iOS 5.0 Recommendations

I just wrote an email to my immediate family laying out my thoughts about iOS 5.0 and what they should do about upgrading and using iCloud and the like. I realized as I sent it that it might be interesting to more people so I'm going to post it here. It's worth noting a few things about the perspective. I've been running iOS 5.0 on an iPhone 3GS and WiFi iPad 2 for a bit over a month and on a fourth generation iPod Touch since June (although I don't do anything other than software debugging on the touch). So I don't have any experience with 5.0 on an iPhone 4. I suspect it's fine but I haven't tried it personally. I've been running the gold master for the week it has been available. The folks I was sending the email to have a WiFi iPad 1 and a 3GS.

Anyway, here's what I wrote:

1) You'll need iTunes 10.5. I suspect iTunes will ask about upgrading sometime today. That should be fine but be aware it will take a little time so don't do it if you're in a hurry.

2 ) The next time you sync your iPad or iPhone to the computer after the iTunes update it's likely to ask you if you want to upgrade. If you do be prepared: it will take a while to update and restore. My phone (which has more files on it than my iPad) takes about an hour to restore after a system upgrade. It's all pretty seamless but it takes a while because iTunes first backs up the phone, then downloads the system update, then wipes the device, then installs the update, then puts all of your files back from that backup.

3 ) I haven't run iOS 5.0 on an iPad 1, but I suspect it's a fine thing to install. I still would not recommend installing iOS 5.0 on a 3GS phone. I've been running the "Gold Master" released version for a week and it's faster than the betas were but the phone is still very sluggish compared to how it was on 4.3. I still feel playing real-time games on the 3GS is ugly with the quasi-random freezes. Also be aware if you install 5.0 it may be difficult or impossible to go back to 4.3 (the new version usually updates the cellular baseband firmware in ways incompatible with earlier OSes, so to roll back you have to do tricky re-flashing of very low-level chips.) I ordered a new iPhone 4S that I'm getting on Friday, but the only thing that's made running 5.0 on my 3GS acceptable was knowing it was a short-term solution. If they follow the pattern you may find that the inevitable 5.1 works better on a 3GS than 5.0 does. I would suggest waiting at least a week or two and see what shakes out with the 3GS/5.0 situation. And you have to be careful with that because iTunes will encourage you to upgrade. If you just click things without reading you'll get an upgrade.

4 ) iOS 5.0 has iCloud for file storage and you can use iTunes Music Match to stream your music library from online storage. Music Match costs $25/year. This is going to be really cool, but I'd advise staying away from both features for a while. I've tried Music Match on my iPad and it makes a real mess out of things. I told it this morning to download all of my Talking Heads music (I have ~150 tracks from Talking Heads) and my iPad started well over 400 downloads. No idea what it's doing, but it's taking quite a while. Apple cloud things tend to get overwhelmed in the first few days after launch so I'd suggest keeping all of your contacts, calendars, and data files exactly where they are for the first couple of weeks. I turned on Music Match on my iPad because most of the time I listen to my phone - which I'm still syncing manually right now. I have some files on iCloud for testing but only stuff that has multiple backups.

5 ) Having said all of that, turning on the "Sync over WiFi" option in iTunes is pretty awesome. With that your iOS device will sync (and backup!) whenever you plug it into the charger if iTunes is running on the machine you use to connect. None of that uses iCloud in any way - it's just your device and your computer talking over the local network. I recommend turning that on as soon as you can. I've been using that for months now - but I still haven't turned on backing up to iCloud because I trust THAT a lot less.

Direct Droid/iPhone 3GS Comparison

Andy Ihnatko took a good series of shots where he took the same image with a 3GS and a Motorola Droid. If you care about phone cameras it's worth a look. My super-short capsule summary of the comparison? The Droid has a light and it has more megapixels and those save some shots. In general tap to focus is super-useful and the Droid pictures are really washed out saturation-wise. I think I would prefer having a 3GS for most occasions where I want a camera. Although I'd admit I could envy that light pretty easily .... And of course nobody is selecting a phone based on the camera built-in anyway. You pick the phone with the feature set you want and then that dictates which crappy camera you have anyway. On either of these the point is not that they are great cameras, the point is that it's a mediocre camera that you happen to have in your pocket all the time.
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Cutting the (Virtual) Cable

I just cancelled my DirecTV subscription. There's a long string of archived posts that mention DirecTV in some form or another, primarily centered around them turning on the MPEG-4 HD streams for many of the "basic cable" channels, such as the one formerly know as SciFi, USA and so forth. You can search the blog for "DirecTV" if you'd like to see the nitty-gritty. As you can see from the archives I was pretty enthusiastic about DTV back then, and was willing to sign a two year contract to get my hands on the HD-20 DVR that would store these HD signals. I don't regret that but a lot can change in two years. I realized over the past few months that easily 95% of the programming we watched was coming in from the antenna. The only things we used DTV for were the "basic cable channels" - Karin watches some things on USA, my science fiction programming on the channel with the stupid name and so forth. But here's the kicker: We were paying $80 a month to pretty much access three of our channels. That's stupid. Even worse, when I started looking I can find EVERY SHOW in question on either Hulu, iTunes, or some moderately janky "stream in a web browser" channel site. Hulu Desktop is producing ... well I wouldn't call it full HD quality but it's better than DVD in a lot of cases and seems to carry almost everything we lose. I'll watch something like Warehouse 13 in HD, but I have trouble selling that as worth let's say $10 or $20 a month. Meh. Hulu Desktop is good enough for so-so TV. So I bought a new "TiVo HD" unit and an external drive for it from Amazon. The pair costs less than $400 and give me over 150 hours of HD programming storage with a new generation TiVo receiver. It can record ABC flawlessly, which both of the older PVR's were still having trouble with as of a week ago. So you figure that will pay for itself in five months, maybe six or seven if I end up buying a lot of iTunes season passes. But so far it looks like a rooftop antenna, a TiVo, a computer hooked up to the TV, and Hulu Desktop are going to get us every show we used to watch, and they are going to do it for free. (OK, they are going to do it for the TiVo Guide fee, which works out to about $10 a month.) Hulu makes you watch a couple of ads, but it's not super-obnoxious about it. This is the future people. There's no reason to pay cable or satellite fees in most of the country if you own your rooftop. Used to be cable and later satellite were the only ways to get a decent picture, but the antenna is a better picture than DTV provided and it is much cheaper. When I talked to the customer service rep he kept stressing 200 channels, but I never watched 99% of those channels, so those don't count. Hulu lets you subscribe to shows and it just puts new episodes in your queue as they become available. Watch' em and they are automatically removed from the queue, so you can get a list that works an awful lot like Season Passes from TiVo. I've had Hulu Desktop on my system since it first came out but I was sort of stunned to start using it again this fall and see how far it's come. It's not bad, not bad at all. The biggest drawback is that it has limited number of series, or only the last three episodes or whatever, but that will all get better over time. The TV networks have no reason to prop up cable companies (except in cases where they are OWNED by cable companies of course, cough cough, too much deregulation, cough cough Rupert Murdoch), so I think this will improve fairly quickly. Especially if they ever realize that two unskippable ads in a Hulu stream is a better deal than dozens in a TV stream that I just blink right on past.
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Hah! Some notes on Mac Minis in the living room

Long term readers might remember when I first moved Horton (my Mac Mini) to the living room and specifically where I wrote:
The more subtle problem was this: when I turned off the display device connected to Horton, the machine went to sleep. You can wake it up if you hit a Bluetooth mouse or keyboard to wake it, but that’s not very useful for the remote situation. Turns out there is freeware called InsomniaX that fixes the problem like a charm. Run it and the Mini stays awake even with the TV off.
This turns out not to be true. This morning I upgraded Horton to Snow Leopard and I was doing a lot of screwing around with updating the web server, making sure SSL was working, blah, blah, it was even boring when I was doing it, blah. Got up to the point where everything was running but the sleep-stopper InsomniaX. I had also been working with my laptop and suffering through the "Man I really need to pair the Harmony to it stops controlling my laptop as well" sort of drills - I'd push a button on the remote and both computers would respond, that sort of thing. This was aggravated by the "Activity" macro for Horton has always started playing music automatically. I've meant to fix it, but never gotten around to hauling out the software and working on it. So I figured while I was messing around I'd look at that as well. ANYWAY, InsomniaX is supposed to be Snow Leopard compatible but it froze every time I ran it. And while I was trying various things I switched away from the TV display of Horton and noticed that my laptop threw up a screen of a remote emitting little cartoon Zs and then it went to sleep. Whaaa? Has the Harmony remote been putting Horton to sleep all this time? Turns out that yes it has. You don't need InsomniaX, you just need to program the Harmony to leave the mini on all the time. (Also, the Harmony software now knows the mini remote codes, so that complaint I wrote before about needing to teach the commands is no longer valid - although it was at the time.) So yeah. Good to know.
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