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Articles about the Apple iPhone and how it can be used
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05 September

One of the main things that makes me love the iPhone is the combination of a good solid web browser with the phone functions. I once had a Treo and there is no comparison at all. Sometimes people complain about the browsing speed, so it was interesting to see the side-by-side comparison below between the Apple iPhone and the RIM Blackberry Bold.

The video makes and interesting and compelling demonstration, but the upshot is that the iPhone is a lot faster. I wonder if this is partly because the iPhone is based on a robust UNIX-like kernel which is the backbone of the internet, as well as because the Safari-based browser has been the subject of development for the huge Mac community for many years. (Claims regarding the speed of Safari version 3 in comparison to other browsers have been around for some time.)

By Gregory Dudek at | Read (1) or Leave a comment |    
06 April

Here are the top 4 reasons why I am frustrated and disappointed about the Google Nexus-1 made by HTC. Two weeks ago I borrowed a Google Nexus-1 phone for a few days and last week I bought one. I was initially unhappy with my purchase (although I have gotten used to it).

All-in-all I would say the Nexus-1 is usable, but it has numerous rough edges and for such an expensive phone it was a substantial disappointment and frustration.

The key downsides are:

1 - Poor power management and power consumption. The first two days I had the phone, it went from fully charged in the morning to out-of-power before I went to bed. If you turn off the cell-phone radio, the GPS and the wireless and don't run anything intensive, then the battery can last 24 hours. It's not a very useful device in that case, however. This isn't just bad, it's utterly ridiculous and unforgivable.

Low battery -- this should be familiar to Nexus-1 users
Low battery -- this should be familiar to Nexus-1 users

2 - Limited or missing support for WPA-Enterprise ...

Wifi networks. There is lots of discussion on the web about this, but for commonplace network configurations for in professional environments and universities, Android is sometimes unable to connect. For me, this was a show-stopper! The very first iPhones had this limitation also, but that was a long time ago and Android has been around for 2 years.

3 - Excessive dependence on the cloud. This phone transmits and synchronizes data via Google. That means sharing almost everything with Google, which is a serious privacy consideration. Moreover, it means lots of data exchange and a need for a good data plan.

4 - A generally unpolished user experience. The worst thing in this regard is frequently laggy or erratic performance, probably caused by multiple applications using processor time at once. There are lots of other ergonomic rough spots thought: excessively small attachment icons in the gmail program (too small to click reliably), a quit button placed to close to an important key in some cases, inconsistent operating modes, etc.

The dependence on the cloud is Google's key business advantage. I can understand and accept it, but I am very squeamish about them having a bead on everything I do, including who I call and where I go. The absence of robust and complete WPA-Enterprise support is inexcusable -- the Android operating system kernel has the support in it, but the user interface is just too rough. The power management and laggy interface are both indications of what appear to be poor management choices and an absence of sound leadership. This are fixable, but entail hard choices that would limit some the the geekish features at the expense of an overall better (i.e. generally usable) experience.

All in all, this phone has served as an impressive illustration of the great ergonomic design and decision-making that went into the iPhone. I am not ready to buy an iPhone now, but the comparison of the iPhone and the Nexus one provides many object lessons in making though design decisions, and the Nexus-1 seems to come out the loser in several ways.

By Gregory Dudek at | Read (1) or Leave a comment |    
20 April

Here are more thoughts on the Nexus-1 phone (from Google) and some of it's pros and cons in comparison to the Apple iPhone (and iPod touch). Both phones have advantages: the iPhone is clearly a smoother and more elegant user experience and has better ergonomics. The Nexus-1 is more unconstrained and thus lets developers, and hence users, to a larger variety of things with the phone and configure in more idiosyncratic ways.

Both phones use pretty impressive hardware to provide a range of impressive mobile computing abilities.

Nexus 1 front and rear

The fact that the Nexus-1 on uses the Android operating system means is, essentially, running UNIX (i.e Linux). The Apple iPhone is also UNIX based, although it is derived from a different lineage of the UNIX family tree. The iPhone, however, uses a layer of data security protocols to regular what programs can be executed, and also to limit what programs can do. Although it is possible to write programs that escape these safety protocols and limits, that it only for people who want to serious hack with their phone. The Android operating system, on the other hand, is a bit closer to a standard desktop-style UNIX release making it easier for users to install just about anything, and for programs to do whatever they please.

As a result, there are many programs for the Nexus-1 phone that fiddle with the way the phone operates. Some of these are useful, but by-and-large there is a huge clutter or applications that "tweak stuff," but many such programs are unreliable, incompatible with one another, or otherwise problematic.

The Apple iTunes store takes a lot of flak for being restrictive about what can be offered for sale. Among it's positives, it provides an level of assurance that all programs work more-or-less as advertised, and that they satisfy a minimum level of presentation quality, utility and consistency. On the other hand, Apple has been getting more and more controlling and autocratic, which is a very worrisome trend especially as they achieve market dominance in this arena.

While I found a few interesting applications on the Nexus-1 market (i.e. store) that I have kept on my phone, I had much more trouble finding good applications than I did on the iTunes store. The Android market is a bit like shopping at a very big pawn shop attached to a Walmart: lots of stuff, not very well organized, mainly low prices, a lack of quality good. This may improve as time passes, but the ability for people to stick almost anything on the store means a stream of shoddy hacks obscures whatever good content might be hiding there (for example these are many applications whose description says, roughly, just and experiment -- does not work properly). As a fan of UNIX, Linux and open-source development, I can't help but appreciate the virtues of this model, but for a standard consumer it seems to be seriously problematic.

Now, if you want to develop code and hack around, the Android and the N1 have a lot to offer. Getting shell access is not too hard, although getting root access does void the warranty. The android scripting environment (ASE) lets you run python, lua, and other interpreted languages and that's very pretty.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
23 April

In the last week there has been a large amount of publicity over the fact that the iPhone keeps a cache of location data. It's been pitched as a shocking revelation and has made the headlines in print media, radio and television. The event that triggered all the uproar was a presentation by Alasdair Allan from the University of Exeter where he mentioned that the iPhone keeps your location history in an internal file. This doesn't come as much of a surprise, and in fact it was the subject of a previously-published paper by Alex Levinson, Bill Stackpole and Daryl Johnson in 2007!. The right peole aren't even getting the credit for this non-story.

Since the iOS (Apple) devices, as well as Android smart phones all provide "location aware" services including location-sensitive Google searches, it is self-evident that location data must be collected. Was anybody actually foolish enough to think is isn't being stored, aggregated and used?

Among other things, the services that provide this location-aware search are not charities: the do it for money. Especially since they don't charge users for these services, they must be making money from the data. Oh, and location-based services aren't just Google search, they include mapping, and Facebook location sharing, and Four Square gaming, Gowalla, and many others. Oh, and just having your cell phone turned on -- any call phone, allows cell provides o collect such data (and there are good reasons to assume they already collect it). Thus, people's location data may be in all kinds of repositories.

The ability of the phone to determine its position from WiFi signals is based on the regular update of the correlation between WiFi signals and other kids of location data. I am not sure if this is done by Apple, Skyhook or some other service provide, but it's an important step in providing a service that many many people depend upon.

Apple is among the most up-front location based services: they even allow it to be disabled and applications that access location data need to seek permission. My Android phone is much more ambiguous about what is being collected, and how easily you can disable it.

I am not even going to try and weight the tradeoff here between privacy and utility, but the location file in the iPhone is definitely not a big shocker. Oh, and removing this file is trivial too, about the most trivial program anybody could write. It not a practical reality for most people since installing your own code on a phone, especially an iPhone, involves a whole lot of other technical issues. Now, the bigger issues are worth discussing, but this particular firestorm just makes the journalists involved seem like they have not even tried to do their homework.

By Gregory Dudek at | Read (1) or Leave a comment |    
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