What Twitter for iPhone 3.3 gets wrong

When it comes to iPhone apps, one thing the world definitely does not need more of is Twitter clients. There are so many out there it’s unreal. And as a heavy Twitter user, I’ve tried most, if not all, of them at some point.

I was a loyal user of the paid-for app Tweetie 2 by Atebits, and when Twitter bought it and converted it into a free application, I continued to use it. It seemed to strike the right balance for me of allowing some access to more sophisticated functions, while keeping them unobtrusive when you didn’t need them.

One of the ways it achieved this was by hiding advanced features – picture uploads, autocompletion of @ usernames and #hashtags, location marking, etc. – behind the keyboard. If you clicked the button that displayed the number of characters remaining, the iPhone keyboard would slide down, revealing the additional options.

I suspect that some of these functions were so well hidden that some users didn’t realise they were there at all. Which is why, I’m guessing, that with the latest update, to Twitter for iPhone 3.3, the key ones are now visible as you compose your tweet (compare with this screenshot from GigaOM’s review of Tweetie 2):

Twitter for iPhone's new editing screen, with completions and geotagging

Also previously hidden, the ‘shrink URLs’ option is now an automatic function, with Twitter using its t.co shortening service on the fly. When tweets are displayed, the t.co link is replaced by an abbreviated version of the destination URL, making it easier to spot where people would like to send you should you click on their links.

All this is great. They are gradual refinements that shows that great iPhone design eschews gimmicks in favour of straightforward, simple and practical application.

If only the rest of the app followed the same rules. I’m going to set aside the repeated crashing I had with version 3.3.0 – when it comes to apps that repeatedly crash on startup, I’ve been there, done that, and feel the developers’ pain – and concentrate on some of my bugbears.

Continue reading What Twitter for iPhone 3.3 gets wrong

How to list your audiobooks in iTunes’ Audiobooks pseudo-category

Update: With iTunes 8, moving tracks into the Audiobooks category is now trivial: Go into the track’s file information (Ctrl-I or Apple-I) and change the dropdown item on the Options tab. However, if you want to rip audiobook CDs and convert tracks to chapters, the following may still be use.

One of the reasons I distrust the new version of iTunes (see _[Why I hate iTunes 7](http://matthewman.net/2006/09/22/why-i-hate-itunes-7)_) is the utter uselessness of its new Library structure. In particular, its new Audiobooks category seems to be locked off from any books you’ve ripped yourself. Setting the Genre type of each file to “Audiobooks” isn’t enough.

Nudged by a comment from Rob, I did some digging around, and it appears that audio files will show up in the Audiobooks section if they’re bookmarkable MPEG Layer 4 files — or, in iTunes parlance, “Protected AAC files”.

On a Windows PC, it **may** be possible to get your AAC files — which should end in the extension **`.m4a`** — simply by renaming them so that the extension is **`.m4b`** (I can’t vouch for this, though, as I’m working on a Mac).

Macs are slightly trickier to deal with, anyway, as files have an internally-held file type, which must also be altered. However, I did find a couple of scripts on [Doug’s Scripts](http://www.dougscripts.com) which help.

* **[Make Bookmarkable](http://www.dougscripts.com/itunes/scripts/ss.php?sp=makebookmarkable)** converts your AAC-encoded files to their bookmarkable version, then updates their iTunes entry so that they move to the Audiobooks section.
* **[Join Together](http://www.dougscripts.com/itunes/scripts/ss.php?sp=jointogether)** allows you to combine multiple files from the iTunes Library, optionally placing chapter marks and track artwork at the appropriate sections. However, this script requires **QuickTime Pro** and Apple’s **ChapterTool** command-line utility. It can also be very slow if you don’t check the “Passthrough” option in the QuickTime settings part of the dialog.

A bonus of both scripts is that your recordings will also show up under the iPod’s own `Audiobooks` category. Bear in mind though that, unlike the standard Music folders, it doesn’t group tracks by album. So if you decide to use Make Bookmarkable, or don’t have Quicktime Pro, you could end up with lots of individual files showing up. In that case, you could consider re-importing the original audio from CD, grouping data tracks to encode as a single file.

Why I hate iTunes 7

Okay, “hate” is too strong a word — that’s the sensationalist subeditor in me, I guess. But there was something bugging me about the latest update, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

I knew that it wasn’t the new, drab, grey look — it wouldn’t have been my choice, admittedly; also, it’s a shame that Apple, who impressed me when I became a Mac OSX convert with their User Interface Guidelines, do more than any other company to repeatedly flout them.

The new album view and the CoverFlow view are nice as far as they go, so it wasn’t that. I have to admit I don’t care for the restyled iTunes Music Store, and am infuriated that, in all the talk of Apple selling full-length movies to America, very few people have noticed that they’ve stopped selling even short films to us in the UK. But I only tend to use the store for a small amount of time iTunes is running, so I knew that couldn’t be what was irritating me so.

That’s when it hit me. It’s because my own library is now structured according to how Apple want to sell me stuff.

Movies and TV shows are what Apple is pushing in a big way — to American audiences, anyway. Now that short films have been lost to the ether, the only video content you can buy from the iTunes Store are music videos — and they get pushed into the generic ‘Music’ category. iTunes adds a ‘Music Videos’ smart playlist automatically, but why should it need to? It would be far better to mirror the way my iPod structures its library, with **Videos** having separate subcategories depending on the type of video content.

At least with video content that I have loaded in myself, I can change the **Video Kind** parameter of each film so that it appears in the appropriate category. However, any audiobooks that I’ve bought on CD and ripped to MP3 remain firmly stuck in “Music”. The Audiobooks category remains firmly the preserve of iTunes Store purchases, it seems — in other words, completely useless. Yes, I can switch both it and iPod Games off in iTunes’ preferences. But I’d much rather be able to add my own content to it.

It’s this twisted attitude — structuring iTunes according how they want to sell to us, rather than making it as easy to use as possible and _inspiring_ us to buy — that really pisses me off.

It’s ironic, really. The MiniStore was another way in which Apple tried to convert normal iTunes usage into a sales tool, but that’s been severely relegated in version 7. There’s no button to activate or deactivate it any more, and the shortcut key has disappeared; hopefully the whole feature will go the same way in version 8. But the philosophy behind it seems to be present still. And that, I really **do** hate.