Mute is not Mute


I thought it was an inconsiderate lout, but we can blame bad UI for stopping a symphony at the New York Philharmonic.

The author of the post argues, I think correctly, “for silencing everything when you mute the phone” but then Daring Fireball runs with it, making the case that mute means mute only some things.

A wrongheaded idea all around, and not only because this muddies the very meaning of the mute switch. If we lived in a world where mute on my stereo mutes everything but the vocals, mute on my TV turned off everything but the commercials, and mute on my laptop speakers muted everything but email alerts, then you might have something.

Gruber argues “there’d be thousands of people oversleeping every single day because they went to bed the night before unaware that the phone was still in silent mode.” Hyperbolic to be sure, but I hear no similar plea for the thousands of calls missed because people were unaware their phone was in silent mode.

And how should users mute their alarms for “edge cases” like going to the symphony, or a movie, or a lecture, or a quiet dinner? By disabling the alarms individually? What of the “thousands of people oversleeping every single day” because they went to bed the night before forgetting they disabled their phone’s alarm?

Hmm… if only there were a simple hardware switch for turning all the phone’s sounds on or off!

Still the Apple TV set rumor trundles on


Macrumors mentioned Reports of 50″ Apple Television in Jonathan Ive’s Lab and by now I’m worried that, like shoehorning Superman into Dark Knight Rises, something dumb is going to happen because enough insane fans demanded it.

So far, the evidence we have of Apple building a TV are rumors of a 32″ TV, the aforementioned Brit who has a 50″ TV at work, and hundreds of Apple bloggers who need a persistent rumor to talk about.

While I maintain that Apple doesn’t need to make a TV to succeed in the home entertainment space anymore than Microsoft needs to make an Xbox TV, holy shit does the home entertainment user interface need an overhaul. After my epic journey choosing the right home theater receiver, I tried setting it up as simply as possible, so it wasn’t a mumbo-jumbo of “Select input 1 on the receiver remote, switch the TV remote to AUX 2, and hit power to watch TV. To turn it off, press Off (not Power) on the TV remote, and the third red button under the back cover of the receiver remote.” — except that’s the exact solution I came up with.

Heywood Floyd had an easier time using the toilet. If ever there was a case that called for Apple-like simplicity, home theaters are it.

But here’s the situation we’re stuck in. Just as commodity PC and cellphone manufacturers choose to compete on specs, so do home electronics retailers. Samsung, Sony, LG, et al aren’t copying Apple’s simplicity of design — emulating a UI that got by with one mouse button for 15 years — they’re chasing features. Is the next TV internet-ready? Does it have WiFi? Support for Netflix, Facebook, Spotify? It’s a league of followers. Apple made a smart device with apps, therefore apps are the new thing. Nevermind the one most important thing Apple brings to consumer electronics is also the thing no one is crowing about copying: simplicity.

I want a TV that is easy to setup and use, that’s it. Just how Apple got by with a one-button mouse, home theaters should be managed by one remote; an easy way to manage my inputs so they just work. I want my TV picture to look like it’s supposed to, I want my movies to look and sound the way they do in the theater. I don’t want to have to scratch my head over whether it’s supposed to be Dolby Pro Logic II or THX, or whether I’ve set my TV to 60Hz or 24. That is the one huge target that every manufacturer seems to miss. But enjoy your web-connected TV apps, when you use them.

At the end of this, I have to wonder why current manufacturers are scrambling to keep up with Apple’s magical new TV, and also wonder why it always has to be Apple to come in and reinvigorate some ossified industry? You guys have been making flat panel TVs for twenty years, can’t you make one that’s simple to use?

The tipping point for me was when I recently helped two of my older friends setup their TV. As far as they knew, their picture just looked “funny”. Diving in, I was baffled by the array of options, their seemingly scattered placement over the controls, and the mix of settings for deep-level experts and casual viewers both. So I messed with the picture settings, the refresh rate and so forth, until I solved it. Everything looked fakey because the TV was playing it back at 60Hz, when it was a 24fps film. Turning that off got it back to normal. Since it was a Sony BluRay player connected to a Sony TV, why not have the BD player tell the TV to play back at the same refresh rate as the source video? Why are other refresh rates even an option?

Same goes for the picture color settings: there’s the TV setting, the movie look, the high-contrast look (if you want everything you watch to look like Saw), and settings for tinting the picture cooler or warmer to varying degrees. This is a TV, not a Hipstamatic. So after 15 minutes of trying to get the Mos Eisley Cantina to look right, I’m wondering why we need all these settings? Though he seems to always change his mind about what’s in the frame, surely at some point George Lucas had decided that he wanted the cantina walls to be a certain shade of rose, or cream, or tan. Why does the TV give me the option to watch with my own color settings? Amongst the variety of color settings, I see several wrong options for recreating the picture as it was intended. This is a case where more choice is a bad thing.

All I needed was a choice of what my ambient light is: 5600K? 3200K? Even color temperature numbers don’t mean anything to consumers. Why not the sun and lightbulb icons like on my camera, or automatically detect the color temperature of ambient light with a sensor? Oh right, that would cost extra.

Other settings are a solution to a problem that shouldn’t exist in the first place. Frame blending, interpolation and juddering, specifically. While a de-juddering menu is meant to remove the “triple puck effect” of fast-moving objects appearing before and after their actual position, de-juddering creates a problem when you have repeated shapes moving past, like a fence or flight of stairs, which the TV incorrectly perceives as juddering. Turn de-juddering on and the steps become a static halo, turn de-juddering off and you have the triple-puck effect.

Why do we have juddering in the first place? If you’re watching a 60Hz signal on a 120Hz TV, the set should have two chances to draw the video per frame. There is no reason for fore-and-after images of a moving object if the screen is really being redrawn twice per frame. My guess is the screen isn’t refreshing the entire picture per frame. Hard to believe, a little white lie from the same people who brought us dynamic contrast ratio.

I mean, if you can’t do something, just say you can’t do it. Don’t try to patch it over with stupid features used to fake a good picture when you can’t provide the one you promised in the first place. Maybe that’s the nut Jobs “finally cracked” about the home entertainment industry.

Who watches the television?

Don’t Even Pretend


Yeah Amazon, I read every page of your Cloud Drive agreement, in the six line high text box, through the two nested scroll bars.

Hmm… it’s almost like Amazon doesn’t expect people to actually read the Terms of Use.

The maddening inconsistency of Mobile Safari’s URL autocomplete


If there’s one thing people want from a computer, it’s capriciousness. Let’s say I have a favorite site I visit every day that starts with a T. And so I begin typing its address into the URL field of mobile Safari. Tee…

What is this? T brings up a site that starts with W? Only the third word even has a T in it. And after that, ‘The’? ‘The’ ranks higher than a website that has two T’s in the name over a website that doesn’t even have a T in the URL? Keep in mind this is in a form field where URLs are entered. And the only website on this list that starts with a T is the fourth one down. Try that in landscape mode and you wouldn’t even know it’s there.

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PhoneFlicks vs. Netflix for iPhone


I love Netflix, and I think they’ve shown some amazing innovation in the on-demand video market, which is why they more or less own it. But Netflix for the iPhone is the first product they’ve released that I am disappointed in, enough to make me rethink my earlier assessment of Phone Flicks, my Netflix stand-in. Let’s say I’m looking for a movie to add to my queue, such as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.

Bye Bye Brazil, indeed. Dear Netflix, when are you going to release my film?

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They’ve lost ‘Control’


I was glad to ditch PhoneFlixFlicks from my iPhone because of its crappy UI. Say I want to add Control, Anton Corbijn’s 2009 biopic of Ian Curtis. Well, PhoneFlicks gives me one result: it’s Control all right — a 2001 thriller with Sean Young.

Did you leave enough room for the ad, the header, and the keyboard? Oh shoot. We forgot to leave space for the search results! So I was excited to download the new Netflix app and finally get some Control. Only I get this:

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Spotlight sucks


Let me start by saying that I hate OS X’s Spotlight. It willingly turns a blind eye to system files, which (like so much else for the Mac) is a solution that satisfies 90% of users, but does nothing for the other 10%: people like me, who need to edit httpd.conf, php.ini, and other files the OS prefers you ignore.

So in lieu of Spotlight, I have been trying to use find, albeit with mixed results. That changed when I found the terminal command mdfind — it’s Spotlight that actually searches your whole computer. What a relief! And it’s simple to use:

> mdfind php.ini

was all it took to find /private/etc/php.ini. Find without arbitrary limitations. Amazing!

Why are there two menus for this?


Hold the mouse button down over the icon of an unresponsive app in the dock and get this menu:

Right-click on the icon and get this one:

Same three options. One is vertical, the other horizontal. Clearly they serve the same purpose, but are arranged differently, and in the case of the horizontal menu, poorly. Why are there two menus? Moreover, why does right-clicking on dock icon not reveal the app’s open windows via Exposé the way click-holding does?

A critique of Apple’s Magic Mouse


I will not be using Apple’s new Magic Mouse because it drops the middle-click functionality of its predecessor, the Mighty Mouse.

Why didn’t Apple make the Magic Mouse more configurable? It could have all three possible buttons with just a little ingenuity. Make left-click on the left, right-click on the right, and middle-click achieved with a two-finger tap. Apple’s trackpads already support the two-finger tap, the Magic Mouse supports two-finger swiping, and hackers have even found a solution, so it is feasible. Maybe this will come in a software update, but in the meantime, this is not the mouse for me. That and the fact it requires batteries. I use a desktop and don’t need my mouse to be portable.

I get that Apple is sort of reinventing the mouse, but it still sucks that users have to lose some functionality while the next big thing catches up to the same old stuff.

iPhone stop interrupting me when I’m on you


Dear iPhone & iPhone developers,

When I am talking on the iPhone — with the device pressed against my ear — I do not want to be disturbed, jolted, vibrated or alerted due the following:

  • newly arrived email
  • a timer finishing
  • calendar alerts

The biggest irritant is the timer — it will keep BLARING IN YOUR EAR until you tell the other person, “hold on, it’s my goddamn iPhone making that horrible racket” and click Cancel on the timer. But all the apps are guilty of this. Regardless of whether I’m across the room or with the iPhone held against my ear, Mail, Clock, and Calendar will alert me AT THE SAME VOLUME. If only there were some sort of sensor that was positioned directly on the iPhone itself that could detect that the device was pressed against an ear, and to — oh, I don’t know — HOLD OFF ITS SUPER-IMPORTANT ALERTS until such time as I’m not on the phone?

What, there already is? Has anyone told the developers at Apple yet?