2824 words on Software
It may be a bit late now to qualify as ‘news’, but still, I meant to create a sort-of review of iPhone OS 3 since I got it, so here it is – before everybody starts going crazy over iPhone OS 4.
The update to iPhone OS 3 was free for iPhone users and €8 for iPod users. Not a big deal, I suppose. But perhaps charging people for the OS update that implements copy and paste could make Apple look like greedy bastards. And, thanks Apple apologists, please STFU about weird American tax laws which are your favourite excuse for Apple being forced to do this. It’s all about what they want to do.
The biggest deficiency of early iPhone OS versions was their lack of copy and paste. It has always been a huge feature for GUI computers because it lets you split your work (on iPhone OS I’d rather say ‘tasks’ because its apps are toys) between several applications, which are dedicated the specific task. Hence one should think that the clipboard is particularly important on a ‘platform’ full of feeble applications like the iPhone which made people so upset that it didn’t exist from day one.
iPhone OS 3’s copy and paste interface is reasonably nice: You tap and hold and the interface elements for changing the selection as well as performing copy, paste and cut commands (the lack of clear may be due to the lack of space but it keeps irritating me that I have to use cut instead) appear. That’s not particularly easy to discover – but who expected things to be easy when all you have to interact with the device is a finger?
I saw two main problems with the copy and paste interface. One is that the tap-and-hold gesture is easily used by accident when you hold the iPod and touch the screen while doing so. As a result you end up with a bunch of buttons you didn’t want. A conceptual problem that I don’t see going away. Another initial shortcoming was that the copy button, once visible, would not scroll along with the view it belonged to, giving some dislocated mess. It seems that by now Apple fixed this issue in their own apps at least, but it doesn’t seem to be solved on a general level, say for WebKit, as third party applications like Wikipanion still exhibit that behaviour.
One big promise of iPhone OS 3 was that it would enable Bluetooth support on second generation iPod touches. Actually this was the main reason why I wanted to have iPhone OS 3 right away. However, a big disappointment was waiting for me: the Bluetooth support is crap. It only seems to work for games. Audio profiles are not supported. Meaning that I cannot use my Bluetooth headset to use Skype on the iPod which would have been rather neat, particularly as wired iPod headsets with a microphone only seem to exist in expensive and breaking within months (Apple) or semi-expensive and crap (non-Apple) varieties.
Quite naturally, no kind of file or image transfer via Bluetooth is supported either. That would be too convenient for Apple’s brave new world of computing, I suppose.
iPhone OS 3 comes with plenty of extra language support. You get right-to-left languages like Arabic (but shouldn’t the Springboard’s orientation be reversed for those as well? And how fine-tuned is it? I assume that only one of 23°and °23 makes a correct writing of 23° in an Arabic weather forecast…)
Another very neat feature is the support for Chinese text input by drawing the character on the iPod. (This is also available in Mac OS X.6 on machines with multi-touch trackpads, but strangely not when using a graphics tablet.) Using the feature isn’t overly easy, particularly if you aren’t really a writer of Chinese or Kanji. But if you happen to see a Chinese or Kanji character and wonder what it means without being familiar of the sort order of the relevant dictionaries (which are needed to have a chance of finding it in your Mac’s character palette), this can be a great tool: You draw the glyph on your iPod, manage to do so well enough in the second or third attempt to get the correct character match from the iPod and then you can Google it or look up its
kDefinition Unihan property to get a rough idea of what it could mean.
iPhone OS 3 also lets you turn off the system’s auto-correction feature. Particularly if you’re switching the language you are writing in, that is very important as otherwise you’ll get your perfectly correct words “auto-corrected” to foreign garbage. As typing on the iPhone OS’s software keyboard remains a mess you’d of course rather use the auto-correction. However, unfortunately, the whole system is rather poorly designed.
Apple’s current approach is the following: You pick a keyboard layout and the spell-checking language will follow. Which may sound logical to people who only use a single language, but is terrible if you really want to use it. Usually people are ‘hard-wired’ to the keyboard layout they learned typing on. I learned on a German ‘QWERTZ’ keyboard and type everything on that. Forcing me to use a ‘QWERTY’ keyboard for English and an ‘AZERTY’ keyboard for French is absolutely not helpful.
In fact, I have an English keyboard layout activated on my iPod, just so I can write stuff in English using the auto correction. But that clutters up my keyboard switching loop [said loop is particularly terrible, btw, as I also have the Chinese input method in that loop and iPhone OS always prefer to stall for a long time when trying to switch past that], it also feels stupid and regularly forces me to check which keyboard I am currently using and adjust the setting as needed.
Of course the right, or at least much better and more practical, way of doing this would be the one used in Mac OS X where you can switch the spell-checking language independently from the keyboard layout or – if that’s too much UI hassle – just go for the ‘Multilingual’ spell checker which seems like a reasonably good compromise.
iPhone OS 3 comes with a ‘Spotlight’ screen that presents a universal search field. It appears as the left-most page in the row of application pages and I thought it is a rather neat feature that gives you quick access to a specific contact, song or very recent e-mail.
That said, in practice I find that I very rarely use this universal search. Normally I find it more natural to just go to the application in question and look up the information there without further ado.
Some parts of the iPhone OS have been carefully optimised for speed. Animations usually happen smoothly and scrolling lists can be refreshingly quick. Yet, Apple decided to leave certain parts of the user interface non-optimised. I am not quite sure why they did that and neither am I sure why it is considered acceptable. The top three annoying delays I frequently notice in iPhone OS 3 are:
I suspect that all these issues may have to do with Apple’s notoriously poor memory management and loading performance which may come from where the Unix smell in that company comes from. You see similar issues of non-smooth interaction because the relevant software has to be loaded first on the Mac as well – as any action that requires an authentication dialogue will remind you of.
While iPhone OS 3 was in no way revolutionary, there are many other little details which have been discussed all over the internet when it was released. I will use the rest of the page to list the points I found interesting or irritating.
Variable Speed Podcasts: The iPod offers to play Podcasts at half and double their original speed (naturally without smurf voices) which is pretty neat on shows that are spoken very slowly (or very quickly). I thought that perhaps some intermediate speeds may be very useful, though, as doubling the speed often seems to overdo it. [I have no clue what the envelope icon in that screenshot is for, though, it seems to be inactive on my iPod, I couldn’t mail anything.]
Hey, at least you made it before Apple officially announces iPhone OS 4 this Thursday! :-)
I had to make sure they couldn’t claim, they didn’t know about the issues I consider problematic… particularly as most of them should be fixable.
Received data seems to be invalid. The wanted file does probably not exist or the guys at last.fm changed something.