Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Five Reason to NOT upgrade to iOS 5

The latest update to the operating systems for iPhones and iPads (known as iOS) as well as for Macs (MacOS) has not been without problems. Some of the issues are significant for pilots using the iPad as an electronic flight bag. While I normally feel relatively comfortable being on the bleeding edge of Apple's software releases, the latest releases of iOS and MacOS do not give me a warm fuzzy feeling. Those who have upgraded need to understand the unintended consequences of Apple's design changes.

Reason #1 - Data going missed

My original buying iPad advice for pilots on a budget was to opt for an iPad with less memory. 16Gb seemed to be fine for most of us, but the new WiFi syncing feature in iOS 5 has changed that advice. Apps that need to store a lot of data (like aviation charts) must now store that data in a user cache. The motivation was to force apps to store data in a location that would not be backed-up so as to reduce the amount of data transferred during WiFi syncing. Unfortunately, the user cache in iOS 5 is automatically cleaned up by the iOS if it starts running low on space. Download several seasons of Treme to your iPad along with the latest release from Coldplay and you might find you no longer have the approach charts you need. A cogent explanation can be found here.

It appears Apple engineers and marketeers made this design choice because they assumed that iPad users would always has access to a fast internet connection. Such hubris! Not everyone lives and works in an environment with 24/7 access to a blindingly fast network. Many of us use our iPads offline for the simple reason that internet access may not be available. In one fell swoop, iOS 5 threatens to hobble what is one of the best EFB platform produced to date by violating one of the basic tenants of any computing platform - data integrity. This cleaning feature needs to be undone, a setting needs to be provided to override this behavior, or another option needs to provided to apps that store a bunch of offline data. And something must be done and soon.

Reason #2 - Multi-tasking Gestures, for some

in a classic case of the large print giveth and the small print taketh away, iPad 1 users may have been led to think than upgrading to iOS 5 would provide them access to multi-tasking gestures, but only iPad 2 users get that feature. There's no valid technical reason for this restriction and since the half-life of these devices is relatively short, this appears to be a sort of planned obsolescence.

If Apple sticks it to customers who purchased the original iPad, the result may only be fewer loyal customers lining up to buy the iPad 3. There is this hack that purportedly allows iPad 1 users who upgrade to enable gestures in iOS 5. I haven't tried this hack myself or seen it, so use it at your own risk.

Reason #3 - iCloud just ain't there ... yet

The introduction of iCloud is reminiscent of the introduction MobileMe where allegedly there was a meeting with Steve Jobs and some of the developers. The story goes that Jobs asked for an explanation of what MobileMe was supposed to do. After listening to the explanations, Jobs purportedly asked "So why the ^%$ doesn't it do that?"

I'm accustomed to Apple designs being easy-to-use, but I must confess to being a bit flummoxed by iCloud. With MobileMe and iDisk, one could purchase storage space and store whatever data you wanted. The iCloud implementation is anything but open. You can store data from Numbers, Keynote, and Pages on iCloud, but I can't seem to store proprietary data. Supposedly one can create folders to organize stored material, but I can't seem to figure it out.

If you turn on the iCloud Backup, the good news is you won't need a desktop device to backup your iPad or iPhone. The bad news is you may fill up your complementary 5Gb of iCloud storage in a hurry. Material purchased from iTunes is stored for free, but I don't buy Apple's claim that 5GB goes a long way. Sure you can select which apps get backed up to the iCloud, but that turns in a part-time job. This is not the seamless user experience that Apple has been known for and the skeptic in me wonders if perhaps the real intent is for the sale of 100Gb of iCloud storage at $100/year to become a significant revenue stream.

Reason #4 - Mail, Contacts, and Calendar issues

For users who rely on mail, contact, and calendar access on multiple devices, iCloud is a mess. As a contract pilot and flight instructor I use three different devices - Macbook, iPhone, and iPad. Right after upgrading I was unable to retrieve email on any of my devices because iCloud complained my userid or password was invalid. Apparently Apple's servers were getting slammed because after eight hours, I was able to retrieve mail. Yet on my iPad I still see a message saying my Mac ID or password is incorrect. I went to the iCloud web site and changed my password to force things to reset, but when I changed my password on my iPad, it automatically changed back to the old password. The bizarre thing is that I can still retrieve my email! Avoiding this sort of time-consuming crap is why I started using Apple products in the first place.

My iCal calendar migrated just fine, but I can no longer share it with my wife (who hasn't yet upgraded to the latest version of MacOS). A big step backward.

Reason #5 - Security Issues

Every cloud-computing implementation is supposed to be convenient, but a lot of us seem to be ignoring (or denying) the possible security issues. Trivial uses of iCloud include storing purchased music and videos, but storing private or sensitive data is a much bigger risk.  Letting someone else store your data online is an especially convenient arrangement for thieves, criminals, and others who might not have your best interests at heart.

Knowing where your data is being stored and the laws that affect the jurisdiction where your data is stored is something many users don't consider.

Any cloud data storage provider worth their salt should be monitoring access to their cloud, but this is an expensive undertaking. Aside from basic physical and electronic access security, it's not clear than any cloud provider is doing much to ensure user data is not being compromised.

Root of all Evil

As any company becomes more and more successful, the inevitable erosion in quality of customer service occurs. I don't know if it's the mania for continued growth, the thirst for more income streams, the influx of marketeers and bean-counters, or just the sheer number of user, but Apple's image appears to this long-time customer as being more than a bit tarnished.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

iOS 5 ... Debacle

Let me get right to the point:

If you own an original iPad and you have enabled multi-tasking gestures using Xcode, don't upgrade to iOS 5 just yet. If you do upgrade, you'll lose multi-tasking gestures altogether. What's more, you won't be able to re-enable multi-tasking gestures with Xcode. Simply put, you're screwed. At least for now.

*** Update on 10/21/11 ***
There is a workaround/hack for enabling gestures on an iPad 1 with iOS 5. It's described here.
*** Update ***

Apple makes a lot of good decisions and design choices, but any human organization makes mistakes. In this case the mistake was to disable multi-tasking gestures in iOS 5 for the original iPad. If you have an iPad 2, you're cool - go ahead and upgrade. Perhaps the decision to discriminate against the original iPad was made to ... um ... encourage those users to upgrade to the iPad 2. If so, this was bush league, below the belt, bull$hit.

To my knowledge, there is no technical reason to not allow the iPad access to multi-tasking gestures. I enabled this feature, using Xcode, for at least a dozen iPad owners running iOS 4.#.#. And guess what? Multi-tasking gestures worked just fine. The iPad 2's faster processor was not required. And I know several pilots who rely on multi-tasking gestures for their iPad to be a more useful and well-rounded EFB.

So what can you do?

Apple may choose to fix this. In fact, it could have been a mistake and not a marketing choice. For now, if you are an original iPad owner, don't upgrade to iOS 5.

If you are an original iPad owner and you've already upgraded or if you are miffed (I would be if I hadn't already upgraded to an iPad 2), go here and give Apple an earful. If enough people complain, surely Apple will see the error of their ways.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Move Toward the Light

Much has been said about the passing of Steve Jobs; his accomplishments, the way he was ousted from Apple only to return years later and turn the company around. The way he was instrumental in creating iconic personal computing products, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad. Jobs was central in the success of Pixar and setting new standards for computer animated entertainment, too. To my mind, his most important contributions went beyond the success of any consumer product or movie. Who Jobs was and what he embodied was a rare type of ... dare we say it? Genius.

What first drew me to Apple products over 15 years ago was ease-of-use. I'd worked on a variety of operating systems on a variety of platforms from MVS and VM on IBM 390 mainframes to various flavors of UNIX on workstations from Sun, HP and others. When I started consulting, I wanted a platform that would just work without me having to futz with it. MacOS products weren't always perfect, but they worked very well for me. The fact that products themselves were elegant was just a bonus. Sure, Apple products cost a bit more, but in the long run I found they paid for themselves in terms of reliability and simplicity.

This strikes at the heart of what Jobs seemed obsessed with: Hardware and software that, to the greatest extend possible, stayed out of the way of the user. He even had the hutzpah to believe that he knew better what the user needed that the users themselves. Jobs eschewed just giving customers just what they wanted. Instead, he encourage, cajoled, threatened and drove his employees to create what the customer actually needed. And about 90% of the time, he was right.

When the iPod was introduced, my first impression of the user interface was that it was bare bones, even amateurish. It turns out I was wrong. The iPod became wildly popular because it wasn't about the device, it was about allowing the user to access and enjoy music. It was all about the music. Oh, and digital rights management, too, because there needed to be money coming in to fund more ground-breaking designs.

If genius is defined as vision, then it is also equal parts arrogance and tenacity in pursuing what you believe in. In a world where businesses simply want to post good numbers for the next two quarters and to produce short-lived, blockbuster products, regardless of whether or not they are good or even excellent products, Jobs was an anachronism. He had the long view and the nerve to stay the course. And he had the ability to convince others to work with him to achieve those goals.

People who know have told me that working for Jobs intimidating. He could be demanding, brutally frank, maybe even a bastard because he expected that whatever the product, it had to be the best that they could produce. It had to be excellent. It had to be great or embody greatness. Jobs didn't always succeed, but even his failures were inspiring.

With Job's passing the world has lost something, but we've gained something, too. Not just the legacy of his products and the successful companies he led. We have an example of a different way to conduct business and a model of success that is defined not simply by profit and market share, but by the single-minded pursuit of greatness and an abiding respect for the end user. With hard work and the long view, it's possible for any one of us to move toward the light. That is the true Jobs Legacy.