Today marks a personal milestone for me: it's the first day that a piece of Microsoft software that I've sweated over has been released (albeit in beta form). Remote Desktop Connection v2 beta is now available for download. I just posted something to Mac Mojo about it: Come and get it! RDC for Mac v2 beta. In that post, I talk about some of my UX work on RDC and some of the other work we've done on it.
I have to admit that I'm a bit nervous about the release of the RDC v2 beta. I feel a bit like it's my first day of high school. Is everyone looking at me? Is the back of my skirt tucked into my underwear? How can everyone not notice the massive pimple right on the end of my nose, making me look like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? Will anyone like me?
RDC v2 is a beta, and like every gangly teenager, it does have some pimples. I bet that I'm going to spend the next few days hitting refresh on the MS Connect website for RDC every spare moment I can find to see what kind of bugs and suggestions that you guys submit There's the various Mac news websites as well, I'll be watching the comments threads anxiously!
You know, there's something pretty cool about using software that you know is going to be used by millions of people. And if the RDC v2 beta feels like the first day of high school, what's the release of Office:Mac 2008 going to be like?
Up until I purchased the iPhone, I was an old skool iPod owner. I still had my old 2G iPod. I received an orange iPod Shuffle for my birthday, and have begun to use it now that I'm back to travelling extensively again. I haven't had any experience with a standard iPod after the 2G one — I've never used a video iPod or even one of the old photo iPods.
There's a lot to like about the iPod features in the iPhone. I really like Cover Flow. It's a great way to scan through what I have on my iPhone. I'd probably like it better if I had anything other than podcasts on my iPhone right now. I like that the wallpaper for the phone becomes the cover art when you're using the iPod feature. I also appreciate that the iPod feature is configurable, so I can add/remove the bottom menu items that I want/don't want. (I removed the videos and replaced it with podcasts.) The icons that they're using for these items are quite visually appealing, as well as the glow that they're using to indicate where your selected icon is going. This makes me wish that I could do the same thing in the phone application.
It's only just now that I figured out that tapping the screen to see the progess bar for the item that you're listening to. I've been annoyed about this for the past few days. If you're just listening to music, this isn't really all that important. If you're listening to something longer, such as an audiobook or podcast, the progress bar is much more useful. I want to be able to skip forward a couple of minutes, or jump to a particular point in the audio. This discoverability issue makes me wonder if there is other iPod functionality that I just haven't stumbled across yet. (Hmm, maybe that's a hint that I should dig into the iPhone manual.)
And while this isn't really an iPod issue, I have to say that I just don't like the earbuds. I've never found them comfortable. I like having the mic on the cables and being able to click it to do certain things, but the earbuds themselves hurt my ears with extended use. I'm waiting for the inevitable deluge of iPhone accessories to get a set of more comfortable headphones that have a mic.
I still haven't tried my iPhone as a video iPod. Hmmm. I've got a bunch of iTunes Store credit, maybe I'll burn through some of that and download a TV show or film.
Now that I'm a few weeks into my relationship with my iPhone, he's started to leave the cap off of the toothpaste tube.
The issue is application crashing. It actually took me a little while to figure out that I was seeing crashes. I'd touch an app button and find myself at my home screen, and think that I must've touched something else on the screen instead of the button that I wanted. Unlike on my Mac with its 'The application [whatever] quit unexpectedly' dialog, the iPhone doesn't tell me when an app has crashed, I just find myself at the home screen. I wonder if this lack of user feedback on application crash was an oversight or if it was intentional.
Crashes seem to happen most often in Safari, although that might simply be because it's the application that I interact with the most on my iPhone. I haven't noticed that a particular website is more likely to make it crash. It's pretty good, although not perfect, about reverting to a useful state in terms of the windows that I had open when I re-launch.
Yesterday morning, as I was using the calendar app (which I use in list view because it reminds me of My Day) to see what my day was to hold for me, the whole phone froze. None of the hardware buttons did anything. After a few minutes of fiddling, I finally had to do a hard reset. If you haven't had to do it yet, you simply hold down the sleep button on top of the phone and the home button. After a few seconds, the familiar Apple logo will appear, and you can let go of the buttons.
Yesterday evening, I watched someone else struggle with Google Maps. It kept on crashing when he would use the arrow buttons to move between steps in the driving directions. He finally gave up on using it.
Don't get me wrong, I'm still happy. I've even ordered a new foofpod to keep him snug and safe in my purse, since I like the foofbag that I use for Bernard the Blackbook so much. I can't stay starry-eyed forever, and this is one of the main things that has snapped me out of my initial intense fangirl drooling. But I am still in love, and waiting breathlessly for the iPhone's first software update.
Over on Mac Mojo, the new boss has made an announcement near and dear to my heart. We announced at WWDC 2006 that we're working on an update to Remote Desktop Connection. Today, the boss announced that the public beta of RDC v2 is coming. RDC v2 has some of our top feature requests. The most important of these new feature requests is that it is a Universal Binary. (It's not MacBU's first UB; that honour went to Messenger 6.)
RDC is an immensely useful little app. It makes my working life much happier. I've got a Windows box at the office. It sits headless under my desk, pushed far back in the corner (out of sight, out of mind). I access it only through RDC. I don't think that I've had a monitor plugged into it since my second day or so. I've been using daily builds of RDCv2 for awhile now, and I'm really pleased with it. It's a beta, so we still have some work to do on it, but I think you'll like what you see.
The beta of RDC v2, as well as beta2 for our file format converters (with bug fixes and support for .pptx files) is coming in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned ...
Over the weekend, the Fresh Starts column in the New York Times featured usability professionals. It's an okay read, and I suppose it's not entirely bad if you're completely unfamiliar with the profession. The information in it is a bit outdated. As Dan Saffer of Adaptive Path said in their blog, the article reads as if it were written in 1997 instead of 2007. I'm amused that they somehow thought that interviewing an IT recruiter would be appropriate for this type of article. I'm surprised that they mention UPA and STC but not SIGCHI. But if I'm going to start quibbling over the article, that's really not where I'm going to start -- and if I start, I won't finish, so I'll spare you the whinging.
I guess I'd give this article to my mom, since she's very non-techy and says that she doesn't know what I do. But if the new big boss came into my office waving it and saying that he now understands UX, I might just hide under my desk and sob inconsolably.
I'm surprised at how well the iPhone does as an honest-to-goodness phone. I have to admit that I'm a bit annoyed that getting to the phone functionality isn't instant: wake from sleep, slide to unlock, hit the home button if I'm not already there (which I'm usually not), hit the phone button, hit the [favourites | contacts | recents | keypad ] button if I'm not there already, then do whatever is necessary to dial someone. That feels like an awful lot of work just to make a phone call.
The strength of the iPhone as a telephone is in what happens next. While the initial dialing of a phone call isn't easy, everything else is. I especially love that putting my iPhone into speakerphone mode is trivial. The guys in the offices around me can tell you that I <3 the speakerphone in my office, and they probably hate me for my incessant usage of it. My old cell phone had a speakerphone, but it sucked (both in terms of what was necessary to put it on speaker and in the quality of the speaker). But now, there's the lovely glowing speakerphone button when I start to make a call. The clarity of the speaker is quite clear, and the person on the other end hasn't been able to identify that I'm on a speakerphone. I love it.
Visual voicemail might be the best thing since sliced bread. I've wanted it ever since Steve announced it, and it was a big factor in my initial purchase decision. An old friend tends to leave long rambly messages in my voicemail. I don't begrudge her the messages, but it annoyed me to have hers be the first message in my voicemail. It meant that I had to listen to the whole message before knowing if subsequent messages were things that I needed to act upon immediately. Now I can see the list of voicemail waiting for me, so I can jump immediately to the message from my boss, and leave the message from my friend until I'm home and can listen to it in all of its glory. Cellular providers should be embarrassed that it took a complete outsider to force them to fix this, and I think that Apple/AT&T should lean on this as a killer feature in the iPhone.
I find it a little weird to use the included earbuds with my iPhone. I'm used to only hearing the conversation in one ear when using such devices. Hearing the other person's voice in both ears still seems wrong in some important way. But the wrongness is balanced by the usefulness of the earbuds and the ability to switch between other activities and accepting an incoming call.
Incoming calls are also nice. I get a nice big notification on the screen of who's calling (if they're in my address book, I see their name; if not, just the phone number). The buttons for accepting or denying the call are nice and big. I couldn't remember how to forward a call to voicemail on my old phone, so I just let it ring and waited for the voicemail to pick up. No more: if I can't accept a call now, it's easy to hit the button and make it stop ringing now. I love how easy it is now.
So. I've had my iPhone for a week (hmm, no name for the iPhone yet, but all of my other Macs are named -- gonna have to fix that!) and I'm still in love. I wonder when the honeymoon will end?
One of the coolest things about working for MacBU is that I get paid to be a Mac geek. Even better, I get paid to work with another 180 Mac geeks. Is it possible to get better than this? I can't imagine how.
For the past few months, the single most discussed topic for hallway conversations has been Office:Mac 2008. Last week, and by all indications this week, all conversations turned to the iPhone. It's the first time that we've talked about anything else, and it honestly feels a little bit weird.
Several people in MacBU have fed their inner Mac geek and acquired iPhones over the weekend, and we're now the alpha geeks. It won't last long -- whoever hacks theirs in some interesting way first will be the true alpha geek, but for now, simply owning the device is sufficient for alpha-geekdom.
Someone pointed out in the comments to a previous post that I've just whinged about things. That's completely accurate, so this is time to change it.
Physically, I like the device. It fits comfortably in my hand. The weight is comfortable. The dock connection is tight. (I should say that I've still got my old 2G iPod, so I haven't experienced an iPod dock myself.)
The screen ... oh, the screen. It's gorgeous. I was worried about fingerprints on the screen impairing the visibility. That doesn't seem to be something that I'll need to be worried about. The brightness of the screen means that the fingerprints are invisible. The speaker in it is the best I've heard on a cell phone. The screen is so beautifully high-res, it's wonderful to look at.
The amount of work that has gone into making the iPhone work well has paid off. I love the genie effect of deleting emails. The bouncing effect when you reach the end of something (your address book, a webpage, etc) is quite nice. My current favourite thing to do with this is to zoom in on a webpage or email, then swipe fast diagonally -- the screen moves diagonally fast, and bounces off at an angle. (Yeah, I know, I amuse easily.) The shutter effect when using the camera is a great touch -- it's so much nicer than the standard 'saving picture' dialog (or simple freeze) that happens on so many cell phone cameras.
Speaking of cell phone cameras, this is shaping up to be the first cell phone camera that I'm actually going to use. Getting pictures off of my old cell phone camera was never easy, so I never did it. All of the pictures that I've taken with it were ones that I intended to use for wallpaper. But the iPhone just syncs easily with iPhoto.
The Google Maps app is fun. Map out a long cross-country drive, and the effects that it uses to show you the long boring bits (say, driving for 1000 miles on I-40) make the idea seem less horrible than it a tually is. I'll check out the traffic conditions when I next go to Redmond -- I don't have traffic on my 10-minute drive to my office here.
The keyboard is surprisingly nice. I'm typing okay on it, and learning (slowly) to trust the auto-correct. The auto-correct works well, and appears to improve with every usage. It has picked up my name already. This seems like it's just as much about me getting used to using the keyboard as it is the keyboard getting used to what I type.
I'm really pleased with this so far. Apple, you guys have done a great job!
In Opus today, Berkeley Breathed takes on the iPhone. The official Opus site at comics.com doesn't have it available online yet (not sure what their schedule is for posting new Opuses), but you can view it courtesy of the Washington Post.
I need at least a few more features than digital turnip twaddling to upgrade my iPhone, but this is a reasonably accurate reflection of matters in this geek household ...