A-list iPhone 4 reviews appear [Updated]

The dons of technical writing have published their iPhone 4 reviews. Apple has charmed them all, including Uncle Walt. Calling the iPhone 4 “…a major leap over its already-excellent predecessor,” Mossberg’s review was largely positive. From All Things D:

“I’d say that Apple has built a beautiful smartphone that works well, adds impressive new features and is still, overall, the best device in its class.”

The downside? AT&T. Mossberg:

“Just as with its predecessors, I can’t recommend this new iPhone for voice calling for people who experience poor AT&T reception, unless they are willing to carry a second phone on a network that works better for them.”

I hoped the antenna-as-casing would improve reception for those of us who struggle with reliability. I’ll have to test it in my own neighborhood, of course, but this is disappointing to hear.

Joshua Topolsky wrote Engadget’s extremely thorough iPhone 4 review, complete with HTML5 videos that play on the iPhone and iPad. Not only does Topolsky offer the best representation of the Retina Display’s clarity that I’ve seen yet, he also contradicts Mossberg’s assessment of  the phone’s call reception:

“…in our testing, we had far, far fewer dropped calls than we experienced on our 3GS. Let’s just say that again: yes, the iPhone 4 does seem to alleviate the dropped call issue.”

David Pogue’s piece for the New York Times is also out. One of my favorite bits confirms my assertions about Apple:

“It’s not the first phone with both a front and back camera. It’s not even the first one to make video calls. But the iPhone 4 is the first phone to make good video calls, reliably, with no sign-up or setup, with a single tap.”

David’s experience with iPhone 4’s “killer app” — making calls — was similar to Joshua’s:

“The new phone is also better at choosing the best channel for connecting with the cell tower, even if’s not technically the strongest one … Does any of this mean no more dropped calls in New York and San Francisco? No. But there do seem to be fewer of them.”

I’m still waiting on Andy Ihnatko.

Apple sells three million iPads in 80 days

Steve jobs, from Apple’s press release:

“We’re working hard to get this magical product into the hands of even more people around the world, including those in nine more countries next month.”

The first million units sold within 28 days, and Apple reached the 2 million mark in “less than 60 days.” Let’s assume the second million sold within 59 days. That means the 3rd million sold in exactly three weeks.

International sales introduced a huge pool of potential new customers, of course, but still.


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 Mail[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.]. 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. Reader Holger Frohloff sent me this screenshot confirming my memory of how the old buttons were colored and arranged.].

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.

New device images

While we’re waiting for iOS 4’s release, Apple has updated the device images in iTunes. My iPhone is still running 3.1.3, yet the icon shows an iOS 4 screenshot. iOS 4 is expected to begin propagating at 1:00 PM Eastern.

I’m curious if late-model iPod touch owners are seeing the same thing.

Update: Grant Buell confirms the same thing on his 64GB iPod touch.

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.


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.


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.


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.

Reading on the iPad Pt. 1 – Newspapers

This is the first article in my series exploring reading on the iPad. Here’s part 2, magazines and part 3, iBooks.

Much was said about the iPad’s potential as an eReader before it was released. Comparisons to the Kindle and Nook were inevitable. Now that it’s been available in the US for 2 months, I’ve been reading on it extensively. In that time, I’ve identified the factors that make a given format successful or not: feel, uniqueness, acquisition, navigation and communication. I want to explore these features across several formats. The first is newspapers, and in this article I’ll compare two: USA TODAY, and The New York Times. First, let me define the factors I’ve listed.


What’s the killer feature of any eReader? Communication. Forget page curls, full-screen photos, embedded video and audio clips. They’re nice and what many people expect from something as futuristic-sounding as an “eReader,” but it’s the successful transmission of concept and message from author to reader that’s important. Without that, nothing else matters.


How does a given format compare to its physical counterpart? Read a book, newspaper or magazine on the iPad and you inevitably compare it to a real book, newspaper or magazine. What’s the result of that comparison? The answer is in the combination of hardware and software.

The truth is you can’t yet just sit down and read, as each app has subtle (and sometimes blatant) differences in navigation. There’s some initial exploration and learning to be done. For example, WIRED navigates differently than USA TODAY, and Outdoor is different than both of them. Conversely, you can pickup any newspaper or magazine and get right to it, as we’ve been trained to use them since we were children.


Does the iPad “disappear” and leave me with the words alone, or am I keenly aware of the chunk of hardware I’m holding the entire time? Also, does the app affect this?

Uniqueness What makes an example of a given format unique, and does it serve the app? Flashy eye candy is certainly special, but not necessarily welcome.

Acquisiton How and when do I get new issues/content?

Still with me? Now let’s look at some apps.


USA TODAY for iPad is one of the marquee iPad apps that was available on launch day. Apple worked closely with the paper’s publishers, and had the app installed on demo units in Apple Stores on April 3rd. The national publication is known to millions of Americans, so we have a concept of what to expect from it. Let’s see how it meets my five functions, saving communication for last.

USA TODAY for iPad offers three types of navigation: between sections, between articles and between pages of an article. The first is clever by not immediately obvious. To move between the paper’s news, money, sports and life sections, tap the logo in the upper left-hand corner. This produces an overlay featuring color-coded logos that correspond to each section. Articles are listed in a scroll-able frame with features from each section — color-coded to match — scroll across the top of the page. When an article is selected it goes full-screen and displays two columns while the iPad is in portrait orientation, and three while in landscape.

When we read text (in the West at least), we track from left to right and top to bottom. When the end of a page is reached, we turn to the next one and repeat the process. Physical papers make it immediately obvious if an article continues on another page [1. The iPad app has a distinct advantage here. Specifically, there’s no more disruptive flipping through pages after reading “Continued on C18” for example. Just keep swiping to read your article, no matter how long it is.] The USA TODAY app provides subtle and effective prompts at the bottom of the screen. In the lower left displays the number of pages per article (“pg 1 of 1”), and in the lower right, the number of articles in a given section (“Article 2 of 25”). Small arrows make it even clearer; swipe up and down to move from page to page, and left and right  to move between articles.

The app’s developers used swiping effectively [2. Why Apple’s Calendar app won’t let you swipe between pages is a mystery]. All in all, navigation with this app is well-executed.

The feel of this app mimics the paper version well, right down to the textured “edge” of the page. Of course, you’re still holding the iPad, which gets heavy quickly and sucks in direct sunlight (smudges and reflections are even more pronounced in full sun), but that’s not the app’s fault. You can easily move through an article with the swipe of a thumb tip, so it’s not disruptive at all.

The color pictures look great, though I do wish they were larger. The developers stayed faithful to the paper’s infamous layout — bright color, short stories and that weather page — while resisting the urge to re-create the mobile version that’s as close as mobile Safari. Good for them.

What make this app unique is the section navigation and daily app photo gallery.

Acquiring new content couldn’t be easier: just launch the app. It’s updated around the clock, 7 days a week.

Finally is communication. Reading on the iPad is a joy, and the USA TODAY app takes advantage of what it offers. Text is sharp and legible, navigation is easy and articles are uncluttered. I’m entirely comfortable sitting down with this app in my favorite chair with a cup of tea and an hour to myself.

However, it’s not perfect. The biggest annoyance is the lack of bookmarking. If I leave off in the middle of  an article, the app returns to the home screen when re-launched. Additionally, other niceties like the crossword puzzle don’t work. I can’t select text for a copy-and-paste, and the section pages feel cramped. But all-in-all, it’s entirely possible for the app and hardware to disappear and let me simply read and enjoy. The uncluttered UI and adherence to the physical paper’s layout and look make this possible.

USA TODAY for iPad will be free until July 4, 2010. After the initial launch period, the app will be available via a fee-based subscription.

The New York Times

Also available on the iPad’s launch day was The New York Times Editor’s Choice, which displays several articles from the publication’s news, business, technology, opinion, arts and features sections per day. Criticized by Jobs himself for insufficient content, Editor’s Choice has gained both detractors and fans. Here’s how it compares to my criteria.

Navigation is simple. Departments are represented by icons across the bottom of the screen with the related articles above. Small dots indicate the number of pages of articles that each department offers (for now, they all offer two). Once an article is selected, you can swipe between its pages from the same position used to hold the iPad, which is great. Again, small dots indicate how long an article is. Also, it’s easy to adjust text size.

My only complaint about this app’s navigation is that, unlike USA TODAY for iPad, I can’t swipe between articles within a department once I’ve got an article pulled up. I must first jump back to that department’s home page.

I must admit, this app feels like the Times. True, you can’t pick up a stray copy at Starbucks, but the typography, black text on a white field and layout of the department home pages are instantly familiar. The app displays three columns when in portrait orientation and four when in landscape. Nearly every photo can be enlarged and several kick off slideshows.

My complaint is with the advertising. A small banner ad is displayed on the department home pages and I can live with that. I’ll even take the large-ish ad that accompanies some articles. But the unavoidable interstitial ad that precedes some content is just disruptive. Yes, it’s easily dismissed, but it’s annoying when it unexpectedly pops up. I realize that the Times has bills to pay, but I wish there was another solution. Perhaps a future subscription model will kill these ads.

What’s unique about this app? The gorgeous video gallery. Up to seven are available at any one time, featuring Times writers and reporters. Their production lives up to the standards of the Times and I’ve enjoyed watching them. I haven’t found another newspaper app with such effective use of video.

Just like USA TODAY for iPad, The New York Times Editor’s Choice downloads new content at launch, so there’s nothing for me to but tap its icon.

There are many more newspaper apps in the App Store. The Financial Times recently won an Apple Design Award and is quite well done. But are they enough to lure people back into the habit of “reading the paper?” Personally, I’ve read more newspaper articles with the iPad than I have in the last several years. Why is that? Surely the novelty of the device played a role initially. The iPad was my new toy and I wanted to use it.

But now I’ve had it for almost three months and I’m still at it. That’s because I simply enjoy reading on the iPad. Holding the comfortable device in my lap is completely natural. The fact that I needn’t fold and crease an oversize paper as I read is actually a bonus. Reading on a computer is the polar opposite. A laptop’s size and shape deny that cozy feeling of sitting down and reading. Yes, I called a computer cozy. If you’ve tried it, you know what I mean. I believe that, years from now, we’ll see that form factor had a lot to do with why people weren’t reading newspapers online and, even more importantly, how the renaissance of newspapers began.