the new release, and how well new features have been implemented. Certainly the Notification Center overhaul was long due. The previous Push Notification system simply popped modal prompts on your screen, which you had to dismiss to get anything done. To me, that felt like the early Mac OS, which is not a good thing.
Overall, the new implementation is far better, but it’s not without its faults. Despite disabling notifications about new email messages on the iPad 2, by turning the Notification Center option to OFF, my wife still complained of getting them. Yes, that setting and three switchable options were all turned off, but one of two alert display choices was still selected, so the messages wouldn’t go away. To me, when you turn something off, it should stay off.
My solution was to change Alert Style to None. Has anyone else seen this oddity?
I remain displeased with the App Store update setup. In theory, you should see a badge at the left of the app icon indicating how many updates await you. In practice, the App Store has never automatically notified me of new versions of the apps I own, not once, not ever. I’ve always had to check them manually, and, during that checking process, the badge finally displays. This particular problem has existed over all of my iPhones, from the day of the initial App Store launch. It’s also present on the iPad 2.
I would think such notices were of some importance, particularly as apps are updated to improve performance, fix bugs, and, of course, add support for a new OS. Then again, iTunes also requires that I manually download new apps, even though there is a badge indicating how many updates await my attention. But maybe I’m just too stupid to find the hidden setting that will set things right.
My larger concerns, though, are the features that are still missing. Take Mail, one of the most important apps in Apple’s arsenal. The new formatting capabilities, though clunky, are probably as good as they can get within the limits of a tiny touchscreen. But why can’t you configure more than a single signature for all of your accounts? Why are the rules you set in the desktop version of Mail not supported? What about spam filtering?
As it stands, you have to depend on Mail for Mac OS X to move messages to the Junk folders, and follow your regular rule settings. If your Mac isn’t running, the messages are planted in the Inbox, even though that’s not what you want. If you can do all those other tasks in iOS 5 Mail, such as basic formatting and the ability to search text, surely these additional features aren’t too much to ask.
On the positive side of the ledger, the occasional app crashes I’ve observed in previous iOS versions are even less frequent. I can recall just one, an app intended to access a news site, which did not repeat itself. Overall, I did not notice any obvious performance difference, except for the speedier Safari browsing experience.
Meantime, a new blog about the iPhone 4s at Consumer Reports claims that iOS 5 “borrows heavily from Face-book, Amazon and the Android, BlackBerry, and Windows operating systems.” A handful of features are cited as examples, but since there are over 200 new features in iOS 5, it’s hard to say that Apple has done anything unusual. They’ve always taken their inspiration from different sources, carefully integrating the “borrowed” features in a typically elegant fashion. I’m just waiting to see how CR handles the reported enhancements to the antenna system, and whether they will recommend the product this time. Or whether they will manufacture a new “death grip” fault, even though other testers have found that problem to be largely history.
Understand that this is a very preliminary evaluation of iOS 5. There is more to do, and more to test, and perhaps the Notification Center glitch I encountered was atypical, something that might be addressed in a maintenance update in a few weeks after things settle down. So stay tuned.
No, Apple hasn’t given up on reversing the direction of scrolling or hiding scrollbars when you’re not using them. At least those settings can be defeated in System Preferences, so you can return your system to sensibility, or at least the sensibility you accepted on your Mac before Lion came out.
But it’s clear that Apple has been busy massaging the edges, to clear up the rough and gruff behavior you always expect with a new system upgrade from Apple, or Microsoft for that matter.
Mission Control, for example, seems to function in a smoother fashion. This is the Lion successor to Exposé (though the latter still exists), where all of your application windows and virtual desktops appear in a single display. A notable improvement is the ability to rearrange those desktops, which may eliminate some of the flaky behavior some of you may have experienced when switching from apps in different desktops. Another is the ability to drag “files between desktop spaces and full screen apps.”
Unfortunately, still missing in action is the ability to rename a virtual desktop, a feature that appears on Apple’s site, when you examine the promotional material on Mission Control. But it’s never existed in the real world. Curious that Apple hasn’t changed the screen shots, or are they taking poetic license?
A key problem I’ve encountered in the past is the possible loss of Internet access when awakening my iMac from sleep mode. According to Apple, the issue results in “a delay in accessing the network,” so maybe if I was more of a patient person, the situation would right itself. Or maybe the description is not quite accurate. Regardless, it hasn’t happened since 10.7.2 was installed.
Unfortunately, Apple is notorious for all-too-brief explanations of software updates. Over time, other fixes and changes may be discovered by those who take the time to examine everything as carefully as possible, even to the extent of cataloging lists of changed files.
One unannounced improvement, for example, is the possibly reduced use of system resources compared to 10.7 and 10.7.1. I base that conclusion on a Dashboard widget (remember those?) known as iStat Pro, which displays the condition of your Mac, including the speed of the cooling fans and the temperatures established by various components, such as hard drive, CPU and power supply.
It’s not that you can do anything about a report of an anomalous condition, but if you see something running too hot, I suppose you can restart and see if the problem rights itself. Certainly, if your Mac seems to be running slowly, you can see if a runaway process is consuming too many resources. Sure the latter can be consulted in Activity Monitor, but iStat Pro is just more convenient. And it does display a somewhat lower resource use with 10.7.2.
Returning to Lion, granted some early adopters have reverted to Snow Leopard. Some of the flashiest features, spawn of iOS influence, may not appeal to you. It’s questionable whether many of the changes in 10.7 will actually improve your productivity, although Auto Save and Version might ultimately make for a more efficient workflow. If you don’t have to remember a Command-S, you’re not apt to lose significant amounts of content if your app crashes or there’s a power outage before your save your document. Version simply lets you use a Time Machine-style interface to restore your document to as previous state.
The problem with such enhancements is that they depend on app developers to get with the program and build Lion savvy versions of their products. That will come in time, though it may take months for the heavy hitters in the Mac developer game, such as Adobe and Microsoft, to consider adding them. Then again, such apps as Word already have built in automatic saving capabilities, though they are not as smoothly executed as the one in Lion.
When it comes to improved productivity in Lion, the increased viewing options in the Finder make it easier to organize your stuff, and I do like Mail’s message preview feature, something inspired by the way it’s done on the iPad. Less obvious is the fact that Mail doesn’t seem to freeze as often as in the past when accessing a message with a possibly corrupt image. Or maybe I’m not getting those types of messages anymore.
But I’ve not taken to Conversations, which organize messages to and from a single set of recipients in a single window. I continue to organize my email the old fashioned way, separate messages with separate content. If I want to track a previous message, I use the search feature. But maybe I’ll grow accustomed to a more modern approach. After all, I did take to the iPhone pretty quickly.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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