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My iLife: my experiences with Apple

Before I start out on this little adventure, it should be made public that I despise Apple and all things fruit. This profound hatred developed during my high school years. Back in those days I owned a Performa 6200, and let me assure you, this thing was the top of the line! But for some strange reason I just wasn’t happy.

I would always get frustrated when reading Magazines like Game Informer. Seeing all these crazy ads every other page for the latest and greatest video games and couldn’t play them. Why couldn’t I play them? Well, short answer: they all said “PC only.” To add insult to injury, the graphics card in my Apple Performa sucked! So my solution was to simply get a PC. And I haven’t looked back since.

During my college years, I’d find myself arguing with the other geeks as to why Microsoft didn’t suck. It soon turned into some sort of obsession. Seeking out the Linux and Apple fans in the room and picking fights. I couldn’t explain and I still can’t! And even in 2010, I will still hunt down and provoke the “not cool” crowd in the room.

With the introduction of the iPhone, things only got worse. I wasn’t fighting with know it all nerds any more (does that mean I’d be fighting myself?) Now I was fighting with every Tom, Dick and Harry in the street. As it turned out, the average village idiot now owned an iPhone, and they all defended this thing as furiously as I attacked it! I found myself poking fun at people who had no idea they were being made fun of. Hearing things like, “Oh, it can’t do that? Oh well, it does what I want it to do!” was the norm. I constantly found myself beating a dead horse.

Back in the days of the iPhone 2G, I acquired one for myself. Armed with my HTC 8525, I couldn’t fight the geek in me. I had to know what this thing was about. Unfortunately, all of that excitement and childlike glee hit rock bottom as soon as I got the phone home. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The iPhone was a joke! Everything was a web app, a miniature website packaged in a nice little frame. It was sickening to use, actually. So, like any good geek among us, I gave the iPhone to my mother. And that was the end of that!

But as it turned out, it sure as hell wasn’t the end of that! I was now 24 hour support for this crazy woman and her crazy phone! It was interesting to watch her fumble around to do simple things. Functions that Apple and even their diehard fans proclaimed the phone could do with such grace and ease, really was a nightmare to execute. Trying to explain (or BS my ass off) why she couldn’t forward the cute MMS her friend just sent her to 14 other friends was not always an easy thing.

As time passed, surely she grew to love the thing. And so, I had to buy her a 3G for her birthday, and now my father inherited an iPhone 2G. Oh joy! Rinse and repeat cycle and here we are today: mom owns a 4G and dad owns a 3GS. Joy! The great part about the parents having these things was I always got to keep an eye on the Apple camp. If I really wanted to find out about the latest iPhone updates, I’d just quickly grab one from my parents and see firsthand what they were working with. But even then, I found the whole iPhone ecosystem to be a joke.

And then it happened. A deal I couldn’t let go to waste. While acquiring the 4G for Mom, a deal was offered for two. And so, I took it. Not only did I risk my reputation as the arch enemy to Steve Jobs and his minions, but the very existence and purpose of the polar caps might have very well been in danger! None the less, my rationale was sound. After having my fill of Blackberry, I was now looking for something to replace my RIM infested device on my AT&T line. Windows phone 7 was still a ways off, and an Android device would have been ideal. But considering the sweet deal I got on the 4G, my mind was pretty much made up.

I had given some thought to writing this article, but I felt like the iPhone wasn’t enough to write about. I would be doing just another review. I didn’t want that. I wanted to immerse myself as deep as I could into the apple universe. I wanted to experience all they had to offer! So I ran out and bought an iPad as well. And to top it off, I pulled my MacBook from the depths of useless technology and took a Clorox cloth to its white shell. iPhone 4G, check. iPad 64gig 3G, check. Macbook intel (or whatever they call it,) check. And here we go!

Immediately after turning on the MacBook, I was greeted with a little over a gig of updates to download and install. This really blew my mind. Why in the world do Leopard updates have to be so big? Simple bug fixes numbering in excess of 400mb? That’s madness! What if I resided in Canada and had to keep an eye on my bandwidth? To allot a sizeable chunk of that on updates would be a deal breaker. Long story short, that MacBook ended up back under the pile of useless technology where it began. Send me an email Apple, I’d love to get that on your “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads (when was the last time you saw one of those? Hmmmmm.) No one can say I didn’t try, but this little adventure will be piloted by Windows 7, thank you very much!

Because I am heavily invested in Microsoft’s ecosystem, a lot of this seemed different, out of place even. The most obvious of which was the software. iTunes was a horror show. I have not used software this bad since the early versions of Nero. It was almost shocking to see such mature software in such a state of dismay. The UI was horrible at best, and it was an incredible resource hog. I have always been a huge fan of Zune software, and wouldn’t trade it for the world. After using iTunes on a daily basis, it’s clear as day; Zune software is by far a superior offering. Simple things like adding music to my iTunes library was a pain. As with Zune software, I assumed that by simply dropping an album into the iTunes directory, it would make it available in the software…WRONG! After some forum searching, I was able to understand that I need to drop music into a directory called “Automatically Add to iTunes” in order to have it show up right away. FAIL!

I was going through a Zune pass withdrawal. Not being able to click download on entire albums at will was bringing me down. But I couldn’t let that happen, I had to continue with the adventure. Noticeably missing was the Zune feature that recommends music via picks for me and virtual DJ with ease. But then again, would I even care? I had no unlimited subscription, so oh well!

Funny enough, in the midst of my panic attack, Apple decided to release iTunes 10. Perfect timing! I was excited to see the company’s legendary work ethic in the flesh. No such thing. iTunes 10 sucked just like the versions before it. As far as I can tell (which might not be saying much), all they’ve done is add a poorly implemented version of Zune social and changed iTunes’ application icon from a CD to a music note. There were no oohs and aahs to be had from the iTunes update. At this point, this thing would only be used to get music and PIM information onto these two devices. Oh well.

Now, on to the meat of whole thing: the iPhone and iPad. Finding a purpose for the iPhone would never really be an issue. It was replacing my Blackberry, which I couldn’t be happier to get rid of. Plus I had my HD2 alive and well on my T-mobile line, so I never really anticipated using the iPhone much, but it would definitely fit in. The iPad on the other hand, never really served a purpose for me. I was truly interested to see how it fit in, so I’ll start with that discussion.

I remember watching Apple’s announcement for the iPad and shaking my head. And to my surprise I really wasn’t the only one. To be honest, I shake my head at each and every thing Apple does. But the iPad thing seemed to be a real joke. After all the years of hype, they somehow managed to release a giant iPod Touch. I imagined there would be a flock of graphic designers and auto cad engineers in a corner somewhere looking for tissue to dry their tears. With no real OS, this meant no real productivity factor. No real creative edge. And to this day I still think this is so. The iPad would have been a monster had it had a real OS, a real version of Photoshop! But oh well! So what does this thing do? Well, I don’t know. I had to look for things to do to make it fit in.

The one and only feature it aligned itself with immediately was its eBooks abilities. A few months back I was looking into a Kindle, but couldn’t stomach the price. The iPad got me excited about the eBooks world all over again. This led to the discovery of a nice site called There are tons of high quality PDF versions of many industry-leading magazines available for free. Much to my surprise, these PDFs looked amazing on the iPad. Using Apple’s iBooks app to access them was a joy as well. Switching from page to page was effortless. Forget those eBooks. I now had high quality pictures to look at on the train while I commute to the plantation! I really wasn’t feeling that bad about my $800 iPod Touch anymore.

I soon discovered two more apps that would make the iPad a much more appealing device: Netflix and Hulu Plus. Not that I ever cared to watch movies or TV shows while away from my home, but having the ability to do so really changes things. The UI on both of these apps were great, and finding what I wanted to watch was never an issue. The video quality was also surprisingly great for both. Another unforeseen propose for this thing.

While I am aware there are loads of games available for the iPad, I prefer to do my gaming on my Xbox, so I hadn’t even looked in that direction. For me, the last great feature of the iPad was Safari. I’d argue this thing sucks compared to opera on my beloved HD2 or any other winmo device for that matter! But Opera isn’t featured on a 10” screen! So there is nothing to compare this to. It works! Waking up in the morning and hitting my daily sites while in bed was nice. I still prefer the laptop, but it’s a nice experience on the iPad none the less. Performing gestures for zooming in and out are second nature. Another pleasant surprise.

But it wasn’t all pleasant surprises. With the introduction of the iPad came a huge inconsistency within Apple’s platform. Because of the resolution of the iPad’s screen, apps had to be rewritten to suit it. Most app developers rewrote their apps with completely different UIs, which was cool in most cases. As of right now, there are a huge number of apps that have yet to be redone. If an app was not rewritten for the iPad, it would simply run at the same resolution as an iPhone. So you’d see a tiny app screen and large black borders all around it. This was a huge pain in my ass, as a lot of the apps I used on the iPhone had not been rewritten. Apple’s solution to this was to offer the option to have the app appear 2 times the size. It was less of a border, but the app had a very pixelated look. I thought it was interested to see these kinds of issues coming from Apple. This was a major annoyance when I tried to use the Facebook app. This is probably my most used app on the platform, and to see that it was not iPad-ready was a downer. I had to purchase a separate app called Social. It is to be noted, social is a very good solution and looks wonderful on the iPad. But I would still much rather have the regular Facebook app.

This really wasn’t the first time I’ve seen something like this. When Apple introduced the 3GS, developers loved the speed of the phone, but soon noticed their apps wouldn’t work with the 3G or even older 2G. These were the same types of inconsistencies Microsoft faced years ago, and was bashed for having. It’s now interesting to see the almighty Apple running that very same course. One other complaint was the OS3. After using iOS4 on the 4G, it was painful to use an OS3 device. Man, OS3 sucked! No multitasking, no app switching, it just wasn’t as good. But that was easily excused because there are betas of iOS4 for the iPad, so it’s only a matter of time before it’s released.

Now, on to the iPhone 4G, the super star of Apple’s world. I was really surprised when I first started to really use the phone. This thing was leagues ahead of what it used to be when I first met the iPhone 2G. Apple’s progression was clear within a few minutes of us on the device. While the UI was still the same stale thing from before, it worked. Additions like multitasking and fast app switching really made the difference. The addition of HTML5 to Safari was a great one as well. Not that I know the difference, but I do know that I can now go to YouTube and see high quality videos right from the browser.

FaceTime was another stellar implementation. While HTC phones Europe side had front facing cameras for years, and even heavy hitters in the US like Sprint’s EVO, none of them did it like Apple. Apple made it a seamless experience. No additional software needed, just hit the FaceTime button on a call and that’s it. The video quality was always great. One thing I hadn’t really noticed was people’s reaction to FaceTime when using it. This was pointed out by a friend, who said “People cannot stop smiling!” I must say, he is right. It really brings a smile to your face to see something like this done so effortlessly.

The 5MP camera on the 4G is stunning. In comparison to everything else out there (I’m looking at you HD2,) it really does set the bar. It takes beautiful pictures. Videos are also produced nicely. Seems like Apple took the time to squeeze every ounce of sweetness from the camera!

iPhone 4G pictures

The support for multiple exchange accounts is a beautiful thing. On top of that, it manages them all with a unified inbox. Well done indeed. I really wish I had a unified inbox on my HD2. That’s such a killer feature.

How about them apps? People who own and love these phones do so largely in part because of the apps. I wasn’t too overly interested in diving head first into this world. Last time I tried it, I was really disappointed. Everything was web apps or ports of web services. And so, I started up the app store with a “blah” mentality. I was so used to getting everything done on my HD2, I couldn’t imagine how the iPhone or any of its apps would improve that. And just like I thought, it couldn’t. But, I did find new things to do.

This was a strange feeling. I always accused iPhone die hards of being childish when it came to apps. I always said most of them were useless, and just “Why? Because I can” apps. Again, I was right. But I still found one or two that I really loved. The first was an app called iFitness. This is a well thought out workout app. I hit the gym a good 4 times a week, and anyone who goes to the gym that often can tell you, it’s hard to keep track of what you’re doing. This app really helps with that. It showcases everything from tons of exercises to videos on how to do them. It even keeps track of your workouts and goals. Genius!

Another such app is the all in one IM app Beejive. I loved this app on Windows Mobile, but it is even better on the iPhone. The app makes uses of the iphones multi-tasking and OS notification feature like I’ve never seen. Your accounts are logged into Beejive’s servers at all time, and when an IM is sent, it’s pushed to the phone, and the iOS notifications take it from there. Clicking the notification brings you to the app, and then loads the IM. While this may not sound like much, anyone who used an IM app in the past knows how much these things suck the battery because of their always connected nature. To see Beejive make uses of iOS’s push notification in such a way is simply amazing.

The last and most amazing of the apps I fell in love with is the Facebook app. Man this is a thing of beauty. Much like Beejive, the Facebook app takes advantage of the push notifications in the OS. That means instant Facebook notifications. If you live on Facebook all day every day like I do, instant notification is a god send! They’ve also recently added the Facebook “places” feature, which adds even more value to the app.

My daily activities on Facebook were vastly different on my HD2. The Facebook app on windows mobile wasn’t as good as the iPhone by a long shot. I pretty much only used the app to update my status. To upload pictures I would use the email picture feature Facebook supports. To reply to notifications I’d simply reply to the emails Facebook generates. This really wasn’t that bad, because I am using push on my Gmail accounts. So it was fairly instant. But to have this all wrapped up in one app like it should, is truly a treat!

Other social apps are also done well. And there are a huge number of them as well. Countless really good Twitter apps, Facebook apps, news readers, etc. I enjoyed Apple’s Twitter app quite a bit, especially on the iPad. It has a really attractive UI on the iPad that makes it stand out. There are one or two apps I use for my Google reader account that work really well. The best of these I found to be Byline.

Then there are apps for all the services I use on a daily basis. I found it crazy that every single bank I use had an app. There is a app. There are apps for Netflix and Hulu. There is a Gamefly app. The list goes on and on. It was interesting to make the move from using the websites to get to these services on the HD2, to using an app on the iPhone. Generally speaking, more of everything that is offered is available to me on the sites, but it’s not as fast and simple as using an app. So there is a definite upside and a downside to both.

And then there are the “everything else” apps. Not to say they aren’t some really great and innovative apps out there, but they just don’t appeal to me. It’s not quite in my personality to own a phone then look for things to do. Instead, I own a phone that can do the things I need it to do. Because of this, games and all the other novelty apps really have no place in my digital life.

But what about the negatives? Well, let’s go! The first was the screen. The display on the 4G is beautiful to say the least. In fact, it looks so good, it’s painfully obvious to see how small the screen is. I was almost shocked at this. Every time I pick up the phone, I can’t help but think, “Man, if only you had .5” more!” Especially coming from my HD2, the screen really is a letdown in terms of size. Browsing the web vs. the HD2 really cannot compare. If I need to get some browsing done, I’d still use my HD2.

Next up, the phone! If I could curse here, believe me I would be cussing! All I can say is WTF!!! This thing drops calls left and right. I’ve never seen anything like it. Having seen it for myself now, I can honestly say there is a long line of people I’d like to choke. Mainly those who are quick to bash AT&T’s network. From my first AT&T phone right up until my Tilt 2, and any Blackberries in-between, I have yet to get a dropped call. The only dropped call I would ever see is when the phone completely loses signal. That is to be expected. But this thing? It drops calls with a full set of bars. And it gets worse. Right after it does the dirty deed of cutting you off with a dropped call, it has the nerve to show a green call button that disrespectfully says “call back.” WTF!!! Really Apple? Is this a fix or a solution? You’re just going to do that and act as if nothing ever happened? How about you don’t ask me if I want to call back, how about you don’t drop the call in the first place!!!! Now before I get a barrage of “Why don’t you just get a case?” emails, it’s important you people should know that half the time, I am not even touching the phone! I can’t stand folding phones, which is the reason why I own Bluetooth earpieces. And furthermore, I hate putting my devices in cases. Lots of time and effort went into the design of the device and I love to appreciate that. Asking me to put a case on my phone is simply a FAIL! It’s shameful really!

From here on out, most things are just annoyances. Simple things like being able to remove individual calls from the call log. I can remove individual messages from a message thread, but not individual calls from the log? The lack of any type of API to tap into Apple’s core apps is also very annoying. There is also a wildly annoying “feature” (if that’s what you want to call it) where you can only add folders to the photo app from iTunes. Exactly what the hell is that about? Every time I save a picture from an email or website, it defaults the “camera roll” folder. How is this not an issue? There are many more such annoyances, but none of them are deal breakers. They’re all things you can sweep under the rug as things on the platform you don’t care for. That’s okay; every platform has their fair share of such.

So, what do I think about my iLife? Well, for one, sitting here writing this made me realize that it really isn’t that bad. And before you get off on a “But you were the one always screaming &%#$ Apple!” rant. Let me reiterate something…. &%#$ APPLE!!!! But what they have to offer really isn’t that bad. Now I understand how an average person can fall in love with the company.

Everything is simple and clean, and more importantly it works for the most part. There is a lot to be said about that. Apple no longer seems to be a geek’s dream company to me. They make consumer products and should be judged as such.

With all that said, the iPhone really has no future in my digital life. With Windows Phone 7 around the corner, my love affair with Microsoft’s ecosystem will be stronger than ever. I will miss the FaceTime dearly, but maybe not for too long. Apple’s move to make FaceTime available on the new iPods was a great one. If anything, I can always buy an iPod for that purpose alone.

As for the iPad, although it doesn’t have a strong presence, I think I’ll keep it around. The ability to read magazines and books on my train ride to work and back is a great one. Being able to watch a movie or show really quickly is cool as well. I can’t recommend it as a necessity, but it is definitely cool to have.

I walk away from it all with a firm understand of the Apple camp. Like I said before, the iLife is not for me, and I don’t care to be here too much longer (windows phone 7, where are you baby?) But my time here was filled with some great experiences, and finally a good insight as to how idiots err… iPhone users go about their digital lives. Going forward, I’ll feel a little funny about bashing iPhone users, but that Mac OS? It’s still lunch time!