Macworld Expo is arguably the largest Mac convention in the country. For a few days in January of every year, some of the most enthusiastic fans convene at the Moscone Center in San Francisco to talk about the latest happenings on Apple’s Mac and iOS platforms. Throughout the conference there’s a buzz in the air about the latest Apple rumors and product announcements. Speakers also enrich the discussion with specialized insight and moderated sessions. On the show floor, companies from the Omni Group to Drobo all showcase their products and give the public the ability to see the faces behind the brands. These booths also introduce conference attendees to indie software, when they otherwise could be lost in the static.
Paul Kent is the current vice-president of the conference and he’s been doing similar events since the 1980′s. In the days before wireless, high-speed routers, when ethernet was just becoming a standard, the core of the conferences were centered around the rapidly changing state of Apple networking. Mr. Kent remarked that the idea encompassing everything was “computing for the rest of us, that really was kind of the vibe of Macworld”. In 2011 the twenty seventh year of Macworld, a lot has changed in the way of technology, but the goal has remained immutable. It still connects people worldwide that all read the same blogs, browse the same podcasts, and follow the same news. Meeting prominent people in the Mac community, as well as regular fans, is why I love the expo and why it has gained such momentum, with so many others.
I’ve attended Macworld for the past two years, starting the year after Apple stopped exhibiting. Even though the show floor was packed with visitors and exibitors, this year seemed a lot closer-knit than before. There was an equal amount of booth-terrain to cover, but it seemed like a gathering more indie-focused. Perhaps that’s because companies like Microsoft and Western Digital didn’t have a notable presence, but I think people have also realized that the show isn’t reliant on Apple anymore. I believe overall that’s a good thing. The intent of the conference has always been to connect Mac users and allow discussion. That’s what happens at Macworld – with or without the presence of Apple. While having the company did add a lot the event, the primary purpose has remained the same. And taking a little of the mass-market spotlight off the expo has helped open interest in new ideas and new products.
Going to the last day of the expo, it was clear that everyone was pretty tired from the week’s events. It even seemed that the booths were drooping from exhaustion. In spite of that, the events were still in rhythm and I had the opportunity to speak to many fellow attendees. In fact, while meandering around the expo floor, I glanced down at the badge of the person next to me and noticed that it was a developer from Rogue Amoeba. Rogue Amoeba is a semi-small software company that makes Audio Hijack Pro and Airfoil, among other audio software. I use Audio Hijack for my podcast episodes, and it’s exactly those connections that make Macworld so entertaining. Being able to meet people and say, “I use your product every day,” generates an sort of small-world feeling.
There is a certain vibrance to the event – the knowledge that you are surrounded by fellow fans and some of the most famous indie developers. As the Apple world constantly evolves, people continue to be enthused about the software and the community that has developed around the company. This sparks the thousands of people that attend Macworld every year. However, even though it only lasts for a couple of days, Macworld doesn’t end when the doors close. Throughout the year, Mr. Kent and the expo staff participates in addressing “designs and negotiations to try to make the show better … and more streamlined for attendees”. Through the changes in the Mac universe, Macworld will continue to be a place filled with dialogue and the software that makes the Apple ecosystem so unique.
YouTube is the company that began the web video revolution. Only five years after the startup was created, the site hosts several hundred million videos and has developed a following that is instrumental to its success. We took a journey down to their San Bruno campus to see exactly what makes this company tick.
Traveling East on Bayhill Drive, the YouTube campus looks like an ordinary office building: tall glass walls and some small trees scattered around the sidewalk. But one left turn later, the company sign broadcasts what lies inside on a wall densely covered with ivy. The car screeched to a halt, and we disembarked at our final destination. Once we stepped out into a cloud free day, the campus made its first impressions. The modern architecture of the building reminded me slightly of those on the Google campus – perhaps that’s what they were aiming for. We marched up the stone steps to the laser-engraved glass doors securing the entrance, only to discover that they were locked tight. An intercom call later, we got buzzed into a lobby as large as an airplane hanger.
Stepping into the lobby, I could tell that the amenities offered to YouTube employees are top notch. The YouTube Café, basketballs next to the front desk, screens streaming random YouTube videos. As a bonus, all were enclosed in an architecturally gorgeous building. Before examining the rest of the room, I met Meridith, the person who would be guiding us around their campus. Meridith has worked at YouTube since last October. She graduated from Colby College in Maine and afterwards got a job at Google in Mountain View. She moved to YouTube in 2009. As she expressed while pointing out various parts of the lobby, “This [company] is fantastic.”
As is customary with many modern tech companies, secrecy is the norm. No photography or recording is permitted inside the building. Cell phones should be off and put away. It almost seems as if we are going to see YouTube’s next top feature instead of simply taking a tour. After we were familiarized with the legal guidelines, we took a tour of the company’s world-class facilities. As we soon learned, the campus is home to a café, a gym, a mini-golf course, frozen yogurt machines, and an indoor pool. On the work front, they can work either in spacious cubicles or on sofas. After the excursion, Meridith guides us to a reserved conference room where we can conduct the interview. She points out that all of the rooms are named after video games, which is a nice touch to turn the average meeting location into something with a bit more personality. The actual conference room contains two flat-screen monitors with a camera in the middle for video conference meetings. I take a seat across the table from two more YouTube employees: Katherine and Jonathan. Katherine works on content for the help center and Jonathan works on the aspects of engineering that make money.
“Age doesn’t matter.”
That is one of Jonathan’s favorite aspects of the company. While many of the employees are graduate school recruits, the community doesn’t seem to have the same age barriers as other companies. “It feels like we’re kind of a family.” With only 300 or so employees, this view makes sense. YouTube still feels like a small company. During lunch, one can find people eating and chatting with their coworkers. They seem more like good friends than people in a business relationship. According to Meridith, one can still bump into a founder at the yogurt machine. In order to keep this community connected, employees use a combination of technologies such as instant messaging and video chat
“24 hours uploaded per minute.”
A 330GB hard drive can store about 24 hours of video recording. Most average consumers never need this much space for video, but YouTube fills this up every minute. Dealing with this much content has been one of YouTube’s best and worst attributes; it has enabled people to browse from the largest video library ever, but it has also caused the necessity for rapid infrastructure growth in its earlier years. This is exactly why they believe Google’s $1.65 billion purchase of the company was so instrumental – it provided the servers and engineers that YouTube needed to stay successful. In addition to the amount of space needed for the videos, YouTube has to deal with the issue of how people can find content in such a crowded environment. Jonathan worked on Promoted Videos, YouTube’s advertising format where people can bid on keywords through an auction model to promote their videos on YouTube. This both gives the company a source of revenue and helps users find good content.
“It is good to have competition.”
Competition is what drives innovation. It has been the single biggest part of the technology revolution. It has pushed microchips to become smaller, computers cheaper, and mobile devices more capable. It’s also something that YouTube believes helps them in the long run. Among other reasons, competition is why YouTube constantly expands their core feature set and implements features that make it easier to produce and watch videos. One such example is the online video editor they rolled out recently to the TestTube section of their website. It enables users to combine and edit video clips online using non-destructive tools, keeping the originals in the cloud (a buzz term for “online”) in case users ever require them again.
“Future of the web.”
Both YouTube and Google are huge proponents of open source and new technologies. They both support open video standards, such as those found in HTML5 and others. The advances that occur outside of the company end up helping it function, so they both do whatever they can to advance non-proprietary formats. These open source projects help foster better technologies that are free for everyone. The future of online video especially is something shrouded in a mist of formats and uncertainty. WebM is one of the video projects that Google sponsors, which is designed to be a video format available to anyone. In addition to YouTube’s HTML5 implementation supporting h.264, it also supports WebM in the browsers that implement it. For now, that’s only Firefox, Google Chrome, and Opera.
I pushed in my chair, stuffed my notepad in my pocket, and shook hands with our interviewees. Once we got some café food for “review purposes” – it’s excellent – it was time to leave. That was perhaps the most difficult part of the day; the welcoming feel of their headquarters as well as the constant hum of productivity grew on me. I packed up my equipment, got in the car, and pulled out my phone to check for Twitter updates. I taped on a link and it began streaming a video on YouTube. That’s what I consider going full circle.
I’m taking on a friend’s challenge for the next year, starting today – posting a photo a day to my Flickr account. Yes, I realize that sometimes a photo a day won’t be feasible, but I think the amount of photos will all work out in the long term. People say that the only way to improve a hobby is to practice, and what better platform to post on than the Internet? 365 days later, what will be on your homepage?
Follow me on Flickr.
Data is obviously a huge part for any computer user. Those bits on a hard drive comprise our most precious movies, photos, music, and documents. In the past month or so, I have experienced two drive failures, which emphasize just how important it is to keep another copy of files.
Up until about three weeks ago, my backup strategy comprised exclusively of one external Lacie hard drive with Carbonite on my laptop. It was sometime around lunch when I was writing an email and the external randomly dismounted from my computer. Okay, that was pretty weird… But I figured someone the cable was probably unplugged or the outlet circuit popped. I went around to the outlet, but everything was connected and there was no sign of a popped circuit.
I tried powering it down and reconnecting. No luck. Restarting my computer? Nothing. The drive refused to show up in Disk Utility and then it started clicking. A general principle of drive troubleshooting – a drive that makes noises is not often a good thing. A physically broken drive started looking like the most likely explanation. Fortunately, the drive’s main purpose was as a backup and I had most of its contents on my internal drive. But as I started thinking of the small group of video files I moved to the external, I realized that short of drive recovery, I probably can’t get those back.
A new external hard drive and a few weeks later, my backup scheme was working again. I was browsing some blogs when my computer started freezing; it’s not the first time. I shut it off and restarted only to see the absence of the Apple logo and instead a folder icon with a question mark taking its place (an indicator that the operating system can’t find necessary system files). Unplugging my USB peripherals got rid of the folder, but still didn’t allow it to startup. Attempting to boot from the Snow Leopard disk failed as well – the disk kept being spit out. To make a long story shorter, I managed to boot from an old drive and discovered that the internal hard drive and the optical drive weren’t working properly. Without backups, I would now be without all of my local data.
Many people don’t like to think about their hard drive crashing one day. It’s a terrifying proposition that someone might lose all of their digital media. As I sit writing this post while booting from an old drive, as the broken one is being replaced, I suppose the moral of this blog post is that backups rescued my files – I would encourage you to make sure your files are protected as well.
If the Internet were a state, 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway would be the capital. That is where Google’s campus in Mountain View, California is located. According to some sources, Google.com is the most popular destination on the web. With services spanning from Gmail to Buzz to Docs, this estimation seems valid. We sat down with Kat Eller, a senior associate for the communications and business applications teams, to find out the latest news coming out of Google Headquarters.
My mind was swirling with questions about Google Wave and Chrome OS. I looked out the window with more curiosity than a child’s first glance at a multi-colored lollypop. The glass buildings loomed large on the horizon as I turned to my neighbor and babbled incoherently about some Google news I read online. That was me about one year ago.
A different summer, with different cohorts, I was on my way to Google once again. My head was filled with questions I couldn’t have fathomed only a year prior, mostly because they all sparked from recent announcements. My hand furiously scribbled down the questions that popped into my head. By the time I looked up again, the Google campus once again bid me welcome. The parking garage, the dinosaur, and the volleyball court were all in the state that I had seen them one year ago. The time that elapsed since the last visit was not insignificant, but the facilities didn’t appear to have changed much in that time span.
Parking the car in another time zone led to a slightly longer walk time than anticipated, but it let us see some of the lesser-known parts of the campus. Regular bicycles, a seven seat bicycle, and customized Google Earth pins are just some of the items that we saw on our trip to the largest building in the complex. When we reached the visitors center, we met our host, Kat Eller. Kat has worked for Google for seven months and is currently a senior associate for the communications and business applications teams.
In the visitors’ center, we went through the ritual non-disclosure signing and then walked through the entryway into a room featuring projects, the No Name Café, various meeting rooms, and the like. One of the things that has always struck me as unique about Google is their character to get things done while having fun. To aid with the first, most of their conference rooms have video conferencing so employees can remotely connect to Google satellite offices. The Google 20% project is one of the ways of enjoying the latter. Engineers are encouraged to spend 20 percent of their time working on a personal project, which has resulted in products such as Gmail. One employee’s use of the time created Liquid Galaxy – a 360˚ view of Google Earth. A central control allows the user to soar through in the sky, the streets, and the sea. Eight panels surround the viewer and offer this immersive experience for viewing the earth. Fun seems to turn into profit when dealing with Google employees.
“It’s pretty amazing to see how smart people are, but there isn’t any arrogance about it,” Kat said in the interview. Googlers (their term for Google employees) have graduated from some of the most renowned universities in the world, but they still all work together well and egos don’t play a role. While academics play a large part in getting hired, the company also looks at the unique passions of the candidates. Kat attended Emory College, and apparently the “liberal arts really helped” get her a job at Google.
Similar to YouTube, employees don’t have set hours. They are trusted to get the work done on time instead of having to be constrained to artificial hours. The various teams have different guidelines on this, but in general, the work simply needs to get done on time regardless of the hours. “Because we’re cloud computing [updating websites instead of desktop software] … we can launch new features every few weeks.” As Google adds new features constantly, it is important to focus on time management. Eller points out that this is the most important part of this freedom because even though the campus is filled with draws – such as massage hours – work still needs to be completed. For some companies, this level of trust might not pay off, but it seems to mesh perfectly with the Google culture.
While not as notorious for secrecy as Apple, Google is still focused on keeping their information under wraps. Therefore, information in our interview on announced but unreleased products was sparse. But Kat did comment briefly on Google TV. Google TV is the company’s answer to reinventing future television consumption. It integrates online websites such as YouTube and Netflix with television sets, so people can search for the content they really want to see. Eller’s response to my question was “[Google TV] will be a pretty good product.” We were not cleared to view Google TV, so it looks like we’ll just have to wait for the official release date to learn more.
For a company that employs the use of so many servers, energy and the environment are two primary concerns. “We are definitely trying to do out part,” Kat explained. One such example of this dedication on their campus are the solar panels on their car garage. The energy generated by these panels help with the power needs of their facilities. Even though Google runs various green initiatives and Google.org (a site dedicated to world help efforts), Kat believes that there is room for improvement: “It’s always a starting point.”
A lot of the Google related news lately has been focused on the competition between Google and Apple. Kat did not comment on these rumors, but she did say the company has a good relationship with Apple. And because competition drives innovation, she doesn’t consider some overlapping industries – such as mobile phone software and advertisements – to be an issue.
Working on the business application teams, Eller also is involved in the Google Apps implementation for schools and businesses. This implementation offers services such as Mail, Docs, and Calendar to larger organizations. They are hosted solutions, both paid and non-paid plans, which results in a high service uptime as Google is doing the hosting. One of Google’s sayings is to “provide information universally as conveniently as possible.” This can also be translated into the online app world as well.
One year ago, I didn’t have any of these questions. I had no idea about Google TV or the competition with Apple. Gmail and the other Google Apps just came out of beta. That is an example of how fast the Internet changes – and as the Internet’s capital, it is fitting that Google changes quickly as well.
This article was originally written for FastForward Magazine in Marin County, California.
We exited our vehicle on a back road in Oakland, California on an overcast and fog laden summer day. Judging by the signs, this strip of road was once a fire path, but it seemed to have been converted into a makeshift parking lot. The only barriers between this road and the train tracks were concrete dividers overspread with graffiti. A little down the road, we arrive at the front doors of Nemomatic, the art studio of Nemo Gould. From the outside, it resembles more of a car garage than a high tech art lair. But once I stepped through the doorway, I entered into a world of scrap metal and electronics. Various pieces that might later be used to construct one of Gould’s animatronics were scattered all around his two-leveled workshop.
On his workbench, Gould was tinkering with his latest creation – a wooden box with a robot in the forefront and a moving sky in the background. This is the essence of his style; to create movable artwork completely out of scrap material. He assembles appropriate objects to make a piece whose theme is more cohesive than the component parts. “For every hundred, this one will be just right for the next project.” The style of Gould’s projects isn’t abstract; each project has a set theme in mind and he has created everything from aircrafts to animals.
One of his passions is to make some part of his projects move mechanically. This is probably the most unique aspect of his artwork – the fact that they are not static. However, this also proves to be one of the aspects that break the most often. In the past, a few weeks after purchase, Gould had received phone calls alerting him that their sculpture broke down. He discovered that the reason for the problem was because people kept them turned on for days at a time. This led him to install a timed turnoff in his mechanical pieces so observers could turn it on, enjoy, and the piece would turn off if they walked away.
Unlike other mechanical artists, Nemo never graduated from an engineering school. He has learned what he knows now primarily from helpful neighbors and various people on the Internet. “You can find thousands of nerds online that have made [a topic] their life.” When that he had mechanical questions, he often turned to people online who were more then happy to assist. In fact, he told us about one instance where someone built him a circuit board instead of attempting to explain it. That person also mailed it free of charge purely because he wanted his knowledge to help someone.
As a kid, Gould didn’t fathom that he would be assembling mechanical art pieces for a living. At that time, he wanted to become an animator of stop motion films. But living in the transition period between stop motion and digital, he soon found this art form depleted. In addition, he preferred to work on all the aspects of a project versus small sections. After the digital animation revolution, most studios grew too large to allow this individual workmanship. All of these factors led Nemo to create his own business and build his artwork. In a sense, his art still shows his childhood lust for animation. Instead of moving characters it on paper, he makes his sculptures move in reality.
Gould’s biggest uncertainty is how he can sell an art piece. Is it too expensive? How about the size? Will it look out of place in someone’s house? These are all questions that he ponders while laboring away. He believes most people won’t be interested in owning a sculpture that is as tall as they are. This is why he often targets consumers with smaller works that can be easily stored and transported. In addition, he also stays away from adding the mechanic flair on some works. While adding this makes the piece more interesting, he believes that the time spent adding the electronics could be better spent on other projects.
More often than not, Nemo doesn’t sell his work through a gallery. With the reach of the online world, he believes that his art will find more people through the medium. In addition, when his pieces sell, he doesn’t have to pay a large percentage to a curator. He says that online, he’s developed a following of people that he has never met. Some of these people are willing to spend anything from $600 to $12,000 for his pieces. Due to this, these are his main supporters – those who have a steady job and pay for his art slightly reminiscent of characters from old si-fi movies. And while it probably doesn’t pay for the rent, one can’t forget the robot that accepts quarters to work. While working on the project, Gould couldn’t forget about the idea that artists don’t make that much money, so he created a robot with a barrel around him. The only way to make this piece move is to insert a quarter and watch it move for about twenty seconds.
A few quarters later, all of which found a way from my pocket into his machine, I bid Nemo Gould adieu and walked out of the studio to meet our car and watch a freight train whistle through the wind into the distance.
You can visit Nemo Gould’s online gallery at www.nemomatic.com. This article was originally written for FastForward Magazine in Marin County, California.
I was never completely happy with the previous CardShare promotion website design. It was something I made primarily to get the general idea of the application across and provide a way of getting in touch for customer support. I planned on redesigning the site shortly after the application was accepted, but I didn’t find the time until about a week ago. That also coincided with the release of CardShare 1.1, so I thought it was the perfect time to come out with a new look. One photo shoot and hours of both design and programming later, I finished the new design. This is a behind the scenes look at how this redesign came to be.
I always begin with a mockup. To sketch out what I’ve been thinking is perhaps the most important aspect of the design process for me because it determines where I invest my time and it gets the general design on paper. I don’t fret about the details in this stage – color combinations, fonts, or HTML markup.
For this redesign, I decided to keep some aspects of the previous design. I didn’t have a problem with the curved corners or download box, so I chose to keep these basic items in the new layout. One of the major items I decided to revamp was the navigation bar. I chose to move the navigation bar to the top of the screen and make it expand to fill the width of the browser window. This placement is more obvious than the last navigation bar and also displays the page title.
I had the idea of using a photograph for the header graphic. There wasn’t any particularly deep reason behind this, but I thought it might be a nice way to bring some variety to an otherwise computer-graphic-generated webpage. Also, as it is summer time here in the western hemisphere, it integrates the natural beauty with the new design. I ended up adding the CardShare aspect through business cards on a table.
Additionally, I chose to use the iPhone 4 as the device displayed with the screenshots. In addition to looking more modern than the old iPhone, the graphics for CardShare 1.1 were updated for the iPhone 4 so I thought it was fitting to include the new phone in the new design.
After getting the mockup finalized, I took the design to Photoshop. I start with a blank browser window so I can see the design in the context of a browser. From there I begin to experiment with colors and fonts once I transfer the elements from the paper to the application. I ended up basing the design on dark blue and grey. The fonts range from Comic Sans MS (for the logo) to American Typewriter (for the navigation items). At this point, every aspect of the layout was digitalized besides a gap where the header image went.
For the header image photo shoot, I printed out two business cards – one with the CardShare logo and one with the text “Designed by Pierce Freeman”. My original idea was to show the two business cards with the flowers in the background, but the two cards ended up being too small in relation to the rest of the photo so I scrapped that idea. I went out with my trusty digital camera and chose the area for the photograph. I then brought out a foldable table and the two business cards to make the CardShare aspect of the image. About thirty minutes later, I was pretty confident that I had taken a photo I could use for the header.
I sat down at my computer, imported the images, and started the selection process. I looked for photos that had the writing visible and were taken at a good angle. With this criteria, I narrowed down the 217 photos to four and finally to the one used on the website. From there, I did some small touchup and crop work on Photoshop and then it was time for the programming aspect.
You can view the new design here.
To celebrate the launch of CardShare 1.1, featuring iOS 4 and iPhone 4 compatibility, I decided to redesign the CardShare website. I will have a behind the scenes post regarding the new look soon, but until then, you can view the site here.
This is extraordinary.
Those were the first words I uttered when I unboxed the iPhone 4 last Friday. Even after days of laboriously attempting to craft sentences to describe Apple’s latest marvel, I always ended up coming back to those few words. Why? They are the most telling. In the timeframe of a few days, this device has turned into my personal assistant more so than my original iPhone ever did after almost three years. This device can be said to represent Apple in its finest hour – a singular blend both design and function. This is my review.
- My Phone’s Story
Every gadget has a story. Every gizmo a history. Every appliance a biography. For my iPhone 4, the first chapter is probably set in a factory located in China. But in the confines of this blog post, that’s just a prolog and therefore not the part I will be recounting today.
Unfortunately, I did not get my pre-order in during the window for launch day delivery as I did not want to attempt to order through an already taxed Apple and AT&T system. By the time I looked again, they had taken 600,000 preorders and had pushed the shipping date to the 17th of July. I therefore had two options, I could either order online and wait about three more weeks for delivery or wake up early one day and camp out for the phone. I went with the latter. I knew it would be absolutely hectic on launch day so I decided to wait a day and take a shot at buying one that was reserved but never picked up.
Therefore, my scene opens at about four thirty in the morning on Friday June 25th – one day after the launch. Waiting outside an Apple Store about three hours before they open, and a day after the product launch, is not exactly the most thrilling experience. However, they had free Wi-Fi so I managed to keep myself busy during the time before dawn. I spoke briefly with the woman sitting next to me and soon discovered that she was a Blackberry user but decided the time had come to switch to an iPhone. We shared some things that we had read online about the phone and then we bid each other adieu and I went back to checking my emails. By the time the store opened, I had probably hit my email client’s refresh button upwards of fifty times – even though I didn’t expect to get an email at five in the morning – and about twenty people had gathered to form a line in hopes that they would have enough iPhones for all of us. As it turned out, they did.
The Apple worker walked me through the AT&T contract renewal process, and then I finally got what I had been waiting for – a new iPhone 4. I took it home and affirmed that it was definitely worth that long, cold, dark wait.
I opened the box almost with a sense of unreality. I owned a product that had been the topic of a remarkable number of discussions and something that I had anticipated for months.
The first thing that hit me when I opened the box was the aesthetics of the phone. Both sides are full glass plating that are separated by a stainless steel band that houses the majority of the physical buttons on the device. I recall thinking to myself that the design should be found in a museum rather than my pocket.
Refinement seems to be a foundational part of Apple. Once they get something right, they just keep modifying the other details until they are left with a device that is as polished as it can get. In my opinion, they did something very right with the first iPhone. That’s why they kept the basic design for these years and even though they added features in all the editions, they always kept the same essence of their design. Comparing my two phones, they look more similar than different. Almost an identical front plate (with the exception of the camera and the LED flash), the same button features, and the same silver Apple logo on the back. In a way, it seems as if the evolution of the phone design has been circular. With the metal band on the sides of the iPhone 4, I think it looks more like my original iPhone then the iPhone 3G or 3GS.
At first, the non-rounded back seemed to be unweildy in my hand. I couldn’t quite define the feeling, but something just felt off. It only took a day for my hand to adjust to the new shape of the phone because I picked it up again the following day and the “off” feeling had disappeared.
John Ive and his team have crafted made something very remarkable here. Even forgoing the other features, the design is a work of art.
To be honest, before I got the iPhone 4 I didn’t perceive having a new display to be a big deal. When I watched Steve Jobs announce the new screen during the WWDC keynote, I said to myself, “I doubt I’ll notice that, but that’s a nice addition I suppose.” For something that might seem like a small and insignificant detail at first, the new display proves to be a highlight of the new device.
Apple decided to name the display technology “Retina Display” because – apparently – the normal human eye cannot different pixels when there are more than 300 per square inch. They put 326 in the new iPhone, which is four times more than in previous versions. In other words, once you cross that barrier everything looks much more fluid. The change that I noticed most was in text. Reading is more enjoyable on the new display because the arches on letters are seamless and feels more like you are reading a printed document versus a webpage on a screen. In addition to text, the added pixels give application graphics an increased amount of space to display details and really shows.
However, in order for you to see the difference in third-party applications, developers have to upgrade their graphics to twice the size of their old ones. Until they do this, you will be stuck with un-updated graphics on your phone, which clash with the graphics in the rest of the operating system. For applications that aren’t converted, the system scales them up and the application end up pixilated. Trust me, if you get the option, you don’t want this to happen.
After using this screen for only a few days, I don’t want to go back to using the display on my old iPhone. When compared to the iPhone 4, it seems that quality of the letters that once seemed fine are absolutely pixilated in comparison. Perhaps it is the added screen real estate on my computer, but I can’t tell as much of a difference during individual use. But once I put the two next to each other, the contrast is striking. On a screen where you can actually make out the pixels, everything looks much more blocky and is almost difficult to use once you are exposed to what is possible with screens.
What first seemed like a small detail of the iPhone 4 for me, the display is one of the features that I noticed most during my trials. It’s one of those details that people don’t necessarily notice at first, but over time absolutely love that it was put in.
Upgrading from an original iPhone, I am not sure how the new iPhone’s speed compares with later models, but the A4 chipset coupled with the increased 512MB RAM is an immensely powerful combination when starting from any mobile phone. As this is the iPad also has an A4 chipset, the two devices perform very closely when faced with the same task. The hardware speed bump between my two phones was absolutely extraordinary, with startup screens loading close to instantaneously and greatly enhancing the function of all applications on the device. Scrolling is uninterrupted and it enables you to smoothly interact with your content. In my unofficial testing, I found that a game takes about three seconds longer to load on the iPhone 4 than the iPad, about twenty seconds on the original generation iPhone. This demonstrates the speed changes between the first model and the latest.
The bump in speed that the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 share (albeit with different chipsets) also allows for one of the most requested features on the iPhone; Multitasking. iOS 4 introduces Apple’s solution to how you do multiple things “at the same time” on a mobile platform.
The iPhone still doesn’t – and likely never will – display multiple applications on the screen at the same time. It’s simply too small of a space to have even two things happening at the same time. Their solution to multitasking entails giving users a drawer at the bottom of the screen, activated by double clicking the home button, where they can access all the applications they have opened and not specifically quit. Any application that isn’t currently in the foreground is put in a kind of sleep mode. If the application registers a specific (and accepted) background process with the operating system, the application will remain in an inactive state, but the process will still be preformed even while you are not in the application.
One of the earliest applications to multitask is Pandora. The online music streaming service that once required users to be inside the application while streaming now plays in the background so you can continue your normal tasks in other applications with the streamed audio. Even with many applications in the multitasking bin at once, I haven’t noticed a difference in speed on the device. It doesn’t really seem to matter if there is one application open or ten.
Apple has taken a lot of heat about how long it has taken them to add multitasking to the operating system. But I will say that their implementation seems to be well thought out and does not affect the performance of the device, which is perhaps the most important part. At the end of the day, the iPhone is a communication device, and multitasking should not inhibit its ability to keep you connected. With iOS 4, it doesn’t.
As a part of your cell phone, this is the camera that you always have with you. It’s in your pocket and ready to take photos whenever you so choose. With the iPhone 4, Apple has upgraded the sensor to 5MP and enhanced it with backside illumination which results in higher quality photos in low light. In addition, they added a LED flash on the back that can be turned on, off, or left on auto for photos in the dark.
As a test of the iPhone 4’s camera, I pitted it against the original iPhone, a Canon T1i (a DSLR), and a couple of years old Canon PowerShot A95 (a medium sized point and shoot with a 5MP camera for comparison). As expected, the T1i came out ahead, which is expected from a digital SLR. The T1i was followed by the iPhone 4, the PowerShot, and finally the original iPhone.
Compared to those that I have seen from other cell phone cameras, the iPhone 4 takes absolutely stunning photos. When I don’t have access to my T1i, this is the camera that I’m going to turn to take photographs. It’s the camera that I have in my pocket most often and can help in capturing moments in high quality that previously wouldn’t have been caught.
But perhaps the best way to judge the photos is to see for yourself.
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In addition to the photographs the 5MP camera takes, it also records in 780p high definition. With the feature set that it shares with the 3GS, such as focusing while recording, in addition to the upgraded quality, I believe this will replace small video cameras (such as the Flip) for many people.
FaceTime is Apple’s answer to mobile video conferencing. There are two cameras on the new iPhone, one facing away from you and one facing towards you. Both of these cameras are integrated into FaceTime, and when you call someone that owns an iPhone 4 and is connected to a Wi-Fi network, you can choose to video chat with them and switch between the two cameras. This lets them both see you and what you’re looking at.
However, for regular day-to-day chatting you might be out of luck if you don’t have any friends that own an iPhone 4. And as it currently only works on Wi-Fi, they also need to be connected to a wireless network before they can video chat. The latter part might change when the cellular networks can stand more data transfer, but for now it’s Wi-Fi only.
In practice, you may not use this feature of the iPhone 4. But when you do find the chance, you will be in awe. It requires no setup before hand and only needs you to request or accept an invite and you’re off and running. You can walk around your house and still keep your friend right in your palm, and it is much more convenient then video conferencing alternatives on the desktop.
Even though it’s not too practical yet, I think FaceTime has great potential. Once other companies begin to implement the standard that Apple has created, you could see other devices capable of FaceTiming with the iPhone. And once cellphone companies get rid of the Wi-Fi only requirement, you very well may see this being used as a wide stream alternative to regular calling.
For all of the positives of this device, my biggest gripe about this phone is its problem with reception. As part of the phone’s design, three antennas are placed in different location on the metal band. These antennas control Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, UMTS, and GSM.
The problem is that when holding the phone, many people have reported their bars dropping from five to zero simply because their fingers were positioned over the antennas. Once they moved their fingers, they returned to full bars. This has been shown to affect both phone calls and Internet. In my experience, Wi-Fi functions better than cell reception when its antenna is covered.
In the past few days, I have experienced this problem this issue several times. I have taken it out of my pocket, run some Internet-related application, and watched the bars drop from 5 to 2 before realizing that I must have covered the antennas. My download speed slowed to a crawl as the phone seemed to lose the connection even in a metropolitan area.
There are two ways to solve the problem – purchasing a case or a DIY method to somehow separate the antennas from your hand. However, for me, the design of this phone is one of its advantages and I’m not going to destroy that. I suppose I’ll just have to train myself to hold the phone in a way that doesn’t cover the antennas.
- Why the iPhone?
I bet a few of you are wondering why I got the iPhone 4. Or why I wouldn’t return it once I figured out there were some antenna problems. Or even why a fourteen year old needs a device like this at all when some professionals only use a fraction of the features. The reason is because over the past few years, my iPhone has become more than a phone that has Internet access. It has become a personal assistant to both my family and myself. It’s the object that helps inform us to which restaurants we should choose, checks my emails and social network details on the go, figures out what star constellations we’re looking at, is the camera I always have on hand, and a myriad of other uses.
The iPhone is obviously not the only touch screen cell phone on the market. It’s not the one with the largest screen, a removable battery, or a slide out keyboard. But this will be my primary phone because in the aggregate, this device is truly unique.