Google Support Not So Supportive

There’s been a lot of posts recently about Google vs Apple and whether or not Android is beating iOS or not.  Is Google the new Microsoft and will it thrash Apple in a few years?  Frankly, I don’t care, as a developer or as an end consumer.  I’m firmly in the iOS camp at this point as a developer (we have two apps in the App Store and one in the Mac App Store with more coming) and as an end user with a house full of iPhones, iPods, and an iPad.  I think Google will fail with Android simply for their piss poor tech support.

If you have an Android phone and you have an issue with <insert problem here>, who are you going to turn to?  The hardware manufacturer, the carrier, or Google?  The end consumer doesn’t care they just want the problem solved and just like how Microsoft is responsible for their hardware partners problems, Google will probably be left holding the bag for their hardware partners too.  Let’s hope their Android support is better than their business services help.

I’ve been experiencing issues with my mail server on my virtual private server and thought that going to GMail might be a good solution for a variety of reasons.  Because of Google ID issues I messed the registration up (hey, I didn’t say I was very good at this stuff now did I?) and locked up the domain registration for GMail.  After searching fruitlessly (ironically using Google search), I came to the conclusion that Google doesn’t really want to help you.  It’s downright impossible to talk to a human being or even send off a plain email to a support department.

I was never able to find an official tech support phone number for Google.  Sure, there are forums and articles and other information but nothing to get hold of a real life person – even at a price (as far as I can find).  There are some ways of getting hold of them through forums and other means but it’s all indirect and after sending off what I hope was a message to someone that can help I’m still waiting on even an automated response email saying they’d get back to me.  I’m not holding my breath.

Now, do the same thing for Apple.  It doesn’t take long to find a whole web page full of ways to get help.  Phone, instant messaging, email are all prominently displayed after two clicks on their website.  Sure, some of them cost money, but as a business, when I need support I’ll pay for it.  If that’s still not good enough I can go to one of the over one hundred brick and mortar stores around the world and talk to an Apple Genius for nothing.  If that fails, I can find Apple Resellers and other Apple certified experts in my area.

Apple’s been doing this for decades as a computer and consumer electronics company.  They’ve consistently been ranked very high on support satisfaction surveys.  As a family, we’ve had various minor issues with our Apple components over the years but nothing that a phone call or trip to the local store (either Apple or local reseller) didn’t fix promptly to our satisfaction.  I’m sure there are example of poor customer support with Apple but it seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

People say that one of the great things about Android is that it’s free.  The old axiom that you get what you pay for holds true in this case.  Google’s support is awful in my opinion.  To say that Google is the new Microsoft is an insult to Microsoft.  At least Microsoft got support right even if you have to talk to someone on the other side of the world.

What’s your experience been with Google support?

Visual Studio For the Mac?

Interesting little blurb at http://blogs.barrons.com/techtraderdaily/2010/05/26/apple-will-steve-ballmer-show-up-at-the-wwdc-keynote/ about Microsoft presenting at Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference (otherwise known as WWDC) to show off Visual Studio for iPad/iPhone and general Mac OS X development.

Geeze.  How many levels of wrong is this rumor?  You think Apple is going to trust Microsoft with the keys to their iPhone/iPad kingdom?  I don’t think so.  Apple has worked too hard building xCode and Cocoa Touch to let a 3rd party develop for iPhone/iPad.  If this does happen, then Apple might as well give Adobe a call and let them know they can restart their iPhone/iPad programs too.  And we all know where that feud isn’t over yet.

Where this might make sense is desktop applications.  Microsoft, while doing all that work to write Microsoft Office for the Mac in Cocoa, wrote their own Cocoa libraries and other Mac GUI editors and put it into Visual Studio.  Seems like an awful lot of work with minimal gain for Microsoft unless they’ve decided to make a push in REAL Software’s corner.  They certainly have the knowledge and resources to do such a product.

While I don’t think this rumor has legs it does make you think.  No doubt Microsoft is feeling the pinch of developers learning Cocoa which does nothing for Microsoft.  If they developed a cross-platform Visual Studio it stems the bleeding because now developers don’t have an either/or decision to make.  Learning a new development tool and frameworks suck and letting all those Windows developers develop for Mac and Windows using their tool keeps Microsoft in the game.  It doesn’t help them with iPhone/iPad development (now) but in five years who knows.  If it does happen it will generate some serious buzz which is something Microsoft wants (needs?).

What does this do, if true, to our favorite development tools company located in Austin?  I don’t think it would be good news.

Why Can’t I Run iPhone applications on my Mac?

A good friend of mine asked a relevant question last night over a birthday brewski last night.  “Why can’t I run my iPhone applications on my Mac?”  After a moments pause, I replied, only because Apple says so.

So before you write tell me I’m an idiot (which I might be anyway), I know there are some really valid reasons for not running portable apps on the desktop.  There is no motion sensor on the Mac so any application that needs the motion sensor is out.  Likewise anything that uses GPS or the compass is out.

One even could argue that many of the apps that pinch to zoom in and out would be out as well.  But let’s think about it for a minute.  How many of your iPhone apps really use all that?  On my iPhone the one app that uses this the most is Safari.  No need to use that on the desktop.  Same with Mail and a number of others.

Obviously Apple has figured it out because their emulator runs onto desktop.  I think Apple *could* run the iPhone apps on the desktop but they choose not to.

It makes me wonder if widgets wasn’t an early attempt at making an iPhone app.  Many of the things we’ve seen incorporated into Mac OS X have really been for the iPod/iPhone/iPad.  Coverflow looks nice on the Mac but I don’t see a lot of people using it – but on the iPod it sort of makes sense.  Widgets, while useful, have never made a lot of sense to me, but making a lightweight application for the iPod makes a LOT of sense.  Another example is the beautiful pop over control on the iPad.  It reminds me a lot (but not exactly) like the HUD windows on Mac OS X.

Those are just a few examples.  I’m sure we could come up with some other examples of Mac OS X-first technology that, while cool, was a gimmick on Mac OS X but makes a lot of sense for their portable hardware.  I wonder how many developers at Apple have worked on something and said, “This is stupid” only to see their work in a new device years later where it makes perfect sense?  I would love to know.

So Apple chooses not to allow iPhone apps on the desktop.  I’m cool with that.  But think about how nice it would be to have some of the iPhone games (all 50,000 of them) available on the Mac.  Even in a Windowed environment they would still be decent games.  Maybe a simple wrapper to allow the arrow keys to handle motion control would suffice for most of the games.  Maybe not, but it is an interesting thought.

Those 50,000 games would put Mac gaming in the mainstream very quickly.  Of course it might have the effect of killing desktop only game development but perhaps not.  I think there’s plenty of market out there for people like me that will gladly play $1.99 to $9.99 for a quality casual game.

Plants vs. Zombies is my current favorite iPhone/iPad game.  It has a desktop version but I don’t want to pay for it again.  On the iPad the iPhone version looks great at double size and I imagine it would in a double size window on my desktop too (which, if memory serves is roughly half the size of the window for the desktop version).

I think this could be a huge deal for the Mac OS X market.  I doubt Apple will allow that any time soon but I’ve often been wrong before.

My friend needs to give himself more credit.  It was a good question.  What are your thoughts?

(By the way, Happy Birthday, Robert!)

REALbasic for iPhone Revisited

The iPhone 4.0 SDK was announced today by Apple.  It has a ton of new features and most are welcome.  It’s not all good news, however.  Stuck in section 3.1.1 of the new iPhone Developer Program License Agreement is the following:

Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).

Wow.  I find this to be simply, and utterly, the most arrogant thing that Apple has done in my many years of being an Apple fan.  I find this to be distasteful in the extreme.  Words can’t describe how angry/disappointed I am in the “Think Different” company.

Now lets talk about the debate we had a while back of REALbasic making apps for the iPhone.  In my debate with Marc Zeedar for March/April 2010 issue of REALbasic Developer Magazine I said this:

An iPhone version depends on the willingness of Apple to let REAL Software play in their court. I have my doubts that Apple would do that simply because all of those 140,000+ iPhone applications they’re touting were developed on a Mac. Letting go of those hardware sales is not in Apple’s best interest economically. Not only that, but letting RS create iPhone apps now makes Apple dependent upon a third-party to issue bug fixes in the framework and be up-to-date whenever a new SDK is released.

I think today’s new license agreement proves my point.  Apple is going to control everything and if you don’t want to learn Objective-C and use XCode and CocoaTouch too bad for you.  Apple controls the entire ecosystem and they are not going to let anyone play in their court.

Much will be said in the upcoming weeks and months about the new license agreement.  The anti-Apple folks will use this to bludgeon the advancement of the iPhone and iPad into the corporate environments.  What will pro-Apple folks do?  Shut-up and start learning xCode and Objective-C because there’s not much to defend.

Will it always be this way?  I don’t know.  But I do know that nothing will change unless Apple starts losing money and by all accounts that’s not going to happen any time soon.

Bye-Bye eReader. My iPad Wins!

It’s no secret that I’ve had a Sony eReader.  Well, that’s not quite true, because I have two Sony eReaders – a first generation and a second generation.  It has been my trusty companion on all my trips in the past two and half years and I’ve read probably well over a hundred full-length novels on it.  I dare say that it might go into the junk electronics drawer now that my iPad arrived Saturday.

The free iBooks application from Apple is pretty minimal, but what it does do it does right.  Instead of the one font that comes on my Sony eReader I have five and instead of three font sizes I get up to nine.

If you rotate the iPad so that it’s in landscape mode, iBooks creates two pages instead of one and formats the text rather nicely.  The eReader requires going into the Settings menu and changing the orientation and even then it doesn’t do much reformatting.  The iBooks format looks very much like a real book.

The Sony eReader has physical buttons to turn the page.  Granted, it has two different sets to turn pages, but it in no way compares to the iPads touchscreen where all you have to do is tap anywhere on the right side of the page to turn the page.  Alternatively, you can swipe your finger across the page to accomplish the same thing.  Of course the iPad renders the page turn in drippingly gorgeous detail.

Perhaps in one of the few spots where I’ll give the Sony eReader the nod is that it has a specific button to bookmark a page.  In iBooks you have to touch a word and hold it for a while (like you’re trying to copy text) and the popup menu has bookmark as an option.  But, since the bookmark is tied to the word, reformatting the font or font size won’t change the bookmark.

The contrast of the text (black on white) on the iPad is, in my opinion, better than the black on gray of the Sony eReader.  After reading for several hours I did not have any eye strain.  In fact, I felt as if I could have continued to read for a lot longer.  After several hours on the Sony I sometimes feel like I’m straining a bit.  You can control the brightness level directly from within iBooks which is nice since you don’t have to quit the application and open the Settings application.

I haven’t tried reading at night yet, but I expect it to be a better experience than the Sony eReader.  For my Sony I have an LED light attachment that is okay, at best, because using it cuts down the contrast ratio thus causing more eye strain.  I suspect that the iPad’s active screen will do better though I did see over the weekend that some users have found an issue with the automatic brightness control.  In my brief test I can confirm that my iPad does not appear to adjust the brightness going from bright light to a darkened room.  Hopefully this is a software issue and not a hardware issue and can be corrected soon.

If you like to read in the sunlight you might be disappointed in the iPad.  The glossy screen of the iPad shows a lot of reflections and in my brief hour on the deck this weekend using it was painful.  The Sony eReader wins hands down in this respect.  I’m hoping that someone will sell a film attachment that will cut down on the glare but not affect its touchscreen capabilities.

The weight of the iPad is definitely heavier than the Sony.  It is also slipperier.  Since I did not buy a cover with the iPad the slippery metal requires you to grip a little harder and it bites into your fingers and hand a bit more.  While it was a little heavier, I didn’t find it to be any heavier than a largish hard-bound book.  This didn’t really annoy me very much but your mileage may vary.  Based on comments from other iPad owners I talked to, the standard cover will solve this problem.

iBooks easily lets you look a word up in the dictionary.  Tap and hold the word in question (just like the bookmark) and select the dictionary option.  A nice scrollable popup occurs with the word definition.  You can easily search for a word or phrase in the same manner and you also get the option of searching Google and Wikipedia.

In a nutshell, despite the few negatives, reading a book on the iPad is a much more pleasant experience than on the Sony eReader.  The only real question is will I be able to find the iPad when I want it or will my sons be playing games on it (which it does nicely) or will my wife be using it for recipes when cooking (the glass screen is easy to clean)?

REALbasic on iPhone Debate

The March/April 2010 edition of REALbasic Developer Magazine hit my inbox this morning.  Besides the normal BKeeney Briefs column Marc Zeedar and I have a spirited debate on whether or not REAL Software should devote existing resources to making REAL Studio work with iPhone apps.

Note the italics on ‘existing’.  While I think it would be a nifty idea, overall, I question the wisdom of diverting resources from an already small development team to a product that might be doable.  Is this a Mac OS X only product or is it cross-platform?  I seriously doubt that it will be cross-platform but perhaps I’m wrong.  The point is that there are a ton of issues to figure out and then the question then becomes, “What are we going to give up in the desktop versions while this is being developed?”

Other thoughts:  Apple makes a boatload of money from developers buying Mac hardware and this product has the potential to take that revenue away.  One could certainly argue that it has the potential to sell more iPhones/iPads/iPod touches because more applications will be available.  But Apple has 140,000-ish apps right now.  Would 10,000 more, or 100,000 more really mean anything to Apple?

It also has the potential of being a potential support issue for Apple.  Assume for a second they allow RS to make iPhone apps.  The RB framework has a bug (because that’s never happened), or Apple changes the SDK one day and doesn’t give RS advance notice (Apple is secretive, no?), and now tens of thousands of RB iPhone apps no longer work.  Will the developer, RS or Apple get the blame?  Apple.  Just like how Microsoft gets the blame for crappy drivers and crappy 3rd party apps made by bad developers, Apple would get the blame.  Apple guards the keys to their kingdom very closely because they want it to be associated with a classy, premium product that “just works”.

Anyway, you can read the debate between Marc and myself in the magazine.  My guess is you can figure out my viewpoint.   😛  Marc argues, the opposite.

My regular column talks about making your projects more Agile-ish without going full-bore in using the Agile process.  It’s not as hard as you think and your clients might really like it.

Your thoughts?

eReader Devices: You’re Dead To Me

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you know that I really like my Sony eReader.  Well, I used to really like my Sony eReader.  Now that the iPad has been announced I look at my eReader with fond memories and can’t wait for the iPad.  My Sony eReader is now dead to me.

The eReader is fine for what it does but it’s a one-trick-pony.  I’ve grumbled on more than one occasion that I don’t like seeing book graphics in 16 shades of gray and the slow refresh rate is annoying (but livable).  Not being able to zoom graphics is annoying too.  The ability to play MP3’s on my eReader is totally worthless (to me at least) since I always have my iPhone with me.  I’ve never used it so why pay for it?

I have an accessory that allows my eReader to be read at night that works fairly well.  But, it uses regular batteries that wear out in a couple of weeks and it makes using the eReader during the day a pain because it makes the text less readable.  The iPad won’t have those problems.

Let’s talk briefly about software.  The Library application that comes with the Sony eReader stinks.  It’s not a native Mac app, it’s not a native Windows app.  It sucks on both platforms.  In fact, I hate it so much that unless I buy a book through their store I use an application called Calibre.  I hate it too, I just hate it much less because it manages my books much better.  iTunes does a great job of managing my music, movies, and podcasts so I can’t imagine that it would suddenly suck at managing my books.

I thought that selling the iPad to my wife was going to be hard but it turned out to the be exact opposite.  She wants one in the kitchen.  Why?  A little background is needed first.

My lovely wife is also a very talented cook.  She’s adventurous and is always trying a new recipe or even making one up from several she’s found on the internet.  She prints the recipe out and then takes it into the kitchen.  Imagine being able to do that from the iPad which she just puts on the counter.  If there’s not an iPhone app for a chef (I bet there are several already) there will be a couple of specific ones for the iPad (soon)!  And with a nice glass screen, there’s not too much worry about getting the device dirty.

The iPad has one huge advantage for me – the app store.  Our family already has 3 iPhones.  Don’t make me count up how many apps we’ve downloaded (both free and commercial) but I’d bet that it’s probably close to a hundred.  When we get our iPad we’ll already have the software for it.  No researching and purchasing new pieces of software that may or may not do what we want – we already have them!

I think the iPad will be awesome for Boomers.  How many of you have Boomer friends or relatives that call you for tech support on the Windows or Macintosh computers?  Show of hands?  Thought so.  The iPad is so for them.  Do any of your friends and relatives call you on how to use their iPhone or iPod Touch?  Didn’t think so.  The iPhone is so simple that hardly anyone has issues figuring it out.

Anyone who says the iPad won’t be a huge for business is nuts.  I have clients, right now, that could sell an iPad application if we converted their app to work on it.  Imagine an HVAC service technician, rather than lugging around a ton of paperwork and a big, clunky laptop, showing up at your house, logging all of his work, including when he arrived, what tests he performed, results, and then showing you the iPad display showing all of this and then billing your credit card directly (though an add-on card reader) and then emailing your the results?

Another example:  My doctor is all electronic and the interface to his current tablet stinks – they all hate using it!  They spend minutes clicking and doing crazy things in the interface.  I can imagine them using an iPad with the keyboard attachment and being more efficient with their time when they use an interface designed around a touch screen rather than an interface meant for a desktop app that’s been forced onto a tablet.

The list goes on but the possibilities are limitless.  You think Apple demonstrating the iWork apps on the iPad was a fluke?  Nope.  Apple thinks this thing is going to sell like hotcakes to business and I happen to think they’re right.

What do you think?

My Most Wanted iPhone App

I’ve had a sudden uptick in time spent at the gym and I have a heart rate monitor. I’d love to be able to track my workouts to see if I’m doing okay or need to up the intensity a little.  Apple and Nike have the Nike+ where millions of people are storing and tracking their running statistics.

In the July issue of Wired there’s an article on how Nike unleashed the power of personal metrics.   This is what I want for my heart rate monitor.  I want to track and be reminded of what I can push myself to do and I want it in an easy-to-use, no-brainer iPhone application.

I’ve even looked into it a bit.  There’s the SMHeart Link heart rate monitor but it uses a ‘wireless bridge’ (does that mean it’s wifi?) and the reviews on the Apple App store have not been stellar (but is that in part due to the free app requiring a $125 adapter?).  Is there a BlueTooth heart rate monitor that I can use with the iPhone (even if I have to develop it myself!)?

I found this page that has a lot of iPhone apps that aid in your workout.  But after reading through the reviews none of them use a heart rate monitor (I might have missed one so please be gentle!).

Is it really that hard or is the technology not available yet?

iPhone Copy/Paste Thoughts

It seems that Cut/Copy/Paste in desktop applications has been around forever.  I remember it being there on the MacPlus I used at the IIT computer lab back in 1986 – it was the greatest thing since sliced bread and it wowed those of us daring to use it.

One thing that comes with Cut/Copy/Paste is an undo system.  You cut or paste a large section of text into a place where you didn’t want it:  Are you going to type it all in again if you made a mistake?  No!  You’re going to select undo from the Edit menu so you don’t have to do all that work.

And that, my friends, I think is where having cut/copy/paste on the iPhone becomes extremely difficult.  I don’t think implementing cut/copy/paste is all that difficult with gestures.  Adding a standardized undo system to the iPhone, however, IS a big deal.  What gestures do you use to invoke it?  Then you have to have the obligatory redo command and how do you do that with gestures?

As I’ve journeyed into Cocoa and CocoaTouch (and I’ve barely scratched the surface) there are a number of things a desktop app gets for free with Cocoa.  One of those is an undo system using the NSUndoManager.  With document-based Cocoa apps, an undo manager is created for you for each document and you can implement NSUndoManager on your own if you need.

Until CocoaTouch gets its own UndoManager I don’t think you’ll see Cut/Copy/Paste on the iPhone.  Version 3 anyone?

Did I miss anything?  Feel free to sound off below.  (Keep in mind that I’m a newbie when it comes to Cocoa and CocoaTouch so be gentle – ‘kay?)