June 17th, 2009 by Mike Fulton
Posted in Apple, iPhone

The much-anticipated version 3.0 of the iPhone software was finally released this morning.  I was up early and online so I started checking at about 6am (PST) but nothing was available yet.  At about 7pm it occurred to me to check the Twittersphere for information and so I loaded up TweetDeck and did a quick search for “#iphone 3.0 update“.

The people tweeting about the update mostly fell into the category of “It’s the 17th so where is it?”  However, then I saw a tweet that showed a link to a page on Apple’s website where it apparently said that the update had been moved to the 18th.  When I checked out the page, it did indeed say the update would be coming out on the 18th, but it didn’t say anything about this being a change from the previous announcement.  Navigating the site from the front page soon revealed that there was another very similar page that indicated the 17 th. I couldn’t find any links to the page that said the 18th, so I’m thinking someone discovered an outdated page and posted direct links to it.

Awhile later, a few people posted links to a couple of news websites which had stories indicating that the update would be released at 10am PST.  So I went back to what I was doing.

Doing The Deed

 At a few minutes after 10am, I launched iTunes and got a message that there was a new version of the iPhone software available, and did I want to download it?  I thought about that for a couple of picoseconds and then hit the button for Download and Install.

I was expecting the update to take forever to download, since everybody and his brother would be trying to update at once, but to my surprise the 200mb+ download took just a few minutes.  Either Apple must have a bunch of servers hosting the update, or I just got lucky.  When I checked the system again a few minutes after starting the process, I was surprised to discover it was actually just about done.  I sat and watched the progress bar for the last few minutes, and when the phone finally came back up and running, I’d say the total elapsed time was probably not more than 10 minutes or so.  Maybe 12 minutes tops.  It happened so quick I wished I’d actually timed it so I could see how quick it really was.

First Look

The first thing I noticed was that a new icon for Voice Memos had been added to the 1st page.  The new voice memo feature wasn’t really something that was at the top of my list of things I wanted, mainly because a few months ago I’d gotten tired of waiting for something like this and had bought QuickVoice from the App Store.  However, I was never completely happy with QuickVoice, and after trying out the new Voice Memos applet, I really like it and I think I’m going to switch.  I especially like that it creates more or less standard MPEG-4 audio files, and also that it sends files via EMAIL wherever you want.  QuickVoice had some wacky feature for emailing voice memos, but it required sending stuff through their own server and frankly it just didn’t work in my experience.

The next thing I noticed was that the SMS Messages applet had been renamed to just “Messages“, no doubt to accommodate the idea that MMS messages are now supported as well.  However, upon opening the new version of the applet, I couldn’t immediately see any difference.  And the reason for that turns out to be that the MMS feature is not enabled quite yet.  Apparently we’re waiting for AT&T to flip the switch.

Seriously?  WTF?  Every other damn phone that AT&T sells supports MMS, so what is the freakin’ deal with enabling it on the frakkin’ iPhone?  Why is it that every time we turn around, there’s some goofy limitation on this device that ultimately tracks back to AT&T?

Search

Another thing I noticed was the addition of a teeny tiny little magnifying glass icon at the left end of the row of dots that indicates what page of icons you’re currently viewing.  Click that and the new Spotlight Search function appears on screen.  From there, as you type in a search phrase, it will show you everything on the phone that matches.  Video files, song files, applets… I mean everything.  If you’re familiar with the Spotlight function on the Mac, you’ll find that the new iPhone version of this feature works in much the same way.

At first, I thought that the little magnifying glass icon was going to be really hard to click, but in operation it turns out to work reasonably well.  There’s enough room between the row of icons above and the row below that even users with fairly big fingers should have no problem.

Cut, Copy, & Paste

I said it before and I’ll say it again… big frakkin’ deal.  I’m glad they finally got this basic feature into the dang phone.

*MY* YouTube

One feature I was definitely  looking forward to seeing was the new version of the YouTube applet, with the ability to actually sign in to my account and view my favorites and subscriptions.  Frankly, I hadn’t used the old version of the applet all that much simply because I found it to be too much of a pain in the ass to have to type in searches to find everything.

One wacky thing I noticed that videos in my subscriptions did not appear to be sorted in any particular fashion I could figure out.  I would have expected the newest ones at the top, oldest at the bottom, but that did not appear to be the case.  It wasn’t alphabetical, or sorted by the number of views.  Finally I figured out that the list was sorted by rating.  An interesting choice, and not one I find especially useful.  I looked around the applet, and even checked the system’s Settings applet, to see if there was any way to change this, but didn’t find anything. 

Apple, this is a seriously goofy choice.  First of all, there should be a choice of sorting options.  But if you’re not going to provide such a choice, I’d much rather see the list sorted by date with the newest videos at the top.

The Rest Of It

There’s a whole bunch of other new stuff in the 3.0 software, but most of it is not invidually a big topic.  You can now buy movies, tv shows, and audio books in iTunes.  I didn’t realize you couldn’t already do that until they announced it as a new feature.

The calendar has been improved, including the ability to sync up with Exchange and other applications supporting the CalDEV protocol.

The new software also supports tethering via USB or Bluetooth.  That’s when you use your phone as a cellular modem to provide an Internet connection to another device such as a laptop.  However, apparently this whole thing caught AT&T by surprise because the feature won’t become active until later in the year when they finally get their act together.  They already offer tethering for other phones, and really it’s nothing more than charging a few bucks more for higher volumes of data transfer.  So what’s the big techno-mystery here, AT&T?  Get it together!

The iPhone 3G S

There’s a number of things in the 3.0 software that you won’t see unless you’re using the new iPhone 3G S, which hits stores this coming Friday.

You won’t get video.  I dunno why that is, since video recording applications have already been demonstrated on the older hardware.  Apple once made some noise about the reason being that video recording would put an extreme strain on the phone’s flash memory but the problem with that idea is that there really isn’t any difference between what the new phone uses and what the old phone has, other than capacity.  Plus, virtually every company that makes video cameras has been shifting from using tape to using, you guessed it, flash memory!

Chalk it up to Apple just being goofy until you hear a good reason otherwise.

You won’t get the new Compass applet.  I don’t know why that is, but I suppose there could be a hardware difference with the new phone’s GPS setup that makes the Compass possible.

You won’t get the Voice Control feature.  At first glance, one has to wonder why not, since there are a number of applets for the old hardware that do voice recognition.  But actually, you’ll find that those applets don’t actually do the voice processing on the iPhone itself.  They pretty much all upload the recorded sound to a server, which does the voice recognition and then sends back the result.  The new hardware has a faster processor, and I’m guessing that’s what makes the difference here.  Although, I honestly have to wonder, even if it took twice as long to do the processing on the old phone, wouldn’t that still ultimately be faster than uploading an audio file?  Even if it’s not faster, frankly I’d rather have slower native voice recognition than none at all.  Apple needs to rethink this.

The new phone also has an Accessibility applet that allows you to set things like a screen reader and zoom feature for those people who are visually impared.  This doesn’t seem to be hardware-specific, but it’s not available on the older hardware.

Upgrade Path?

As recently as last week’s big Apple WWDC developer conference, there had been no news about any sort of an upgrade path for current users.  Traditionally, the discounted prices for the iPhone have only applied to either new customers or customers eligible for an equipment upgrade discount. (i.e. people who haven’t gotten a discount in the last two years)  However, as of this morning, the Apple website indicates that there is an intermediate-level discount available for eligible users, with prices of $299, $399, and $499 for 8gb, 16gb, and 32gb models.  That’s not quite as cheap as what new customers get, but it’s $200 less than the regular price.

And apparently, even users who got their iPhone in the last few months are eligible.  I got mine in late March, but according to the Apple website I’m eligible for the medium-level upgrade.  I don’t think I’m going to jump right on that any time soon, but it’s nice to know the option is there.

April 29th, 2009 by Mike Fulton
Posted in Apple, iPhone, Mac, Tech

Once upon a time, Steve Jobs was the leader of a company called Apple.  Apple was known for being a technology leader, and their latest products were the envy of the industry.  Sadly, though, Apple’s sales figures didn’t seem to be able to keep pace with their reputation.  The board of directors of Apple, thinking that another style of management might be the way to go, decided that they’d had enough of Steve and handed him his walking papers.  The year was 1985.

Steve’s response to the situation was to start another computer company, called NeXT.  The Apple Macintosh was supposed to be the “computer for the rest of us” but with NeXT, it seemed Job’s goal was to create the “computer for the best of us“.  Largely inspired by his experience with getting the Macintosh into the education market, the NeXT Computer was going to be a powerful workstation designed to meet the needs of the scientific and higher educational community.  At the heart of this new computer was going to be NeXTStep, an object-oriented multi-tasking operating system that included tightly integrated development tools to aid users in quickly creating custom applications.

NeXTStep’s Language Of Choice

At the heart of NeXTStep was a fairly new programming language known as Objective C.  It was basically an extension of the C language to add Smalltalk-style messaging and other OOP features.  Conceptually it’s not too far off from where C++ was at the time, but the syntax is fairly different.  However, that simply didn’t matter at the time because most programmers hadn’t done much, if anything, with C++.

In 1985, any sort of object oriented programming was a relatively new thing to most programmers.  Modern languages like Java and C# were still years in the future, and C++ was still largely an experiment, with no standard in place and drastic differences from one implementation to the next.  In fact, most C++ solutions at the time were based on AT&T’s CFront program, which converted C++ code into standard C code that would then be compiled by a standard compiler.  It would be a few years yet before native C++ compilers became commonplace.

There were other OOP languages around, like Smalltalk or Lisp, but they were largely considered acedemic languages, not something you’d use to create shrink-wrapped products.

Since there simply wasn’t any better solution, the choice of Objective C for NeXTStep was completely reasonable at the time.

What Happened NeXT

The first version of NeXTStep was released in Sept. 1989.  Over the next few years, the NeXT computer and NeXTStep made a number of headlines and gained a lot of respect in the industry, but failed to become a major player in terms of sales.  In late 1996, NeXT had just teamed up with Sun Computer to create a cross-platform version called OpenStep, but before that really took off, something else happened.

In 1996, Apple was floundering.  Their stock price was down.  They’d had layoffs.  They had no clear plan for the future in place, and they were in serious danger of losing their place as the master of the graphic user interface.  Microsoft had just released Windows 95, which was a huge leap forward from Windows 3.1 in virtually every way, and PC video cards offering 24-bit and 32-bit color modes had become easily affordable.

Apple CEO Gil Amelio was fairly sure that updating the Mac to use some sort of object-oriented operating system was key to Apple’s future success, but Apple’s internal development had thus far failed to pay off.  Likewise Apple’s investment in Taligent, a company formed in partnership with IBM for the sole purpose of developing an object oriented operating system.  But then Amelio struck a bargain to purchase NeXT Computer and the NeXTStep operating system, bringing NeXT CEO Steve Jobs back into the fold, first as an advisor and then as CEO several months later when Amelio was shown the door.

It took Apple nearly 4 years to integrate their existing operating system with the NeXTStep tools and libraries, but ultimately NeXTStep formed the basis of the new Macintosh OS X operating system, released in March 2001.

Mac Development Tool History

When the Macintosh was first released in early 1984, you pretty much used either 68000 assembly language or Pascal to create programs.  Pascal had always been a popular language with the Apple crowd.  Apple had a set of development tools known as the Macintosh Programmer’s Workshop, which was essentially a GUI interface wrapper for a variety of commandline oriented tools, including the 68000 assembler and the Pascal language compiler.

It didn’t take long for the C language became available for the Mac.  Apple released a version for MPW, but it really took off with the release of LIGHTSPEED C (later renamed to THINK C), which had a GUI IDE of the sort that would be completely recognizable as such even today, almost 25 years later.  Think’s compiler quickly became the defacto standard development environment for the Mac.  Support for C++ would be added in 1993 with version 6.0, after the product was acquired by Symantec.

Unfortunately, when Apple made the transition from the Motorola 680×0 processor family to the PowerPC processor in 1994 & 1995, Symantec C/C++ failed to keep pace.  It wasn’t until version 8, released in 1997, that their compiler was able to generate native PowerPC code. 

Fortunately, a new player in the game appeared to save the day.  When Symantec bought out Think, some members of the Think C development team started a new company called Metrowerks.  While Symantec was struggling to bring out a PowerPC compiler, Metrowerks released their new CodeWarrior C/C++ environment.  In many ways, Codewarrior was like an upgrade to the Symantec product, and it quickly supplanted Symantec among developers.  Codewarrior would remain at the top of the heap until Apple released OS X.

The NeXT Development Tool

When Apple released Mac OS X in 2001, there were two big paradigm shifts for developers.  The first was that Apple now included their development tools with the operating system, at no additional charge.  After nearly two decades of charging premium prices for their tools, this was a big change.  Plus, the new XCode environment was an actual IDE, unlike the old Macintosh Programmer’s Workshop environment, with support for Objective C, C, C++, and Java.

The second paradigm shift was that everything you knew about programing the Mac was now old news.  You could continue to use an existing C/C++ codebase with the new Carbon libraries providing a bridge to the new OS, but this did not allow you to use the new tools such as the Interface Builder.  If you wanted to take full advantage of the new tools Apple and the Cocoa libraries, you needed to use Objective C instead of the familiar C or C++.

Objectionable C

I had been a Mac programmer since getting my first machine in 1986, and when Apple released Mac OS X in 2001, I was fully expecting to continue that tradition.  However, while I had no problems whatsoever with the idea of learning a new set of API calls, or learning new tools, I saw no good reason why it should be necessary to learn a new programming language.  Still, at one time in my younger days I had enjoyed experimenting with different programming languages, so I figured why not give Objective C a try?

Upon doing so, my first thought was, this was an UGLY language.  My second thought was, why did they change certain bits of syntax around for no good reason?  There were things where the old-style C syntax would have gotten the job done, but they changed it anyway.  The third thing that occurred to me was that this was a REALLY UGLY language.

After a few brief experiments, I pretty much stopped playing around with Cocoa and Objective C.  I started playing around with Carbon.  My first project was to rebuild an old project done in C++.  But the first thing I ran into was frustration that I couldn’t use the new tools like the Interface Builder.  It wasn’t too long before I decided I wasn’t getting paid enough to deal with all this BS.  Objective C had sucked all the fun out of Mac programming for me.

The shift to Objective C marked the end of Macintosh development for many other programmers I’ve talked to as well.  One can only conclude from their actions that Apple simply doesn’t care… if one programmer drops the platform, another will come around.  I’m sure there are plenty of other programmers around who either like Objective C just fine or who simply don’t care one way or the other.

As far as I’m concerned, Objective C is an ugly language, an ugly failed experiment that simply has no place in the world today.  It offers nothing substantial that we can’t get from other languages like C++, C#, or Java.  Nothing, that is, except for access to Apple’s tools and libraries.

Some Mac developers would tell you that the Cocoa libraries depend on some of Objective C’s capabilities like late-binding, delegates (as implemented in Cocoa), and the target-action pattern.  My response is that these people are confusing cause and effect.   The Cocoa libraries depend on those Objective C features because that was the best way to implement things with that language.  However, I have no doubt whatsoever that if Apple wanted to have a  C++ version of the Cocoa library, they could figure out a way to get things done without those Objective C features.

A Second Look

A few years later when I got my first Intel-based Mac, I decided to revisit the development tools.  I wrote a few simple programs.  I’d heard a few people express the opinion that Objective C was sort of like the Ugly Duckling… as I used it more and became familiar with it, it would grow into a beautful swan.  Nope.  Uh-uh.  Wrong.  No matter what I did, no matter what I do, Objective C remains just as frickin’ ugly as it was when I started.

I really wanted not to hate Objective C with a fiery vengeance that burned from the bottom of my soul, but what are ya gonna do?  Personally, I’m looking into alternatives like using C# with the Mono libraries.  No matter how non-standard these alternatives are, they can’t be any more icky than using Objective C.

Could It Be That Apple Doesn’t Care About Making Life Easier For Developers? 

The real question here is why the hell hasn’t Apple created a C++ version of the Cocoa library?  It’s been 12 years since Apple bought out NeXT.  Why hasn’t Apple made an effort in all that time to adapt the NeXTStep tools to use C++?  Or other modern languages like C#?  Microsoft may have invented the C# language, but even the Linux crowd has adopted it for gosh sakes!

Or why not annoy Sun and make a native-code version of Java with native Apple libraries?

Could it be they are trying to avoid the embarrassment that would occur when developers abandon Objective C en-masse as soon as there is a reasonable replacement?

Does Apple think developers are happy with Objective C?  Personally, I’ve yet to find a single programmer who actually even likes the language.  The only argument I’ve ever heard anybody put forth for using it has always been that it was necessary because it was the only choice that Apple offered.  I know that’s the only reason I use it.

Why does Apple continue to insist on inflicting Objectionable C on us?  I can only come to the conclusion that Apple simply doesn’t care if developers would rather use some other language.  It’s their way, or the highway.

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