While I wait for a better iPhone

Well, I finally played with an iPhone (that’s right, despite all my posts about it, I didn’t queue to buy one, and didn’t even visit an Apple Store to see one for weeks after the release). Mainly, I wanted to see if my video ad serving technology worked on one (it does, but since the iPhone only supports a limited range of video options, most of my test videos wouldn’t play). My conclusion is that I won’t buy one until it has a ton more storage (preferably with removable media as an option) and better bandwidth.

Assuming that what you basically want from a phone is (a) a pretty good phone, and (b) something to surf the web, and (c) that you already have an iPod … the missing component for me — and I suspect a lot of people — is the web browser. And given that you probably find surfing the web via EDGE to be pretty unbearable, what you really want is a Wireless web browser with decent battery life that is rugged and fits in your pocket. Ideally it will be cheap enough that if you lose it you won’t be shattered psychologically and financially.

Well, Nintendo has released a web browser cartridge for the DS (it’s Opera, of course). Darn it, I wish they’d simply add a physical keyboard and an IDE.

So, I now have my 5G iPod, Motorola Razr, and for $30 I can convert my $130 DS into a browser. Downside of course are significant: (a) three gadgets vs. one; (b) no cellular internet (well I could have it on the Razr but why bother?); (c) smaller screen; (d) no spiffy touch interface (the DS’s touch interface is kind of pedestrian); (d) web mail is the only email option (and it’s not cellular); (e) no integration: if the phone rings you need to turn something else off to talk; (f) none of the really great functionality you get from synergies (e.g. camera + email, web + email + phone); (g) the Razr, on its own, even with Bluetooth enabled and set up, is more of a pain to synch than an iPod, and the DS can’t synch at all; (h) and it’s even geekier than having an iPhone, and some folks will think you’re infantile for using a DS in public.

Upsides are (a) each device individually has more battery life than the iPhone (although with every house, office, and vehicle I have access to festooned with iPod docks, cradles, and chargers, iPhone battery life seems like a minor issue); (b) the DS browser arguably has a better keyboard (pen-based); (c) the DS is insanely rugged and doesn’t look that great to start with, so I won’t get worked up over nicks and scratches; (d) far more storage (30GB in my case); (e) you can, apparently, play games on the DS.

When you weigh the pros and cons, the iPhone is definitely better overall than the iPod + Razr + DS combination, and the base model is even cheaper ($499 vs. $249 + $99 + $129 + $29). On the other hand, the marginal benefit of paying $29 to let my DS surf the web will allow me to wait for MacBooks with iPhone functionality or an iPhone with decent storage capacity, better broadband, and the 1.0 kinks worked out.

It’s a pocket-sized one of these…

I just read one of the most intelligent articles I’ve come across in the last few months, and it wasn’t in the New Yorker. I recommend you click the link and read it, but if you prefer an executive summary: the iPhone is a pocket-sized networked computer that replaces all the crap you currently need to carry around to do business (i.e. PDA, phone, laptop), is cheap enough that you can buy it yourself rather than wait for IT to relent and support it, and it’s being sold as a phone because people understand phones.

I remember when the Newton came out in 1992 (or was it 1993?) and I thought it was going to be equally disruptive. In the end, the Newton failed largely because while it eventually did more-or-less everything it set out to do very well (as of the MessagePad 120) it wasn’t a rounder wheel — it didn’t replace anything you already needed to carry around, it was just a really good … whatever it is that it was.

The iPhone is a better phone than your phone, a better iPod than your iPod, and a better laptop than your laptop (well … it’s smaller, has better battery life, and it always has a ‘net connection). OK, it won’t replace my laptop across the board, but it certainly can replace my phone and iPod, and I’ll always have it handy, whereas I don’t carry my laptop with me when, say, I go shopping. So if I see an interesting game, I can’t look up reviews of it until I get home.

Oh, I’m not buying an iPhone until I see what the next version or three look like. Specifically, I want more storage capacity and SD media support. 7.2 GB just doesn’t seem like nearly enough.

Safari for Windows, Mac, and probably iPhone found to have tons of security holes

As noted here and many other places, Safari turns out to be full of security flaws at least some of which are in the production (2.0.4) version as well as the 3.0 “beta” (it doesn’t show beta in its About box).

Safari on Windows is proving pretty buggy for me, it doesn’t save preference changes among other things. (Ironically, it crashes when I try to view a MacWorld Blog page complaining about the uninspiring announcements at WWDC.) Personally, I think it’s nice to see security flaws in Safari exposed because, hopefully, Apple will be forced to fix them. The nastiest exploit I’ve seen tricks Safari into running arbitrary command lines under Windows (via cmd.exe).

“Web Apps Are Not Applications” Rogue Amoeba

Some developers aren’t terribly pleased by Apple’s announced option for those wishing to develop iPhone applications.

The original post is simply sarcastic, but this response (strongly agreeing with the original post’s sentiment) sums up the poster’s point of view:

Apparently if we want to develop for the iPhone, we have to be web developers, and develop web apps. Saying we can develop “Web 2.0 apps using AJAX” is just a nice way of saying “No 3rd party apps and no 3rd party widgets.”

Just like if you really want to develop Cocoa apps, you can’t write them (easily) in Logo, Visual Basic, C#, or Pascal.

They’re right, of course, Web Apps aren’t Applications.

  • They don’t need to be installed
  • Or kept up to date
  • Or moved from machine to machine when you suddenly need to go on a road trip
  • Or uninstalled when not needed
  • They don’t support multiple users either (a) not at all or (b) as an afterthought
  • They can’t crash the machine they’re running on, only the browser
  • A rogue web app can’t format your hard disk, or turn your iPhone or computer into a bot
  • They can be written using a huge variety of tools and languages, many of which are childishly simple to learn
  • “Hello, world” is only a few bytes longer than the ASCII string. There’s no 20MB .NET runtime.
  • They don’t need to be recompiled to run on different platforms, although they do need a little tweaking.

To allow third party development for the iPhone Apple needs to provide a development and runtime environment that:

  1. is safely sandboxed so that third-party apps can’t compromise the iPhone’s stability,
  2. has the power to communicate with central servers, and
  3. has some kind of mechanism for distributing and updating itself
  4. and has all the usual capabilities of handling user interaction, drawing pictures, and so on

Safari has all of these things. It runs on HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Flash, which can be generated by server code written in any language you like, including C++, LISP, Cobol, and Eiffel. Go for it.

Now, Apple could build this from scratch or it could use something that already exists. Since Apple doesn’t have, say, a managed code environment like .NET to throw at the problem, the other glaringly obvious option is Web 2.0 etc. Which is what they picked. Sure, this limits what you can do in your application … I don’t think anyone has written a 3d animation package in JavaScript yet, so I guess that’s going to be a stretch.

Don’t want to sully your hands with Perl — fine. Code your server in LISP or C++. I don’t care. Neither does the iPhone.

Now there are legitimate concerns vis-a-vis the iPhone working when disconnected from the internet, or in low bandwidth situations. Will it be possible to (a) load a “website” onto your phone and run it as a local app (possibly with some local runtime support, such as Apacha/PHP/Perl or whatever?); (b) can you load a page or pages into your cache explicitly and always have access to them? These are perfectly legitimate questions for which I suspect there are good answers.

But whining about being forced to learn HTML/CSS/JavaScript or whatever is just dumb. If you can handle Objective-C, you’re not going to have any problems building web applications.

Telstra Tells Apple To “Stick To Your Knitting”

As well as teaching me a new colorful Australian expression I hadn’t previously encountered (note: I’m an Australian living in the USA, perhaps knitting has taken on greater cultural significance in the five years I’ve been living in the US) this has given me another reason to hate Telstra (known in Australia as “a bunch of wankers|tools|drongos|galahs|English Test Cricket players”), even though I no longer have to deal with them.

Apparently, in business-speak, this phrase is akin to telling a company to “stick to its core competency”. Telstra, of course, is a phone carrier (“a mob of greedy bastards”), so its core competency is providing lousy customer service and billing. Among its core competencies, building excellent telephones and/or identifying what is and isn’t good technology don’t figure.

Anyway, apparently the key thing is that Telstra hasn’t been offered the phone and therefore instead of “whinging” they’ve decided to say the phone is “shit house”. Maybe this Telstra fellow was just “coming the raw prawn”. Or it’s just another publicity stunt (a la the wrangling over the iPhone name — anyone else got a better way of keeping iPhone in the news for the four month period between product announcement and actual availability?) Will Telstra be forced to back down owing to customer demand and then, sheepishly — in free headlines — announce that they will be offering exclusive access to the iPhone — which they’ll suddenly decide is a “little ripper” — for only the US price x the exchange rate x 2?

“Pig’s arse”, Telstra.