iPhone 4 PR [Updated]

Yesterday I picked up my iPhone 4 from the AT&T store. The line was about 20 people deep when I arrived. As we stood there, shoppers passed by and watched us wait. Many of them had something to say. None of it was good.

“They’re returning their iPhones,” one woman said. “They get no reception.”

“When you hold it,” said another, “it breaks.”

“I’m going to keep my Blackberry since the iPhones don’t work.”

“Apple forces you to buy an expensive case. I bet that’s what they’re waiting for.”

If these sentiments represent public opinion, 1 Apple has a real PR problem on its hands. Geeks like you and me are more informed, but we’re the minority of consumers.

_______

Update: Response from Mr. D.

  1. Eavesdropping on random shoppers in a rural mall — specifically, only those motivated enough to disparage Apple —  is hardly scientific evidence, so keep that in mind.

Apple explains iPhone 4 antenna issue

Apple issued a press release today explaining the reception trouble that many users have experienced. In short, the iPhone is erroneously reporting signal strength:

“Upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong. Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength. For example, we sometimes display 4 bars when we should be displaying as few as 2 bars. Users observing a drop of several bars when they grip their iPhone in a certain way are most likely in an area with very weak signal strength, but they don’t know it because we are erroneously displaying 4 or 5 bars. Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place.”

In other words, when users saw their iPhone’s signal drop from 5 bars to 2, they were in fact dropping from 2 bars to zero. Apple’s only crime here was unknowingly exaggerating the strength of AT&T’s signal.

Apple will release a software fix “…within a few weeks” for the iPhone 4, 3Gs and 3G (Apple determined that issue has always existed on the iPhone) that utilizes AT&T’s modern formula for representing signal strength with those infamous bars.

This means that the worst case scenario — a hardware flaw — has been avoided. It also means that Jobs was right when he said, “There is no reception issue.” The reception is fine. The graphic representation of that reception has been wrong.

Finally, users like David Pogue who couldn’t reproduce the drop  (the majority of users, actually) are most likely in areas with strong coverage, where a drop from 5 bars to 4 or 3 isn’t significant. In fact, NYC (where David lives) recently received a major upgrade from AT&T. Good on Apple for the research and timely reply. If proven effective this fix should put an end to the lawsuits. In other words…

Blame AT&T.

WIRED for iPad updated

This app from Condé Nast continues to evolve with the release of version 1.1. Changes in this update include in-app purchases, 50MB preview downloads (similar to what Outside is doing) and support for back issues.

They’ve also added 360 degree panoramas and an in-app browser, so you can visit links without leaving the app. Plus, it’s a dollar cheaper at $4.

It looks great and I’ll have a full review up soon. For comparison, I’ve re-posted my review of the initial release below, originally published at davecaolo.com.

For more on using the iPad as an eReader, check out

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A long time ago, I read The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. At one point, a character is described as “listening to a book.” It was a minor detail with no special significance; just a bit of color used to establish a setting.

As an 8th grader with Star Wars PJs, it blew me away.

Years later, when the story was adapted for television, that character used a thin object about the size and shape as a clipboard for reading. No pages, no cover. How, I wondered, could something that incredible exist?

Much was made of the iPad‘s potential as an eReader before its release. Comparisons to the Kindle and Nook were inevitable. Now that some months have passed, users can explore publishers’ initial attempts at electronic distribution. Earlier this week, Condé Nast released an iPad version of WIRED magazine ($4.99) and sold 24,000 copies in the first 24 hours.

That number demonstrates that users want to read magazines on their iPads, and that they’re happy to reward well-done apps. Despite some flaws, I can say that WIRED for iPad is definitely well done. Here’s my experience with reading WIRED on an iPad.

The Good

The Ads. That’s right. Many of the ads in this issue (and there’s a lot of them; more on that later) offer something interesting for my time. For instance, a GE ad lets me rotate a high-def CT scan of lungs and a heart in 3D space. A Heineken ad asks, “Can I touch it?” while the iPad is in landscape orientation and answers “Yes you can!” when turned to portrait orientation. A Pepsi ad plays an embedded video about two kids who won an academic scholarship. It’s sappy, heart-stringy and the kind of thing you won’t see on TV or in print. Yes, it’s odd to identify advertisements as a feature, but I can’t deny that they are.

Bookmarking. Unlike other apps (Kindle for iPad, for example), bookmarking is completely invisible. There’s no need to remember and bookmark a page. The app takes care of that for you. The next time you launch, it will remember where you left off.

The iPad’s display. This isn’t really a feature of the app, but it does look terrific. The display is bright and text is razor sharp. Colors are bright and beautiful. The Kindle’s E-Ink technology has won many fans (it is superior in direct sunlight, after all), but this would be a completely different experience in greyscale. Unfortunately for Kindle customers, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says that a color Kindle is “still a long way out.” Of course, this is demonstrative of the app’s real strength…

Takes advantage of the platform. Before the iPad was released, I hoped that video, audio and other goodies would enhance electronic magazines and books. Wired for iPad is a great example of that wish realized.

For instance, the “Invaders from Mars” feature presents an image of the red planet and the man-made machines that have paid it a visit. Slowly swiping across the image rotates it, revealing a photo and brief history of each mission. The illusion of “spinning” the planet is very well done and kind of addictive (you’ll find yourself whirling the planet around even after you’ve read all of the text).

Some articles, like “Riverboat Resurrection,” let you toggle between related photos without leaving the article. A great example of this explains what goes into Lea and Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce. As you tap between the numbered steps, a new ingredient is revealed. Others include a clip of related audio or video. It feels like a webpage, so it’s familiar, but it’s much faster, so it’s more satisfying.

This issue’s standout is the Pixar feature, as it combines all of the above. There’s an exclusive clip from the movie. A “Building A Frame” section highlights how a single frame is created, step by step, culminating in a gorgeous, high-resolution image that you’re free to zoom and explore. It looks absolutely fantastic on the iPad’s display.

The Bad

The app has some flaws. Here’s what I found.

The ads. As I mentioned, there are a LOT of ads. Yes, some of them are clever but most aren’t. Several of the ads with extra content want to push you out of the app and into Safari which is disruptive.

The price. At $5 per issue, you’ve met the cost of a year’s subscription to the paper version in two issues. I imagine Condé Nast will explore electronic subscription models, but until they do, 5 bucks per issue just isn’t sustainable.

Swiping. This might sound silly, but there’s a lot of swiping to do. While I love the publication’s use of graphics, it ends up with small amounts of text on the screen at once, even within lengthy articles. This complaint probably represents the height of laziness, but there it is.

The size. At half a gig, the first issue is huge. I’ve got a 16GB iPad and after syncing it full of photos, apps, movies and TV shows, space is at a premium.

Conclusion

It’s fun. It’s impossible to deny how much fun it is to read this version of WIRED.

It’s appealing to non-geeks. In the day that I’ve owned this, I’ve shown it to three people, none of whom are geeks. Each one was completely smitten with the app and took the iPad right out of my hands. I had to wait to get it back. Granted, WIRED is for geeks, but it if the experience can be carried over to other magazines … well, you see where this is going.

It makes me eager for the app’s future. I can’t wait to see what future updates bring.

At the end of the day, what have you got? A killer implementation of a digital magazine. It’s not all eye candy, but the fantastically written and researched WIRED magazine that I’ve read for years. Despite my complaints (most of which are completely fixable), I’m enthused by what the developers have done with this app. I’m looking forward to the app’s future and whatever subscription plan is in the works. If you’ve got an iPad, definitely check this out.

I bet Ray would love it.

Poll results: You’re still buying

When the iPhone 4 went on sale in the US on June 24th, AT&T announced that its stores would have no stock for walk-in customers until June 29th. In the meantime, the antenna issue was widely reported.

Steve Jobs claims that “there is no reception issue,” but I agree with Jason Snell. If this is a hardware problem, and it could be, it’s “…a disaster.”

I won’t buy until that’s been determined. Surely I’m not the only one. Yesterday I asked you: “Has the iPhone 4 antenna issue affected  your decision to buy?” The results surprised me.

  • Out of the 270 who responded, 79.2% (214) answered “No.”
  • The remaining 20.7% (56) answered “Yes.”

Why the huge discrepancy? Perhaps people believe Apple will fix the issue, or believe it won’t happen to their iPhone. In any case, my readers weren’t alone, as customers lined up at AT&T stores today for another shot at buying the flawed phone.

Hold the phone [Updated]

Just hours after the iPhone 4 was delivered last week, some customers noticed an apparent data connection issue. Specifically, if one touches the lower left-hand corner of the phone with bare skin, the 3G connection immediately dies, and stays dead for as long as contact is maintained. Release the corner and the connection is re-established just as quickly. Cameron Hunt has posted a clear demonstration of the issue:

He isn’t the only one. Fraser Speirs posted a video of his iPhone demonstrating the problem, and Shawn Blanc charted his iPhone’s network performance while resting on his desk vs. while held in his left hand with clear results.

Meanwhile, others can’t replicate the drop at all. For example, David Pogue writes:

“I have never seen it on the iPhone unit I have been reviewing. I cannot even reproduce it, no matter how hard I try. I’m sitting here right now. I’m wrapping my hand every which way — I’m even holding it with two fists, completely concealing the silver band around the edges — and my four-bar signal strength doesn’t waver.”

What’s going on? To find an answer, let’s look at the band.

I’m with the band

When Gizmodo published photos of the early prototype, readers were struck by the metal band that edged the phone. With obvious seams and convex buttons, it veered from Apple’s aesthetic. Some suggested that the band was typical of unfinished, prototype hardware, and wouldn’t be a part of the final product. They were wrong. So what is it?

It’s a band of stainless steel, machined from Apple’s own alloy. Aside from holding the iPhone together, it integrates the iPhone’s UMTS, GSM, GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth antennas. iFixit called it “…a work of genius.” Clearly, using the iPhone’s entire perimeter as the antenna was meant to address the chief complaints from earlier models: Dropped calls and spotty connectivity. Here’s how they’re arranged:

The issue arises when some users touch the seam between the right-hand side (UMTS/GSM) and the left-hand side (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS). How? According to WIRED, Danish blog ComON found one possible explanation by interviewing Professor Gert Frølund Pedersen of the Department of Electronic Systems at Aalborg University. Professor Pedersen:

“Human tissues will in any case have an inhibitory effect on the antenna. Touch means that a larger portion of the antenna energy turns into heat and lost. This makes the antenna less efficient to send and receive radio signals.”

Additionally, Spencer Webb of AntennaSys (Spencer has designed quad-band GSM antennas for the AT&T network) makes the issue quite clear:

“The iPhone 4 has two symmetrical slots in the stainless frame.  If you short these slots, or cover them with your hand, the antenna performance will suffer.  There is no way around this, it’s a design compromise that is forced by the requirements of the FCC, AT&T, Apple’s marketing department and Apple’s industrial designers, to name a few.”

Finally, Jobs himself confirmed the inevitability of human skin affecting an antenna’s performance in an email to a customer last week. Jobs wrote:

“Gripping any phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance, with certain places being worse than others depending on the placement of the antennas. This is a fact of life for every wireless phone.”

Location, location, location

Let’s look at that “placement of the antenna” that Steve mentions. The iPhone 4’s antenna reaches around the bottom. If touching an antenna can cause trouble, as Spencer Webb and Professor Pedersen attest, why would manufacturers move it from the top, where my hand is not, to the bottom, where my hand is? Why not keep it on the top and avoid the issue all together? That’s a question for the FCC.

Not so long ago, the FCC defined the amount of energy that the human body may absorb from a handheld device. This limit is called the Specific Absorbtion Rate, or SAR. Mobile devices with top-mounted antennas were blasting more energy into human heads than SAR allowed. As a result, we’ve got bottom-mounted antennas in all of today’s mobile phones.

In short, we’re stuck with bottom-mounted antennas. Apple placed it on the rear of the original iPhone. By placing it on the side of the iPhone 4, Apple increased the likelihood that a user would disrupt its performance with a grasp.

Hot hands

As I said, not all users are experiencing this issue. So what’s keeping the unlucky ones down? The trouble seems to crop up most often:

  • With lefties. Of course, a left-handed user will press more skin against the left-hand side of the phone than a right-handed user would.
  • With sweat. Several customers have reported that damp/sweaty hands worsen the issue.
  • With naked phones. If you can, apply a case. 1

You’re doing it wrong

Amid a torrent of complaints, Apple has made statements on the issue. In an email to a customer, Steve Jobs made a simple suggestion:

“If you ever experience this on your iPhone 4, avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band, or simply use one of many available cases.”

If you dislike being told that you’re holding your phone the wrong way, take heart in this other email Jobs reportedly issued to a customer:

“There is no reception issue. Stay tuned.”

Sure sounds confident, doesn’t he? Perhaps a fix is in the works. Which brings us to the conclusion.

What does this all mean?

That depends on the answer to a crucial question: Is it a software issue or a hardware issue?

If it’s a software issue, as Steve’s terse email implies, then it’s really no big deal. Apple will release a free patch that will restore normal functionality for all users. A week later, they won’t remember this even happened.

If it’s a hardware issue, as Webb and Professor Pedersen suggest, well…that’s a disaster. A few things will happen.

  • Anti-Apple blogs (Gizmodo especially 2) will have a field day. Haters will come out of the woodwork in full Hate Mode with Kung-Fu Grip.
  • Users will demand restitution/replacements. I don’t think Apple has ever issued a recall.
  • The iPhone will suffer a huge PR failure.
  • Future sales will stall. I haven’t bought one and until the above question is answered, I won’t.

I hope this issue can be fixed with software. Perhaps one area of the antenna can be told to take over if it notices that another area is compromised. Here’s hoping this gets resolved this week. For now, it’s a real problem.

Update: Even Nokia says don’t hold it by the bottom.

  1. Believe me, I get the principle of the thing. You shouldn’t have to buy a case to get your phone to work.
  2. Gizmodo has had a palpable chip on its shoulder since the iPhone prototype fiasco. Their reporting of the AT&T email leak — which they were intent on blaming on Apple — was downright gleeful

iPhone 4 release roundup

The iPhone 4 was finally released today, capping off one of the strangest launches in Apple’s history. First, Gizmodo got a nearly-complete prototype and paraded it before the world. That site’s editor had his house raided by police, and the poor Apple employee who lost the prototype in the first place was the butt of jokes on The Late Show and offered a free trip to Germany.

Days later, more prototypes showed up in Vietnam. Eventually Steve Jobs demonstrated the thing at Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference, where a network glitch forced him to skip a large part of his demo.

On June 15th, Apple and AT&T processed 600,000 pre-orders, despite widespread network issues that left many would-be customers frustrated. Sales were so high 1 that shipping dates had to be adjusted and AT&T suspended pre-orders entirely.

Today, outlets like Best Buy and Radio Shack had significantly fewer iPhones than they expected (several had less than 5) and turned customers away. AT&T stores had no stock for walk-in customers at all. At Apple Stores, sales were brisk while lines were tremendously long.

An odd reception issue that seems to be unique to left-handed customers marred the experience for some while others noticed a yellow splotch on their displays. It turns out that the reception issue can be fixed with a case 2 while the smudge can be “repaired” with patience.

Finally, Apple announced that it can’t make any white iPhones for a month.

At the end of the day, people are enjoying their new iPhones, making FaceTime calls and trying out iOS 4-optimized apps. Soon we’ll forget how strange this whole ordeal was. But for now … what an odd launch.

  1. Apple’s most successful pre-order ever, and 10x the orders AT&T saw for the 3GS
  2. Or, as Steve Jobs himself said, “Avoid gripping it in the lower left corner.”

Reading on the iPad Pt. 2 – Magazines

This is the second article in my series exploring reading on the iPad. Here’s part 1, newspapers and part 3, iBooks.

People have a special, unique relationship with magazines. They’re companions. Before you get onto a plane, you grab a magazine. We bring them to the beach, the coffee shop and yes, the bathroom.

They’re forgiving. You can fold one and stuff it into a pocket, leave it in a bag or toss it in the back of the car. Did you get a coffee ring on the cover? That’s fine; it’ll dry. You say you only have a few minutes to read? No problem. Bite-sized articles abound. Magazines are inexpensive and familiar.

They’re also in trouble. Newsstand sales for the 472 consumer titles in the United States fell 9.1% in the last half of 2009 versus the same period a year earlier. With the release of the iPad, a segment of the publishing industry is looking for Apple to provide the same salvation that the music industry received from the iPod.

Can an electronic edition of your favorite mag provide the same casual comfort that you’ve come to know?

In this article, I’ll look at two magazines for iPad: WIRED and Outside. But first, let’s review the factors that determine a pleasant reading experience on the iPad.

Communication

Forget the page curls, videos and other tricks. If a magazine app fails to convey the author’s ideas and message to the reader, the rest doesn’t matter.

Navigation

Developers are free to get creative with how users move through their applications. As a result, there’s no standard. Does a given solution enhance or hinder a given app?

Feel

How does the presentation, layout, navigation and so on combine to create an overall feel? Most  importantly, does the app disappear and leave me with the story, or am I aware of the software (and hardware) the entire time?

Uniqueness

What makes a given magazine stand out?

Acquisition

How do I receive new issues or content?

Now, let’s look at some magazines.

WIRED

The first electronic release from Condé Nast1 WIRED Magazine ($4.99) sold 24,000 copies in the first 24 hours. By June 8th that number rose to 79,000 copies, and the app was set to surpass print sales for the month.

That was nearly one month ago (WIRED Magazine for iPad was released on May 26th), and it’s still the only issue available. But that doesn’t mean they’re done. “There is no finish line,” wrote Editor In Chief Chris Anderson. “WIRED will be digital from now on, designed from the start as a compelling interactive experience.” That’s great news, because this is a nice implementation that will be great after after a few changes.

[nggallery id=1]

At first, navigation is a bit confusing. Pages scroll horizontally, and multi-page articles and ads scroll vertically. Swiping left and right moves you through the magazine. Unfortunately, some of the multi-page articles provide visual cues that they scroll vertically, but not all.

However, tap any page and all becomes clear. A menu bar appears that reveals a table of contents on the left and a gorgeous overview on the right. The length, synopsis and even keywords of each page is clearly presented. Let the doves descend from a sun-filled sky because this is so clear and effective it must be of supernatural origin. Well done, WIRED.

If navigation is good, the feel is great. WIRED’s bold design, colors and images are well represented in this app. It’s undeniably an issue of WIRED.

Best of all, the developers took advantage of of the medium with lots of interactive features.

For instance, the “Invaders from Mars” feature presents an image of the red planet and the man-made machines that have paid it a visit. Slowly swiping across the image rotates it, revealing a photo and brief history of each mission. The illusion of “spinning” the planet is very well done and kind of addictive (you’ll find yourself whirling the planet around even after you’ve read all of the text).

Some articles, like “Riverboat Resurrection,” let you toggle between related photos without leaving the article. A great example of this explains what goes into Lea and Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce. As you tap between the numbered steps, a new ingredient is revealed. Others include a clip of related audio or video. It feels like a webpage, so it’s familiar, but it’s much faster, so it’s more satisfying.

I spent 10 minutes playing with Worcestershire Sauce. Not even Worcestershire Sauce, but an article about what goes into Worcestershire Sauce. Now that’s engaging content.

I don’t know if other publications would be able to pull this off. As a tech-y magazine for geeks, this type of flash just “fits” into WIRED. I can’t imagine Vogue, for example, using the same tricks without seeming gimmicky. WIRED for iPad is unique in very good way.

Acquisition is a mystery as only 1 issue has been released, so we’re left to talk about communication. WIRED for iPad is successful in this regard for one simple reason: It’s fun.

It’s fun two spin Mars around, to look at pictures of Pixar and explore how a frame is assembled. I’m pulled into the experience and as a result riveted to the content.

The app has its faults, of course. The price is too high ($5 per issue at this point), it’s huge at nearly 1/2 a gig and there are a LOT of ads. But what’s good about this app is so good that I’m willing to overlook the bad.

Outside

I was thrilled to see long-time favorite Outside ($2.99, universal) hit the iPad. The photography and the gear/gadget reviews have had me hooked for years. The iPad edition mostly works for me.

[nggallery id=2]

The navigation is instantly usable to anyone who’s browsed the web within the last 5 years. To begin, swipe through the covers of issues you’ve downloaded. Once you’ve tapped a selection, a toolbar displays icons for each section, and an overview screen presents what’s available from each department. Best of all, there’s a tutorial on “how to navigate.” Nice!

Acquisition is simple if a bit time-consuming. The app checks for new content at every launch. It only takes a moment and, if it does find something, it asks before beginning the download. My suggestion is to accept when you aren’t really in the mood to read, as the downloads take a while.

What’s unique about this app is its gallery. It pulls all the photos from every article and displays them together. You can easily flick through the pictures without seeing a lick of text. Before you scoff (“The whole point is reading, Dave”) consider how many times you’ve flipped through the pages of a magazine, looking at the pictures without reading a single syllable. See?

Feel is where Outside for the iPad loses me. I’ve gotten into the habit of taking it with me to EMS to show a salesperson exactly what I want. Yes, I could do that with the iPad but I probably won’t for fear of  A.) looking like a tool and B.) dropping or misplacing the thing. Extracting a crumpled magazine from a cargo pocket is one thing. Flinging a $500 computer around a store — especially for a scratch-0-phobe — is another.

That’s not the app’s fault but it does speak to the core of magazines on an iPad. Like I said, people think of magazines as their rough-and-tumble companions. They’re the Jeeps of the publishing world: utilitarian and ready for duty. Even with a case, the iPad is, well, a delicate computer. I’m not going to hand it to Janie the Sales Clerk in hopes that she can find the Tevas I’m after.

That’s where the disconnect will be for many. Not the implantation. The teams behind WIRED and Outside have pulled off their projects spectacularly well. How many will be comfortable brining the iPads on the planes, beaches and bathrooms of the world for a quick read?

Would you?

  1. Just this week, Condé Nast confirmed that it will bring The New Yorker to the iPad

iOS 4’s small changes [Updated]

Apple’s software engineers constantly make small improvements that enhance the overall experience. Half of the fun of an update is finding the changes that aren’t mentioned during the keynotes. Here’s what I found while exploring iOS 4.

The “End Call” button now simply says “End,” which makes perfect sense as the “call” was redundant. Of course you’re ending the call; there’s no need to name it.

There’s a new swap transition in Mail1. When clicking a web link in a Mail message, iOS 4 switches from Mail to Safari with the swap transition from Keynote. It’s much better than the sudden blackout that used to precede Safari’s opening.

The pinpoint feature in the Maps application is now an arrow instead of a crosshair. It’s in the menu bar, too.

When closing an unsent message in Mail, you’re prompted to “Delete Draft,” “Save Draft” or “Cancel.” I’m pretty sure the option to save topped the list before iOS 4, and the delete button wasn’t red 2.

The Photos app remembers the last picture you were looking at and displays it the next time its launched.

Album view in the iPod app now includes album cover art and a shuffle button.

Have you found any that I missed? Let me know and I’ll update the post.

—–

Update: I don’t know if this one’s new, but I never noticed it before. If you pull down on the bookshelf in iBooks 1.1, you’ll find a hidden Apple logo.

  1. The transition I noticed between Mail and Safari is a function of fast app switching, and not unique to Mail. I also noticed it when switching between 3rd-party apps from the Tray, and while adding a PDF to iBooks from Mail. Thanks to reader Matt for pointing this out.
  2. Reader Holger Frohloff sent me this screenshot confirming my memory of how the old buttons were colored and arranged.

Apple’s updated Mail

After a short public beta (just over one month), Apple updated its Mail web app for MobileMe customers last week. The new features are now available to everyone, plus a few that weren’t a part of the beta. The major changes include a new UI, the addition of rules, one-click archiving and support for external email addresses. Here’s what’s changed and what we can glean from this update.

UI

The new look is the most striking change. All MobileMe web apps now share one toolbar with fewer icons. Starting from the right and working to the left, account information and logout buttons are in the same spot. The search bar has been moved to the far left on the new toolbar (below, top). Next, the strip of “action” buttons — Delete, Reply, Reply All, Forward, Refresh and Compose — have been replaced with Delete, Archive, Move to a Folder, Reply and Compose.

Finally, the series of app icons from the old toolbar (above, bottom) has been replaced by a single could icon (above, top). Clicking it brings up an application switcher (below), reminiscent of hitting Command-Tab in OS X. You’ll notice that the Mail, Calendar, Gallery, iDisk and Find my iPhone icons are the very same ones used by iOS devices.

Here are the other toolbars:

Contacts. The center icons are changed to New, Edit and Delete. The rest are the same.

Calendar. Navigation icons (Today, previous, Day, Week, Month and next) are in in the center. The rest are the same.

Gallery. Now Upload, Settings, Delete and Rotate are in the center. The rest are the same.

Find my iPhone. This one’s a bit different. There’s only the cloud icon, an option to refresh your device’s location and the login.

The updated Mail also offers three viewing options. Widescreen is a three-column view that puts mailboxes on the left, message information (subject, author and initial blurb) in the middle and the message body on the right. Classic view uses two columns with mailboxes on the left and the right-hand column split horizontally with message previews on top and the body below.

The compact view, which I’m using, is like widescreen minus the mailboxes (below, top). This layout resembles mail for iPad when the iPad is in landscape orientation (below, bottom).

The new preferences window has five options: General, Addresses, Composing, Rules and Vacation. Rules is the new feature here, and as this rounds out the UI changes, let’s see what that’s about.

Rules

At long last, users can apply rules to messages sent and received with the Mail web app. Unfortunately it’s limited in practice. Before we get into that, here are a few things to keep in mind.

First, rules are applied across devices. That means you can set up a rule in your browser and it will be applied to messages sent and received with your iPod touch, iPhone, iPad and Mac running Mail for the desktop. For me this is huge. Recently we put out a call for new bloggers at TUAW. I set up a rule to move applications to a target folder on my Mac, which worked well.

However, it didn’t apply to my iPhone and my inbox was cluttered with an avalanche of applications. And that’s just one reason I’m excited about cross-platform compatibility.

Also note that it can take a while for rules to “kick in.” I found my test rule started working in under 10 minutes. Also, you can re-order rules with a drag-and-drop.

What kind of rules can you create? Nothing too fancy, I’m afraid. The available actions are:

  • Move message to a folder
  • Move message to the trash
  • Forward message to an address

You can tell Mail to act on messages that

  • Are to a certain address
  • Are from a certain address
  • CC a certain address
  • have a specific string in the subject

That’s all I’d use, but  it won’t be enough for some users. Below are some screenshots of the rules setup screens.

Archiving

One-click arching will move messages out of your inbox and into the archives folder for storage. Remember that your account comes with 20GB of storage, which you can allocate as you wish between iDisk and Mail. To make adjustments, log into MobileMe and select Account. Next, click Storage Settings. From there you can allocate your storage space. Click Save when you’re through.

I don’t use my email client as a file cabinet, but that’s another post entirely.

External email addresses

This feature was not a part of the beta. Users with multiple accounts can receive messages sent to those accounts with MobileMe. Additionally, if  you reply to a message sent to an external account from the Mail web app (and only the web app), you can have it appear to have come from that other account’s address. To set things up, simply forward the external address to your MobileMe address.

It’s interesting that MobileMe web mail and iOS are sharing so many visual cues. The Mail, Calendar, Gallery, iDisk and Find my iPhone icons in the new switcher are exactly the same as the corresponding iOS apps. Likewise, the compact view is nearly identical to mail on the iPad.

The similarities aren’t limited to software, either. Consider the new Mac mini. Its top looks awfully similar to the back of the iPad. The iMac’s display, with its glossy black bezel, resembles the iPad’s screen.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Apple’s design elements have spread across the line. The original iMac begat the G3 iBook. Then Mac OS 10.0 was release with shiny, aqua buttons. The original iPod ushered in the “white period,” and iBooks and iMacs followed suit.

That’s because Apple’s product line is practically a product in and of itself.  For now, iOS and the iDevices are receiving much creative time and attention. It’s clear that Apple believes that’s where the future of computing lies (a segment of computing anyway), so it’s logical that those visual cues would spread.

In the end, does this update mean you should become a MobileMe customer? No. If you weren’t convinced a week ago, this update won’t do it. Many of the MobileMe services can be had elsewhere. Others, like the stellar new Find My iPhone app, cannot. iDisk is still too slow, but the typically seamless synchronization of data across devices alone is worth it for some.

Current customers will love this update. Those waiting for more will continue to do so.

What’s this?

52 Tiger is the realization of an idea I had long ago. In 2005 I told a friend, “I want to write about Apple for a living.” Thanks to Aol, I’ve been doing that at TUAW, and I love it. I’ve gained a bit of an audience (let me say, “Hello!” if you read my work at TUAW) and increased my writing skills significantly. I have tremendous gratitude for everyone over there, especially Mike Rose and Victor Agreda, whom I’ve known the longest and have always supported me. Thanks, guys.

Recently I re-listened to the talk that Merlin Mann and John Gruber gave at SxSW in 2009. Two things struck me. First, Merlin said (I’m paraphrasing), if you’re going to do something, do the shit out of it. For years I thought, “Someday I’ll have an opportunity to write long-form articles about Apple for obsessed fans who appreciate the value of taking time to sit quietly and read.”

What was I waiting for? That day is today. It’s right now.

I was also struck when John said that he means to “…own every pixel” of Daring Fireball. I absolutely get that, and I want to own all of 52 Tiger, from the upper left-hand corner to the bottom right.

My promise to you

It’s simple: I will bust my ass. Expect thoughtful articles about Apple’s hardware and software. My wife often tells me, “Your voice changes when you talk about Apple. Your whole body posture changes. You become a different person.” That person will be here every day.

What do I ask in return?

I ask for the most valuable thing you have: attention. If an article looks interesting, send it to Instapaper and when your schedule permits, offer a few minutes of your time to me. You’ll find that I’ve worked to make each and every post worth your attention.

This is what I want to do with my life, and hopefully it will support my family. If you like 52 Tiger, tell a friend. Tweet an article. Share a link. I’ll appreciate it tremendously.

One final thing: This is the last post of this type that you’ll ever see here. If you got this far, you’re probably the type of person who sits through PBS pledge drives. Thank you.

Now, let’s talk about Apple.