Category Archives: Apple

Of all the stupid modern tribes to belong to, the tribe of the corporation is probably the silliest

On the occasion of Apple’s releasing their revenue numbers, it’s fair to point out that lashing yourself to a particular company is really stupid. Daring Fireball, for instance, exists to defend Apple and lash its detractors. Which is fine as far as it goes: I read DF every day, and I like his style very much. John Gruber is very much a part of the corporate-tribalism nonsense, and he makes a good living from it: people invite him to give talks to defend and explain Apple, and there are rumors (unclear how accurate) that he makes half a million dollars a year from it. And good for him.

Of course there’s a tribe on the other side, namely the tribe of Android. Inasmuch as I use Apple products, I guess I’m not a member of the Android tribe. I like Apple products.

But here’s the thing: this has nothing to do with me as a person. Yet the weird stupid modern tribalism requires that your choice of technology have something to do with you as a person. If you use Android, you probably have a neck beard, for instance. If you use Apple, you’re probably effete and eat kale. Or whatever. (Turns out I eat a lot of kale, you guys.)

Starting from this base of letting the technology determine your personality, the next step is to care very much about the companies that make them. I am supposed to be personally invested in the success or failure of Apple Inc. Turns out I’m not, though. I like their products. I will keep buying their products because I like them. If they go out of business, I will be sad, because then I will have to use products that I wouldn’t otherwise have chosen. Only, it seems really hard to imagine Apple’s going out of business, so … I guess I have no reason to be sad. Problem solved!

Apple doesn’t need your support. Neither does Google. Apple and Google will do just fine even without bands of true believers furtively tossing grenades at the other side. Use their products if you like them; don’t use them if you don’t like them; lobby the company to change things (in its dealings with Chinese manufacturers, for instance) if that’s what you want. But defining yourself as an “Apple person” or an “Android person” is just pathetically demeaning to your stature as a human being.

Merging and de-duping contacts under iOS and OS X

I guess I’m some sort of completist when it comes to having accurate contact information for my friends. OS X has made it really worth your while to keep that information up to date, for a few reasons.

First, if you have a friend with an oddly spelled name, and you don’t have that person’s name in your contacts, then OS X will flag the spelling of your friend’s name with the dreaded red wavy underline; it flags no spelling problems if you have them in your contacts.

Second, if you keep all the various ways of addressing a given person under the same contact, OS X lets you search for that person using every available identifier. For instance, I have a colleague whose real name is ‘Junrui’, but whose nickname is ‘Hench’; if I’m diligent about including the ‘nickname’ field and the real first name in his contact entry, then I can search Mail.app (inter alia, presumably) using either the nickname or the first name. The same goes for an old friend, for whom I have eleven email addresses and two family names, one hyphenated. If I don’t keep these contacts merged, then I need to remember whether the email message I’m searching for came from him when he was just “John Smith” or had become “John Smith-Jones” (note: not his actual name). With merged contacts, you can just search for ‘Smith’ and be done with it.

Third, the Calendar app can display a feed of contacts’ birthdays, which you can selectively choose to display or hide. I like that much better than having to keep a separate annually recurring calendar entry for every one of my friends. Instead I just stick their birthdays (and anniversaries) in the appropriate contact entries, which is where they belong.

Social networks make things a little more complicated. iOS lets you pull in contacts from your LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. To some extent this is all to the good: now your contact entries will have your friends’ Facebook profile pages, their Twitter handles, and so forth. But now you also have multiple contacts for each person: one contact for John Smith via LinkedIn, one for John Smith via Facebook, and so forth. Annoying.

Enter iOS and Mac contact merging. This is useful, but frustrating. You can merge contacts on OS X, and merge them on iOS, but I have thus far not been able to make them sync as smoothly as one would like. Syncing between iOS and OS X is otherwise quite smooth, using iCloud: you change a field in the contact on your Mac, and by the time you come to your iPhone, the contact is updated there. Great! Except that merging contacts under OS X doesn’t seem to merge the corresponding contacts on iOS.

So then, if you’re as (apparently) anal about this as I am, you go over to your iPhone and merge there, too. (You do this by editing one of the contact entries you want to merge, going to the bottom of the entry, selecting ‘Link Contacts’, and then selecting — one by one — all the other contacts to merge.) This is twice the effort, because anal.

Now you have your contacts merged on both devices. New problem: how does the Apple universe de-duplicate entries? Suppose you list your home address on Facebook as “Cambridge, MA 02139″, whereas you list it on LinkedIn as “Cambridge, MA 02139-3986″; how do you de-dup that? At least two plausible alternatives come to mind: either include both addresses in the merged contact, or merge them into a single address with more information in it — in this case, a single address with the ZIP+4. iOS seems to go for the first option: include multiple nearly identical addresses. Which is a little annoying because, if you’re OCD about this sort of thing (as I apparently am), you are then very tempted to then go through and de-dup everything properly.

I don’t fully understand the internal logic of merged iOS contacts. I think they’re designed with the assumption that you can un-merge them later; depending upon how they implemented that, it may mean that you can’t delete a superfluous address entry: you may un-link the cards later, and will at that point need to recover the original address. So it’s possible that when you delete a duplicate field in a merged contact entry, iOS keeps the deleted field around, hidden, and available for un-hiding if you decide to un-link. It’s confusing to me.

While writing all of this up, I discovered some oddities about the merging/syncing logic:

  • OS X has a “maiden name” field in contact entries. That’s handy: again, I may want to search for “Jane Smith” before she became “Jane Jones”. It doesn’t seem like maiden names propagate to iOS contacts.
  • Duplicate home addresses seem to show up in iOS but not under OS X.
  • If I mark Jane Jones’s maiden name as Jane Smith under OS X, I would expect that I could search Mail.app for Jane Smith, and get all of Jane Jones’s emails in the same result set. It seems to not be so. I was really excited that OS X had seemingly mastered the notion of “identity”, whereby Jane Smith and Jane Jones are really different labels for the same identity. I think maybe OS X has a different notion of identity than I do, though I could probably defend their notion of identity if I were called upon to do so. Maybe, for instance, it’s sensible to treat Smith and Jones as different identities, because maybe sometimes you want to search for things from a particular period in Smith/Jones’s life; in that sort of case, you’d want to make a distinction between Smith and Jones. That said, see the next bullet.
  • If I type “Smith” into Mail.app’s Spotlight search field, it doesn’t return me any results from the contact whose maiden name is listed as Smith. That seems odd, and cuts against the interpretation of OS X identity that I posited in the previous bullet: it can’t be that OS X is trying to keep your options open by giving Smith one identity and Jones another. Smith’s identity seems to have disappeared altogether.
  • Actually, now that I focus on it more, I notice that OS X doesn’t unify identities at all in the way that I’d hoped. Again supposing I have several email addresses for Smith/Jones, one of which is jane@smith.com and the other of which is jane@jones.com, I would expect to be able to search Mail.app for “emails from Jane Jones” or “emails from Jane Smith” and return email messages from any of them. It seems to not be so.

Some friends and I experienced no end of trouble, along similar lines, when we tried to carry on a long-running group chat via iMessage. For reasons that still make no sense to me, a sequence like the following would happen often, whenever there were more than two people on the thread:

  1. Person A would start chatting with people B and C on message thread 1.
  2. Person B would reply to A and C.
  3. Person B’s reply would show up on A and C’s devices on message thread 2. (I say “devices” rather than “iPhones” because at least two of us were trying to conduct this conversation from both an iPhone and a Mac. I don’t remember whether that fact caused any of the particular problems that we ran into. At this point, even the memory of our difficulties is frustrating enough that I don’t want to revisit it.)

They wouldn’t be threaded together. This is incredibly annoying. It seems like ultimately this is related to Apple’s confused notion of “identity”. Again, it seems to me that your device ought to treat anything that comes from me — from any of my email addresses, phone numbers, Twitter handles, etc. — as an emission from “Steve Laniel”, the metaphysical entity. The fact that one of the senders happens to be steve@stevereads.com, while another happens to be steve@laniels.org, should be immaterial. I think this distinction confused iMessage, even though I think all of us were diligent about telling iMessage that any of our phone numbers, email addresses, etc., should all be valid senders for iMessage purposes.

Again, there may well be good design reasons not to unify people into “identities” of this sort. Perhaps there are certain cases where it makes sense to unify, and others where it makes sense to separate. I would just like to see Apple defend its separate/unified identity design decision. But Apple doesn’t, generally speaking, explain its design decisions to anyone, so I’m not holding my breath. All I know is that the results are often confusing, as it stands.

I’m tempted to say here that Apple is very good when they control the entire experience, start to finish: if the universe of your usage lies within Apple products, then they’ve got the user experience handled. As soon as you need to incorporate the outside world in some way, though — by syncing across devices using Google’s sync services; by using multiple email addresses from non-iCloud providers; by loading iCal calendar feeds from other providers; by pulling in contact information from LinkedIn or Facebook — the experience gets much more muddled, and I don’t know that Apple does terribly well. They’re getting better over time, and I have hope that they’ll eventually get it working well enough that a lot of the muddle I described above will go away. They need to, because over time our mobile devices and computers are incorporating more and more sources of information in more and more complicated ways. Apple has historically done very well at forming a coherent whole from its own universe of products; I now really hope it’ll form a coherent whole from people’s online identities.

Some probably obvious observations on economics, inspired by Apple, which just suggest that I need to read more economics

(Attention conservation notice: 1400 words thinking aloud about innovation, Apple-style, and what connection it might have to the standard, boring sort of competition that you read about in introductory economics.)

I’ve become somewhat obsessed with Apple in recent months (see “The iPhone is a gateway Apple product”). They’re an easy company to get obsessed over, because they build the best products. When Google was building the best products, like their search engine or the maps app, I was obsessed with them too. Most of their other products are quite good, but they’re not perfect in the way that the iPhone is, in the way that the Google search app is, or in the way that Google Maps is. Every time I use Google Calendar — and I use it, mind you, a dozen times a day — I’m reminded of all the things it could do better. I never think that about Google search or about the iPhone. They are perfect.

It’s been remarkable to watch Apple’s competitors. Apple invented the iPod 10 years ago, and it has owned the category ever since. Others have tried to compete with them, but haven’t managed to produce anything even comparably good. Likewise with the iPhone. When I remember what preceded the iPhone, my mind is kind of blown. Pre-iPhone phones were thought to be such poor computers that manufacturers decided to invent their own alternate universe, including their own poor substitute for HTML, rather than just put a fast computer in your pocket. Other companies have had four years to respond, including at least one company that makes a lot of money and should, by all rights, have beaten Apple at this game.

Yet they’ve not. Not even close. Android continues to be the technology of tomorrow, just as Linux has always been, and one strains not to say that it will always will be the technology of tomorrow.

I see in this the simplified picture of markets that we read about in introductory economics. Someone starts a company — say, a bakery making artisanal bread in a big city. There’s unmet demand for this bread, so people flock to it. The lines run out the door, and the bakery is habitually sold out by noon. They ramp up their production and add some machines to augment human labor. Maybe they raise their prices. Now the lines are shorter (translation: prices have risen, so quantity demanded has decreased), but the bakery’s total amount of income has increased (translation: price elasticity is less than 1). Now the bakery is making lots of profit.

Other bakeries see this profit, and they want in. So they move into the market and try to do the same thing more cheaply. Maybe doing it more cheaply is harder, because the incumbent bakery makes its artisanal bread using giant machines that can produce individual loaves for not very much money at all (translation: high fixed cost to buy the machines, low marginal cost per loaf). Anyone who wants to move into the market would either have to make better bread for the same or higher price (think of Starbucks moving into a world of Maxwell House), or make equal-quality bread more cheaply. (Translation: high fixed costs are a barrier to entry, and make monopolies more likely.)

But if the incumbent baker makes money consistently for years, it may eventually happen that banks take notice and loan someone the money to start a competing bakery at scale. (Imagine here AMD moving into a world dominated by Intel.) Now the incumbent has to lower its prices. In some perfect-competition models, every last customer flocks to the cheaper bakery. The bakeries alternate investing huge amounts of capital to produce at cheaper prices at larger scale. We’re in a price war.

This may be a good thing — we get cheaper bread — but it’s not what Apple is doing. Instead, they’re innovating. They’re not running down the slippery slope of a price war. Instead, they’re making products that no one had and no one knew they wanted before. (I still don’t really need an iPad, though it would be handy for reading academic PDFs.) If they were a different kind of company, they could instead try to make cheaper widgets than their competitors, but where’s the joy in that? If that’s how companies operated, we wouldn’t even have BlackBerrys by now; we’d just have cheaper little knock-off LG or Nokia “feature phones.”

There are some models I remember learning in college that tried to capture this. They usually fall under the labels ‘imperfect competition’ or ‘monopolistic competition’. Coca-Cola has a legally enforced monopoly on the term ‘Coca-Cola’, for instance. But that doesn’t really capture innovation. Most of the models I remember learning, and nearly anything captured under the term ‘perfect competition’, don’t describe the sort of market where companies innovate.

I still need to finish reading Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, but he touches on a similar idea in there. His famous term from that book is “creative destruction”: capitalism’s great contribution to the world is that it constantly destroys industries and replaces them with new ones. No one laments all the horse-and-buggy drivers put out of business by the automobile. There are legitimate reasons to lament the end of businesses built around physical newspapers, and a just society will try to help laid-off newspaper workers land on their feet. But the innovation of the web, which gave rise to an entirely new industry that caught incumbents unawares, makes life better in many well-known ways.

One of Schumpeter’s main arguments (the book contains many arguments and ranges far afield; it argues, for instance, that soon capitalism will be destroyed when its large corporations turn into mere offices for the filling out of forms in triplicate) is that capitalist enterprises shouldn’t mainly fear that a new competitor will produce the same product for cheaper, but rather that an entire industry will come into being that renders the incumbents’ whole reason for being moot.

There’s an “innovation through cheapness” argument along these lines, most famously laid out in The Innovator's Dilemma. It goes like this: there’s some incumbent that makes a big, expensive product that’s the cream of the crop and whose lead seems impregnable. Think of Oracle databases, for instance, or the Sabre airline-reservation system, or Microsoft Windows. Some cheap competitor comes along, producing a product that doesn’t do most of what the big guys do, but does it for much less money (MySQL databases, Internet airfare searching, Linux). Initially, the big guy couldn’t care less about the newcomer — might not even notice the newcomer, in fact. The newcomer may have in fact taken away the big guy’s most annoying customers: those customers who care mostly about price, or those who demand a lot of features for not a lot of money. Good riddance, says the big guy.

Now that the newcomer has some customers, it can start adding features. Because the big guy has been around for a while, competitors have had a while to look at what customers are buying. The newcomer can bring fresh eyes to an existing market, too: the big guy has established sales forces that are trained at selling a specific kind of product, has a large bureaucracy that’s specialized in making their current product lines, and is slow to move in response to change. The newcomer is small and can be more agile. They keep adding features and taking away increasingly important customers from the big guy.

Eventually the big guy takes notice, but by this point it’s too late: the world has shifted entirely to the fresh, cheap product that the new guy is making. This hasn’t happened yet with Windows, of course. Oracle bought MySQL. A quick scan suggests only modest declines in travel-agent employment over the next 7 years. I should try to think of some other examples.

That’s at least two distinct types of innovation: innovating through inventing entirely new product lines that render existing products moot, and innovating through producing simplified subsets of existing products. The latter seems different than merely making a lower-cost version of the same product; that’s classic price competition.

Now, I’m pretty sure I never heard any coverage of innovation when I took economics classes in college. Is there any good modeling of this sort of thing?

Little iPhone UI details

(Attention conservation notice: 800 words documenting the near-perfection of the iPhone user interface. Plus a small suggestion for how they could improve it still more.)

Things the iPhone does that I’ve not seen anyone else do:

  • There’s a ‘.com’ button when you’re typing in a field that accepts domain names (like an email-address field, for instance). I only realized recently that you can press and hold the .com button to get .net, .edu, .org, and .us.

  • It gets cooler. Add an international keyboard (Settings -> General -> Keyboard -> International Keyboards -> Add New Keyboard…), then go back to an URL field (like in Safari, say). Suppose you added an Arabic keyboard. Now look at what the .com button has: top-level domains for Arabic countries, like .ae. Similar things happen if you add French keyboards, etc.

  • Spell-check will not flag words if those words are in your address book. It does better than just not flagging them, actually: if you type a friend’s name in lowercase, it’ll correct the case for you.

  • Probably most every iPhone/Touch user has noticed by now that you can go into the Maps application and start typing the name of someone in your contacts for whom you have a physical address; the Maps app will offer you any matching physical addresses.

    You’d expect — or at least, I’d expect — Google to get this right, too. After all, when you’re signed into your Google account, Google knows about your contacts; it should be easy enough to carry that contact information over into Google Maps. But they don’t.

  • This next one is easier to describe by example. I have a friend, Chris Rugen, whom I’ve jokingly put into my iPhone contacts as “Chris Rügen”; my iPhone contacts sync with Google. In the iPhone, if I start typing “rug”, it offers up “Rügen” as a completion — even though the “u” that I typed has no umlaut over it.

    I’ve found no other system that does the completion this intelligently. Thunderbird doesn’t. Google itself doesn’t, either: searching within my Gmail contacts for “rugen” doesn’t return the accented contact. In either Thunderbird or Google, I need to start typing Chris’s actual email address — which contains no accent, of course — in order for them to find Chris.

These are all just little things, but that’s exactly what makes the iPhone what it is: nearly all the little things are done perfectly. You get a sense of calm when you play with an iPhone (and “play,” by the way, is exactly the right verb), because nothing is out of line with what it should be. Computers have a habit of steadily accumulating frustrations; the iPhone does not.

One thing the iPhone does need to do differently is related to the Archive button in the email client, which only arrived in one of the new iOS releases (I want to say 4.0). If you have a Gmail account, the Archive button will do the same thing on the phone that the Archive button does on Gmail’s website. That’s great. But there’s no Archive operation available for non-Gmail accounts. Worse, the Archive button gets replaced with a delete button for non-Gmail accounts. So if you’re used to archiving messages by tapping the leftmost button, muscle memory alone will often make you delete messages accidentally. This gets especially to be a problem now that iOS 4 does a single combined universal inbox: you don’t know which account a given message is coming from (could be Gmail, could be not), so the very same inbox view can sometimes make that button do archival, sometimes do deletion. It’s a dangerous combination. (Though not too dangerous: you can always retrieve the deleted message from the Trash, if you notice soon enough that you deleted rather than archived.)

What’s odd is that fixing this to work with all account types wouldn’t be that hard, unless I’m missing something. Right now you can configure which folders on your remote server will be used for drafts, sent mail, and deleted messages: go to Settings -> Mail, Contacts, Calendars -> [account name] -> Account Info -> Advanced and look under Mailbox Behaviors. If the folders you’ve specified don’t exist, I believe the iPhone mail client will create them. It would be easy enough to add an ‘Archives Mailbox’ item under there.

I can see a reason why they might not do this. Gmail’s archives folder is called ‘All Mail’ on the server side, so a sensible default name for the archives folder would be ‘All Mail’. But on a non-Gmail account — IMAP, say, or Exchange — maybe that name would be confusing. Maybe on those sorts of accounts, it would be smarter to call the folder ‘Archives’. But then you’ve got an inconsistency between the name of the archives folder on different types of server; that may confuse users.

Unified messaging on the iPhone (or anywhere, really)

Know what would be really handy? To include all your friends’ and acquaintances’ contact info — including Twitter handles, Facebook profiles, phone numbers, email addresses, RSS feeds, und so weiter in some global address book (like the nice Gmail contacts list, which you can sync with a mobile device, and which I sync quite happily with the iPhone), then gather together all those items and make them on the device. Quite often a conversation starts via text message, moves over to email, maybe ends up in a voice chat, turns into a blog post, etc. Wouldn’t it be nice if the device could record your voice chats, or at least transcribe them?

Barring that, just being able to search text messages at the same time as you search emails would be a big win. Didn’t BitPim do this?

In defense of AT&T

People love to bust on AT&T, but I have to say that I have no — zero — complaints about them:

  • Reception: AT&T’s reception has been better than it ever was when I was on Verizon. I can make calls from inside my girlfriend’s house in New Hampshire, and from inside my parents’ house in Vermont; on Verizon, I always had to step outside in both those places. And AT&T doesn’t even have service in Vermont! Needless to say, their reception in Boston is just fine. I’ve had some problems in the immediate vicinity of my workplace in Kendall Square; I believe that’s because the volume of electronic equipment there is over the top and causes lots of electromagnetic interference. I’ve had some problems with their reception in New York City. (NYC people: has AT&T gotten any better there?)

  • Their online store: People were bitching and moaning about being unable to buy an iPhone 4 because AT&T’s website got slammed. I had no such problem. I ordered an iPhone from them on the day it became available, and was notified today that it’s shipped. (By the way: is “I’m going to have to wait a few days to order my several-hundred-dollar pocket computer, and I am pissed” the definition of “first-world problem”?)

  • Customer service: Verizon’s customer service was always great, and they always tried to find me the plan that fit my needs. AT&T has done the same. (Bank of America’s customer service is also stellar. I guess I’m supposed to hate BofA too, but I don’t.)

Others may have had worse luck, but I kind of wonder if people just like getting mad at big companies.

iPhone 4 FaceTime/Infinite Jest mashup

Apple’s introduction of FaceTime, their videophone protocol in the forthcoming iPhone 4, reminds me of this great passage in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest:

(1) It turned out there there was something terribly stressful about visual telephone interfaces that hadn’t been stressful at all about voice-only interfaces. Videophone consumers seemed suddenly to realize that they’d been subject to an insidious but wholly marvelous delusion about conventional voice-only telephony. They’d never noticed it before, the delusion – it’s like it was so emotionally complex that it could be countenanced only in the context of its loss. Good old traditional audio-only phone conversations allowed you to presume that the person on the other end was paying complete attention to you while also permitting you not to have to pay anything even close to complete attention to her. A traditional aural-only conversation – utilizing a hand-held phone whose earpiece contained only 6 little pinholes but whose mouthpiece (rather significantly, it later seemed) contained (62) or 36 little pinholes – let you enter a kind of highway-hypnotic semi-attentive fugue: while conversing, you could look around the room, doodle, fine-groom, peel tiny bits of dead skin away from your cuticles, compose phone-pad haiku, stir things on the stove; you could even carry on a whole separate additional sign-language-and-exaggerated-facial-expression type of conversation with people right there in the room with you, all while seeming to be right there attending closely to the voice on the phone. And yet – and this was the retrospectively marvelous part – even as you were dividing your attention between the phone call and all sorts of other idle little fuguelike activities, you were somehow never haunted by the suspicion that the person on the other end’s attention might be similarly divided. During a traiditional call, e.g., as you let’s say performed a close tactile blemish-scan of your chin, you were in no way oppressed by the thought that your phonemate was perhaps also devoting a good percentage of her attention to a close tactile blemish-scan. It was an illusion and the illusion was aural and aurally supported: the phone-line’s other end’s voice was dense, tightly compressed, and vectored right into your ear, enabling you to imagine that the voice’s owner’s attention was similarly compressed and focused … even though your own attention was not, was the thing. This bilateral illusion of unilateral attention was almost infantilely gratifying from an emotional standpoint: you got to believe you were receiving somebody’s complete attention without having to return it. Regarded with the objectivity of hindsight, the illusion appears arational, almost literally fantastic: it would be like being able both to lie and to trust other people at the same time.

This is only the beginning of a several-pages-long discussion of why videophones (from the future-retrospective stance) failed. People notice first that they look really gross on camera. Then they get self-conscious, so they wear masks when they’re on their videophones. This makes them terrified to meet people in real life, because those people will discover that they’ve been lied to during their videophone chats. So people stay indoors. There are a few other steps in there that I forget (and Google Books is no help), but the end result is that society eventually makes one big coordinated move to drop its videophones.

(You really need to read Infinite Jest. It’s one of those books that everyone knows about but few read. You should be one of the few to read it. I reviewed it on Amazon back in 2001.)

By the way: I’ve been considering switching to any of the new Android phones when my AT&T contract expires in August, but the new iPhone seals the deal for Apple.

The iPhone is not on the side of the angels

One of the very infuriating things about reading Jon Gruber is his constant “Apple rocks, open-source sucks” mantra. If you didn’t know that constant refrain, it might seem as though he links to “open is for losers” without comment; knowing Gruber, you know that he’s either doing it approvingly, or as a stick in the eye of his non-Apple-fanboy readership. He’s, honestly, a dick like that.

Paul Graham says in the linked piece that “Of course [he would invest in] iPhone. I’m talking about what I hope will set us free, not what will generate opportunities.” This is a perfectly sound point, and doesn’t take away from the fact that the iPhone is an anti-freedom device. I say this as a happy iPhone owner. Or rather, I say it as a conflicted iPhone owner: I realize that by using this device, I am harming the cause of freedom. But it’s also a spectacular piece of consumer technology.

The open-source movement has always treated software as speech: if it’s not free, it doesn’t matter how good it is. If all the books that you could read had to be personally vetted by Barack Obama, you’d never stand for it. Open-source advocates feel the same way about software that needs to pass through a censor first to make sure it doesn’t conflict with what Apple is trying to sell.

That said, I used Linux exclusively for years, and no longer use it as my everyday computing environment; I use a Mac. Macs and iPhones are designed with a level of polish that you don’t appreciate until you suddenly realize that your computing experience has been painless for the first time in decades — that everything works as it should, and that you’re actually giddy at your ability to experiment without fear.

So I’m conflicted. And I’m not going to take the (as it has always seemed to me) lazy way out and say “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” I think one is actually obligated to bring one’s life into harmony with one’s principles, so long as one has principles. I’m the first to admit that I suck at doing this. But it’s a conflict, and it’s an obvious conflict: I believe in free speech, I believe that regulated speech is not speech worth having, and it’s obvious that Apple peddles regulated speech. Yet they make operating systems that are head and shoulders above everyone else’s, despite the fact that they’ve been sitting out there, just begging for someone to make a comparable interface. No one has. Surely Apple deserves to be rewarded for making the best product.

When my iPhone contract expires in September or October, I am seriously considering switching to an Android phone of some sort. Maybe an HTC Incredible, maybe a Nexus One, maybe something else. Before I do that, I will probably pick up an Android device purely for development purposes. It may turn out that I love Android devices, and the contradiction in my life melts away. I hope so, because in the meantime it is uncomfortable.

This site now looks sexier on iPhones

If you have an iPhone, my blog will now look something like this:

A sexy, iPhone-friendly rendition of this site

This sexiness is courtesy of the WPTouch plugin, which I discovered through Lifehacker.

P.S.: I had to apply the first tweak to their style: I turned off justified text. Everywhere you see text-align: justify within wordpress/wp-content/plugins/wptouch/themes/default/style.css, put a /* at the start of that line and a */ at the end. I don’t know why anyone thinks it’s a good idea to use justified lines on the web, given that no web browser supports the hyphenation that would make that appetizing.

My first RunKeeper run

(Attention conservation notice: 300 words about an iPhone application. You probably have better things to do, like scratch yourself or yawn.)

was pretty disappointing. I don’t recall running directly through the Charles River, though maybe I did; I definitely blacked out for a quarter mile or so. No wait, that didn’t happen. Maybe I’m blacking out my blackouts.

It tells me I ran 11-minute miles. I find that really hard to believe, given that I ran 9.1-minute miles during a 5K a few weeks back. And if anything, I felt faster this time (especially after about mile 2). Assuming that the stopwatch feature works properly and that the GPS is to blame, then you can assume I ran for 46:54. And if you more accurately map my route, it’s closer to 4.5 miles. That’s still 10.4-minute miles, which again is just not believable.

My best guess is that locking the iPhone (by pressing the button at the top) puts the CPU to sleep, such that it doesn’t wake up very often to check its current GPS location or increment the stopwatch. The RunKeeper FAQ says something about that:

Do I need to disable the iPhone auto-lock to use RunKeeper?

While auto-lock does need to be disabled for the GPS to track your activity uninterrupted, RunKeeper handles this automatically, including re-enabling the auto-lock once you are done using RunKeeper. Make sure not to lock the phone via the top lock button on the device during your run, as this has the same effect as auto-lock.

Next time I run, I’ll leave the phone unlocked the whole time and see if that improves things.