iOS 7 first impressions: Anything but flat

It can’t have escaped many geeks’ notice that on Monday, Apple previewed the forthcoming new versions of their desktop interface, OSX 10.9, and their operating system for handhelds, iOS 7.

Everybody can view the presentations from Monday’s World Wide Developer Conference keynote, and the marketing information that has been released. As a registered app developer who will have to make sure their app is iOS 7-ready in time for the public launch in the autumn, though, I can get legal access to the first beta.

And while (as early betas can be) it is slow and crashes more often than it should – the changes in iOS 7 are only apparent when using it on an actual device. Watching a slick video doesn’t give you the full impression.

NB: There are swathes of non-disclosure agreements surrounding early access to iOS 7. This article is based purely on hands-on access to the features publicly disclosed by Apple, and experience of previous iOS upgrades.

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Arts 2.0: a catchup and an appeal

Since I last linked to my Arts 2.0 column for The Stage, I’ve written three new pieces. First off, the launch of the BBC iPlayer Radio app just three days after the combined BBC/commercial radio RadioPlayer app led me to look at both, as well as some of the other options for audio listening. I have to say that while I’ve used both those apps since, it’s the iPlayer app that I enjoy using the most. Once you’ve started listening, of course, you tend to leave the app – but the act of selecting which audio stream to listen to should be quick, and not feel like a chore. I think the Radioplayer has some way to go on that side of things, while iPlayer Radio is closer to nailing it.

Then last week, I looked at three magic trick apps for the iPhone. I remain to be convinced that custom apps can be effective sources of conjuring – close-up magic with real life objects is far more effective than working with pixels on a screen. John Archer’s Streets app works along the right lines because it uses the maps feature within the phone itself – or at least it did, until Apple dropped Google Maps for its own service with iOS 6.

Finally, this week the news about Radio 4 releasing the Letter From America archives got me thinking about all those dramas the station has commissioned over the years, but remain locked away due to contractual or other reasons. Recent radio productions of West End hits then led me to talk about archiving contemporary performances.

An appeal for help

I’ve got a few ideas for future columns, but if you have an arts-working-with-technology story you’ld like to pitch, please email me at scott [at] thestage.co.uk.

One thing I’d like to do for next week, to tie in with the start of NaNoWriMo, is look at digital tools that writers – of books, plays, or scripts for TV, film and radio – use. An initial appeal on Twitter brought up several references to Scrivener, which combines templates for several writing projects with the ability to store research notes. I’m not just looking for scriptwriting software, though – do you use anything to incentivise you to write a certain amount each day? Other applications (from Evernote to Pocket) to collate research materials? Anything digital to remove distractions and allow you to focus?

Whether it’s PC, Mac, iOS or based on another platform – or a piece of hardware gadgetry you can’t do without – I’d like to know about it. Use the comments box below or email me at the address above!

How to remove expired rental movies from your iPhone or iPad

Something that’s been annoying me over the last few weeks is that a couple of movies I had rented from the iTunes Store were not deleting from my iPad’s storage space. They were not showing up within the iPad’s ‘Sync Movies’ panel in iTunes, which is where you can transfer films from computer to iPad or vice versa. They were still showing up within the iPad’s Videos app, though. Attempting to play them produced an error, as you’d expect – but attempting to delete them via the usual method (hold down for a few seconds then tap the black cross, as works for apps) caused the Videos app to crash with the movies still there.

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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.

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My first iPhone app, a week in

Earlier this week, I blogged about how an iPhone app I’d written was now live. A week in, and things are moving on quite quickly.

Midweek, The Stage Jobs & Auditions was selected as a “staff favourite” on the UK App Store, which meant that it got a slot on the App Store main page within iTunes, albeit one well below the fold. Still, that certainly contributed to an increased number of downloads and a peak of number 3 in the “free apps” version of the Business apps chart.

At least, I thought it was a peak…

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My first iPhone app

UPDATE, 2 July: the app has been added to Apple’s ‘Staff Favourites’ list, and is currently no. 2 in the Business charts for free apps!

Over the weekend, my first iPhone app went live on the App Store. A free download, it’s a simple little app that allows users to browse The Stage’s jobs and auditions that are advertised online (and, in most cases, also in our weekly print edition).

The Stage Jobs and Auditions app (which we call just Stage Jobs for short) is free to download and use (save for your own 3G/internet connection costs). It briefly hit number 3 in iTunes’ chart of free business apps, which probably says more about the small number of downloads in that category than any soaraway success.

The bulk of the app takes the data from The Stage’s recruitment section, served up as XML via a private API (thanks to our web developer James, who implemented the server side of the API). This is converted to the iPhone’s standard drill-down format of clickable lists which, when clicked, slide off to the left to reveal more information – either a list of subcategories, a list of adverts, or the advert detail itself.

Going from proof of concept to a workable prototype was remarkably quick – a matter of weeks – thanks to a few things.

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The phone that’s just a phone. Even when it’s not

Alan has good taste in phones. This Nokia [6700 Classic] not only looks great, but has superb functions, including a five-megapixel camera with auto-focus and LED flash.

There’s also fast web browsing, video recording, a memory which is expandable to 8GB, five-hour talktime and three-day standby on one charge. One tester even claims it plays music non-stop for 12 hours at a reasonable volume.

So we’ve made it our Number One Phone For People Who Just Want a Phone.

The emphasis is mine. The idiocy of listing all the non-phone features of a phone that’s “just” a phone? That’s all the News of the World’s.

The feature looks at 10 non-iPhone mobiles, on the basis that a (probably fictional) “Alan” can’t work out how to use the iPhone (“Where’s the touchpad? How can you call people?”). He also wants an unlocked phone, so that he can use any SIM card in it. So he’ll hate whoever compiled the article, as all the prices quoted are for phones locked to networks either on contract or pay-as-you-go deals.

Unfortunately the article’s not online, so I can’t link to it. It took me a while to work out that it wasn’t, though: at the top of their gadgets page, oh-so-amusingly names GADGiTS, it cites a blog link of notw.co.uk/gadgits, which leads to a ‘Page not found’ error page.

Hardly a way to incite confidence in the paper’s coverage of IT-based topics, one would think.