iPhone WiFi sync needed, and oh the possibilities!

I’m growing a gripe about the iPhone’s lack of ability to sync wirelessly. This could be a stellar feature if done right – much better than USB syncing.

First, a note about my setup. My main Mac is a MacBook Pro. It lives everywhere – office, family room, kitchen, hammock…usually wherever I am when at home. I’m not a big cell phone (voice) user, so it isn’t strapped to my belt while at home. I don’t give the number out often, and my voicemail says firmly “I do not check the messages on this cell phone.” Yes, I’m wasting the excellent Visual Voicemail feature. Shoot me. When I’m at home, my cell phone (now iPhone) has always lived on the kitchen counter. That’s where the charger is. So a unique task is required to get my iPhone, USB cable, and MBP in the same place to sync. Bottom line, I don’t sync as often as I should because it’s inconvenient.

My recently-retired Treo 650 sync’d with Bluetooth, courtesy of the excellent Missing Sync software. That let me skip the USB cable. I’d use USB now and then to get a full backup, but Bluetooth was great for syncing contacts and calendar info. I’d usually bring the phone to my laptop when it was in the family room (adjacent to the kitchen), sit them together and sync while making dinner.

I was a bit upset when I learned the iPhone wouldn’t sync via Bluetooth. I suspect Apple’s thinking is that the iPhone syncs lots of sizable stuff – music and videos – that would take forever and a day over Bluetooth. So I don’t see Apple offering sync over Bluetooth.

Then it struck me – WiFi sync makes much more sense. It’s many times faster, and operates at significantly greater distance than Bluetooth. Rendezvous self-discovery would make setup a breeze. Long videos might take a while but otherwise this would be perfect. Sync could be started at either the iPhone or the Mac. Setup could be done anytime the iPhone was on the same subnet as the host Mac.

Then something else struck me – Automatic WiFi syncing. Why have to even start a sync manually? When there’s data to be synced, just do it. Perhaps poll periodically in the background, just a quick ping to check for new data before doing any real syncing. Or when joining a pre-determined home network. Or just when charging. Or maybe just small items (contact/calendar) when running on battery, then music/video/photos when charging. Imagine the convenience.

And there’s no reason iTunes needs to be open (a general annoyance already, plus we should be able to choose movies/podcasts to sync without the iPhone connected, but that’s another rant). Think of it like .Mac syncing, but locally and with fewer bugs…

Other nice things could happen too. Pretend for a minute there was a real RSS reader on the iPhone – I’m sure there will be someday. Viewed articles could be marked as such on both readers. This would be nice between Macs too.

Or how about syncing across multiple Macs? I don’t store my music/video/photos on my MBP. They’re on my Mac Mini, dedicated as a media server with gobs of storage. Adding this stuff to my iPhone now is a real chore. Why not sync my calendar/contact info with my MBP, and my music/video/photos with my Mini?

So think happy thoughts about WiFi syncing, and maybe it’ll happen!

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That little iPhone speaker

Brief kudos to iPhone’s tiny little speaker. I mean for iTunes use. Nobody will claim it’s of audiophile quality (or even stereo for that matter!). But I never thought about how handy a speaker on an iPod would be.

Tonight I was playing with Ariella on her playmat, winding her down for bedtime. She likes The Beatles. I grabbed the iPhone and played Yellow Submarine, all without leaving the floor. She loved it.

The speaker has also been handy when watching video podcasts or stupid YouTube videos. No reason to go find the headphones when I’m alone in a room.

By the way, does anyone else find themselves using YouTube just as an excuse to play with the iPhone? Most videos really are as dumb as they say…

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More redesign underway…

I’ve done further editing of the site’s main CSS, and created my own header. The header is quite gothic, not my intent. I’ll let it sit for a day and review. I’m happy to rid myself of the near-default xblog header, and reduce the header height by half. Further changes to be made I’m sure. I’m thinking the green text may go. Hover text in the top menu will change. Possibly rounded corners on the main body. Kudos to CSSEdit for making the style sheet editing (possibly too) easy. Photos are my own, shot on a Canon 10D using an IR filter. Bulbs are heat lamps. Eyes are mine.

The iPhone CSS is unchanged; I like it as-is, odd bottom menu excluded. I don’t anticipate that menu being a high priority for iPhone visitors, considering there is little in the archive at this point.

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Optimizing my WordPress blog for iPhone users

I have no idea if anyone’s done this yet. But I’m a curious guy. I’ve optimized my WordPress blog for the iPhone. Making it compatible wasn’t an issue; the built-in Safari browser is pretty good. But I wanted iPhone users to find the blog immediately readable without the need to zoom in.

I didn’t want a new CSS for other web visitors, just something unique for iPhone users. I’m posting my methodology so others can hack it to bits take advantage of my solution.

First, I created an iPhone-specific CSS variant of my standard theme. First I got rid of the (admittedly ugly) graphic header. Then I made everything a max of 320px wide, the narrow width of the iPhone’s screen. Then I shoved the navigation menu to the bottom, just to get it out of the way (this could certainly be done better). Ok, that gave me an iPhone-optimized CSS. I named it style-iphone.css, and dropped it into my theme folder. You can view the CSS (far from beautiful, based on the xblog theme).

Ok, that part was easy. Now I wanted to get the iPhone to use it. So in the theme’s header.php I added:

<?php
$iphone_stylesheet = str_replace(“.css”, “_iphone.css”, get_bloginfo(‘stylesheet_url’));
?>
<link media=”only screen and (max-device-width: 480px)” href=”<?php echo $iphone_stylesheet; ?>” type=”text/css” rel=”stylesheet” />

So that basically changes style.css to style_iphone.css, and uses the new Apple-defined media type. In other words, this tells the iPhone to use this stylesheet, and everything else to ignore it. I put this after the normal stylesheet line, not sure if that was required or not.

Worked great, but I wanted the iPhone to zoom right into my blog instead of forcing the user to double-tap. That’s where the Viewport meta tag comes in. I wasn’t sure what Viewport might do to non-iPhone browsers, so I wrapped that in a PHP test:

<?php
if (strstr($_SERVER['HTTP_USER_AGENT'], “iPhone”))
{
echo ‘<meta name=”viewport” content=”width = 320″ />’;
}
?>

So my header.php now looked like this:

<link rel=”stylesheet” href=”<?php bloginfo(‘stylesheet_url’); ?>” type=”text/css” media=”screen” />

<?php
$iphone_stylesheet = str_replace(“.css”, “_iphone.css”, get_bloginfo(‘stylesheet_url’));
?>

<link media=”only screen and (max-device-width: 480px)” href=”<?php echo $iphone_stylesheet; ?>” type=”text/css” rel=”stylesheet” />
<?php
if (strstr($_SERVER['HTTP_USER_AGENT'], “iPhone”))
{
echo ‘<meta name=”viewport” content=”width = 320″ />’;
}
?>

(That first stylesheet line is unchanged, as a frame of reference.)

And voila. iPhone users now see a very readable, optimized blog. Users from anything else don’t see any difference.

I’m using a somewhat old WordPress (2.0.6); I’m not sure if the header in 2.2 is any different, but the solution shouldn’t be different.

I’m very curious what others think of this implementation.

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iPhone – Display Remote Images in HTML Messages option!

Ok, my first unhappy surprise.

There is no option to not “Display Remote Images in HTML Messages” as there is in mail.app. When you bring up an HTML email, remote images are automatically retrieved.

I’ve always viewed that as a security problem, since those images nearly always contain unique ID’s tying your email address to the message. I might go file a radar bug report on this right now…

Filed: Problem ID: 5305779

More iPhone impressions

Some more thoughts…

Safari understands RSS, using the “secret” reader.mac.com address. Odd, but I guess that’s how Apple will keep network use down. It doesn’t auto-recognize RSS feeds like Safari Mac does (with the RSS icon in the URL bar). You need to find an RSS link, click on it, then you can bookmark as appropriate. They should show the RSS icon as Safari Mac does.

You can have multiple email accounts at the same time, which is nice. But it isn’t handled particularly well. When sending a message, the new message screen doesn’t tell you what mailbox you are in (you need to check before clicking the new message icon). This should carry forward.

Critically (in my opinion) – there should be separate auto-checking and notification preferences for each account. I have one account I’d like to check as often as possible. I have others which are fine every hour or two, and don’t even need notifications.

The headphone jack is strange. Others have written about this – it’s quite recessed. My over-the-ear noise-reduction headphones don’t fit. I’m sure there will be adapters available, but that’s another thing to remember. I’m sure there’s a reason for the design.

The camera’s white balance is…strange.

Overall (just so it doesn’t sound like I’m whining) I really like the iPhone. The things I don’t like are small in nature, and also (other than the headphone jack) software-related. So I shall endeavor to pester Apple as need be for updates.

If anyone is curious, I’m using the Speck Toughskin case, and Power Support Crystal Film screen protector. Both bought at the Apple Store at time of iPhone purchase. The case is nice. Not sure how I like the belt clip part of it, that’s to be determined. The screen protector is perfect; can’t even tell it’s there. No impact whatsoever on appearance or touchscreen performance.

Oh, a major iTunes issue. You can’t manually drag songs/videos/whatever into the iPhone, like you can with any other iPod. You have to sync everything, or specific playlists. I don’t like this at all. I’ve always managed my iPods manually, and really miss that ability. Hopefully it’ll come back.

Initial iPhone thoughts, suggested improvements

The iPhone is very easy to use. The WiFi works great. The EDGE is what I expected, nothing to complain about. I don’t live in a 3G area anyway. Keyboard is really nice – getting used to it fast. I’m already typing at least as well as I did on my Treo 650, and I suspect it’ll get better.

Some thoughts on minor feature improvements – I’ll use this blog as a scratchpad. I’m going to limit my thoughts to items that can easily be updated via software.

Safari – need an option “Automatically download images” like Safari for the Mac has. Make this service-specific, so I can turn this on for WiFi, off for EDGE. This would make EDGE much faster for web browsing. When images have not been downloaded, have a button when in Safari to do so. Again, just like Safari Mac.

Mail – I’d like a way to flag messages (just like mail.app and other mail clients). There is a “mark as unread” button which is nice, but a flag would be an added bonus. This is for email that comes in while on the road, but you don’t want to deal with until later.

Mail – Automatic email check needs an “every five minute” option. Yes this will drain the battery faster, but for me that’s worth it. Every 15 minutes isn’t quite enough.

Mail – Automatic email checking within specified time block. My Treo 650 had this. I set it to only auto-check email from 7am to 9pm. This was nice, as it wouldn’t beep late at night, or waste the battery if I’d forgotten to plug it in.

Mail – is IMAP/SMTP connecting over SSL or not? In mail.app you can see that in preferences. There’s no explicit option for this. I really, really only want to use SSL – especially in public WiFi areas. So this is a question, and if SSL isn’t there, please add it quickly. Update: SSL is there, just in Advanced and not during the setup prompts. Also, if you want to use a specific port, use address:port syntax. No separate port field, which is fine.

Phone – need a way to quickly search by name using the QWERTY keypad. This is an odd omission. I have 956 address book entries, so scrolling to find the name is too slow.

Well that’s what I’ve got so far. I’m going to look for a theme I like, that also works well with the iPhone. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone’s already written a decent WordPress theme…

One more Mitch Cohen that I’m not

I’m writing from San Francisco, where I (as of tomorrow morning) will be attending Apple’s annual WWDC – the World Wide Developers Conference.

They encourage everyone to pick up their badges (and free goodies) the day prior to the show. So earlier this evening I walked from my hotel to the Moscone Convention Center and handed over my driver’s license. I was promptly provided a badge for “Mitch Cohen, Sony Pictures.” Keep in mind I don’t work for Sony Pictures. My badge should have read “Mitch Cohen, Proactive Interactive.”

I am not the Mitch Cohen who works for Sony Pictures. [For other Mitch Cohens who are not me, read this earlier entry.]

The poor clerk was confused when I explained I was indeed Mitch Cohen, but just not that Mitch Cohen. After a bit of explaining, she said “Ummmmm… See those people down there in red shirts that look important? They actually work for Apple. They can help you.”

The kind red-shirted folks were able to help, and confirmed my worst suspicions. There was indeed another Mitch Cohen attending WWDC, and he works for Sony Pictures. He checked in sometime prior to me. He apparently handed over his driver’s license, and was promptly handed my badge. He either didn’t notice, or thought it would be keen to masquerade as myself for the week. The trouble was, the Mitch Cohen of Proactive Interactive (that’s me) was already checked in. They couldn’t simply check me in again.

After some significant discussion amongst the kind red-shirted folks behind the table and a quick phone call for clarification from Steve Jobs (only kidding on that part) the Red Shirt In Charge decided the best course of action was to now check in the Sony Mitch (not me), and using a secret code word authorized the reprinting of the Proactive Mitch’s card (that’s me). Problem solved.

On a sad note, the kind red-shirted Apple folks will be killed off at the end of WWDC.

After some minor Googling I was unable to locate a web page for Sony Mitch. So if you know Sony Mitch, or are Sony Mitch, please drop me a note. Despite your apparent desire to be me for a week I’m sure you’re a fine fellow. Perhaps we’ll see one another at WWDC.

Just one more problem. With the exception of Steve Jobs’ Keynote Address, the entire conference is covered by Apple’s famous confidentiality agreement. So even in writing this story I may be threatening myself with legal action, bodily harm, or even the loss of Leopard Beta privileges (yikes!). But it’s worth it.

NPR: John Hodgman is Bill Gates – funny interview segment

I just listened to the podcast of the 3/16/2007 NPR’s On The Media. They had an interview with Bill Gates on “the future of television.” Blah blah blah.

At the end of the interview, the host (Bob Garfield):

Bob Garfield: “I want to ask you one more thing. Those Mac ads…how do you feel about the John Hodgman character?”

Bill Gates: “Ah ah ah I can’t comment on someone else’s ad.”

Bob Garfield: “Ok, but… He’s you.”

Bill Gates: “Uhh I’m not gonna comment on someone else’s ad.”

(end of interview)

This takes place approx. 38:55 into the program, if you want to the whole thing. Maybe not newsbreaking but rather funny.

http://www.onthemedia.org/

Click to hear the audio snippet (MP3 format)