The Northern Spy: iOS 4, iBooks, Apple's special event
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The Northern Spy: iOS 4, iBooks, Apple's special event

iOS4

iOS4 has recently been released to the iPod, providing the new features to a larger number of existing Apple customers. Of most importance to the Spy were multitasking and folders, the former in operational terms, the latter in organizational.

He wasted no time in reorganizing his five home pages down to two, with most applications in folders. To do this, hold a touch until the wiggle effect starts, then drop one app on top of another. A folder with both will be created, which can then readily be renamed to suit, and additional apps can be dragged into it. Most people will wonder how they got along without application folders.

Double clicking the bottom application switching button is now supposed to produce the multitasking bar, providing quick access to currently running processes. However, within individual applications the implementation of this feature is inconsistent. Even within the same application, sometimes a single press produces the task bar rather than a home page, and sometimes the double press does. The Spy assumes that individual developers have some work to do ensuring compliance with the changed interface standards.

One other thing to watch out for is that some apps crash under iOS4 when they did not under previous versions. Bloomberg's stock watching app is a good example. Press an exchange for more detail, then rotate to get the wider history graph. A screen press in this view is very likely to crash the application. The Olive Tree reader also crash-froze the first time it was used in iOS4. This could only be escaped by shutting the iPod off completely and restarting. The Olive Tree settings then had to be re-done.

Book, book, book

Apple's new reader, naturally called iBooks, was also recently made available on the iPod touch platform. This is good news, though not so much for now as for the future.

The Spy first tried some of the free novels. Given his own writing, he chose the SF category and downloaded half a dozen of the large number available. He finished none, and deleted all.

Next he had a look at the ones for sale. However, these were from the larger publishing houses for the most part, and were priced much too high. Hello, iSteve. $8.99 is a ridiculous cover charge for new eBook novels. Try under $5. Well, a few were cheaper, but the general run of prices was excessive.

Nice to see the Spy's own Alternate History Christian Science Fiction novels sneaking through via some of the retailers like SmashWords and at a decent price. Bully for them. Oh, and if you've not heard of a genre like that before, welcome to eBooks, where crossovers between and mashups of traditional genres are the norm, rather than the exception. Would that the selling sites all realized this and did their keywords accordingly.

Then the Spy asked the question: "How do I get .pdf files into the bookshelf?" This wasn't easy or obvious, even after Googling the matter and reading Apple's terse instructions several times. Turns out that you can't from the iPod itself. Instead, you must go to iTunes, turn on a preference for working with books, then use a menu item to add .pdf files located on the local drive (only).

After that you sync, and the books added to the iTunes library get added to the device and appear in the bookshelf. Then, it turns out that you have no choice of font face or size. Given that the .pdfs arrived on the iPod formatted too small to read, and that a magnification goes away when you turn the page, this is a clumsy way to read these files. In keeping with iSteve-esque practice, neither are there many other options. Hmmmm.

That led to the question: "How do you add books from the net, even from Apple's book store by using iTunes?" Turns out you don't, indeed can't. Only way to do that is by using the app on the device itself. Watch all those syncs. Don't want to lose anything.

Well, this thing sorta works, but given that there are several much more functional and better-thought-out general readers (Stanza, Fictionwise's eReader) and even more better (love that turn of phrase) specialized readers (OliveTree) already doing yoeman service on his iPod, Apple's effort so far rates perhaps a C+. The whole package of iBook and the way one uses it is very much a work in progress. Expect better in years to come, as this is definitely not eBook reading done as well as it could be.

Oh, and that's another thing. iTunes itself has always seemed rather clunky to the Spy. The longer he uses it, the more it seems to need a makeover. It's just not that intuitive or easy to use.

Another music event

Another music event was scheduled by Apple for September first, so is likely over by the time the Spy's reader is perusing these ramblings. No doubt this will be a music event, complete with yet another iteration of the iPod, perhaps a touch with more better features. Since he doesn't use his iPod for music (!!) his interest is minimal, but an iPod with a camera might be useful.

Speaking of new items, the Spy has ordered one of the new Mac Pro machines for his work desktop. He went for an eight core model and twenty-four inch screen, but with additional memory, internal drive, and interfaces of course ordered from a third party to avoid the exorbitant price Apple charges for extras. He'll let you know what he thinks of the new system over the next few months.

Why now? Because, first, he has a rule of thumb that he upgrades when he can get at least two to four times the performance; because, second, his Quad PowerPC was not only one of Apple's poorer machines (dodgy cooing, bad firewire implementation) but has now been left behind by the OS; and because, third, it looks like Office 2011 will have proper macro support and he can finally upgrade from version 2004 (which doesn't work under Snow Leopard). Everything is connected to everything else.

And also...

Under another hat, and as Arjay Web services, the Spy runs a web hosting and domain name business on a small scale. Gotta keep up with the Internet's plumbing, and what better way than by doing. Three years ago, this got him nominated and elected to the board of CIRA (the Canadian Internet Registration Authority--runs the .ca cc Top Level Domain). he won't upgrade his home machine to snow Leopard until he checks to make sure it all works. What can go wrong will go wrong, and in the worst possible and least expected way.
Well, his three year term of office is now finished, and, since he at least things he's done a decent job, he's of course running for re-election, this time as a member nominee, the election for which is in two stages. First, he needs twenty "shows of support" to get on the ballot, then he needs to win the vote over all the other candidates. If his reader owns one of the 1.5 million .ca domains, and is a member of CIRA (not automatic, one has to apply) and is interested in showing support, then later voting, he may go to https://elections.cira.ca/2010. If the process seems convoluted, welcome to the club. Elect the Spy and he'll continue to work on simplifying it.

Back to School, for yet another year in a couple of weeks. The Spy still enjoys teaching, and this year's courses -- Calculus, Software Engineering, Ethical Issues in Technology, and Discrete Mathematics -- are all old favourites. Hey, it's not too late to sign up at http://www.twu.ca and come to the frozen north for your degree.

--The Northern Spy

Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor and chair of Computing Science and Mathematics as well as Senate Chair at Trinity Western University. He is also on the board of CIRA, operator of .ca. He's written two textbooks and several novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.

Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns? Surf on over to ArjayBB.com. Participate and you could win free web hosting from the WebNameHost.net subsidiary of Arjay Web Services. Rick Sutcliffe's fiction can be purchased in various eBook formats from Fictionwise, and in dead tree form from Amazon's Booksurge.

URLs
The Northern Spy Home Page: http://www.TheNorthernSpy.com
The Spy's Laws collected: http://www.thenorthernspy.com/spyslaws.htm
The Spy's Shareware download site: http://downloads.thenorthernspy.com/

 
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