Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Cloud, wireless, and unreliability

I wonder why everybody is pushing The Cloud so hard? I see advantages, but no dramatic ones, none which really make up for the fact that the Net and the Cloud are still simply too unreliable, and often too slow.
For example, for two days I've been trying to get on with watching Community, which I bought on iTunes over my Apple TV box. But all I'm getting is "iTunes is currently not available, try later". This is simply not good enough.

Is it just another method of locking us in? I guess it that much harder to change to a Windows machine (imagining anybody would want to), if all your files are sitting in Apple's iCloud.

I have similar feelings with wireless communications, bluetooth and wifi. In all my experiences, they are simply not reliable, not by a long shot. A couple of years ago, I finally gave up and put in an Ethernet cable for my main Mac. I've not had a connection problem since on that machine!
I use bluetooth as little as I can, but I have to use wifi with my iPads. And I have connection problems so often, you dunno. Recently I bought five TV episodes, and it took a full 24 hours to download them!! That's ridiculous.

In case you think it's because of a bad ISP, I don't think so, because I have two for redundancy, two different companies, two different technologies, cable and ADSL. And still I get so many dropouts.

Sure, I see an equally ridiculous ten wifi networks in this apartment building!! But the technology is still not mature, after all these years, if this should cause so many problems. I mean, it's not like it wasn't predictable that it would become popular, since wifi has been pushed even more than the Cloud, and even longer.

Additional notes on Android

Look how beautiful it is. I really wanted it to work.
Once again, below, I complained about Android. Well, here's a fresh story from today of what I mean. If it just happened occasionally, I might live with it, but it is typical. And it's the same over all the Android devices I have, a handful.

OK, for one thing, the Galaxy Note I have... love the size and the screen... does not have any hardware button for Menu, like most devices have... And often the software does not have any menu button either. So often I'm stuck if I suspect there are options in the menus I'd want.

For another thing: I've been downloading video to the Note via dropbox. (At first I wanted to do side-loading via USB, but the device did not turn up on the computer, and I don't have good experiences with custom software made by a hardware manufacturor for its devices.) Dropbox worked fine, after I established that it can play .MP4 files, but not the other kinds of files I have.

I got a handful downloaded. Then it stopped doing it. Well, it pretended to do it, but it only lasted a second, and the file didn't turn up on the SD card. And here's one of the typical bits: there was no error message or any other way of knowing that something did not happen, or what was wrong. (Update: I was wrong, there was a message, but it was small, appeared at the top of the screen, and disappeared after a second or two, so I hadn't seen it.)

I thought maybe the card was full, I could not remember how large it was. So I bought a File Manager. But as for "size", it only gave me the total MB of the files on the card, not the total capacity. Again, typical.
I had to shut it down and open it to find out that the card was 32GB, lots and lots of space left.
But it still won't download anymore. (I'm on Wifi, no limits.)
Oh, by the way, I can't find any way to save to internal memory. The other options from Export (and why is it called Export instead of Download?) are weird options called Allshare, Bluetooth, email, Gmail, Messaging, wifi, and Youtube. I tried youtube as an experiment. Nothing happened.

I'm sure with help and time, I could figure this out eventually. But right now my patience is at its end. And my point was not to get help with this problem (though a tip with good certainty would not go amiss), my point was just to illustrate why I don't use Android, despite having really tried and really wanting a 5-inch phone. It's simply that things like this happen all the time. It's a second-rate system, and it simply does not work well, seems to me. Like Granny Weatherwax says: "I can't be having with it."
I really wish it were otherwise, I'd love to have the great choice of devices.

I honestly don't understand the gleeful reports from a couple of reporters like Andy Ihnatko, who are so happy having gone to Android. Maybe they've been really lucky. Or maybe they like to fiddle with things to make them work, I dunno.

Update: I was just thinking: weeeell, the thing I really need to work is the Kindle app. maybe I'm just letting my frustrations run away with me. Let's try reading on it again. So I fired up the Kindle app. It had been updated (with features which had been on the iPad for ages). I tried downloading a recent book. Failure. Red exclamation mark. (No explanation or tips.) I tried another. Failure. I tried a third one. Failure.
This has never happened on any of my Apple or Amazon tablets. No, it seems to be not just me.

Update: I finally found out how to expell the sim card adapter which was stuck in the Note, and put in an inactive card. And now, the device would let me update the software. (What's up with wanting that card? I don't even let it use it for data.) And for the whole evening, I've been updating software. On the System software alone, I'm now on the tenth download-install-reboot cycle, and I don't know when I'll be done! But the upside is that now Kindle works properly, and there are signs I can download videos again, we'll see.

I can see I am not alone in frustration. Graphics like these are real easy to find:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Wow, iPad Air and Mac Pro (updated)

Apple Keynote speech 22 Oct 2013.

(Funny how they still call them "keynotes", even though they for years haven't had a expo to be keynote for.     :-)
(Yes, I use emoticons, even in articles. Some serious writers consider this childish. But I've often been too serious in my life, it's not a trap I want to spend too much time in!)

I think that was a very impressive event.

The new iPad not only comes in my favorite metal color, "Space Grey" (space has a color?), but it is now significantly more powerful.

And incredibly (seriously), they have made it also significantly smaller/thinner, and most important: They have decreased the weight from 1.4 pounds to just one pound! That's a drop of almost 30%.

This is a spectacular achievement, I can't imagine how many man hours must have gone into that. It's the one thing that has always been the weakest point of the full sized iPad: it was too heavy. It's great on a stand, or if you can rest your hands on something, but for reading it bed for example, it was pretty distressing, and I think the main reason the iPad Mini does so well. In fact, for years this has been my number One wish for the iPad: much lower weight. I am much looking forward to experiencing the difference this weight reduction makes. I suspect it may make me take out the full sized iPad more often, instead of the Mini.

Talking about the iPad Mini, I think it's the same size and weight, but they have managed to squeeze in the more power-hungry, but desperately-wanted Retina Display. Many, many people have waited for this. (I thought the present one was not at all bad. After all it had rather higher pixel resolution than the iPad 1! But we get so used to new levels so very quickly, don't we?)

Another thing which struck a note with me: the upcoming Mac Pro (December). I don't know all the technical terms which were flying through the air like confetti, but it sounds like it will be spectacular powerhouse. And much smaller than the previous model (which admittedly is huge). But mostly again: it is even more quiet!

This is damn impressive. Back when I had a PowerMac G5 (ca. 2004), they had worked hard to make the cooling really good and quiet. And yet, when stressed this machine got so loud I just couldn't stand to work with it. (I'm pretty sensitive to noise.)
Then when the Intel based Macs came, bravo! That Mac Pro was "lightyears" more quiet. The difference was like night and day. That may be my favorite feature of a Mac of all time.
And now: the next model will be even more quiet than that. They've reduced the noise in idle state from about 27db down to 12db. A huge jump. For all intents and purposes, this is not just quiet, this is silent. I can't believe it, I'd have been impressed if they'd just managed to keep the same level. Well done Apple.
(I have an environment monitor in my bedroom, and even when I think the room is pretty near silent, it measures as over 30db...)

I think Apple deserves big kudos for focusing not just on the spectacular features which demo well, but working very hard on the deep characteristics which really matter: power efficiency, battery life, low noise, more effective use of memory, and so on.

OK, admittedly I have been an Apple fan since about 1995. But I say like David Pogue said many years ago: It is not Apple I am a fan of, it's elegance. If somebody does it more elegantly, I go to them. I haven't yet. (I've bought several Android devices and a couple of PC laptops, because they had beautiful hardware. But they all suffer from the software: it just lets me down, repeatedly.)
But near the end of the keynote, Tim Cook said that their competitors would be happy and proud to be able to present even one of the products Apple announced today. And you know what, I think he's right. I really think they are in a class of their own.