Three Reasons to Not Change the Behavior of the iPhone Ring/Silent Switch

Been a bit of a brouhaha recently about the behavior of the iPhone’s ring/silent switch, kicked off by an article in the New York Times. John Gruber, Andy Ihnatko, and Marco Arment have weighed in, and covered most of the ground for and against, but here’s three specific thoughts I haven’t read elsewhere:

  1. The iPhone’s silent switch has behaved the way it does for 4½ years, and we’re only now having this conversation? Because some guy got a brand new iPhone and embarrassed himself at the symphony the same day? And people want to change the behavior because of one (well-publicized) incident of user error? Seriously?

    There’s no better indication that the behavior should remain the same than the fact that we’re only now discussing it.

  2. Flipping the ring/silent switch is a casual act. You can do it without looking at your phone. You can do it without even taking it out of your pocket. You can do it unintentionally, digging something out of that same pocket.

    Setting an alarm is a deliberate act. I defy anyone to do it while their iPhone is still in their pocket. I defy anyone to do it accidentally. If you forget you have an alarm set after going through the process of setting it, and get embarrassed at the symphony, shame on you.

  3. If you think the ring/silent switch should override an alarm you have set, causing it to not make sound, there’s an easy way to do that: don’t use the built-in Clock app. Many third-party alarm apps respect the ring/silent switch. I like Night Stand. It’s pretty, and when silent mode is enabled, it vibrates but doesn’t ring. Solve your problem for 99¢ and move on.

On Sale at Audible: Takeshi Kovacs Trilogy

Only for the next two days, and only for Audible.com members, but the deal is so good, I feel compelled to share this collection of three hard-edged science fiction novels, Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, and Woken Furies. I really enjoyed all three novels, and hope the author will return to the Envoy universe and write more of Kovacs’s story.

The Takeshi Kovacs trilogy

All three novels, unabridged, 55+ hours of audiobook, for $25 — less than $9 per novel, under 50¢ per hour! (Even when the sale ends on June 14th, this bundle will still be a nice deal.)

Audiobook Builder 1.5

My recommended solution for creating digital audiobooks from CDs, Audiobook Builder, has recently been updated, and comes with a new feature for renaming the chapters in an audiobook:

Rename Chapters feature

I don’t know that I’d want to use this on every book, but for those without interesting or meaningful chapter names (or if you’re just not as anal retentive as I am), this can be a nice time savings to make your chapter titles look neat and regular. This is especially useful if you’re creating a separate track for every chapter, and want to keep chapters in the right order. (I recommend a different approach, but it’s up to you.)

Other new features include additional metadata support, something that’s very welcome. All in all, a great update — and free to registered users!

Free download of Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau's WaldenFor a limited time, you can download a free audiobook of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden read by Mel Foster. This is the commercial version of the book, which retails for $23-33.

The unabridged audiobook is provided as MP3 files, which you can simply drag into iTunes, and then sync to your iPod or iPhone for listening. You can change their Media Kind to have iTunes treat them as audiobook tracks, or with a little more work, you can convert them to a single audiobook file.

Note: If you don’t already have one, you will need to create an account on Tantor Media’s site, which will sign you up for their newsletter where, among other things, you can learn about future free downloads.

Which iPod Should I Buy, 2010 Edition

Two years in the making, or just two years late. At long last I’ve updated the article describing recommended devices for listening to audiobooks:

Which iPod Should I Buy for Listening to Audiobooks

Hopefully this will be useful to you during your holiday shopping! (And come back for my Recommended Audiobooks when you find a new toy under the tree for yourself, that’s getting a huge update soon.)

App Review: Audible Audiobook Player

The Audible mobile app for iPhone and iPod Touch is a terrific way to browse, download, and listen to your Audible audiobooks. If you are an Audible.com customer, add this free app to your handheld device.

If you search the App Store for “audiobook” you turn up hundreds of results, most of which are crap. (More on that in a future post.) Separating the wheat from the chaff can be a challenge. Aldo on Audiobooks will only bother to review worthwhile apps.

My favorite source for audiobooks is Audible.com, an online service offering over 85,000 digital downloads of audiobooks and other spoken word content (more here). This summer Audible released the Audible audio player app, dedicated to playing Audible content and interacting with the Audible.com service directly, without requiring the use of a computer or iTunes. The app is free, but requires the use of an Audible.com account.

Audible app

The short version of this review is, if you’re an Audible customer with an iOS device, getting this free app is a no-brainer. It’s intuitive and optimized for audiobooks, it plays in the background just like the built-in iPod app, it adds useful features not in the built-in iPod app, and its design is clean, simple, tasteful. I’ve used it exclusively for audiobooks for the last four months, and it’s a great replacement for the iPod app. I plan to continue using it indefinitely. I still use the iPod app for podcasts and non-Audible audiobooks, and regularly miss Audible app features.

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Free download of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley's FrankensteinFrom now through Halloween, you can download a free audiobook of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein read by Simon Vance. Vance is an extraordinary narrator, winner of many awards, and certainly a Golden Voice. This is a high-quality production.

The unabridged audiobook is provided as MP3 files, which you can simply drag into iTunes, and then sync to your iPod or iPhone for listening. You can change their Media Kind to have iTunes treat them as audiobook tracks, or with a little more work, you can convert them to a single audiobook file.

Note: If you don’t already have one, you will need to create an account on Tantor Media’s site, which will sign you up for their newsletter where, among other things, you can learn about future free downloads.

Five Bars at Home with the AT&T 3G MicroCell

The AT&T 3G MicroCell is a very good, not-too-expensive solution for getting a great wireless signal in your own home. Even if it’s not available online yet, your local AT&T Wireless store probably has them in stock. Recommended, with minor caveats.

AT&T is the exclusive wireless provider for the Apple iPhone here in the United States, and has at least partially earned a reputation for providing poor wireless phone coverage. In my own travels, I’ve had great reception in Portland, Austin, Palm Springs, and Chicago, among other places, four or five bars, consistently. I don’t recall ever having poor 3G reception anywhere — except here in my home city of San Francisco.

Now, San Francisco presents some unique challenges, such has high-rises and famously steep hills. But solving those reasonably straightforward RF challenges is what AT&T gets paid the big bucks to do. After almost four years there has been some improvement, but reception is still a major issue, with some parts of SF being almost completely dead zones. (I believe this has more to do with the tinfoil hat crowd than AT&T’s lack of effort and investment, but that’s a post for another day.)

AT&T reception in our house, while not awful, has been spotty, and seems oddly worse since we gave up our land line in January. It has definitely been an issue, with dropped and “one-way” (you can hear someone but they can’t hear you, or vice versa) calls being a regular occurrence.

AT&T 3G MicroCellAT&T has a solution for that problem. It’s called the AT&T 3G MicroCell, which puts a mini cell phone tower called a “femtocell” in your house, and no less a personage than the NYTimes has written about it. Their first article, Bringing You a Signal You’re Already Paying For, is a bit snarky, but does a good job of covering the details of the technology, and why you might want it. Their second article, Dead Zone Doldrums Test Skills of iPhone Customers, is more pragmatic, focused on usable ways to improve your reception, including the MicroCell.

Ultimately, finding a usable solution is more productive than pointing fingers. While the 3G MicroCell does cost $150, there are no monthly fees, and I can attest to getting at least three, and mostly five bars everywhere in my ~1400 square foot house. The MicroCell hands off smoothly to a standard AT&T tower when I move to my back deck, where reception was already excellent. Call quality has been excellent. Once set up, there is nothing to do. It Just Works.

There were two tricks to getting the MicroCell working. The first was actually getting one. They are not yet available for ordering online, at least not in San Francisco. But, after reading a tweet that AT&T Wireless retail stores were selling them in Santa Rosa, I stopped by a store in downtown San Francisco. Yes, they had them in stock, and so did the second store I visited. So, if you want a MicroCell today, you may need to visit your nearest AT&T Wireless store. For me, this was only 10 minutes out of my way, not a big deal.

My second issue was activating the MicroCell. It needs to have a reliable two-way connection to the Internet. For you to receive calls, the AT&T network needs to be able to reach the MicroCell, that is, connect from the Internet to inside your home network. This is something that a good firewall will normally prevent. I assume that the MicroCell uses UPnP or NAT-PMP to attempt to automatically open appropriate holes for itself, but my decidedly non-standard firewall software and even more unusual hardware don’t support either. So, I had to put the MicroCell outside the firewall, which is easy enough if you have a simple home network…and a pain in the ass if you have a fully wired house. For most people, this won’t be an issue, but I would appreciate a way to manually configure my MicroCell, or at least the technical information to open the right holes. Currently AT&T wants the 3G MicroCell to be a black box that requires no direct configuration by the customer.

In the end, I’m pretty happy with the 3G MicroCell. It’s set up, it works as advertised, and I didn’t need to wait for AT&T to put a new cell tower nearer my house, or for Apple to launch a Verizon iPhone.

Four quick iPad thoughts

I just watched the full video from yesterday’s introduction of the Apple iPad, and had a few thoughts.

  1. If you have seen other Apple product introductions, the format is familiar, and they are never less than well executed. Of the intros I’ve seen, nothing has come close to the introduction of the iPhone. (I saw the original Mac intro years too late to fully appreciate its true impact.) But what the introduction of the iPad may have lacked in shock and awe, it made up for in the completeness of the story. The iPhone was on stage by itself, just the software that came on the phone. The iPad arrives with an entire ecosystem, of new and existing applications, third party developers, accessories, etc.

    People who were expecting to get the stomach drop of excitement that the iPhone intro produced (at least in me) were certainly disappointed. But that’s misplaced, the iPad is a far more advanced product and story than the iPhone was when introduced. It’s like the difference between the excitement of crushing hard on someone new, versus the comfort and trust and love that comes after many years of marriage. One’s more exciting, but the other is richer and more fulfilling.

  2. Another disappointment, or fear, that people have expressed is the lack of “openness” or “freedom.” I’ve got a different word for that concept: “complexity.” You can call that spin if you like, but I’ve spent 20+ years showing people how to use computers, and they’ve never been easy to use. Even today, 25 years after the concept of clicking and double-clicking hit the mass market, I see people confuse the two, and that is the most trivial of examples. It’s easy to come up with dozens more serious.

    What Apple is doing, first with the iPhone and now with the iPad, is offering a new model for computing, one that allows more direct interaction with objects on the screen, while at the same time simplifying away huge amounts of complexity, things that most people will never care about.

    Those of us who are “computer sophisticates” think those things are important, but when the iPad arrives, and normal people love them, and rave about the user interface, and buy them by the millions, we’ll see what’s really important, and it’s not the “freedom” to fuck around in the file system, or the “openness” to go out onto the Wild Internet and download and install random software.

    Try this exercise: every time you hear an expert say the iPad isn’t open, change “open” to “complicated.” Every time they write the iPad is “locked down” subsitute “simplified.” When the gurus get detailed about “important” three letter acronyms or random tech talk, hear “blah blah blah,” because that’s all it matters.

    Gruber put it best, it’s the arrival of the automatic transmission for computers. Those of us who are enthusiasts and experts will have access to manual transmissions for decades — regular computers are not going away. But for those folks who only care about getting to their destination, it just got a lot easier.

    Update: Here are some terrific articles that tackle this topic in depth, and in different, complementary ways:

  3. If you want to really understand this, and get an idea of just how much Apple is leading by example, watch the segment where Phil Schiller demonstrates the iPad versions of the iWork suite (a word processor, a spreadsheet, and a presentation tool). Apple has completely re-thought the way that you interact with these tools, and except for the on screen virtual keyboard, it surpasses the desktop experience in every way. Really quite extraordinary, it was here that I got genuinely excited about what is new in the iPad, and what it means. A small taste of The Future.

  4. Scott Forstall offered developers a big incentive to build apps specifically for the iPad: separate, prominent placement in the iPad App Store. The phrase “a new gold rush” was used. Is that sound in the distance the clatter of Android and web OS and Blackberry phones being dropped by developers? Maybe not, but Apple is certainly building tremendous momentum for their platform. Competitors will not be catching up for years.

At $500, the iPad will be $100 cheaper than the original iPhone I lined up to buy. I may not line up for an iPad, but I’ll certainly be buying one. Yes, the 2nd generation will be even better. That’s always true. So what. I don’t think the iPad is the grand slam home run I wrote that the iPhone was, but it’s most definitely a hit that will score runs. I want one.

App Review: Recorded Books Audiobook Apps

Recorded Books is offering a dozen audiobook apps in the iTunes Store, audiobooks built into an app for playing them on an iPhone or iPod Touch. The app is intended to make acquiring and listening to an audiobook easier and less frustrating. In some ways it succeeds.

If you search the App Store for “audiobook” you turn up hundreds of results, most of which are crap. (More on that in a future post.) Separating the wheat from the chaff can be a challenge. Aldo on Audiobooks will only bother to review worthwhile apps.

In my review of the Bookmark iPhone app, I noted that for the long tracks of an audiobook, the standard controls of the iPod app, optimized for 3 minute music tracks, can be frustrating. Bookmark is one solution to this issue. Another comes in the form of self-contained audiobook apps from Recorded Books.

Recorded Books audiobook apps

These audiobook apps are found in the App Store section of iTunes, rather than in the Audiobooks section. You are buying not merely the audio portion of the audiobook, but also an app that will play it back. Indeed, you can only play the audiobook from its dedicated app; you cannot use the iPod app, or Bookmark, etc.

These apps are the iPhone equivalent of the Playaway format: player and book baked into a single device. The idea is to make an audiobook as easy to use as a regular book — a single (physical, for the Playaway) object that you pick up and take with you, no other items needed. The self-contained audiobook app makes the experience of buying an audiobook, getting it onto your iPhone, and playing it simple and straightforward. In theory.

Continue reading “App Review: Recorded Books Audiobook Apps”