iCloud Mail, hover states and link cursors [Updated]

Vincent Gosselin writes about the lack of a hover state or link cursor in iCloud’s Mail web app:

“iCloud web apps are used by desktop users. You can’t log in to these apps within Safari using an iOS device. Therefore, mouses and trackpads are the main inputs.

What’s the most useful interactive feedback you can provide to a mouse or trackpad user?

A hover state and a link cursor.

Yet, they are almost nowhere to be seen in the apps.

All buttons have an active (pressed) state. They prioritized active states over hover states, as if the iOS users were the main audience for these web apps.

They’re not.”

I noticed this, too, but still knew that those elements were clickable. Of course, I’m not the service’s main audience, and I see how a home user might consider those elements static. Vincent mocked up a proposed hover state and link cursor for the Mail web app that I’ll let you check out.

Update: Louie Mantia points out the web app’s similarity to the desktop version.

iCloud Photo Stream pushed me back to Camera+

For tweeting, at least.

iCloud’s Photo Stream feature is handy, in that it pushes photos shot with a compatible iPhone, iPad or iPod touch to Apple’s servers and then back to other authorized devices. Meanwhile, iOS 5 has tweeting built in, so there’s a temptation to shoot photo with Apple’s Camera app and then tweet it from the Camera Roll.

That’s fast and convenient, but also a hindrance. Specifically, my iPhone, iPad and Mac are now cluttered with space-hogging one-offs I shot for the sake of a tweet or a Facebook update. [1.  I know what you’re saying. “Stop shooting stupid crap for Twitter.” No.] What’s worse is that you can’t delete such throw-away photos from your Photo Stream with an iDevice. Instead, you’ve got to visit icloud.com and click “Reset Photo Stream,” which nukes the lot, good and bad.  That’s why I’ve started using Camera+ again for tweeting pictures.

When Camera+ was released, it didn’t put a copy of each shot it captured into the Camera Roll. You could move photos to the Camera Roll manually, but it wasn’t automatic. Tap Tap Tap “fixed” this recently with an opt-in setting that I immediately enabled. I’ve since shut it back off.

I understand that I can tweet a photo with any number of Twitter apps, but the one I use on my iPhone, Twitterrific, places photos it shoots into the Camera Roll. I also realize that people who lack my impulse control problem only share photos they want to keep. For you, this is not a problem.

As for me, I want to share photos of my kids, etc. with my Photo Stream recipients, but I don’t want to clog up those machines with pictures of the dumb things I photograph at Burger King. Thanks to Tap Tap Tap for keeping this legacy “feature” intact.

Jump to your favorite iCloud web app

Apple’s free iCloud suite of Internet services offers, among other things, browser-based access to your email, contacts, calendar and iWork documents. It’s quite convenient in that you can get at your stuff from almost any Internet-enabled computer. What’s not to love?

What annoys me about the web apps is that it defaults to whichever one you used last. For example, if you browse your contacts and then quit Safari or close that window, the next time you visit iCloud.com you’ll see the contacts app. There’s a simple way around this.

Each app has a unique URL, like icloud.com/#calendar. I simply made a bookmark folder with the three I use most often:

  • icloud.com/#calendar
  • icloud.com/#mail
  • icloud.com/#contact

Now, I just select the app I want to use. It’s an obvious solution for sure, but it’s saving me some time.

iCloud, iOS and multiple Apple IDs

The transition from MobileMe to iCloud presents unique challenges to households with multiple iOS devices and Apple IDs. Formerly used for iTunes purchases, a user’s Apple ID now manages iCloud photo streaming, the Find my iPhone and Find my Friends app, FaceTime, iMessage and iCloud features like calendar, mail, contacts, reminders and so on.

I was having a lot of trouble working my wife’s iPhone into the mix, as I used my own Apple ID when I first set it up a year ago. My goal at the time was to let all of our iOS devices share one account for iTunes purchases. I had also created an add-on email address via MobileMe that her iPhone used. It worked fine until the iCloud transition, when things got convoluted. I’ve finally reached a working – though imperfect – solution. Here’s how I’m managing multiple iOS devices and Apple IDs under iOS 5.

Graham Spencer posted a hugely useful article on sharing an Apple ID at MacStories. He suggested sharing one Apple ID for iTunes purchases, and creating a second one for personal iCloud information. That’s pretty much what I’ve implemented, though it’s not perfect.

The Apple IDs

The Apple ID I’ve used for years has become the “main ID.” It’s used by all iOS devices (and Macs) for purchases and rentals. The main ID, however, has a minimal role on my wife’s iPhone. Her personal ID is in greater use, and it’s mostly working very well. Here’s how I’m using both Apple IDs on her iPhone.

Setting up the “second” iPhone

I’m considering my iPhone the “main” iPhone and my wife’s as the “second” iPhone. Mine uses the main Apple ID throughout, so it’s not worth describing. The second iPhone is where I had to shuffle things around.

On the second iPhone, the main Apple ID is used for:

  • iCloud Photo Stream. I’ve logged into the iCloud preference pane with the main Apple ID. From there, I’ve turned Photo Sharing on and left everything else off. That way, photos taken by my wife’s iPhone, my iPhone and my iPad are shared across all devices plus our Macs.
  • The iTunes Store. I tapped the Store preference pane and entered the main Apple ID. That way, all purchases will be financed by the credit card I’ve used for years. I’ve also enabled automatic downloads for music, but not apps or books. While my wife and I share musical taste, she’s uninterested in collecting Twitter clients.

That’s it. Everything else is managed by the personal ID:

  • Email is logged in with the personal ID and password via the Mail, Contacts adn Calendars preference pane. I’ve enabled Contacts and Find My iPhone.
  • FaceTime. This way she can send/receive FaceTime calls identified as herself and, more importantly, we can do FaceTime calls between her iPhone and my iPhone and iPad.
  • iMessage. Again, same reason.

The good and bad

The good is that her iPhone now receives its own email, FaceTime calls, iMessage identification, calendar events and contacts. Also, it shares photos with all of our devices via iCloud Photo Stream and iTunes purchases and rentals are financed with the designated credit card.

There are problems, too. One is Apple’s Find My Friends app. Unfortunately, it’s tied to an iCloud ID. That means it will only accept the main Apple ID. So, if my wife and I were at a park with the kids, we couldn’t keep track of each other’s location.

iCloud photo streaming is the other potential problem. Those wanting to create separate streams are out of luck, as the personal ID will not work with iCloud photo streaming.

Other affected services include Game Center (my wife doesn’t play games so that was easy for us) and iTunes Home Sharing. We’re using the main Apple ID for that. Also, the main ID must be used for iCloud backup of data and documents.

If you’ve found anothe arrangement that works, please let me know. Our setup isn’t perfect, but it’s working so far.

Apple didn’t “kill” these apps, hardware

The iCloud, iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion announcements at WWDC this week have got many people declaring this app or that service dead. Much of this is an overreaction. Here’s a look at a few claims, and why I think they’re premature.

Safe For Now

1. The mouse. It’s true, there isn’t a single mouse in the Mac OS X Lion demo video. The only input devices we see are a laptop trackpad and a Magic Trackpad. Also, most of the video focuses on Lion’s multi-touch features. But none of this means the computer mouse is doomed. Here’s why.

First of all, gamers want one. You can’t launch World of Warcraft macros with a trackpad. Also, there’s no click-and-lift with a trackpad. Occasionally I’ll be re-locating something only to reach the end of the screen or even my physical desk. That’s when I lift the mouse, while maintaing the press, to gain some more room.

Finally, Apple was clever enough to make a mouse that’s essentially a little multi-touch surface.

2. Dropbox, SugarSync, etc. iCloud is amazing and I’m certain that it will mature into a game-changer. For now, however, popular file sharing services are safe. The biggest reason is collaboration. While iCloud pushes your music, photos, documents and more to your devices, it doesn’t allow for multi-user collaboration. I use Dropbox for many things, but most often for sharing files with others I’m collaborating with. iCloud won’t let me do that.

Also, iCloud doesn’t allow online editing. That could change, of course, but for now you can’t edit online.

3. Simple to-do apps. Reminders looks fantastic and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. The implementation of location-based reminders is brilliant. However, every person’s preferred method of managing and completing to-do items is as unique as his or her fingerprint. Some will love Reminders. Others won’t. Some will migrate from the likes of Remember the Milk and Due while others won’t. Apple’s solution looks fantastic, but it won’t kill every simple task manager in the store.

Now, that doesn’t mean everyone came out unscathed.

On Notice

1. RIM. BBM is something BlackBerry users have rightly lauded over iPhone users. In fact, some would call it the most compelling reason to use a BlackBerry vs. an iPhone. That advantage will officially evaporate once iOS 5 ships, as its new notifications implementation is stellar. RIM, you’re on notice.

2. Simple photo editing apps. Biggies like my beloved Camera+ should be OK, but quick-and-dirty crop-and-zoom apps are in trouble. The sheer convenience of accessing the camera from the lock screen will prevent many casual photographers from launching a photography app.

3. SMS plans. The danger is not imminent, but iMessage lets users send unlimited text messages via Wi-Fi or 3G from an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch to anyone else with one of those devices. Now, most of the people I know don’t have an iOS device, but that’s not the case for everybody. In fact, Scott Forestall announced that Apple has sold over 200 million iOS devices. For now there’s now real threat but who knows how iMessage will mature.

 

Time Capsule as iCloud appliance

Update: Nice counterpoint on Forkbombr.

Apple’s high-priced Wi-Fi router/backup volume Time Capsule could become the iCloud device with minor tweaks. Here’s how I think it could work.

Those Local Snippets

Two weeks ago, AppleInsider revealed an Apple patent which describes how iTunes could sync a portion of a song to a user’s device. If these small “snippets” were the first few seconds of a song to be played as a stream buffers, wait time would be significantly reduced. Since a Time Capsule has a constant connection and internal storage, it could pull this off. In fact, a separate filing discovered in February describes how a user’s local media library could be merged with a cloud-based collection, generating an always-available master database of media.

In this way, the Time Capsule becomes a true iTunes media server. People have cobbled together homemade versions for years; I’m using an old MacBook Pro myself. Now the Time Capsule can hold your whole library, make it available to all approved devices on its network (think Home Sharing on steroids) and also sync to the iCloud for remote availability. An iCloud server, if you will.

Now We Know Why the Apple TV is Limited to Streaming

So how about accessing that master database? I imagine that any approved and registered iCloud-capable device will have streaming access to its contents. That helps to explain why the Apple TV is restricted to streaming. The 1st generation Apple TV was a front for the iTunes Store. The current model is a front for iCloud. Just purchase a movie, TV show or song from any approved device and boom! It’s available on all other approved iCloud devices. There’s no need to buy from the Apple TV because the purchase file won’t be stored there, anyway.

Backup to the Cloud

The Time Capsule (as it exists today) has two main purposes: back up your stuff via Time Machine and provide Wi-Fi connectivity. The only downside to local backups is that they’re local. If the flood that destroys your computer also trashes your backup disk, you’re SOL.

I could see the Time Capsule going all Dolly Drive and sending your Time Machine backups to the cloud (where “the cloud” probably means North Carolina). The benefit is twofold, of course. First, you’ve got a dependable off-site backup.Second, you could conceivably backup or restore from anywhere. Did you accidentally trash that spreadsheet while on the road? No problem. Use Time Machine to restore it from the iCloud backup.

When I spoke with Anthony from Dolly Drive at Macworld Expo last year, he described backing up his laptop from a Wi-Fi equipped plane. I can’t see why iCloud backups won’t do the same.

Remote Home Folder

Now that your backup lives off site, thanks to the Time Capsule, why not make your Home Folder available to any connected, approved device, Dropox-style?

What About those Tweaks?

I mentioned that the existing Time Capsule would only need a few tweaks to make all of this happen. Actually, I believe there’s only one, and it’s iOS. Installing iOS on Time Capsules would allow Apple to easily add the software needed to pull off these feats of magic and push updates easily. Also, it suggests the idea of Airport apps and utilities (AirPrint printer sharing for example). Finally, having a unified code base across the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Apple TV and AirPort products would be quite nice for Apple’s developers and coders.

Short Supply

Last week TUAW received several reports that Time Capsule stock was low at Apple Stores. While some have other base stations available, several noted that all of their Time Capsules, Airport Extreme Base Stations and Airport Express Stations were gone. Typically, Apple only lets supplies dwindle when a refresh is imminent.

Of course, a customer won’t need a Time Capsule to take advantage of iCloud, but having one will make the experience much more pleasant.

 

iOS 5 features speculation

Steve Jobs will announce iOS 5 at WWDC 2011 on Monday. I’ve got no idea what’s coming with iOS 5. Not a clue. So, I’ve assembled a list of best guesses and long-shot wishes. Here’s some of what we might see. First, my best guesses.

New notification system

Trying to shoot a video here. Thanks, iPhone.

Notifications under iOS 4.x are disruptive. They commandeer the screen, taking over whatever you’re doing. Plus, you can only see one at a time. Conversely, Android employs an unobtrusive tray that holds your notifications until you choose to look at them. Apple is fully aware of its customers’ dissatisfaction with the way iOS handles notifications, and I expect it to change.

Cool Voice-Powered Search

You’ll remember that Apple purchased “mobile assistant” Siri last April. Siri was an iOS app that interpreted a user’s spoken, plain-English questions and returned its best guesses at accurate results. For example, you could ask Siri, “Where is the nearest Starbucks,” to which the app would display directions to the Starbucks nearest to your location on a map.

The iPhone and iPod touch [2. iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS plus third- and fourth-generation iPod touch.] can recognize a limited number of simple speech commands via Voice Control. I don’t use Voice Control, but would try again Siri’s technology gets integrated.

Lock Screen Widgets

Another darling feature of the Android world is lock screen widgets, or little utilities that provide tidbits of information at-a-glance while the phone’s screen is locked. iPhone jailbreakers have been enjoying this feature for a while, and I suspect Apple will let users customize their lock screens with version 5.

In the meantime, here’s an interesting concept video exploring how widgets could work beyond the lock screen. Specifically, the largely empty search screen would display widgets while retaining the search field at the top. Also, the user in the demo swipes left repeatedly, revealing page after page of widgets, much like one swipes through pages of apps to the right. I’m not sold on that implementation, but it’s not entirely illogical.

Apple-Hosted App Data Syncing

It seems like iOS should sync data from some third-party apps across devices. For example, my son plays Angry Birds on both my iPad and my iPhone. It would be great if progress made on one device shows up on the other. Or imagine setting up a new iPhone, downloading your favorite Twitter application and finding your account(s) information and preference settings in place and ready to go.

Now, the long shots.

Guest Mode

I’ve said this before, but it still hasn’t happened so I’ll reiterate. I occasionally give my iPhone to my kids. Unfortunately, there’s nothing to stop them from exiting Angry Birds and availing themselves to almost everything else the iPhone does. Yes, the parental controls settings offer some options, but all I want to do is tell the phone to ignore requests to exit a given app unless the user does [x], like triple-tap the Home Key, draw a Z on the screen, whatever. The last thing I need is for Jr. to launch Aliens on Netflix when I’m otherwise occupied.

Additionally, I’ll sometimes share my iPhone with curious adults. Again, there’s nothing stopping them from reading my email, tweeting to my Twitter account, etc.

Your Home Folder to Go

I’m hoping iCloud will let make the contents of one’s Mac’s Home Folder available to the iPhone. I can already hear Steve referring to “…your Home Folder in your pocket,” much like he did in 1997. Perhaps an iCloud app similar to Dropbox or SugarSync could pull it off.

An App Store Queue

It bugs me that the App Store on the iPhone boots me out whenever I download an app. If I mean to purchase two, or if I was going to do a little comparison shopping, I rarely go back into the store once that initial app is installed. Instead, I’ll start playing with it, get engrossed and forget about the other app I was going to research or buy. I’d like to maintain a queue of apps until I’m ready to initiate a batch download (even if the queue is Wi-Fi-only).

Finally, streaming access to my iTunes purchase history — both audio and video — would be fantastic.

Frankly, I’ll be thrilled just to get my initial guesses. I’ll find out soon enough.

Steve Jobs discusses remote computing at WWDC in 1997

Here’s a clip of Steve Jobs taking questions from a WWDC crowd in 1997. Jump to the 13′ mark and hear him discuss his vision for what we call cloud computing today:

“Let me describe the world I live in. About eight years ago [1. This would have been about 1990] we had high-speed networking connected to our NeXT hardware. Because we were using NFS, we were able to take all of our personal data — our “home directory” we called them — off of our local machines and put them on a server. The software made that completely transparent…a professional could be hired to back up that server every night.

In the last seven years, do you know how many times I lost any personal data? Zero. Do you how many times I’ve backed up my computer? Zero.

I have computers at Apple, at Pixar, at NeXT and at home. I walk over to any of them and log in as myself. It goes over the network, finds my home directory on the server and I’ve got my stuff, where ever I am. And none of that is on a local disc. The server…is my local disc.”

Expect to see a full realization of this vision on Monday.

[Via The Tech Bench]

iCloud speculation

Apple surprised many fans today by pre-announcing iCloud, and I’m eager to see what it will be. The press release mentions iCloud by name, calling it “Apple’s upcoming cloud services offering.” Here are a few thoughts on what it could be, and what I’d love to see.

Video Wishful Thinking

“Cloud services” implies more than music. Shawn Blanc listed some likely features, but I’m going to focus on video and audio streaming. Not because I believe that’s the thrust of Apple’s plans, but because it’s something I wished for two years ago.

Plain and simple: I watch movies and TV shows on my iPad via Netflix several times per week. Conversely, I watched a movie rented from iTunes on my iPad once. The reason is cost. For $7/mo., Netflix lets me  watch as much as I want. It’s easy, convenient and feels like a real value, as I seemingly get a lot for my money. If I watch one movie per day for a month, I’ve seen 30 movies for seven bucks.

Meanwhile, the iPad [1. And to a larger extent the Apple TV] is a storefront for iTunes. I must pay for every movie or TV show individually. If I rent two HD movies from iTunes, I’ve exceeded the price of 30 movies watched via Netflix. No, they’re not HD and yadda yadda, thanks for pointing that out. The average consumer doesn’t care about that. At all. They want the Blue Light Special, not a white-gloved concierge.

When I reviewed the original Apple TV, I wished for streaming access to my entire iTunes video purchase history:

“If Apple charged me X amount of money per month and gave me unlimited access to their library of television and movies from any approved device, including Macs, iPhones, iPods and, of course, Apple TVs, I’d be a happy customer. Yes, I want to have my music files physically on my hard disk. But if the shows and movies I want to watch all lived on a server farm in Cupertino, that’d be fine with me.

I’d save a lot of disk space. There’d be nothing to sync, or forget to sync, before a vacation. I wouldn’t have to cough up three bucks just to watch The Office, and and Apple would maintain its revenue stream.”

TV show rentals didn’t exist then, so that cost has decreased. Also, I’ve changed my mind about music. Today I don’t care if I’ve got physical files on a drive. I’ve been enjoying Rdio for a few weeks.

Imagine the benefit for video. No more syncing, time-consuming downloads or space-hogging files. When I bought all 5 season of Battlestar Galactica, my MacBook Pro bulged as iTunes sent both HD and SD version of every episode. I had to buy an external disk.

Music

Apple has my purchase history, of course. Perhaps a scan of my records could match the results with files on Apple’s streaming servers. Pair that convenience with the rumor of locally-stored “snippets” (typically the first few seconds of songs) and you’ve potentially got a solution to the lags that have annoyed users of Google Music Beta and Amazon’s Cloud Drive. Additionally, Apple has reportedly signed licensing agreements with EMI Music, Warner Music, and Sony Music; something Google and Amazon can’t say.

Cost

It won’t be free, as Apple likely paid dearly for the licensing. This is where it gets tricky. Will MobileMe be retooled completely into iCloud, with an all-new pay structure and features? Or will a separate X-per-month provide access to the cloud-based goodies. I’ve no idea. I can’t wait to find out.