the daily column

Updates for Everybody!

WordPress 3, iOS (nee iPhone OS) 4, iPad, and a new website, oh my!

Yessir, I’ve been just a tad bit busy with things, so here’s a consolidated update:

  1. WordPress 3: pushing the sky is now running on the latest and greatest WordPress has to offer. Usually warnings apply, if you see anything funny let me know etc etc etc. Apparently this now unites WordPress with WordPress MU (multi-user), so let’s see if I can’t get something going with that…
  2. I have an iPad! It is gorgeous and it’s replaced a subset of tasks my laptop once stood in for. The battery life is amazing and everything that’s been promised, and it’s great for general web stuff, though I’d kill for a basic adblock or something. More on this at another point.
  3. iOS 4 was released this morning, and I reluctantly let go of the jailbreak in order to play with it. The decision was difficult in some ways, as I’d gotten quite comfortable with my modifications, but the temptation to play with shiny-new-thing was too much. (Maybe I’ll get the best of both worlds shortly.)The main things I’d had jailbreak for were:
    • SBSettings – swipe the status bar, flick services on and off, adjust brightness.
    • Categories – put apps into folders, when you’ve got way too much junk and nowhere to put it.
    • Customisable appearance – background wallpapers, themes, just generally being able to make my phone look somewhat unique next to the other thousand iPhones out there.
    • Five Icon Dock – it’s just logical to me: Phone, mail, messages, web, and iPod. Don’t make me choose.
    • Weather Icon – update the icon for my weather app (PocketWeather AU) with an icon based on the conditions, and update it regularly.
    • SMS Character count – glaring omission from Apple, as some of us cared about going to 161 characters and weren’t interested in counting characters by hand.

    So naturally, there wasn’t too much that was going to sway me over… except shiny-new =) So anyway, here’s how the update went for those services:

    • Settings-in-the-app-tray – almost as good as SBSettings in the sense that McDonalds is almost as good as a gourmet steak from a Michelin-recognised restaurant, i.e. it does the job but it certainly doesn’t do it well. I want it back.
    • iOS Folders – excellent, apart from the 12-apps-per-folder restriction. I can see the reasoning, but dammit, we all know how to scroll. The “rejected” mechanics when trying to add the 13th app is also awful. Overall though, solid win over Categories.
    • Appearance options – background wallpaper: tick (it even carried over my jailbreak wallpaper!). Everything else: fail. Back to shiny app bubbles, back to bog-standard-translucent-blue notifications. To be expected, but I will say this much: Apple’s default icons are definitely amongst the most appealing. Don’t mess with the formula.
    • Five Icon Dock – unfortunately, folders-in-the-dock aren’t quite as elegant as a five icon dock. There’s room there, though I can see the advantage of spacing. Want it back.
    • Weather Icon – of course, no update here; Pocket Weather luckily has implemented (some time since I jailbroke at least) the badge, so I get that much, but still no glanceable information. Mitigated Weather Icon somewhat, but still not as good.
    • SMS character count – finally here! No need to go back for this.

    Of course, there’s plenty of other reasons to have jailbroken, not least of which was background apps, and the ever-so-tempting Lockscreen Info, but I never found much use for those. Other iOS 4 features like better spell-check, mailbox unification and message threading are great though, and perfect for that easier day-to-day use. In terms of the headline features, “multitasking” does make transitions snappy, and there’s other improvements that make it feel a bit quicker. We’ll see how it goes over the next few days.

Whew! and more soon hopefully!

opinion tech

Back to the Future

We’ve been here before. I wonder if anyone else recognises it?

(Well, I haven’t, though I’ve read about it. Let me explain…)

There’s an eerie sense of deja vu about the computer industry right now, if you look at it the right way.  The PC wars were pretty much over by the time I was born, definitely so by the time I was old enough to be conscious of a computer, but from what I’ve gleaned from my history books and a little recent reading, things weren’t always so straightforward in the computer industry as they’ve been over the last few years.

Once upon a time thirty years ago, there were many computer manufacturers, almost all with significant differences in key technology components of their machines. The chips inside were different, the operating systems weren’t compatible, and if you made a bet on technology occasionally it didn’t pay out – the computer you bought today might be gone tomorrow.

Apple was there, as was Microsoft. That was the genesis of these two giants of the industry, and their approach to the computing world at the time led to their wildly differing fortunes in the 90s. Apple worked as it does now – to control the whole process end-to-end, with the hardware and the software all under the Apple umbrella.

Microsoft on the other hand tied up with a key partner in IBM and picked just the software side of the equation. Someone else would build the hardware, but anywhere Microsoft’s operating system ran its programs could run, too.

Hardware manufacturers were quickly sidelined as Microsoft defined their interaction with the machine. In the end, even IBM was sidelined as “IBM PC-compatible” quickly became the “Wintel” world.

It all looked like a war that was over until the smartphone redefined what a personal computer was.

Today, we’ve got something very much like the 80s playing out again in the tablet and smartphone market – competing, incompatible OSes, different hardware architectures, and a market that is quickly proliferating with options.

Apple’s got a head start like they did last time, and are controlling the end-to-end chain even more strongly than before. They’ve got a major competitor that is selling only the software, not the hardware. Only this time, Google is Microsoft, with Android the biggest challenger amongst the pack.

There are differences, of course. IBM is no longer in the consumer hardware business, and there’s no Big Blue equivalent for either the consumers to go with or Google to work with as a premier hardware partner. Microsoft is still around of course, though not competitive in the segment where the battle is being fought.

And it almost goes without saying, the Internet has changed everything – no longer does your computing platform determine what applications you can use, as increasingly the complex logic is available in a device-agnostic form. No longer is it necessary to be tied to a single platform if what you do is simply accessed through a browser, more than ever a proxy OS environment for the web.

All this is also within the lifespan of the people involved the first time around, and they’re not likely to make the same mistakes twice, especially not Steve Jobs.