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Moving Parts

Tagged with Apple, iPad by Gavin McKenzie at 02:20 PM | Moving Parts

Apple just replaced one of my two 3rd generation iPads, due to a temperamental home button, with about a week remaining in the one-year warranty. While I always purchase AppleCare on my computers and iPhones, I generally don't get AppleCare for my iPads. I buy at least one new iPad per year, and they aren't subjected to the the same heavy-duty workload as my iPhone or MacBook Pro.

Every iPad or iPhone I've replaced under warranty/AppleCare was failing due to moving parts; often the home button, sometimes the lock button. Despite the introduction of "multitasking gestures" in iOS 5, tapping the home button remains the easiest way to quit an app. For me, the opposite is true for accessing the list of recently used apps, where a four-finger swipe is more reliable instead of attempting to double-tap the home button.

I'd like to think that Apple could simply refine their gestures and abolish the home button, but I expect there are a substantial percentage of iPad users who will never be comfortable with mutli-touch gestures as a substitute for a hardware button. The home button is for the iPad, what the single-button mouse was for the Mac.

Flash is (mostly) dead

Tagged with Adobe by Gavin McKenzie at 06:17 PM | Flash is (mostly) dead

November and December are traditionally interesting months for Adobe, as they straddle the end of Adobe's fiscal year. In December 2005 my team at Adobe was cut, and I was out of work for the first time in over fifteen years. Last week Adobe let go around 700 employees, including reportedly half of the Adobe Ottawa staff -- many of them former co-workers from my JetForm days.

The acquisition of Macromedia by Adobe occurred in December 2005, motivated by a desire to acquire Macromedia's highly web-centric DNA and products. Adobe also clearly wanted Flash and Flash Player as a complement to its own ubiquitous PDF and Acrobat/Reader. Back in 2005, there was an effort underway to integrate either PDF or Flash into just about every device and context you could imagine. Televisions, digital cameras (not kidding), e-book readers, and mobile phones.

Years later, Flash was integrated into PDF. A major "jump the shark" moment for PDF. What a spectacularly terrible thing to inflict upon the PDF format. Though, I know some people consider the earlier incorporation of XFA forms into PDF as an equally horrible stain on the format, and an over-complication compared to the earlier PDF forms capabilities. Given that XFA was my baby from 1997 until 2003, and I fought to get XFA included in PDF 1.5, I'll accept my share of the blame. But I digress.

Flash as a Platform

It was understandable why Adobe considered Flash strategic in 2005.

Companies look for opportunities to build or buy platforms. Successful platforms beget ecosystems. This translates into sales of software tools and platform licenses. PDF was already a platform, with its own ecosystem of products and services. But, PDF pre-dates the web, and still doesn't easily integrate into web pages. It is possible to place PDF content within a web-page, but not common. PDF isn't where the "cool kids" are.

Flash was an integral part of the web in 2005, and was a technology relevant to both creatives and developers within a large vibrant community. Any device connected to the web, or any device that needed interactive content, would surely need Flash.

Of course, that all went sideways when Apple created the iPhone and the iPad, and made it clear that Flash would have no place on Apple's newest platform.

The Apple and Flash Drama

In 2004 I switched from a PC to a Mac, taking advantage of the choice offered to Adobe employees, at the time, of choosing either a ThinkPad or PowerBook laptop. In that year, my love of the Mac platform began, and so did my dislike for Flash.

Countless jokes have been made by Mac users of how Flash is a great way of turning your Mac into a space-heater and giving your fans a workout. Flash on the Mac has always sucked, and Adobe pledged to improve the situation in 2010. Apple took matters into its own hands and stopped shipping Flash Player on new Mac hardware in 2010. I removed Flash from my own Mac laptop in December 2010, using the Gruber method.

The drama caused by Apple's refusal to support Flash on iOS devices is now thankfully over with Adobe's announcement to abandon Flash on mobile devices. I won't miss the snide comments from Android toting friends about how their devices support the "whole web"; attempts by marginal players in the tablet market (RIM Playbook) to differentiate on the basis of supporting Flash; nor will I miss Adobe evangelists losing their shit, blogging pithy nuggets like "Go screw yourself Apple". Even though I sided with Apple, as a former Adobe employee I was ashamed of Adobe's whiny, passive-aggressive, and sometimes disingenuous tactics. Adobe acted the underdog, and played for sympathy, while Apple kicked sand in their faces. It was so embarrassing.

Regardless of whether Apple ever did genuinely consider supporting Flash content on iOS devices before deciding that its impact on limited device resources would be too great; regardless of whether Adobe believed its own spin as the company representing "freedom" and "choice" in the face of Apple's closed system approach; ultimately this was just a battle over platform control.

Adobe lost.

What Now?

In the past few days some of what we've learned about Adobe's plans for Flash include (bluntly summarized in my own words):

  • Flash for mobile is dead.
  • Flex, the business-focused toolkit based on Flash, is in sunset mode and will be open-sourced.
  • AIR, for mobile, remains mostly targeted to game developers.

Flex was never viable for developing mobile applications, but was somewhat successful as a tool for developing internal corporate applications. Prior to establishing Angry Pumpkin and focusing on mobile, I spent a few years building Flex applications. Flex made it easy to develop and deploy rich browser-based applications within corporate IT environments where IE 6 often remained the standard browser. Even when I disliked Flash for consumer-facing websites, I recognized how valuable Flash/Flex was for building employee-facing applications. HTML5 is not (yet) a suitable replacement for the kinds of applications commonly developed with Flex.

Despite claims that AIR on mobile will benefit from Adobe's reduced investment in Flash, I don't foresee it gaining traction outside of game development. Developers hoping to build cross-platform non-game mobile apps with AIR really need a lightweight mobile variant of Flex, not a general-purpose ActionScript 3 mobile runtime environment. For non-game mobile app developers looking for an Adobe toolset, the Adobe acquisition of PhoneGap represents the future. I hope PhoneGap improves, as I haven't been very impressed with the quality of PhoneGap based apps on the iPhone.

Now that Adobe has moved beyond Flash, and embraced HTML5, the choices for mobile development are clear. Apple, Google, and Microsoft, each support app development via their own SDKs, and are all committed to strong support of HTML5 web technologies.

Sad Mac

Tagged with general by Gavin McKenzie at 02:30 PM | Sad Mac

This image from Robert Padbury on Dribble, a designer at Apple, says it well: Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

BlackBerry postage stamp

Tagged with Blackberry by Gavin McKenzie at 02:34 PM | BlackBerry postage stamp

According to a Canada Post announcement, a series of stamps issued to celebrate Canadian innovations will feature the BlackBerry, alongside the electric oven invented in 1892, and the cardiac pacemaker invented in 1950.

The Canada Post article addresses the challenge of putting the BlackBerry, invented in 1999, in the same collection as much older devices:

How do you depict the genius of Canadian inventions on a stamp? According to q30 inc. senior designer Karen Henricks, "Given that the innovations span such a long timeline - from the oven in 1892 to the modern BlackBerry - our design challenge was to find a way to visually link the four stamps. We chose consistent cropping and angles, as well as a palette of co-ordinated colour tints and type, to tie the stamps together as a series."

Given the challenges facing the BlackBerry as it struggles to compete in this era of iPhone and Android, the product is not well served by appearing alongside devices dating from 1892 and the 1950s. I wonder if RIM was provided an opportunity to influence the stamp design? The desaturated and tinted image of the BlackBerry keyboard unfortunately contributes to the impression of a device from the previous century.

Entry-level iPhone rumours

Tagged with rumours, hardware by Gavin McKenzie at 06:15 PM | Entry-level iPhone rumours

The iPhone 4 was launched in Canada on July 30th 2010, and I purchased my iPhone 4 from the Apple Store in the Ottawa Rideau Centre within a few days of the launch. When the iPhone 3GS was introduced in 2009, the previous iPhone 3G model was offered at a reduced price. Likewise, when the iPhone 4 was introduced, the iPhone 3GS became the de facto entry-level iPhone.

To ensure the Apple store had enough stock to satisfy everyone lined up, a store employee moved down the line asking each person which model of iPhone 4 they were planning on purchasing, and the employee would confirm availability of the requested model. When the store employee asked the couple ahead of me which iPhone 4 they wanted, the couple replied that they intended to purchase an iPhone 3GS. The store employee was visibly surprised. Yes, this couple had needlessly waited in line to buy the previous generation iPhone 3GS, because of the lower price. After the store employee made certain the couple wanted an iPhone 3GS, they were pulled out of the line and moved directly into the Apple store.

September Rumours

Here we are in July 2011, with rumours of a new iPhone model expected in September. It has been rumoured that Apple might offer an incrementally improved model called the iPhone 4S, or that Apple might release an entirely new iPhone 5. It has also been rumoured, nearly since the introduction of the first iPhone, that Apple will introduce a new entry-level iPhone. And, if that wasn't enough, past rumours of a 3G data-capable iPod touch have been revived.

Regardless of what Apple releases in September, people will continue to buy the entry-level model offered alongside the newly introduced model. The couple ahead of me in the iPhone 4 queue last July, intending to buy an iPhone 3GS, are part of an important group of iPhone buyers. In May, All Things D reported the iPhone 3GS was still selling stronger than some Android phones. In October 2010, Horace Dediu suggested the value of Apple continuing to offer the previous iPhone model was a psychological ploy intended to increase the perceived value of the latest generation iPhone versus both the previous generation model and the competition.

Remember iOS 4 on the iPhone 3G ?

My concerns with the current Apple practice of offering the previous generation iPhone alongside the newest model are primarily about not meeting the expectations of people who bought the previous generation hardware, possibly only weeks or days before their device becomes two generations old, especially when newer versions of iOS are released.

Remember when iOS 4 was released in June 2010?

By the time iOS 4 was publicly released, I had been running it on my iPhone 3GS for weeks without any trouble. However, iOS 4 was a disaster for owners of the previous iPhone 3G model. The performance of iOS 4 on the iPhone 3G was unspeakably bad, making it nearly unusable. I rightly got an earful from my wife who upgraded her iPhone 3G to iOS 4 on my recommendation, and similar grumbles from friends who I encouraged to upgrade.

While I don't expect the upcoming release of iOS 5 to be as problematic for the current entry-level iPhone 3GS, the fundamental problem remains that iOS is evolving quickly, arguably advancing faster than the hardware, and meeting the Apple standard of user-experience on hardware two generations old will continue to be a challenge -- at least until Apple stops the practice of offering previous generation hardware as the entry-level choice.

So, what do I want Apple to introduce in September? I want an all-new entry-level model, and a new flagship model.

I want Apple to move towards releasing a refreshed entry-level model alongside the flagship model with each iPhone product cycle. The entry-level model would share the same CPU and core capabilities as the flagship model, and differentiate on materials used in the device shell, display quality, and some features. In many ways, Apple already does this by releasing a new iPod touch every year, sharing the same CPU and core performance characteristics as the current generation iPhone.

I hope that the ultimate answer to conflicting rumours about whether Apple is releasing an iPhone 4S or an iPhone 5 is essentially, "Yes, both."

Refills 1.0.3 in beta

Tagged with Refills by Gavin McKenzie at 03:26 PM | Refills 1.0.3 in beta

I have just released a new version of Refills to a small number of beta testers. The beta addresses an issue, and includes a change to the way information is displayed. After a short beta period, this version will be submitted to Apple for review.

Issue with refill calculation

When a medication runs out, Refills automatically stops tracking consumption of the medication. However, there was a problem with this functionality in the previous releases of Refills, where sometimes a medication would continue to have its quantity remaining reduced below zero, even though Refills would display zero as the quantity remaining. As a result of this issue, when a medication had a quantity remaining of zero for a period of time, the quantity remaining might be miscalculated after the medication was refilled.

Improved at-a-glance display

A key feature of Refills is displaying the number of days, weeks, or months left on a medication, in a way that can be quickly reviewed. This at-a-glance feature works because Refills intentionally displays an approximation of the duration remaining. Instead of displaying "24 days" remaining, refills displays "3 weeks". This tradeoff for convenience works for two reasons:

  • The duration display becomes progressively more precise as duration decreases from months, to weeks, and finally days. A display of weeks will be more precise than a display of months, and Refills displays the duration remaining precisely as days when fewer than two weeks remain on a medication.
  • Refills also displays the always-precise "Order by" date for each medication, and alerts the user both on the order-by date, as well as five days earlier.

However, the previous versions of Refills always displayed the duration remaining as whole numbers -- a medication would either display as having "3 months" or "2 months" remaining, but nothing in between. To be safe, Refills always rounded down the display, choosing to display a medication with 89 days remaining as "2 months" rather than "3 months". The feedback on this was clear: while rounding down is safe, it can be alarming to see a new three-month medication display as "2 months" remaining after taking the medication for only one day.

To address this issue while retaining the at-a-glance convenience, Refills will no longer round down as aggressively as before, and it will display approximate durations to the nearest half-month or half-week, as shown in the screenshot above.

Blogging Again

By Gavin McKenzie at 05:09 PM | Blogging Again

My relationship with blogging is complicated.

In 2004 I was an Adobe employee, working out of my home office in Ottawa for a team anchored in the San Jose head office. Adobe, at the time, didn't have employees officially blogging about their work, unlike many of its peers in the commercial software business. Macromedia had a strong blogging culture, but it would be another year before Macromedia would become part of Adobe.

While my work at Adobe was focused on document metadata extraction and contributing to the W3C Semantic Web activity, I decided to take on the challenge of building an official Adobe corporate blogging initiative. After nearly a year of collaboration with great people from Adobe's legal, marketing, and IT departments, I published the first blog post on August 15th 2005. Between the launch date and the end of the year, when I left Adobe, I published only one other blog post.

Fast forward to 2008, and I was working with 4Point Solutions, delivering custom Adobe LiveCycle solutions to 4Point customers. Again, in addition to my regular work, I was helping to build another corporate blog. In September 2008, 4Point's Director of Marketing Sarah Samplonius made the first post to the 4Point blog. While a handful of people write regularly for the 4Point blog, you won't find any posts on the 4Point blog from me.

Thus, I have a history of helping other people blog, while publishing nothing of my own. It can only get better.

Angry Pumpkin Blog

One of the key differences between today and years past is that I now have my own company, focused on building mobile app solutions. In the past, all of my work was performed for other companies under non-disclosure.

While I am still performing mobile app development for others under non-disclosure, this blog will be a place for providing updates on upcoming releases of my own Angry Pumpkin branded products, and to share general information and links related to developing mobile applications.


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