Friday, 23 August 2013

Once A Developer…Always A Developer

In the middle of July I finally made the decision to join the Apple Developer Programme. The following day it came to light that the system had been hacked and all access to the programme via the web was removed, and the enrolment page stayed out of commission until the second week in August.

Having once been a successful commercial developer, albeit on non-Apple platforms, I've always had a slight hankering to write my own Mac software and maybe even an iOS app. XCode sits on my iMac, idly standing by, I've enrolled in a couple of on-line courses and I have a couple of books on Objective-C and Cocoa development and iOS development. Whether or not I'll get any further is an unknown, but at least I'm prepared.

No, the main reason for joining the developer programme was to get my grubby little mitts on the beta versions of iOS7 and Mavericks (a.k.a OS X 10.9).

Post hack, the enrollment process was not plain sailing. I only signed up for the individual plan, but when I finally received my activation codes (long after the 24 hours indicated by the initial enrollment menu) and tried to use them, I got an error message saying that Apple were trying to contact my references to ensure that I had authority to join the programme on behalf of my company. This could have taken a long time since I hadn't provided any references, having never been asked for them, but a mail back to the support guys soon got the problem resolved and I finally got access to the treasure chests.


Installing iOS7 on my old iPhone 4 proved a challenge - I needed a SIM card in the phone, but all my SIM cards were the wrong size. I managed to get an adaptor and installed beta 5. Even as the installation was taking place beta 6 was released, so the first task was to do the update.

I really like the initial look of iOS7. The black text on a white background looks clean and fresh, and while I share many folks dislike of some of the new icons, they aren't as bad as I first imagined - the wallpaper used in many of the earliest screen shots really didn't help.

The new control panel, allowing quick and easy access to bluetooth, wireless, airplane mode, camera, brightness, etc. is just what the doctor ordered. I like the approach of a pull up panel, in the same way that I like the pull down notification centre panel. Better than having widgets taking up screen real estate when you don't really need them very often.

The new task switching mechanism is a definite improvement. It's great being able to see a proper screen dump of the apps currently running. I think this will be a major feature when apps are updated to take full advantage of the new APIs.

I've had a few problems getting iMatch to load, but this doesn't appear to be an issue with iOS7 specifically; I've had similar problems with the iPad and iPad mini in the past with iOS6.

Until I put in a proper working SIM I'm not going to be able to properly evaluate the beta. For now I'm satisfied that iOS7 is going to be a worthwhile update - even though it appears a little sluggish at the moment. However I'll put that down to being beta and running on a slower iPhone than I'm now used to. Watch this space for more information.

OS X 10.9 - Mavericks

I installed Mavericks on my old 2007 MacBook Pro. So the good news is that many of these older machines are certainly supported. I've not yet had a chance to do much with Mavericks. Off the shelf there doesn't appear to be too much to write about in terms of visible change. It looks like OS X 10.8 - but then many of the features previewed at WWDC were under the hood. Maps and iBook are now apps in their own right. Two of my favourite tools under OS X 10.8, Total Spaces and TotalFinder were flagged as being incompatible but I had already predicted this as Finder now has many of the TotalFinder features built in, e.g. Tabbed windows. File tagging looks useful too. I'll play around more over the next few days and have more to say next time.

September 10th is the generally accepted next big thing in the Apple calendar so it'll be interesting to see what happens between now and then.

In the meantime, enjoy the last throes of summer!

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

It's not all about the future! But...Caveat Emptor!

Regular readers to the Apple Harvest will know that I'm a relative newbie to the Apple brotherhood. I first started using computers at university in 1980, first on ICL 1900/2900 machines, then on a VAX 11/780 and various micros - Superbrains, PETs, and BBC Model Bs. In my first job in the real world I started to use the original IBM PC running DOS alongside IBM 360s. Up until 1998 I was still designing and writing programmes for Windows. I'd never even seen a Mac close up until about 2004, and certainly never used one.

I bought my first Mac in 2008 and have never looked back. Until just of the downsides of being so late to the party was that I missed out on enjoying some of the classic Macs of yesteryear. But such is the engineering and design quality of the Mac that a machine that now sits on Apple's official obsolete list can still find a place in a modern Mac based network. And you can pick them up at silly prices!

The last PC I bought before my first Mac was an Asus R1F tablet. In 2007 that laptop was pretty much state of the art, and well suited my needs. While it does still work, it has no place in a contemporary office. It takes over forty-five minutes from power up to being in a position to do anything vaguely functional.

ASUS R1F tablet
Why would I mention that? Well, some three or four years earlier, Apple launched the 17inch iMac G4, the 'iLamp', which in my mind is probably the most beautiful computer ever designed. I recently bought a 2003 G4 for about £100. It sits in my bedroom, linked in to the main Apple Harvest network. Within a minute of pushing the power button, the machine is ready and waiting.

Good as new - G4 17inch iMac
I bought my G4 through a Mac specialist on eBay with a good reputation but even when you go through these channel you need to be diligent. The machine arrived a couple of days after putting the order through but on getting it out of the box and starting to set it up, I realised there was something wrong. Although specified as having both Airport and Bluetooth adaptors fitted, a quick check of  About This Mac showed neither were in place.

I contacted the seller, and very soon received a reply, excuse and apology, with instructions on how to return the machine. The next day a courier arrived an took the box away, and about a week later (this all happened over a bank holiday weekend) the replacement came. Everything appeared to be OK regarding connectivity but there was now a problem with the CD/DVD burner - it looked like there was one fitted but I couldn't get it to accept a DVD.

I didn't want the hassle of sending the whole kit and caboodle back to the dealer for a second time so I ordered a replacement DVD drive and downloaded the replacement instructions from iFixit. On receipt of the new drive I began the task of installing it. In fact there was a DVD burner installed - but the cable hadn't been connected (or it had come loose). I attached the connector and put the machine back together, booted up and nothing happened. Nada, zilch - cold sweat and that feeling of panic began to set in, until I realised I hadn't flicked the mains switch. Yes, it happens to even experienced computer users from time to time!!!!

I confess, the G4 is an extravagance. It isn't permanently switched on, unlike most of the other Macs at Apple Harvest HQ, and it's really only getting used to surf the internet and run iTunes. But heck, you'd struggle to get a tablet for that sort of price, never mind a fully functional piece of engineering history and a magnificent art deco item to boot!