The cult of Apple – customers camping outside the Manhattan Apple store to buy the iPhone 2.0. Photo taken by author on 9th July 2008.
I bought my iPod Touch around a month ago and was keen to play around with the new version of the phone software. The main challenge I faced was with iTunes registration – the US iTunes / Apps Store only accepts a credit card with a US billing address and there is absolutely no way to download the new apps without an iTunes account. Calling BT Options, from where I bought my Macbook Pro, didn’t help – they either didn’t know or didn’t want to tell how to access the iTunes store from Sri Lanka. Didn’t want to invest in a iTunes Gift Card because I wasn’t sure whether it would give me access to the Apps Store (I didn’t want to buy music).
After scouring the internet, came across a solution that I used to create a new account with my Sri Lankan VISA that worked perfectly. The downside is that the iTunes on my Touch doesn’t work anymore (says correctly that it isn’t supported in Sri Lanka) but everything else does – including the Touch based Apps Store as well as the version that runs on iTunes on my Mac.
Of course, to run the new Apps, you’ll need the software upgrade for the iPod Touch. It usually costs around $10, but I was able to download a torrent of the file and it worked perfectly.
Installing new apps is a cinch and I’ve already got the Apple Remote working with my iTunes library, which really is very nicely done. I’m in two minds about the new Facebook App. I loved the clean, fast and beautifully designed web based Facebook version for the iPhone / iPod Touch. The FB app incorporates the chat functionality but for me is less useful than the web based version customised for the device. There’s still no search for the Inbox on either version and on the App based FB, no easy way to get access to the photos of friends uploaded a while ago. The slideshow of the photos on the FB app look and feel better than the web version, so in sum, I think I’ll have to use both depending on what I want to do.
I registered with Apple’s new push email / push calendar service MobileMe and it too just works perfectly and as advertised. Change / add something on my Mac and it appears on my Touch and vice versa, almost immediately.
The new Evernote app is much better than the previous web-based version which was also tailored for the iPhone / iPod Touch. Evernote itself is an amazing product and has made my Rolodex / Business Card holders irrelevant. I now store everything on Evernote and it’s instantly searchable.
I also use the new NY Times app, which downloads all the articles to the device for offline reading / access. Takes a while on my SLT ADSL based wifi connection to get the content down the pipe, but once its done, I can go through the articles at leisure.
What’s struck me is how easy it is to read text on the Touch – the display is incredibly crisp, bright and clear. I’m comparing it to the first PDA I bought 4 years ago – a Palm Tungsten E and while that was certainly one of the best at the time, this one really is miles ahead of any other mobile display I’ve seen. Given the paucity of good movies on trans-atlantic flights coupled with the fact that I fly so often that I often know what’s on offer by heart on various airlines, I now just rip a few new / my favourite movies to my Touch and watch them on the flight – the picture quality and sound are both terrific and I love the fact that I now no longer have to pull out my Mac to check email or connect with friends via chat / Facebook.
On the downside, I’ve found that the horizontal orientation oftentimes does not work as advertised. It takes a while for the Touch to register that it’s been turned and even then, it doesn’t often re-orient the screen. A lot of the new Apps such as the FB / NY Times versions actually work better in landscape mode though. Another big problem is that the new MobileMe push-services really drains the battery. I have set up the device to check email every 15 minutes on 4 (Gmail / Google Apps based) accounts along with now a MobileMe account. Before, with just the Gmail / Google Apps accounts, the device had over 50% charge from a full charge when left overnight. Now, with the push email, I get a warning that the charge is less than 10% in the morning. I’ve read that this is more of a problem with the iPhone over 3G.
Overall though, I’m just amazed at this product. It really is magic to see it work esp. in New York, where touching the map gives you the location of where you are and if you want, turn by turn directions to where you want to go in the city.
A couple of years ago I said that devices such as this would revolutionise the practice of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) which many practitioners at the time staunchly opposed (see iPhone and ODR – Open Sourcing, Open Standards and Mobile phones, cheap laptops, Open Source and ODR – The killer trio). At the ODR Forum in Victoria, Canada this year I challenged the audience to come up with apps that run on mobiles (including devices other than the iPhone, though the iPhone singlehandedly seems to have awakened most Americans to the mobile web) given what clearly is already a very large market.
I’m also amazed at just how much devotion, fanatical even, that Apple attracts as a technology and web services company. Before the launch of the iPhone 2.0, the NY Times Technology section was awash with articles on it. Some of that is down to marketing. Most of it is just a reflection of just how much buzz a single product from Apple can create amongst a customer base that is by all accounts, growing apace.
By happy coincidence I found myself in Manhattan on the week of the launch and it was really quite something to see people camping outside their flagship 5th Ave store days before the launch, just to be one of the first to get their hands on a device that save for the 3G functionality, is really not that much of an upgrade from the original iPhone. For those who were the first to buy the iPhone and were also first in line to buy the new iPhone 3G, this would also mean that they would have spent in excess of over US$ 800 just for the devices, leaving aside AT&T calling plans and actual data transfer / voice charges. Clearly, this is a cash cow for Apple and for the mobile carrier.
Single-handedly, Apple has revolutionised mobile devices and the mobile web. The new Apps are to me a trend that I had spoken of a few years ago – seeing the smaller screens of mobile devices not as a weakness, but a strength.
Can’t wait for the WordPress App that will allow me to blog through the device!
UPDATE – 15 July 2008
Thankfully, it’s not just me who found Apple’s MobileMe dod not live up to the hype. Worse, it killed by iPod Touch battery life to the point where I’ve just taken the push MobileMe email / calendar / contacts off my Touch and gone back to syncing the old-fashioned way through iTunes. Battery life now back to what it was.
The Facebook app keeps crashing and reset my Touch once. I’ve now gone back to using the web based iPhone Facebook version, which works very nicely. The only real advantage I can see with the app is better photo viewing and the chat functionality. Everything else works / looks better with the web based version.
Installed the Netnewswire app which is a, at the moment, far better than Google Reader. Got the iPhone / Touch version of Meebo going. Simple, clean and just works.
Download the complete works of Shakespeare to boot.