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Homeplug Problems In A Factory Setting (Part 2)

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You’ll have read about the problems with the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 launch. As long-term readers may know, this column is no longer on the Apple PR department’s Christmas list, as we’ve had our differences over the years. Despite that, I’ve started to feel a bit sad for the company recently. The Maps fiasco reminds me of that “What have the Romans ever done for us?” scene from the Life of Brian: there’s a whole list of brilliant improvements in the iPhone 5 and its iOS 6 operating system, but they’re being ignored or overshadowed because everyone just wants to complain about Apple’s terrible map application.

Some have argued that in the face of much of the Android competition, the screen on the iPhone 5 simply isn’t big enough, yet I know from feedback that a significant proportion of you are fed up with the massive phones that seem to be fashionable at the moment

Some have argued that in the face of much of the Android competition, the screen on the iPhone 5 simply isn’t big enough, yet I know from feedback that a significant proportion of you are fed up with the massive phones that seem to be fashionable at the moment

So, despite the lack of love between us, I thought I’d spend a few words defending Apple’s latest hardware and software babies. Let’s start with the phone. Some have argued that in the face of much of the Android competition, the screen on the iPhone 5 simply isn’t big enough, yet I know from feedback that a significant proportion of you are fed up with the massive phones that seem to be fashionable at the moment. What Apple has done is actually quite clever: by retaining the width and just making the phone taller, it can still be held comfortably in one hand; even people with fairly small hands can reach right across the touchscreen with their thumb. Any wider and for many people it would become a two-handed device, especially for that important Far Eastern audience who (on average) tend to have smaller hands than us in the West.

Some argue that a bigger screen is needed to see more of a web page, but this isn’t only a factor of physical size – screen quality and resolution matter too. The fact is that the iPhone 5’s display contains more pixels than many of its competitors, and the screen is better quality too. Put it alongside any other high-end smartphone and it’s just as easy to read a web page on its screen as on bigger-screened devices.

Of course, there’s more to the iPhone 5 than the screen. It has a faster CPU and a host of other improvements, but I’m getting a bit weary of the usual box-ticking comparison of phone specifications that make many smartphone reviews look like a game of Top Trumps: phone A has two extra cores in its CPU but phone B has a higher clock speed and phone C has a 2% brighter screen. It’s all starting to feel irrelevant to me because, ignoring the budget end of the market, pretty well every current smartphone is utterly brilliant. Of course, some do certain things slightly better than others – the quality of the onboard camera or battery life, for example – but bickering over single-figure percentage differences in CPU speeds seems increasingly pointless.

Where the differences are significant is between the phones’ operating systems. Much of the market is now running Android – sometimes vanilla Android, but often Android in drag. Phone manufacturers like to plaster on layers of make-up to make their device look prettier, but underneath it’s still Android and you’re still going to be running Android apps. There are several credible alternatives to Android, including iOS on the iPhone and an increasing number of Windows Phone devices; and outside of the USA people are still buying BlackBerry (although it’s starting to look like a bit of a dead end as the company’s new 10 OS gets closer to launch)

It’s these OS differences that really provide the differentiation when comparing phones: if you want the largest selection of (mostly) high-quality apps then iOS is the obvious choice; if you want freedom from lock-in, to feel that you own the phone rather than the phone owning you, then Android is a wiser choice; and if you want something innovative and different that integrates superbly with Microsoft-based back-office systems then Windows Phone is the logical buy.

Now iOS 6 is taking a real pasting from users and the press about its awful mapping software; but having said that, as a satnav system it works very well, provided you manage to locate your destination properly (I’ve found that entering precise postcodes is best). It offers very clear instructions, good routes and comprehensive live traffic updates. Apple’s biggest mistake seems to have been in calling the thing “Maps” and wielding it as a replacement for the old Googlebased map app. I think if the company had called it “Satnav” instead then most people would have been quite happy with it.

However, there’s plenty more to iOS 6 than mapping. You’ll have read about many of the new features in reviews and news stories, so here I’m going to mention some of the less visible new features that you may have missed; even iPhone 5 owners may have missed some of them!

Let’s start with a tune: I’ve discovered that the play position of certain music tracks I’ve listened to seems now to get synced across my various iOS devices, including the little Apple TV box that sits under my TV and isn’t really a TV at all. The same ability applies to videos and podcasts, too – start listening to something at home on TV, carry on listening by phone during your commute, then switch to another device when you get to work. There’s actually a whole host of extra stuff that’s synced in iOS 6, including keyboard shortcuts and browser tabs.

The fact that mobile Safari now supports HTTP uploads is a huge deal for web developers

The fact that mobile Safari now supports HTTP uploads is a huge deal for web developers

A nice improvement in the App Store is that you no longer need to keep typing in your password when updating previously installed apps. Also when installing new apps, you now only need your password for paid-for apps; freebies just download automatically (although parents worried about kiddies now being able to fill their phones with rubbish can lock down this feature by using restrictions).

One tiny update that I really like is the way the auto-brightness feature works on the lockscreen, which previously was always turned up to 11 and only dimmed down when you unlocked the phone or tablet. Some people still have trouble with the iOS auto-brightness setting; if you’re one of them, what you need to do is go into a darkened room and set the brightness fairly low. From then on it should work as designed, but please note that it only auto-brightens: the screen doesn’t auto-dim if you move to a darker place. The only time it will dim is when idle for a few minutes, or when awakening from sleep.

Finally, something that web developers will appreciate: for iOS 6, the Safari web browser now supports HTTP uploads. This is a big deal, as anyone trying to maintain a website using a CMS couldn’t previously upload images, only text. It was a bugbear, which sparked a whole industry of workaround apps and tweaks, although none of them were really successful. For people writing web-based applications, it’s a big step forwards that iPhone and iPad users can now make use of <input type="file"> or even <input type="file" multiple> statements.

Incidentally, since I don’t receive any help from Apple with this column, I have to look elsewhere when I need access to the company’s products. This month, Vodafone came to the rescue. I’ve got a lot of time for that particular network: T-Mobile, Orange and their love child EE are all making plenty of noise at the moment regarding 4G (or so-called 4G) rollout; O2 is a network that has brilliant customer service but is still taking flak for the quality of its mobile data network; and 3 is improving, but still has very patchy coverage outside the main population centres.

Meanwhile, Vodafone has just been sitting quietly, not making a big fuss, but gradually improving its network quality and coverage in a methodical manner. I often find when doing a network test in a particular location that Vodafone might not always offer the strongest signal, but it will quite often be the network with the best throughput.

 

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