A couple of weeks ago, before iPhone OS 3.0 was released I gave a quick roundup of some of my moans in the 2.x version which I’d lived with for the last several months. Now 3.0 is out and I’ve had time to play with it for more than a few hours, I want to follow up on my list of gripes and see if I can add any new ones to the list. Before I do I should preface any complaints with my overall opinion that 3.0 reminds me of Leopard on the Mac: it finally feels just about right. If that’s too fluffy and subjective, perhaps I ought to clarify - I mean it is eminently functional and aesthetically polished in ways that previous releases of OS X weren’t. Not to say I haven’t had some initial glitchiness though. A black screen for a worryingly long time on startup (after the Apple logo) one time made me sweat. Contacts app sometimes pauses mysteriously going from listing to contact page to placing call. Third party apps are of course not Apple’s responsibility but I noticed some visible page swapping in NetNewsWire going from feed listing to actual post content, and given its similarity to the Contacts experience wonder if it has a related source. In a similar vein some UI transitions don’t even seem to find time to render since things are so much faster, which feels super responsive even though it means less dissolves and icon swooshing eye candy.
But alas some of my old UI niggles remain! Let’s get to them after I recap previous points which have been addressed:
Grumbles now abated:
Contacts database accessible across apps
Yay! Accessing a contact from Messages or indeed a bunch of other places gives you the same access as from Contacts app itself. Points for UI consistency.
Phone call log refinement
Woot! Major improvements here show call duration, detail regarding which number has been called (helpful for visually knowing which phone someone called from, eg, home, work, mobile), even a new dinky icon to distinguish outgoing from incoming. But on this last solution, it feels a bit ad hoc to me. Why don’t outgoing calls get an icon? Why not simply add a sort tab at the top for Incoming and Outgoing as well as All and Missed?
Of course, the old magnifier metaphor is still there, but I’ve noticed the redesigned look to the glass. The fuzziness is gone, the text is clearer. Cut, copy and paste seems to make working with the cursor generally less of a crapshoot. So far.
While I’ve got a side-by-side screenshot comparison of Notes up here to illustrate my point, can I just say that I’m surprised John Gruber of all people hasn’t commented on the new improved Marker Felt? Wider, crisper, more legible, it even improves the look of all those shopping list apps. All in all, the subtle but worthwhile Notes app overhauls are to be applauded. Oh, and they sync. Praise be.
Improvements still awaited:
Phone app stays in foreground
I don’t think I’ve read anyone else moan about this. I must be the only one who gets narked by the persistence of the Phone app.
Global Alerts dialogs still demand attention
This seems so built into the current OS at a fundamental level, I don’t expect this to get a rethink until someone at Apple finally gets annoyed by all the new Push notifications interrupting their workflow/gameplay like a nagging child. I expect something more akin to Growl notifications will emerge in the next iteration. Looks like the jailbreak community is already onto this one.
Losing data input due to incoming call
Calendar app still fails to preserve any data entry until you hit Done on the Add Event page. Contacts app data entry is smarter. In edit mode, each page corresponding to a data field (eg name, phone number, email, address etc) actually has Save in the top right. Each time you hit that, it actually saves your data. My advice: Calendar app team, get the Contacts guys to bring you up to speed. (PS. See also next para.)
Location field in Calendar entries should be tappable to launch Maps
Calendar app presents entries with a certain insouciance as to their actual data, so it seems. The location field is simply a secondary string of text under the title. Similarly, once an event is created, the calendar type to which it belongs cannot be altered. So if you added that work event to your family calendar by mistake - tough luck. You’ll need to correct your error elsewhere. Not to mention the mindbendingly ridiculous lack of capability to unsubscribe from subscribed calendars. Even unpublishing a calendar doesn’t force an unsubscription.
[UPDATE: Both I and the aforelinked are being dense and short-sighted. Unsubscribing a Calendar requires going to the Settings app under the 'Mail, Contacts, Calendars' page.]
System-wide dismissable keyboard
The new Messages app has done away with the onscreen keyboard persisting even after you had deleted text in the reply field. In other words, if the reply field is empty (or emptied) no keyboard is presented when you re-open that message thread. But it’d still be nice to dismiss the keyboard at will in all apps so you can release screen space for reading. And landscape mode exacerbates the situation, as I suspected.
iPod is still not a good iPhone app experience
My major axe for grinding hasn’t really been dulled - or should that be sharpened? Yikes. Metaphor mismatch! - by the subtle UI tweaks in OS 3.0. I’m genuinely appreciating the more accurate playhead scrubber. I’ve even noticed the slightly smaller ‘album art’ for podcast and video listings (though why these can’t be consistent and match the size of Music album art I don’t know). These are all good and welcome improvements. But dammit all, playlist creation and editing still languishes in the dark ages of the earliest iTunes/iPod method. A device like this ought to be able to let people mix up their media how they want away from the iTunes host computer, and Genius is a poor AI substitute in this regard. I’m going to keep making a stink about this until Apple sees sense. Though I suspect that some vestigial structure regarding iTunes and iPod playlists is the cause. And given that iTunes is an evolutionary kludge built with the DNA of SoundJam, I’m fearful that only a major rewrite of the behemoth will fix it.
While I’m banging on about playlists, let me put it this way. I keep coming across people sharing Spotify playlists on Twitter. I know the hosted/subscription model of Spotify can’t be compared to iTunes but it struck me that the new ‘email a friend about this podcast’ feature in the iPod app is like a poor imitation of this concept. If I can buy music from iTunes away from my computer, I ought to be able to put together a playlist of new tracks I’ve discovered and share it with my friends right from my iPhone. iTunes on the desktop has long been able to create an iMix out of a playlist which can be shared. But the big difference between this and Spotify is my friends can potentially buy the playlist/iMix. In effect, by sharing I become a sales rep for iTunes. How many million iPhones out there now, all with the ability to buy music on-the-go? Imagine only a small percentage of those users being able to create and share playlists that can be bought wirelessly from iTunes. Mr Forstall, Mr Cook, call me and we can work out the numbers.
Finally, just to follow up on one of my points in the previous post: swipe deleted videos and podcasts stay in the grave after phone restarts.
Truncated overlong text
Talking of the iTunes store, what the hell happened to make my example of truncated text WORSE in 3.0? I even turned the phone into landscape mode hoping that’d help, but alas, the App and iTunes store apps don’t get the new horizontal treatment. Regardless, truncated text is an issue throughout the OS.
Partial application of MobileMe
Still no monkey-fighting ability to use MobileMe aliases in Mail app. Since I posted my last screed about this, a big chunk of my visitors have got here by searching with terms like ‘mobile me alias iphone 3.0’. There’s plenty of people looking for this to happen. Make it happen, Apple.
A new features page on Apple’s MobileMe section says that an iDisk app is ‘coming soon’. At least it can replace my no-longer-supported MobileFiles app by Quickoffice which I mentioned previously, although unlike that third-party solution Apple’s app makes it possible to share any iDisk hosted docs via a download link. It’s a step in the right direction.
Hitting the top bar shortcut
The new horizontal layout option everywhere actually makes this a pressing issue. Any moderately long web page, email message, SMS thread or Note actually requires more laborious swiping to navigate in widescreen mode. Quicker paging up and down and going to the end is definitely needed. Perhaps a two finger swipe could scroll at twice the speed? (Not everybody knows it but a two-finger gesture is already used by Map apps: try a two-finger single-tap if you haven’t before!)
YouTube player outside of YouTube app
No change regarding my existing complaint, despite the upgrades in the YouTube app itself. If you’re viewing a YouTube link that is presented via the dumb controller, sharing or favoriting is still out of your reach. Make YouTube filetype handling globally consistent, s’il vous plait.
Introducing an all-new 3.0 gripe to add to the list
Voice Memos is the oddest app I think Apple has crafted for the iPhone. Besides the anachronistic graphic of an old-timey microphone with needle meter (I was expecting some Garagebandesque woodgrain in the bottom panel to round it off), the file management is simply inept. Once you figure out that the left button goes to the list view of recorded memos, you’ll find that your recordings are titled with the time, and then the date in secondary grey text. It takes one page to go to a detailed view which tells you no additional data but offers you Trim and Share buttons. A page deeper still and one can change the title of the memo, except that it’s called Label and you have to choose from preset list or go to yet another page to add a custom Label. That’s three pages just to label your recording!
But it gets worse. Having named your file, you probably want to sync it to your computer. No problem, since iTunes has a checkbox to ‘Include voice memos’ under the Music sync tab. Given that I manage my music manually this was greyed out so I didn’t expect it to sync at all, but surprisingly it did. But what did it sync? I’d re-labelled the voice memos on the iPhone but the files that were copied to my Mac (into a new Voice Memos playlist) were titled with time and date. Perhaps my custom label was buried in the metadata elsewhere? Nope. Then I noticed that Voice Memos on the iPhone appear as a playlist in iTunes, but items in that playlist also fail to display any user applied labels. Also, this is no ordinary playlist; it doesn’t show in iPod app on the phone, and bizarrely you can freely edit the titles of the items in the iPhone playlist via iTunes on the computer, but those alterations won’t affect the file listing in Voice Memos app on the phone which will remain the label previously applied.
Overall impression: a torturous app hiding behind a shiny interface. So until Apple addresses these crazy behaviours, I’m sticking with Griffin’s iTalk, despite the fact it requires a separate sync app on the desktop. At least its UI looks like something fitting for a 21st century digital device.
And finally, I regret some of my pre-emptive criticism
Not having used Spotlight, I pre-judged it. I was wrong to be so hasty. I think it’s a beautiful implementation. I still think a text-driven search UI could be improved by the possibility of graphic-driven saved searches. And, as with OS X on the desktop, making data inside third party apps searchable from the global interface would be good. Top tip for searching: don’t waste the Home double-click setting on Search. As you probably know, when you are on a Home screen, one press of the button takes you to page one. Now, a further press takes you to Spotlight. No need for that new right swipe at all!
Talking of the Home button pref, I hope Apple offer the ability to assign the Home double-click to start any app. I’m certain that quick launching of fart apps is what the public are really clamoring for.