An idea in time

There’s been a lot of talk about the iWatch, but I’ve never been convinced that a simple watch would be different enough for Apple to produce one. It would need to do more than the usual bluetooth features everyone is expecting.

Then an idea hit me on the way home today.

How could Apple make a watch that isn’t just a watch? How about if it’s also the control system for the TV that Steve Jobs claimed to have finally figured out before he died?

It could be a touch screen watch that replaces the tiny iPods. The iOS 7 icons do look good on a small device. But let’s really go out on a limb.

I’m picturing a watch face that detaches from the strap and slots into the remote control somehow. The remote doesn’t connect to the TV itself, it uses a bluetooth connection via the watch.

Now you’re charging the watch, using a familiar yet advanced TV control that leverages the added connectivity and identifying to the TV who you are for personalised functions.

That sounds like the future.

Apple finally has proper support for multiple Time Machine drives

My information about using multiple Time Machine drives remains surprisingly popular, even 4 years after posting it. I missed this one in the massive list of features, but Apple appears to have added more robust support for multiple drives in Mountain Lion!

Thanks to Macworld for highlighting it, in an interesting list of Mountain Lion system changes.

Quote of the year

… or at least, a quote good enough to make me come out of hiding before I’ve explained why things have been so quiet around here.

John Gruber on the iPhone IDE debacle:

If you are constitutionally opposed to developing for a platform where you’re expected to follow the advice of the platform vendor, the iPhone OS is not the platform for you. It never was. It never will be.

To all the people whinging about this decision by Apple, go away. You can have your fun on Android or some other platform that supports your open development philosophy. If by some fluke Apple wind up with a such a massive majority that you’re forced to come back because all the users are here, don’t expect any sympathy from us. It will have happened because Apple’s restrictions resulted in the most consistent mobile OS experience, and users decided that’s what they want.

iPhone is a closed system, and in my opinion the overall quality of the apps available is better for it. Not that the app store is full of fantastic quality at the moment – you really need an iPod or iPhone to appreciate this, but the store has an amazing amount of crap already.

However I can see the app store really going down the toilet if they let “meta-platform” (as Gruber calls them) apps onto the store. Just look at what happens when people develop cross-platform apps for PC; you either target one primary OS and optimise your UI for it at the expense of the others, or target a general use case and suffer for having a non-native UI. Yes there are exeptions, but they are rare and most of them spend stupid amounts of time implementing multiple native UIs in their cross-platform code.

Gruber has a specific example of this:

Consider, for one example, Amazon’s Kindle clients for iPhone OS and Mac OS X. The iPhone OS Kindle app is excellent, a worthy rival in terms of experience to Apple’s own iBooks. The Mac Kindle app is a turd that doesn’t look, feel, or behave like a real Mac app. The iPhone OS Kindle app is a native iPhone app, written in Cocoa Touch. The Mac Kindle app was produced using the cross-platform Qt toolkit.

Native apps are always better; I don’t use OpenOffice more because the UI pisses me off than because iWork is cheap enough that I don’t mind paying for it. Windows is the same (I can’t stand Apple’s apps ported to Windows with Mac-style keyboard shortcuts). Once you allow cross-platform UIs to enter your computing world, life just isn’t as much fun anymore.

And I want my iPhone to be fun.

[update: A related article with an appropriate quote, this time from MacWorld].

… the develop-once-run-anywhere philosophy is something that makes more sense to bean counters and development-environment vendors than it does to platform owners and discriminating users. In the ’90s we were told that Java apps would be the future of software, because you could write them once and deploy them anywhere. As someone who used to use a Java-based Mac app on an almost daily basis, let me tell you: it was a disaster. Java apps didn’t behave like Mac apps.

And the prize for most used jailbreak feature goes to…

Status Notifier. I knew that I would miss the status bar icon for new mail, but I had forgotten how stupid the silent mode toggle is. The icon for it is so natural that I forgotten it was a jailbreak-only feature! That apple still haven’t added an icon for this after three years is amazing to me.

Yes you can look at (or feel) the side of the phone to check – but the problem is I regularly forget that I have silent mode on and just stick it in my pocket without a second thought. I have missed a number of phone calls and countless SMS due to accidental silent mode. It’s ridiculous.

CalDAV beats exchange by providing the basics

Google’s exchange calendaring support for the iPhone always felt like a hack, and having tried syncing to a real exchange server I knew it was the fault of the protocol. I was excited at first to get push calendaring but the benefits just didn’t seem worth the hassles I had to put up with. And I’m very glad I decided not to try contact sync.

A bit of background: before exchange sync was available I was using plaxo to sync between my mac and google and then iTunes sync to the phone. This is important, because I knew exactly what the phone was capable of (in short, it’s very similar to iCal just with a limited set of recurring time periods). I switched to get over-the-air calendaring, but it hasn’t been pretty.

Beyond a few early problems with updating, the limitations of the exchange protocol bugged me constantly. It doesn’t support multiple alarms on one event and a few of my events wound up with a weird identifier string invited to them. The worst part though is it can’t move events between calendars; I often forget to change the calendar when creating events and pre-exchange it was an easy fix. With exchange sync, I had to delete and recreate the event when that happened.

All of that is fixed now that I’m using the caldav support added in OS 3.0. I can create multiple alarms again, after a few edits i’ve fixed up the weird events created under exchange protocol that the iPhone thought I didn’t own, and tonight when I set a calendar reminder on my mac to delay for 30 minutes I got a nice surprise when the re-reminder dinged on my phone as well. This is finally as good as direct phone syncing, and doing it over the air for instant updates isn’t costing me a MobileMe subscription.

I didn’t mention it at the time but the news of CalDAV support was my main reason for happily un-jailbreaking the phone. CalDAV worked so well with iCal that I had a feeling it would be awesome on the iPhone. And it is.

Searching to load apps has always seemed weird to me

Spotlight is coming to the iPhone. That sounds great on the surface, but I don’t think it’ll be quite as awesome for me as Apple are making out. I find search to be useful in OS X when I know exactly which app I want to load, but particularly on my iPhone that’s very rarely the case.

Maybe I just have too many toys / games to choose from but when I want to waste time with my phone I never have a specific app in mind; I spend 30 seconds browsing through the pages for something that I feel like playing. That breaks down with more than 2 pages but search won’t help at all.

Who knows, maybe I’ll just stop wasting so much time on my phone, and spotlight will become useful because I’ll know what I want to load every time.

But I doubt it 😉

Slowly weaning myself off the jailbreak

I didn’t get around to posting it here but the features in iPhone OS 3.0 are totally worth ditching my jailbreak for. There are a lot of nice little things that I’ll miss, but nothing particularly critical.

With the update due out this week, I’ve been slowly removing my jailbreak apps. First to go was categories; while subfolders was kind of nice they were a little slow to load so I wound up just never using any of the apps in them. Whatever I’ve lost in compactness of app pages I’ll make up for in the new spotlight search.

To help this, I’ve removed a bunch of apps and games I didn’t need, and used iBlank when removing categories to force the games onto page 4 leaving blank space at the bottom of pages 2 and 3. The lack of clutter actually makes things easier to find, despite the extra page swiping necessary.

At the same time I uninstalled stack. It served a similar purpose to categories, but I only regularly used one (maybe two) of the apps. Again, spotlight will pretty easily replace what I was using this app for.

From there, the only serious apps left are SBSettings and my theme. I’m really going to miss my wood shelves background and fancy round icons, the defaults are so boring. However between the lack of background tasks running and the usual optimisation that apple put into their new OS releases, it’s going to feel like a brand new phone! 😀
(not as fast as the 3G S obviously, but still an improvement).

Once jailbreak is available for 3.0 – and given the 3.0-only updates I’ve seen to jailbreak apps it can’t be far away – I’ll probably do it again. The default settings app is just useless compared to SBSettings, and theming gives me a nicely personalised phone when everyone else can only customise their lock screen picture.

I don’t think I’ll install anything else beyond that though. Even if things like background scrobbling of tracks can’t be done in OS 3.0 without the background jailbreak daemon, who really cares when 99% of what I listen to on the phone is podcasts 🙂

Bootable backups always pay off eventually

I’ve been wondering, on and off for the last few months, why I persisted in nightly SuperDuper! backups in addition to Time Machine. Well now I know 🙂

In the middle of my last post I mentioned that I may have just screwed my USB ports. I had. This is a real problem when USB is the only input device – even my bluetooth keyboard wasn’t working! Thankfully I have just booted from the SuperDuper backup and am trying to restore all of the kext in the system folder, according to the package list that’s what the installer changed.

Even if this doesn’t work though, and I have to restore from backup, I at least have something I was able to use instead of being left with a brick requiring 2-3hrs of system restoration. Note to self though: when booting from the SuperDuper backup, don’t leave the Time Machine drive plugged in. TM just tried to do a backup which really wouldn’t end well 😉

I knew it was a good idea to keep these bootable backups going, I’d just forgotten why. As annoying as this will be it’s good to remind yourself now and then what the value of multiple backup strategies is. Even if it results in being so worried you’re up until 1am trying to fix it.

Enabling 5.1 surround sound in OS X

Close to 18 months ago, when I first started seriously using that old mac laptop, I decided I needed a way to easily transfer my speakers between the desktop games machine and my mac that I used for everything else. One of my mates at work had an Audigy 2 NX, and after borrowing it for a day to make sure it worked on macs I decided to get one. It wasn’t until I had it that I realised the mac was only giving me 2 channels instead of 5.1 😦

I shrugged and chalked this up to the built-in mac drivers, it was fine under windows with the official creative drivers.

And so it was that when I upgraded to the mac mini, and again with this second mini, that I was stuck with a sound card that wasn’t giving me surround. Most of the time this doesn’t concern me as I usually only listen to stereo sources, but I’d never even considered that it might work (the few references I could find to this device on the net were it only working in stereo on the mac).

Until tonight.

While doing some research for a friend who was interested in USB sound cards, I saw a product review stating that the Zalman USB card does work on macs in full 5.1 surround mode. This piqued my interest so I went searching and stumbled on a list of working sound cards forum post. Right there at the top is the Zalman card, but hang on, what’s that sitting at the bottom under supported 7.1 cards? Why it’s my damn Audigy 2 NX! WTF!

I immediately (and stupidly) installed the package attached to that post, but thankfully I read a bit further down the post before rebooting and realised I didn’t need to. This was a good idea because the package is from 10.4 somewhere and I would almost certainly have been left trying to do a restore from backup. I’ve reverted the kext files that the package installed, hopefully my mac doesn’t die when I reboot it after posting this.

In any case, the answer is Audio MIDI Setup! A program that had always sat in the Utilities folder looking summarily useless but turns out to be the hidden gem that Apple really needs to make more obvious. For those who will no doubt arrive here from google one day, here’s how to enable 5.1 surround sound on a USB sound card:

  1. Select your sound card under the Properties For: dropdown
  2. Select the number of channels under the audio output format
  3. Click Configure Speakers
  4. Select Multichannel
  5. Select the correct number of speakers from the dropdown (only the valid one should be enabled)
  6. You can now assign channels to each speaker, I’m pretty sure the numbers I used are correct although 3/4 and 5/6 might be in the wrong order

Here’s a couple of screenshots with number highlights to make it clear:
Audio Midi Setup
Audio Midi Speaker Setup

Maybe it’s just this sound card, but that’s a ridiculous requirement to get 5.1 surround sound working (and I haven’t actually tested if DVDs will play correctly, only some 6 channel test wavs I found). Wish me luck! 😉

On the plus side, if this does work I will no longer have to worry about surround sound output from my media centre when I buy proper home theatre speakers (the audigy has optical and spdif out). I had been concerned that I would be stuck with stereo output from my Mac forever!