Sunday, January 14, 2007

Grah! just cleared a draft message I had been working on for days! Aah! Not cool!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Quicken Problems

So I'm playing around with new money management software, right, because Quicken 2006 feels like a very Windowsy app. (One high on my list is Cha-Ching, a program currently in beta that was featured on a recent MacBreak short from the MacWorld expo.)

However, I'm having some serious problems exporting my transactions to .QIF from Quicken for importing into other apps. (There's no way I'm going to reenter 7 months of transactions in each program just to try them out.) I can't open the exported files in anything. Preview opens on double-click, but no window shows up. Cha-Ching, bless its little soul, actually tries to do something with the file, but it can't find any transactions. I just got done with a "Live Chat" with one of Quicken's technicians. Here's the transcript. Well dang, I had the transcript on my clipboard but accidentally copied over it. But let me just say that the conversation ended with her saying something along the lines of, "I sympathize with the frustration you must be feeling."

Any tips would be very appreciated. I can provide screenshots if that would help.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

My Thoughts on the iPhone. Apple's, that is.

First, let me say that severely disappointed me. I had the "spoiler-free" page (which would be updated with the link to the keynote video once Apple uploaded it) on auto-refresh, and a headline popped up saying that Apple had announced the iPhone and Apple TV! Bastards! But once I saw that, the floodgates that were my willpower turned out to be less Amsterdam and more New Orleans, and I rushed over to the Apple site and just about broke down over the iPhone.

I really should have commented on the latest MacBreak Weekly earlier. They played a clip of Leo's radio show where a guy called in and claimed to have a source at Apple. The guy said the iPhone would be CDMA. Now, I had a very strong feeling that would not be the case -- if it were so, Apple would likely partner with Verizon, a company scorned for its disabling of features, and that's something I really don't think Apple or Apple fans would like. But now that it's announced as a Cingular product, you're just going to say I'm exploiting the hindsight bias ("Well of course it's that way..."). But really I had thought of that earlier today while listening to the podcast! Really!

Now, about that -- what's it called again? iPhone? How does that fly with Cisco? Turns out it doesn't. But moving on!

It's a PDA! It's a phone! It's the much-hoped-for widescreen touchscreen video iPod! It's so amazing I want to cry. Apple's first entry into the mobile computing market since the Newton (which still holds a place in my heart) is perfect. At least in theory; we'll see what issues crop up once it's released (sometime in June of this year; it's still pending FCC approval). The case and the interface are absolutely gorgeous. Best of all, it's available for my carrier! If only I could get steady reception in any part of my house (even just one spot would be fantastic), I would change my view of Cingular from reluctant acceptance to outright joy. But for now, all I can muster is some muted joy.

Since it's called the iPhone, I guess I'll talk about its capabilities as a phone first. There isn't really anything that will change the way we use our cell phones forever, but the improvements Apple has made on the traditional cell phone are poised make the iPhone experience better in a way disproportionate to their technological complexity. For me at least,
  • The Favorites list is a feature I have ached for my cell phone to have, and I could never understand why it wasn't the first thing the developers thought of as they tested their phones. How hard would it be, Motorola, to include this kind of thing with your OS? (Hint: not very.) It's painful to me to know my wife has to scroll through about 15 other S's to get to my name to call me. (Yes, I know about speed dial, but she's set in her ways.) There are workarounds though, for us stuck with more mediocre phones. One is to use the "recently dialed numbers" screen to find whoever you want to call. Or you can just name important people in the format "## Person" so that they float up to the top of the list. Just don't let "02 Wife" find out that she's behind "01 Boss," or there might be some cold shoulder headed your way.

  • Merging calls is pretty cool. I don't think it's something that will get much use from little old me, but it's good to know it's there.

  • Visual voicemail is the greatest idea in the history of leaving messages. It may (may!) make me not hate the voicemail system quite as much. How many times have you wanted to listen to a message but had to wait through the voicemail lady announcing the number of each voicemail and the time of the call? (For example, with Cingular: "First... saved... message.... Sent...Friday... January... fifth...Ten...Forty...Five...A.M.) This is even worse if you have multiple messages before the one you want to listen to. Well, visual voicemail solves this problem so elegantly it's a wonder it took this long for someone to implement it. Speaking of which, I'm wondering how the iPhone interfaces with Cingular's voicemail system to make this work. Any clarification is encouraged in the comments.

  • Viewing texts as a chat falls in the same category as the Favorites list... Why in the world didn't it get implemented before? What would have been so hard about that?

  • The "soft" number pad (for dialing) and QWERTY keyboard -- "soft" meaning touchscreen elements rather than physical keys-- is a great innovation. It saves so much space over having physical keys, which don't get used all the time. How much bigger could the Treo's screen be, for example?

  • Predictive text that corrects mistakes... I love it! Leave it to Apple to make something smarter than you are!

  • I posted some of the gripes I had with my current cell phone a while back on one of my now sadly-neglected HiveLive hives, and hopefully some of the things I wanted out of my ideal cell phone will be addressed. One that I didn't mentioned was that when someone calls and the phone is open or I'm on with someone else, the "Ignore" button is where the "Answer" button should be -- that is, the right soft key. The menu that comes up on the iPhone solves this problem perfectly. Also, it should be interesting to see if Apple allows you to set special ringtones for certain people calling you but not texting you.
The rest of my comments about the iPhone aren't nearly so extensive as to require bullet points to keep them all straight. I think the demo of the iPhone-as-iPod looks amazingly cool, especially the integration of Cover Flow and the automatic landscape/portrait orientation sensing. The latter really increases the phone's potential as a web browsing device as well, although my experience with Cingular's EDGE network (which I admit has been limited to my V557, which isn't really a multimedia kind of device) has me a little skeptical about the speed displayed in the demo. Widgets are also a great idea for a mobile computing device -- I assume this type of platform I assume has been limited to programs that run only when launched and aren't really supposed to be in the background too much. Again, this isn't really a major breakthrough, but the little things make a difference in product experience. I also love the fact that I could get a phone number via Google Maps and call that number, all from one device.

This product launch could go one of two ways. It could be wildly successful, propelling Cingular and Apple ahead of the competition (the way I hope it will be). The other possibility is that the iPhone could languish due to the fact that you can only get it with a 2-year contract. This restriction will be in place for at least 2 years, during which time Apple's phone competitors could have time to incorporate Apple's innovations into their current devices for a smaller cost and for different carriers. For this reason, I really wish the iPhone had been available as an unlocked device. I understand how handy it is for a service provider to subsidize part of the cost of a phone, making it seem cheaper than it is, but it's risky.

All in all, Apple didn't do anything too revolutionary, but the innovations they brought to the iPhone show how the little things can go a long way toward making a product experience awesome.

(And how about a few sentences on the Apple TV? I think it's a great idea. If I had a widescreen TV, I would definitely get one. $300 doesn't seem too unreasonable. Plus, the Photos screensaver looks awesome.)