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Monday 04 May, 2015
#The Forest Road Reader, No 138 : Reality Distortion Field
smellygit You bought a Macbook!!!!! [added 28th Apr 2015]

Even before I decided to fire my client, I'd been thinking about broadening out a bit. There are people who do Android development. There are people who do iPhone development. There aren't, at least it seemed to me, to be many people who do both. If I skilled up on iOS, then I'd put myself in that little pool and maybe that would be a good place to be.

To write software for iPhones you need to go all in. Surprizingly, you don't necessarily need an iPhone, but you do have to splash the cash for a MacBook, because that's what you need to run the development tools. So John, back in October, I jumped.

As things have turned out, I have so far done almost exactly no iOS development. I think I've written 5 lines of Objective-C and no Swift. Still, from little acorns, or something.

When I set out on this little adventure, I took advice from my friend Phil, who is a fully-functioning iOS developer. While you could happily work away just using the simulator it was best to have an iPhone, although perhaps not for the reasons you might think. The number one reason to have an iPhone, as an iOS developer he said, is to actually be a regular, active, user of the device. You needed to use it, because you needed to know it.

From the day my iPhone arrived, I have followed that advice. And every single day it pains me, because as I have used it and come to know it, I discovered I really don't like the iPhone. I *really* don't like it.

I have an iPhone 6+ and in many ways it's a superb piece of hardware. The screen is wonderful, the battery life is good, its network connection speeds always seem respectable. But it's the only phone I've owned that feels delicate - I'm afraid that if I drop it will shatter in a million glittering shards. It manifestly isn't particularly rugged - despite that fact that it spends most of its time on my desk, is never crammed in a back pocket, slung loose in a bag, or otherwise abused, my phone has creased across the back and no longer lies flat on a table.

It's also just too large and so difficult to manage in one hand. Of course, many modern phones are large, but the awkwardness of the physical size is exacerbated by iOS putings lots of the things you want to poke at the top of the screen. On your home screen, icons arranged in left-to-right, top-to-bottom lock step. Lacking anything equivalent to Android's back button, the Done/Cancel/Back/Complete control is inevitably at the top of the screen, often in the top-left. I understand that today's young people have longer thumbs than in the past, but that still a hell of stretch.

I hate that you can't put your icons where you want them. It seems ludicrous that there are no home screen widgets, and that the notifications so rarely manage to notify you of anything. And, God, the inter-app communication is just so poor. I really don't want to say "compared to Android", but compared to my previous Android phone I find my iPhone much less useful. I'm a long-time user of Remember The Milk for my to-do list, but on the iPhone the app has less utility than on, say, my Nexus tablet because there is no widget - I can't glance and see the list, I have to tap the icon, wait for the app to load, and then check list. Similarly with my calendar - it isn't ambient, I have to actively go and look.

Some operations that feel like they should be straightforward extend out into an almost infinite series of taps. Take, as an example, saving a link in a tweet to my Pinboard account. Having clicked the link to open up the webpage, click the share icon, choose open in Safari, load the page again, click the share icon again (which looks identical to before, but now provides different options), swipe sideways a bit to find and tap the Pinboard icon to finally save it to Pinboard. To get back to my Twitter feed, I then have to double-tap the home button and swipe sideways to get find my Twitter reader, then close the webpage. The equivalent sequence on my Nexus is open the webpage, click share, choose Pinboard, tap the back button.

I resent the immense difficulty I had getting the mail and calendar apps to talk to my bog standard mail and calendar servers. (The entirely unhelpful error messages and not remotely normal expectations about, for example, IMAP folders layouts struck me as deliberately obfuscatory.) The stock keyboard is pretty poor, but support for alternative keyboards is flaky - iMessage, for example, frequently fails to display a keyboard at all, requiring a force-close to recover. There's more - the unwillingness to pair over bluetooth without being prodded to do so, the fact that it's ludicrously difficult to get files off or onto the phone, that it needs a special cable all of its own but still often complains that its doesn't recognise its charger - but you get the message. Not a fan. I'm sticking with it, partly in the hope that perhaps Stockholm Syndrome will kick in, partly because I'm paying a fortune for it, but mainly because for a while it was Llamasoft's target machine of choice and so there are nine lovely games I can play on it.

In marked contract, the MacBook, a 15 inch MacBook Pro with Retina display for those keeping score, I love. Not for its software particularly, as I run the same applications on it as I do every other machine (Emacs, Firefox, Thunderbird, Intelli-J, Lego Batman 3, you know the kind of thing), but because it just is the best, most portable, laptop I've owned. It's light, feels decently rugged, has an amazing screen, and great battery life. It's almost entirely silent, it's fast (although not exceptionally so), and has the most efficient sleep mode I've yet encountered. It's certainly an expensive piece of kit, I have a similarly specified Dell laptop that cost about 500 quid less, and consequently I wouldn't recommend unless you would be taking it out and about. For me though, right now I feel I'm getting my money's worth in a way I just not with the iPhone.


» Llamasoft games for Android - five rather than nine, but lovely none the less.

» As a general rule of thumb, pretty much anything with the words "WALT SIMONSON" written on the cover is something thatís going to be worth having on your bookshelf.

» Moon Drawings : We invite you to contribute a drawing ó which will be etched on a sapphire disc, sent to the Moon, and potentially traced by a robot rover into the Moon's soil.

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