Bad writing by iFixit.com blog spurs even worse posts on TUAW.com and TiPb.com about iPhone 4S proximity sensor and Siri

On November 9, iFixit.com posted a blog entry about the proximity sensor on the iPhone 4S. They begin by saying:

During our iPhone 4S teardown, iFixit buddy Markus noted that the new iPhone had a rather unusual-looking black component next to the ambient light sensor. We didn’t make much of a fuss about it since we were knee-deep in disassembly pictures, but the little black box certainly piqued our curiosity.

They later explain that the “unusual-looking black component” was the infrared LED proximity sensor—a sensor that’s on every iPhone, not just the 4S. The post goes on to explain that the proximity sensor on an iPhone 4S comes on whenever the screen is on, if you have Siri set to activate whenever you hold the phone to your face. The proximity sensors in all other iPhones only come on during an active call (or a Skype, Viber, Tango, etc. call).

My question is: Why were the people at iFixit so mystified by the iPhone 4S proximity sensor? These people are iPhone hardware experts, it’s not a new feature, and it’s in the same general (if not exact) location as on all other iPhones. During iFixit’s teardown report, they only mention a singular “infra-red LED proximity sensor” in Step 14 of page 2.

Then for some reason (my guess is lazy reporting and a desire for page views), both TUAW.com and TiPb.com write posts claiming that iFixit has revealed that the iPhone 4S has a secondary proximity sensor for Siri (TUAW link, TiPb link). No, iFixit feigned confusion (in my opinion) about the proximity sensor hardware to add dramatic effect to their post about how Siri uses the proximity sensor.

Laziness all around.

Patent troll Lodsys, LLC is threatening iOS devs with ridiculously worded patent

Lodsys, LLC has recently sent letters to several iOS devs, claiming the devs are infringing on a patent for in-app purchases. The patent, number 7222078, is titled “Methods and systems for gathering information from units of a commodity across a network.” Below is the patent “abstract”:

In an exemplary system, information is received at a central location from different units of a commodity. The information is generated from two-way local interactions between users of the different units of the commodity and a user interface in the different units of the commodity. The interactions elicit from respective users their perceptions of the commodity.

Reminds me of those signs and ads in Japan that are in English, but clearly written by someone with a very poor grasp of the language. The full patent description is much, much longer, but unfortunately, just as poorly written. I’m no patent lawyer, but it disgusts me that patents like this are ever granted—especially when the “inventor” is not actually implementing the idea.

Shame on Lodsys. Double so for targeting devs instead of Apple.

(h/t: Marco Arment)

Tweetbot review: good, but not great

Since Tweetbot for the iPhone came out on April 13, 2011, I’ve been using it as my main Twitter client. It’s good, and the interface is slick and gorgeous, but I already find it lacking in some significant ways compared to Echofon, my main Twitter client for the past several months.

First, it doesn’t have inline photo previews. I absolutely love this feature of Echofon and it’s one of the first things I look for when trying out a new Twitter app. I tap on most of the photos in my Twitter feed anyway and view them full-screen, but occasionally I’ll see the thumbnail of a photo someone posted and know that I don’t need or want to enlarge it. This may seem insignificant, but when not on wifi it can sometimes take a while for photos to load, and I can skip all that if I get enough information from the thumbnail. And sometimes I’m just interested in the photos people have posted, and it’s really nice to be able to scan my feed for posts that have photos. And it’s not just photo previews, it shows a little thumbnail when people post links to YouTube videos, also. The one drawback that I’ve noticed is that the thumbnails are only in your main Twitter feed, so if you drill down to someone’s timeline, the photos and videos are just links.

Second, the method Echofon uses when you want to @ reply (or “mention”) someone in a tweet is more efficient for how I use it. The idea is that the app will present you with a tappable list of options based on the letters you type after the “@” symbol. Echofon only displays people you follow, and that’s who I’m usually going to mention in a tweet. But Tweetbot displays much more than just the people you follow, from testing it it seems to display people you follow, people who follow you, people you’ve @ replied to in the past (whether or not you follow them), and even some people who’s Twitter account I’ve simply viewed. To be honest, there are so many people in the list that I’m not sure what the criteria are.

How it works is this: When composing a tweet, you type the “@” symbol and then begin typing the Twitter name of the person you want to mention. In Echofon, a row of tappable buttons with the Twitter name and picture of people matching the letters you’ve typed will appear at the bottom of the compose window. Depending on the length of Twitter names displayed, you can usually see between three and four options, and the options begin appearing when you type the first letter after the “@” symbol. In Tweetbot, a small icon (looks like the silhouette of a head and shoulders) appears under the cursor immediately after you type the “@” symbol. Tapping on the icon activates a slide-up panel with a search field at the top, a keyboard at the bottom, and a scrollable list of options in the middle. Keep typing letters to narrow the search results, and tap on the Twitter account you want to mention when you see it in the list. The Tweetbot implementation may be more powerful because it doesn’t limit you to the people you follow, but it also takes more taps to get it done. For me, the simplicity of how Echofon does it works best.

Third, there’s no companion Mac app that syncs to your first unread tweet. I use this all the time since in a typical day I’ll read my Twitter feed on a minimum of three devices (iPhone, iPad, MacBook), and sometimes on five (iPhone, iPad, MacBook, work Mac, and wife’s Mac). Say you open Echofon on your iPhone during breakfast and read all your unread tweets, making your way to the top of your feed. Then you close the app. At lunch you open Echofon on your Mac and there are 30 new tweet. Echofon for Mac will auto-scroll to the first unread tweet, based on where you left off hours before on your iPhone. Then say you close the Mac app and don’t check your Twitter feed again until after dinner, this time on your iPad. Now there are 45 new tweets since you last checked on your Mac, but Echofon is syncing every time you open it, so the app on your iPad knows to mark the 30 tweets you read on your Mac as read, and auto-scrolls to the first of the 45 new tweets. I follow less than 70 people, and this feature makes sure I can always pick up where I left off, no matter what I’m using to view my Twitter feed.

With Tweetbot, the only way to pick up where you left off is to always use Tweetbot. If you use it to check Twitter in the morning then use a desktop app all day at a desk, Tweetbot won’t know you’ve already read all those tweets from during the day, and you’ll have to scroll up looking for the first tweet you don’t recognize. If Twitter would add an element to their API that synced read status of your timeline, maybe this third issue could be eliminated (assuming developers all update their apps).

I could definitely live with Tweetbot’s @ reply method, but until they address and fix my first and third issues with the app, I’ll stick with Echofon as my main Twitter client.

Path and Instagram

Path

I’ve been using Path a little lately, but I’m not convinced yet that I need ANOTHER photo app on my iPhone. I do love the way it collapses all the photos, though, and I wish more apps had this feature.

I’ve been using Instagram a lot lately, but it really bothers me that the EXIF data seems to be stripped from the photos. I send most of the photos I use in Instagram to my flickr page, and one of my favorite flickr features is that it automatically shows the location of each photo, and the type of camera that shot the photo—and it uses the EXIF data to do this. I sent the Instagram folks a message on twitter asking them about this, but they haven’t responded.

Installation of a stainless steel back for my iPhone 4

I recently bought a stainless steel replacement back for my iPhone 4, and just got around to installing it today. There’s nothing wrong with my original glass back, I just like the look of the stainless steel. It was really simple actually, I bought a “000” Philip’s head screwdriver from my local hardware store and followed the instructions on iFixIt. My only complaint is that the anchors on the new back panel are plastic, unlike anchors on the glass back panel from Apple, which are metal. I think I may have overtightened one of the screws and stripped it a little (the plastic anchor, not the screw), but it seems fine.

 

IMG_20101124_110906 IMG_20101124_105252 IMG_20101124_110605 IMG_20101124_110632
Now I feel a little more comfortable using my iPhone without a case on it. I’m not sure how long I’ll keep the stainless steel back on the iPhone, but I’m liking it so far.

The “finger-scrolling thingy”

I came across this lawyer’s blog yesterday when it was linked to by iPhone JD for its iPhone 4 review. At first I wasn’t going to say anything, but man, it’s bad.

First, the posts are almost all links to other sites with music industry news. You have to wade through pages of these to get to any real content.

Second, the writing’s terrible. There’s this gem:

I have fallen victim to the allure driven by the site of all of my business associates who were sporting shiny black and white, Zen-like devices with colorful icons.  Yes, I bought an iPhone.

Never mind the wordiness, but I’m sure he meant “sight” in the first sentence. Later in the same post, while whining about features the iPhone lacks, he has this to say:

Since we’re on the subject, looking up contacts is probably a breeze for some MP3 stealing teenager with 25-50 contacts in their address book.  When they swipe their pimple-popping finger down the list I’m sure it flows beautifully for them. I, on the other hand, like many other business people, have close to 2000 contacts in my database: not the same  “weeeee” experience with the finger-scrolling thingy!

What a dick.

“Other” category of my iPhone capacity has disappeared

A couple weeks ago, the “other” category of my iPhone Capacity meter in iTunes shot up to almost 5GB. From what I’ve read, it should normally be around 400-500MB, and after a restore from backup, mine went back to around 478MB. I’ve been unable to find out what the “other” category consists of, but yesterday I noticed that it has disappeared altogether.

iPhone capacity (there used to be an orange “Other” category at the end, between my Apps and the Free space.)

I’m not sure what this means, and it’s probably nothing, but it’s kind of strange nonetheless.

Flawed test?

Bob Egan writes a post about how the Consumer Reports iPhone 4 antenna study is flawed

Mr. Egan seems to have left out the part of the Consumer Reports test where they also tested the iPhone 3GS and a Palm Pre, both on the at&t network. In fact, he says:

And we don’t know how the observed effect is, or is not, similar to other devices.

Well, actually, we do. The iPhone 4 was the only phone to suffer from the antenna issue in their test. So no matter how “uncontrolled” and “unscientific” the tests were, I think Mr. Egan has a little more explaining to do before he can call the tests “flawed.”

Consumer Reports confirms the iPhone 4’s antenna problem

Consumer Reports has just confirmed what Engadget and the rest of the world already knew: the iPhone 4 has a serious design flaw. I hope Apple takes Consumer Reports’ advice and comes up with a free fix, but even if they don’t, I’ll still probably get an iPhone 4 when my local Apple store has them in stock. I always have a case on my iPhone anyway, so the reception issue shouldn’t be much of a problem.

It’s getting to the point where Apple is looking foolish for ignoring the design flaw and blaming it on the software. Now that just about everyone has confirmed and independently verified the issue, it would be nice if Apple acknowledged it too. I don’t think there’s any way in Hell they’re going to do something as drastic as recall millions of iPhone 4s, but they could at lease start handing out some free bumpers.

I wish I could turn off multitasking in iOS4

I’m starting to realize that I don’t want some of the apps on my iPhone to save the state they’re in when I leave them. In fact, I wish I could specifically exclude some apps from the multitasking feature altogether.

Facebook is an example of one I wish would completely quit when I close the app. I want it to start fresh each time I open it (which is rare these days), not show me the picture from someone’s wall I was looking at five days ago when I last used the app. Another example is two apps I use on a daily basis: Foursquare and Gowalla. Now that they’ve turned on the fast app switching “feature” in iOS4, when I return to the app, say, when I’ve arrived at a new place where I want to check-in, I’m looking at the same page from the last time I was using the app. This usually means the app is open to the last venue where I checked-in. When that happens, I have to back out of the screen to get back to a list of nearby places, and sometimes I have to manually refresh the list. I would prefer it if I could tell the app to always open to the places screen and refresh the list.

I know that as life problems go, these are small ones, but it bugs me that a company that tries to focus on making things as simple as possible for the end-user has now made things more difficult. Apple says we don’t need to manage the apps in the multitasking tray, that iOS4 is smart enough to do it for us, but that just isn’t the case.

Here’s what I mean: Before iOS4 fast app switching, when you quit an app it quit completely. You would press the home button and that was it. Now, to fully quit an app you have to click the home button once to get back to the springboard, then double-click the home button to reveal the multitasking tray of apps that are in a saved state, then press and hold one of those apps until they all go into jiggle mode, then press the red button in the top left corner of any app you want to completely kill (see picture above). Big difference.

It would be nice if in the settings for each app, we could toggle on or off the “multitasking” APIs that app is using. That way I could tell Foursquare and Gowalla to start fresh each time I launch the app, whether I’ve deleted it from the multitasking tray or not, and I could tell Facebook to always quit when I leave the app and never even appear in the multitasking tray. Even better would be the ability to set a timeout feature where an app saves its state for a defined time period, but quits completely if you don’t return to it within that time. But that would involve giving the end user more control over their iOS4 device than Apple is comfortable with.