Instant messaging things

I bought BeejiveIM for my iPhone. It’s a bit on the expensive side, but I wanted something cool to play with so I decided ‘what the hell’. It’s one of the first apps to use the push notifications in the new iPhone OS, and it does make extremely good use of this facility. Basically you can log into all your instant messaging accounts (Facebook chat, MSN, etc.) then go and do something else and turn your iPhone off or whatever, and if you get messaged then you get a nice alert just like you do if you’ve received a text message. It has a great interface and seems to work extremely well. It’s great to have proper instant messaging ability on my iPhone now.

On a related note, I’m pleased to see Twitter support in the new beta of Adium (my favourite instant messaging application for Mac). Now I can be constantly distracted by little bits of inane crap instead of being overwhelmed by large bursts of inane crap once or twice a day.

Flickr administration

I’m just sorting out the mess that my Flickr/Yahoo accounts had become, which means setting up a new account and removing my old one, so don’t be concerned if you get another friend request from me on Flickr.

I want to get this sorted out now before I put lots of stuff up on Flickr. It seems sensible to use Flickr instead of the MobileMe gallery because, even though the MobileMe gallery has a much nicer interface, the social aspects of Flickr are compelling.

iPhone / MobileMe / Google apps

So I tried using email, contacts and calendar on Google in place of MobileMe. Although the sync possibilities for all of these across Macs and iPhone were almost good enough to replace the sync facilities in MobileMe, there were still too many broken bits that made the whole thing fairly pointless for me. So I’ll continue using MobileMe for now and see what happens in the future.

Also, I have to admit that the new Find My Phone feature on MobileMe is excellent – great to know you’d still have that much control over your iPhone if it got lost or stolen. And the MobileMe iDisk app for iPhone will be handy when it finally arrives, too.

In addition to email, contacts and calendars, I also use MobileMe for online backup and file sharing on iDisk, and replacing these with another service might not be much cheaper than MobileMe with all its other features. I just wish Apple would sort out syncing of Notes, To Do Items, and also RSS feeds. This is exactly the sort of thing MobileMe is for, and it currently isn’t offering workable solutions.

I’m using Evernote now on Mac and iPhone for syncing notes, which is pretty cool. I investigated Things for syncing task lists – it looks like a great solution, but at £32.36 for the Mac app plus another £5.99 for the iPhone app it’s way too expensive. I probably would have bought these apps if they’d been about a tenner for both. I use NetNewsWire on Mac and iPhone for keeping all my RSS feeds up to date and in sync, and this works well. But I’d rather do all these things within MobileMe so everything is even simpler and easier, and I feel this ought to be possible given the price of the service.

I’m getting a bit more used to the new iPhone software now, but I still think I’d rather have the option of turning off search and copy and paste – I don’t really need those things and they just seem to be getting in the way. Having MMS again though, at bloody last, is excellent, and it’s elegantly implemented (just as you would normally expect from Apple). Also, Safari loads pages much quicker, and there is much better handling of SMS message sending.

More iPhone OS 3 annoyances

  • When using multiple calendars (because I’m manually adding calendars since MobileMe doesn’t do it for me), you can’t choose your own colours for the calendars. This makes it horribly confusing when you’ve got lots of events.
  • I keep accidentally bringing up the copy and paste thing when I’m trying to position the cursor in text. I don’t want the copy and paste thing! How do I turn it off?
  • The search page keeps appearing when I’m trying to get to the first page of apps, which is annoying.
  • Third party apps seem to crash a lot more.

Still, at least I’ve found an application called Evernote which quite elegantly allows me to sync notes between my iPhone and my Macs. And not just written notes, but also notes containing photos or audio, which is pretty cool. It has clients for iPhone, Mac and Windows, and for all people in a similar position I recommend trying it out.

Since MobileMe continues to be rather lacking when it comes to getting things synced with the iPhone, I started to question whether I want to continue paying $99 a year for it. I investigated Google apps as an alternative and discovered that Google Mail has pretty good IMAP support nowadays, so I’d be happy using that for email now, and also that there are options to sync calendars and contacts from Google onto Mac and iPhone. And since I’ve decided to use Flickr instead of the MobileMe gallery, I think it might therefore be time to drop MobileMe altogether and save money. One drawback of that… another change of email address. Oh well.

New iPhone OS

There are various things I wanted and expected to see in the new iPhone OS, and they are discussed in detail below.

To Do Items

I depend heavily on To Do Items in iCal – synced between Macs over MobileMe – to keep track of my life, and it’s become increasingly tiresome that these aren’t present on the iPhone. I thought they were bound to finally add these for this OS release, but no. WHY? This is VERY BLOODY ANNOYING.

Notes

It was promised that it would become possible to sync Notes, and if this worked in the way I expected it would have been a reasonable substitute for the lack of To Do Items sync. I assumed this meant Notes could be synced between my iPhone and my Macs using MobileMe. But no. It apparently just means that you can sync Notes with iTunes when you plug it into the computer. What use is that? I want to be able to edit Notes no matter where I am or which device I’m using and have them sync over the air. So now we have Notes on the iPhone and a completely different Notes system in Apple Mail, both of which are completely incompatible with each other. VERY POOR.

Subscribed calendars

In addition to my own calendars, I have various calendars in iCal which I subscribe to. These are synced between Macs over MobileMe but they didn’t go to the iPhone for some stupid reason. They still don’t. WHY THE HELL NOT?

Calendar locations

When looking at an event in the Calendar on the iPhone, you’d expect to be able to click on the location and have it come up in a map, wouldn’t you? Well, this STILL doesn’t happen, so you have to memorise the postcode then manually bring up the Map app and type it in. VERY BLOODY ANNOYING.

Message alerts when phone is locked

When the phone is locked and you receive an SMS message, an alert message appears explaining this fact and showing you who it is from. So why not add an option to do the same for emails? WHY? Seriously, how hard would this have been to do? I can’t believe I’m the only person who requested this as a new feature. TIRESOME.

Picture messaging

Well, at long last iPhone users can send picture messages. What a relief. But when receiving messages we still have to go through that ridiculous rigmarole of going to the O2 website, logging in with a stupid code, viewing the picture, clicking yet another link to view the picture at the proper size, etc. Please tell me O2 are going to change something so we can receive picture messages properly as well as send them? PLEASE?

Repeating text alerts

Well, they got one thing right. At last there’s an option to turn off those sodding annoying repeating audible alerts when you get a text message, which finally takes away all the confusion and irritation caused by that feature.

CONCLUSION

Disappointing. I couldn’t care less about copy and paste or the ability to view my non-existent stocks and shares, but I do want to be able to SYNC MY TO DO ITEMS FROM MY MAC, GODDAMMIT! LAME.

Edit: It looks like picture messaging is working properly now for both sending and receiving. O2 should have sorted this out automatically after I installed the OS update, but they didn’t, so I had to send a text message to trigger the setup process.

Terminator Salvation

The relentless audiovisual assault makes this seem more like an endurance test than a film. I was completely shellshocked by the end of it. The script was poor and the plot was hopeless, but it was a unique experience due to its sheer intensity and the astonishing special effects. Good? Probably not. Worth it just for the experience? Probably.

Migrating to Amazon’s S3 cloud service for delivering media content

We were starting to run out of storage for the media (images, videos, audio, etc.) for our sites, so there were two options: either spend loads on getting more rack space and hardware for storing media files; or spend vastly less putting the media onto ‘the cloud’.

I investigated a cloud option in the form of Amazon Web Services and discovered that their Simple Storage Solution (or ‘S3’) could do everything we needed, and it seemed to be an effective, low cost and low risk option so we decided to give it a try.

Amazon provides a REST interface for getting data to and from your ‘buckets’ (which is their term for the storage areas you can create to put the media objects into). There are many toolkits available for developing with S3, and we use the S3 PHP class which makes development incredibly straightforward.

You can easily assign any DNS names you like to your buckets, so it was then just a case of setting up the buckets with suitable DNS names and changing our site architecture to use these new cloud-based locations for media instead of the original datacentre locations.

We went live with this a few weeks ago and have been moving more and more sites to the new S3 solution. So far it’s been very successful, with only a couple of brief blips in service which were clearly indicated on the Service Health Dashboard. We still have the option of rolling back in the event of a disaster, but if that doesn’t happen then we will be able to save a very large amount of money over the next twelve months and beyond as a result of this migration.

I’d definitely recommend Amazon Web Services as an option to other companies in the same situation. If our experiences with them continue to be positive, we may also consider using some of their other cloud services in the future. Should we wish to lower the latency when delivering media then we can use CloudFront, which is their content delivery system which integrates nicely with S3. We might also want to utilise their Elastic Compute Cloud for hosting actual server instances.