The iphone, a week away and inflight entertainment

So I bought an iphone. I’m not really the type that needs a smartphone, but I’d been reading all the hysteria about zillions to be made by selling apps on the Apple app store and being the type that is easily misled, I thought I’d have a go at this iphone development. Besides, I’d been really quite ‘in the zone’ programming an app in Objective C for the Mac and I thought ‘why not’. Of course it’s not a cheap undertaking. To do iphone dev work you really need 1) A Mac (already sorted), 2) be a registered iphone developer (the initial developer login is free) 3) the iphone SDK (frickin enormous but still free to download) 4) An iphone or ipod touch (sure you can use the free SDK to develop stuff in the simulator … but you really need a physical device to test your apps properly) and 5) Sign up for at least the US$99 iphone developer program thingee which lets you submit apps to Apple to end up on the App Store.

In NZ, a prepay iphone is quite expensive (check if you want to see) so that was a big outlay and then you have the US$99 fee to Apple. That was quite easy to sign up for. So I’ve invested quite a bit at this stage. I still haven’t started writing anything yet, mainly because I was on holiday last week in Aus.

As an aussie that lives in NZ it is always strange how you can often leave Auckland with quite abysmal weather to arrive about 3hrs later on the Gold Coast in Aus with often stunning warm weather and clear skies. For those who don’t know, New Zealanders have the right to live and work in Australia without a visa and the reverse is also true. There is always a large number of New Zealanders who permanently migrate to Australia each year (the numbers are quite staggering) and there is an infinitesimally small number of Australians who migrate to New Zealand each year. There are many reasons for this imbalance which I won’t go into. However, every time I fly back to Aus I always wonder what it would be like to ‘move back’.

This time round I spent the week with my family, but caught up with Captain Bollocks in Brisbane. Brisbane is not a bad city, and the ‘Bollocks’ does live in a rather nice spot. Brisbane would be high on my list if I returned to Aus, but it’s not exactly the IT capital of Australia.

I took the iphone with me to Aus along with my Telstra NextG SIM (and put some data credit on it). This gave me the opportunity of using the iphone as a GPS (as I did quite a bit of driving), as well as using it as my sole computing device (I left the laptop in NZ). As a GPS it is impressive, but because of the lack of spoken directions, you really need either a passenger reading the directions off the iphone … or better is probably a normal in-car GPS. I left the 3G functionality turned off most of the time in Aus (to save power) and I was always amazed how the iphone could still get map data all the time and wasn’t using up that much data in the process. I put 80MB of data credit on the phone before I came over but only used about 14MB total for the whole week. Where I was staying had wifi, so most of that 80MB was wasted. I also redirected my mail to a gmail account and accessed it via the iphone mail app most of the time. That works really well. However, typing long emails is a pain using the touch screen but it is clever how the iphone corrects most ‘thumbing’ mistakes quite well

In fact the thing that gets me about the iphone is that it really is an innovative device. Having been involved in IT for such a long time you get used to seeing the same thing re-invented and called something else so that the younger generation of nerds can go ‘wow, this is the next cool thing’. But I think the iphone is quite different. I’m not an Apple fanboy by any stretch of the imagination, but I admire devices or machines where you can tell the engineers and designers have put a lot of effort into it, and the marketing departments have not destroyed it before it ‘gets out the door’. I won’t go into it here, but it’s definately worthwhile to at least play with an iphone for a while and think about some of the things they’ve done regarding general intuitiveness.

And lastly, when I boarded the plane to come back to NZ I noticed that all the seatbacks had the new seatback TV system that AirNZ is installing. I always get excited about seatback TV systems as I like being distracted on flights. Having said that, most of the seatback TV systems I’ve used have had problems. I’ve lost count of the number of times the seatback TV system on a plane either did not work, had to be rebooted during the flight or only partially worked for some passengers. So I was curious about this new Air NZ one.

Firstly, it did not work. Sure there were menu’s on screen, but I could not select any media to play … so rather than complain I just started listening to my ipod and forgot about it. Then maybe half an hour later, the screen in front of me went black and I started to see linux boot messages on screen. I thought ‘great, there’s a watchdog timer that’s kicked in and its auto-rebooting’. As a linux enthusiast I sat there ‘chuffed’ that they were using linux rather than Windows CE or some other rubbish. But ultimately I was very disappointed. I got to sit through a lot of linux boot up messages. Messages about a geode CPU, loading a cramfs etc, but also messages like ‘file not found’ and various other messages that as a Unix sysadmin I would go ‘yeah that error probably looks OK, but I should fix it later’. There were quite a few of these types of messages. Then eventually I got a grey screen which I knew was X windows starting up. This grey window was there for a long long long time. Eventually you got a black screen with the words ‘Please wait ….’ for minutes and minutes. Eventually the inflight entertainment system and menus loaded and you could choose movies etc.

From initial boot to being able to do something took 6 and a half minutes (I timed it). That is a gobsmackingly long time when you’re on a flight. Worse is ‘Why on earth did I have to look at a bunch of linux boot messages?. How hard is it for the developers to spend the 5 seconds to google for ‘linux boot splash’. I just think of all the poor passengers (who also watched the 6 and a half mintues of boredom) ask ‘what on earth is this stupid penguin thing? and why is it taking so long’.

And 6 and half minutes to boot anything is just plain stupid in this day and age. Didn’t they test it on 3 yr olds?

Of course I was lucky enough to have the thing reboot again during the flight … and watch it for 6 and a half minutes again. 🙁

A very bad advertisement for linux, given that it would be so easy to tweak the linux setup to at least provide a smoother customer experience. I’m amazed that the system got through ‘quality control’.

Enough ranting. I’m sure they’ll sort out the bugs. I just hope the people who set up the entertainment system don’t write auto-pilot software.