Hello Kitty’s Kawaii Paradise is finally open!
Apple released their latest iPhone operating system upgrade yesterday, dubbed iOS 4. Naturally I upgraded my 3Gs at the earliest possible moment. Although I was excited about the significant new features, I’m disappointed after actually having used them.
iOS 4 lets you organize your application icons into folders. You can put all your photography-related apps in one folder, all your music-related apps in another, etc. This is theoretically a big convenience for people with a lot of apps, as you can access related groups of apps quickly without having to swipe through a multitude of separate screens.
The problem is that once you have several folders on one screen, you can’t really tell them apart. Previously each app had a unique icon and it was easy to tell what each one was—the Clock app looked like a clock, the Notes app looked like a notepad, etc. But the folder icons are black squares checkered with minuscule icons of the apps inside the folder, and at a glance it’s impossible to tell which folder contains what. The only practical way to do this is to read the tiny description type below each folder, but this is difficult to do quickly unless you’re sitting perfectly still and have reasonably good eyesight. I wind up hovering my index finger over the screen, waving it back and forth like an idiot looking for the right folder.
I suppose in time I will have memorized what each folder contains and where it is. In the mean time I wish Apple would let me assign an icon to a folder so I can tell what it is just by looking.
The upgraded mail app adds semi-sophisticated features like a “universal inbox” (where you can read all of the messages from your various accounts in one place) and Gmail-style message threading. But it still won’t it let me do simple things like arrange the order in which the mail accounts appear or have a different signature for each mail account.
My biggest gripe about the iPhone Mail app is that you’re stuck with it. Because it’s considered a “core feature,” Apple doesn’t allow third-party e-mail applications. I can’t see how it could possibly be a bad thing to give people the option for upgraded e-mail handling, but oh well.
Now you can have a photo or graphic as a background for your home screen. Why would anybody want this? All it does is clutter things up and make that tiny text beneath the folders even harder to read. And once you set your wallpaper to a photo you can’t change it back to plain black, unless you stand in a dark closet, take a photo of the blackness, and set that as your wallpaper.
Apple says iOS 4 enables multitasking for “all apps.” This is not true.
The new iOS features a “tray” at the bottom of the screen, accessed by double-clicking the Home button. Anytime you start an app, its icon gets added to the tray. Open the tray, then tap the icon to switch to that app. But unless an app is specifically written to take advantage of multitasking, tapping its tray icon is exactly the same as starting it anew. No multitasking here.
For apps that are written to take advantage of multitasking, once you start them they sit in the tray, running, until you specifically go in and stop them. This is a potential battery-killing disaster, especially when running power-hungry apps like GPS navigators.
To stop a multitasking app from running, you have to “kill” it. Herein lies the problem I have with iOS 4 multitasking: It’s not particularly easy to kill running apps. Remember, every app you start gets added to the tray, whether it is multitasking-enabled or not; there could be dozens of apps in the tray. The tray displays only four icons at a time, and you have to swipe repeatedly to scroll through all the icons. Once you find the app you want to kill, you have to hold your finger down on the app’s icon for several seconds until a little “minus” sign appears, then tap the minus sign to kill the app.
There is no way that I know of to kill all the apps at once (not even restarting the phone does this), and no way to prevent an app from going to the tray. So if your battery is dying and you’re not sure which app is doing it, you have to start the tray, hold down your finger on an icon to bring up the minus sign, then keep tapping the minus sign over and over for every app until they’re all killed. Grrr….
I saw the promo video for Apple’s forthcoming iPhone 4 today. One of the new features they’re touting is FaceTime, a video conferencing application made possible by the iPhone 4’s front-facing camera. I have to say I’m a little dumbfounded at the hype they’re spinning into this “new” feature.
Way back in 2006 I lived in Japan and owned a Sony SO702i, a tiny cell phone with both forward- and rear-facing cameras. (Here is a Japanese-language Web page with some nice pictures of the phone.) Apple says they’re “bringing video calling to the world,” but my little Sony had virtually the exact same video conferencing features as the new iPhone. In fact, the Sony had a feature that made it significantly better than iPhone’s FaceTime: It could video conference over the cellular network. The iPhone only does it via WiFi.
When talking about the video conferencing features of the iPhone 4, one narrator in the Apple video says, “the very first time I had a FaceTime call I was blown away,” and another exclaims, “I can’t believe this is real, this is actually happening.” Have these people never heard of webcams?
This all reminds me of another hyped-up product, the Dyson Airblade. Dyson claims to have invented new technology that drys your hands faster than conventional air dryers by shooting tiny jets of air at your wet hands when you insert them into the machine. I’m not clear how they can claim to have invented this type of hand dryer; I used a nearly identical device the first time I visited Japan in 1994.
I’m totally buying in to this Web 2.0 thing. Follow me on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/ExpertWitless.
Anyone that has been to Olive Garden likely knows about those complimentary little mints that come at the end of the meal along with the check. For many people, myself included, these wafers are small chocolate-mint slices of heaven.
While many people know that they are made by Andes (the Andes logo is stamped right on top of the mint), most erroneously assume these are the same Andes mints you can buy at the local supermarket. The top result in a Google search for “Olive Garden mints” is this page; everyone answering the question of where to find them suggests Walmart or a grocery store. Unfortunately, all of these people are incorrect. As a true after-dinner mint connoisseur, I am here to set the record straight: Olive Garden mints are not for sale.
Andes makes several varieties of their after-dinner mints; the ones commonly available at retail outlets are the Crème de Menthe type. If you look closely at these, you’ll see they have two layers of chocolate with a mint layer sandwiched in the middle. The Olive Garden mints have a single layer of chocolate at the bottom, and a layer of mint on the top. (The top mint layer accounts for about 2/3 of the candy’s height, making them the same size as the Crème de Menthe variety).
The two types of mints are obviously different in appearance, and because of the varying chocolate-to-mint ratio, different in taste. To my palate the Crème de Menthe variety have more of a “bite” to them. I’m not sure what kind of chocolate Andes uses in their mints, but I tend to think it’s more on the bitter side, like dark chocolate. The Olive Garden mints have a smoother taste, which I prefer—slightly sweeter and more minty.
For those that prefer the Olive Garden mints there is good news: Andes makes a variety called Mint Parfait, which has two layers of mint and a layer of chocolate in the middle. The chocolate-to-mint ratio is the same as the Olive Garden mints, and the taste is almost identical. (Because the Olive Garden mints’ chocolate layer is fully exposed, the chocolate taste may be more prominent as it can directly contact your taste buds when you put the mint in your mouth.) The only problem is that the Mint Parfait variety is difficult to find. My local grocery store had them for a short time around Christmas. They sold out quickly. You can buy them online; however, they tend to be expensive, you can usually only find them in bulk quantities, and if you buy them in summer they could melt during shipment.
The image below illustrates the difference between the various types of mints:
On the left is Crème de Menthe, in the middle is Mint Parfait, and the Olive Garden mint is on the far right.
I wrote to Olive Garden asking them if their mints were available for purchase. Here is the answer I received:
We are honored by the compliment you have given us in asking if our mints are available for purchase. Unfortunately, our Olive Garden mints are not for sale. Often we have agreements with our vendors for exclusivity. It is our way of keeping Olive Garden unique and exciting for our guests each time they visit. We trust that you will understand.
Based on my Web research, most people either can’t tell the difference between the various types of Andes mints, or simply don’t care. The rest of us can be seen at Olive Garden, courteously asking the waitress for extra mints with the check.
I’m a big fan of YouTube and have used it for years. Naturally I’ve run across videos I’ve wanted to watch multiple times, and marked them as a “Favorite.” The problem is there is no guarantee they will be there the next time I want to watch them, as videos can be deleted for a variety of reasons.
Every once in a while I look for a way to download videos from YouTube and save them to my computer. The problem is that if you search for this on Google you are presented with a myriad of choices, and it’s impossible to tell which are legitimate. Many options require that you download and install a piece of software on your computer, and I am extremely leery of downloading anything from the Web, especially when it’s not from a trusted source.
After my most recent round of searching I have finally found a method that I trust, in the form of a website called KeepVid. You don’t need to download anything to use it; you simply paste the URL (Web address) of the video you want to download and hit Enter. KeepVid will present you with two links, one to a low quality and one to a high quality version of the video. (Since the low quality version is in Flash video format and requires a special video player to play it, I suggest sticking with the high quality version which plays via Apple’s QuickTime.)
There are a couple of things that lead me to conclude that KeepVid is safe: First, a Google search for opinions on KeepVid gave me numerous reassuring results (Norton Safe Web, a respected site, gives KeepVid a “Safe” rating). Second, if you look closely at the download links KeepVid gives you, you’ll see that you’re not downloading anything from KeepVid at all, you’re actually downloading the videos directly from YouTube. Apparently YouTube creates and stores download-able copies of the videos people upload; normally these files are hidden, but KeepVid is able to determine the location for these files and give you the results.
I have to admit I’m puzzled about the existence of sites like KeepVid. If YouTube wanted to allow people to download and save videos, why not just provide a direct link to do so on their website? Conversely, if YouTube didn’t want people to download videos, why don’t they take greater steps to protect the download-able files? Obviously they know about KeepVid and sites like it; KeepVid is popular and has been around for years. I suppose there is a good reason—legal, technical, financial, or otherwise. I’ll probably keep pondering this, but in the mean time I found a couple of videos of myself I’m saving for posterity!
WordPress released an update to their free blogging app for iPhone. My initial impression is that it’s easier and quicker than running WordPress in Safari (the iPhone’s Web browser), although you do give up some features like the WYSIWYG text editor. I’ve been able to moderate comments (for that it works very well), and now I’m test-posting this blog entry directly from my iPhone. To make sure it’s a thorough test, I will include a photo from my iPhone gallery (in this case, a piece of pizza with a Caesar salad on top).
Note: I couldn’t figure out how to publish this, until I realized you need to set the Status to Published (it defaults to Draft), then hit Save. Easy, but not particularly intuitive. Just making a note of this in case anyone else runs into the same problem.
Usually an Amazon.com product page has an excruciatingly long address (or “URL” as it’s technically called). For example, this links to The Da Vinci Code:
Not too long ago, Amazon.com created a way to shorten their links significantly, making it much easier to include them in e-mails (where a very long link can be “word wrapped” and fail to work) or blog posts. Amazon.com refers to these as “Permalinks.” The shorter links look like this:
The first part is Amazon.com’s domain name with a few vowels missing, and the second part is the ISBN number of the item in question (if the item is not a book, the ASIN or “Amazon Standard Identification Number” will be substituted).
While you can create these links yourself by substituting the appropriate ISBN or ASIN number, the easier way is to navigate to the product page you wish to link to, then click the “Share with Friends” link located right side of the page (just below the “Add to Shopping Cart” button). A window will pop up with the Pemalink, which you can copy and paste where you need it.
I was never really a big fan of cell phones. They are quite costly, you have to deal with cell phone salespeople (one step away from used car salesmen in my opinion), and when it comes down to it I don’t like talking on the phone all that much.
After much deliberation I decided to cancel my old cell phone service and get an iPhone. A couple of things led me to this decision: First, cost-wise it made sense. I need a backup Internet connection for business purposes and was paying AT&T ~$60/month for cellular Internet plus ~$50 a month to Verizon for cellphone service; the iPhone costs ~$70 a month and replaces both of those. Second was the convenience of a device small enough to fit in my pocket yet having capability equivalent to a small computer.
After using it for several days I have to say the iPhone is nothing short of phenomenal. There have been three times in my life where I was completely blown away by a piece of technology; the first was my first personal computer (the Radio Shack TRS-80), the second was when I experienced the first Macintosh computer (with its revolutionary mouse and graphical user interface), and the third is this iPhone. This is one electronic device that lives up to and exceeds its hype.
The iPhone’s interface is unsurpassed in usability and ease-of-use. This is truly one of the few very sophisticated electronic devices that a non-computer person can pick up and use (and I have several non-computer friends that have iPhones as proof of that), but is still capable enough for a power-user like me.
The iPhone has been reviewed to death, but let me just make a few personal-experience comments, good and bad:
- The Web browser: I’ve tried Web-browsing features on other cell phones and the experience they offer is so limited it’s almost worthless. The iPhone’s Web browser does it all. There hasn’t been a page I’ve tried that doesn’t look and function like it’s supposed to, including complex Web server control panels and even Amazon.com. It doesn’t support Flash (the website animation software), but since I find most Flash-based websites and advertising banners annoying it’s not something I miss.
- The keyboard: My previous phone had a flip-out “thumb” keyboard. I never thought the iPhone’s touch-screen keyboard would be usable for anything but slow pecking, but I was completely wrong. It’s much easier to “thumb type” with than the physical keyboard of my previous cellphone, and although it’s more prone to errors the iPhone’s software generally does a great job of figuring out what I meant to type and making corrections in real time. The result is that I’m typing about twice as fast with better accuracy vs. my old cell phone.
- GPS: The iPhone comes with a ton of great goodies right out of the box, and one of my favorites is the built-in GPS that interfaces with Google Maps. Here’s a typical example of how I use it: The other day I was in an unfamiliar area and needed to find a pet store. I started the Maps application on iPhone and it instantly located my position via GPS and gave me a zoom-able street map of my local area. I hit the search button, typed “pet store,” and got several “pins” dropped on the map of nearby locations that matched my search. Touching a pin brings up a small flag telling me the name of the store at that location, and touching the flag brings up a page with contact information for that store. I touched the phone number and called the store to find out when they closed, then touched the “directions” button and got turn-by-turn directions to that store with the route highlighted on the map. Amazing.
- Apps: While the iPhone surpasses any other phone I’ve come across right out of the box, the number of add-on applications (or “apps”) is truly amazing. There are literally tens of thousands of applications you can download to extend the capability of your phone, from utilities to games to musical instruments, and many are free or available for only a dollar to two. Here’s one example: I had a dozen or so of those store “club cards” clogging up both my wallet and key chain. I discovered an app called CardStar which lets you store all of those club cards electronically on your phone. You just enter your card’s ID number, and when you select that card in the future CardStar generates a bar code which the store can scan. No need to carry all those plastic cards around anymore, and I am no longer reluctant to sign up for new cards. And CardStar is free!
- The battery: The battery life is often bemoaned in reviews, but I think it’s fine. The problem is that if you’re constantly using your phone—and as capable as the iPhone is you likely will be—it runs out the battery in a few hours. The thing is, the iPhone battery lasts longer than either of my two laptops batteries, and the iPhone is much smaller and doing the same work a laptop would. The main issue I have with the iPhone battery is that it is internal and therefor not changeable. A car charger is a must (a good, inexpensive car charger I found is the Griffin PowerJolt SE).
- Picture messages: Here’s one of the few scratch-my-head disappointments I had with the iPhone. While you can send text messages to other phones, you cannot send picture messages (technically referred to as Multimedia Messaging Service or MMS). This is a capability I’ve had on other phones for years now. The iPhone sort of makes up for it with its excellent e-mail app and the ability to attach pictures to e-mail, but why they’ve left out on a feature which is included on much lesser phones is baffling. NOTE: As of this writing AT&T is adding MMS capability to iPhones and is supposed to be available September 25.
- Configurability: While the ability to add apps makes this the most configurable cellphone ever, there are some configuration options that are surprisingly not available. One is the lack of ability to import sounds for use in events like new e-mail and text-message notifications; you are stuck with a limited number of built-in sounds. You can import your own ringtones, but even then there is a roundabout trick to doing it (which I’ll blog about at some point in the near future), and the ringtones can only be used for a limited number of non-phone-ringing events (like the alarm clock sound).
- AT&T: One of the notable aspects of the iPhone is that if you want an iPhone and live in the USA you must use AT&T as your carrier. (There are illicit ways to hack the iPhone to allow it to use other carriers, but I’m not willing to do that.) My experience with AT&T thus far has been mostly positive. I often find that inside buildings the signal is not strong enough for data (like Web surfing and e-mail), but all things considered I find it acceptable and am willing to live with occasional patchy reception. AT&T has a reputation for problems, but as I said my experience has been positive.
- It’s an iPod too: While other phones have music playback functionality seemingly added as an afterthought, the iPhone is the best iPod you can get. It’s probably a little too bulky to use on a jogging track (not something that bothers me), but in most music-playing/video-watching situations the iPhone is fabulous.
If I didn’t have one of the new models of the iPhone (the 3Gs to be exact) I’d have more to complain about. Only recently did the iPhone add features commonly found on other phones like voice dialing and video recording. Cut-and-paste is another recently-added feature that I could not have lived without. However, the new iPhones have nearly everything I could ever want and more, and for the first time in my life I feel like I’m finally getting my money’s worth out of my cell phone bill.
I joined Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/calabresechris.
I have to admit in the past I’ve thumbed my nose at “social networking” sites (my few excursions to MySpace gave me the impression that social networking was a frivolous time-waster), but FaceBook is quite sophisticated. After using it for a few days I can see why books about FaceBook are showing up in the Business sections of bookstores.