The Early Days Of Palm 2.0

While I wait for Apple to sort out the ungodly mess the MobileMe launch turned out to be (yes, I am still without e-mail, for one full week now), I’ve been fooling around with the 2.0 firmware on both my iPhone and my iPod Touch.

More on the latter, really, since I am trying to pin down exactly what are the major factors for battery drain on the iPhone 3G and figure out how the hell am I going to actually use it considering that it has apparently performed the awesome feat of delivering a worse battery life than the original Nokia N95 – but I’ll get to that later.

And besides my earlier comments regarding the App Store, I could probably write a whole series of posts on the apps I’ve tried so far, but life’s too short and just about everyone out there is ranting on the overall topic, so I’ll just give a couple of examples and explain precisely why they suck and why I don’t think developers get what writing for a mobile platform entails.

Let’s start with one I had the highest expectations for: NetNewsWire, the mobile version of the well-known RSS reader.

Although it works on my iPod, it plain doesn’t work for me on the iPhone for some reason. I have no clue as to why.

Furthermore, it the overall experience is much slower than the Google Reader optimized web UI on the iPod. My guess is that the sync protocol slows things down a lot, and I’m very disappointed that one of the big prospective advantages of having a native app – having a local cache and a decent offline mode – has been utterly wasted.

Why am I saying this? Well, because I actually test things. The app simply does not work if I switch off Wi-Fi after syncing. It freezes to the point where you can’t even scroll for a while, and then stutters along as if in agony.

This wanton abuse of network connectivity seems to be a mainstay of most apps, a good deal of which seem to be nothing more than glorified browsers, or even include their own variation of a mini-browser, maddeningly different from all the others.

Which I blame squarely on Apple’s decision to avoid doing proper multitasking and take us all back to the pre-MultiFinder days. App developers have little choice but to take the mini-browser shortcut instead of saving their state, invoking Safari and reverting to the point you were at when returning to the app – because, after all, the user would have to exit Safari, find their app icon again and launch it, which would be a pain.

It may be early days, but I would expect developers to be a bit smarter than this by now. Yes, the iPhone and iPod Touch are ways to access the Internet, but every mobile device has two states: online and offline. And you either take offline into account, or you’re forgetting 50% of the possible use cases.

Next up is Twitterrific. It works OK, but it takes so long to render avatar images that I get the scary feeling that it is actually fetching them individually over the 3G connection instead of doing the obvious thing and using a local cache plus off-screen drawing.

It’s just plain odd. Also, it is an example of how not to do progress indicators – spinners are fine for quick operations, but just for a lark I switched off 3G and tried posting a photo using Twitterrific atop a GPRS connection (EDGE is pretty rare in European networks, especially in places like Portugal where 3G was deployed with carpet-bombing thoroughness).

It was amazingly… boring. It actually took less than a minute, but there was absolutely no clue whatsoever about what the app was doing and how long it would take (oh, and no idea as to the actual bytes transferred, either).

Then come the cool and original apps, some of which are let down by minor flaws. Comic Touch is a blast, but it has a few UI bugs – for instance, I cannot e-mail comics directly to my contact list for some reason – clicking the plus sign on its message composer doesn’t work for me.

So yeah, it’s early days. But I have a feeling this kind of stuff is going to be with us for a while yet.

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