25 September, 2013

iOS 7 naysayers: "It looks too much like a Window$ phone"...

The day after iOS 7 was released, I was at a worship and Bible study session with a friend and fellow worshipper that needed help getting used to the new OS. I helped her with some stuff that took a little getting used to, such as the new multitasking interface (which I admit does stifle some long-term iOS users that are used to pressing and holding to close apps, as now you can just swipe up a thumbnail and the app is gone) and the Control Center, among other changes. But then, I asked what about the new OS she didn't like.

"It looks too much like a Windows phone," she said.

"Really? Because to me, it looks more like Android 4.x than it EVER would Windows," I replied.

She replied, "That's what I meant"...

Notice this fallacy here?! Android is NOT Windows!

I'll say this plain and clear: A Linux phone (Android) and Darwin phone (iOS) have fundamentally similar underlying OS structures. It's Windows that actually still has that DOS-like underlying structure. If you were to gain root access on an Android-powered phone and an iPhone side-by-side, you would find the same Bash shell on both of them. Yet on a Windows 8 phone, you would indeed find a DOS-like console looming in there.

It was saddening, therefore, to see everyone in my classroom the following Monday come to the same fallacious conclusion. People are comparing operating systems blindly, or at best, basing their conclusions purely on visual appearance, and that's why they seem to think that because Android is installed on countless devices and has flat design that resembles that of Windows Phone 8, it must be Windows. Sorry to say, it isn't. Microsoft develops Windows (Phone and desktop versions). Apple develops iOS and Mac OS X. And most importantly, Google, that's right, Google, the search giant, the very company whose mapping service Apple dropped for an inferior product in the iOS 6 version of the default Maps app, develops Android and Chrome OS. So don't mix and match. I've had this discussion over and over, and yet nobody listens.

Now that iOS 7 has imitated much of Android's look, that very act of not listening is what is causing all the problems that iOS users are having to begin with. They were just so used to the skeuomorphism that the new iOS is a shock to them. I'm sorry, but skeuomorphism is negative design in every which way. It gets in the way of your content, it stands out, and it's counterproductive. So the iOS community was in the minority when they still liked skeuomorphism, and this is why iOS 7, to me at least, is such a welcome change. Because now, we're all even, and the mobile OS wars are now far more competitive than their desktop counterpart.

21 September, 2013

iOS 7 review: Goodbye skeuomorphic design, hello skeuomorphic animations

After updating my (as of December 2012) iPhone 4S (thanks to AT&T's lack of Nexus carriage) to iOS 7 on Wednesday, I couldn't find it more useful. The update brings some awesome changes to iOS that should have been there from the get-go, and despite what people say about the flat icons, it's the new features and, most importantly, new animations that make the OS worth updating to.

When you check for the update, you'll find that the over-the-air download weighs in at a whopping 728MB (on the iPhone 4S; some others on Instagram that I've noticed have reported 1.1GB, but that's probably for users with iPhone 5's or [more likely] 5th-gen iPod Touches), so prepare to wait a while for the download. Even over dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi courtesy of an AirPort Extreme connected to AT&T's U-verse fiber-optic broadband, the update still took a good 40 minutes to download -- and thanks to an error in the processing stage, I had to download it twice. When it was done, however, it was an awesome -- if not long overdue -- update.

One of the first things you'll notice when the device is booted -- and I found this out myself -- is that, obviously thanks to Jony Ive's leaadership, there's no more skeuomorphism -- at least in the design sense. Animations, however, are a whole other topic. And in iOS 7, we see animations that really seem to counteract the flat design, not to mention blurred transparent UI elements that help highlight those animations and essentially make the wallpaper the new UI theme. One animation in particular, because there isn't any true 3D parallax barrier on the device screen itself, is clearly a skeuomorph: the accelerometer-driven parallax effect in the lock and home screens. Since no still image can accurately describe this effect, I decided to take to GifBoom to demonstrate (browser needs HTML5 support to view):

This is of course viewing the effect from the task switcher, which is one of two long-overdue changes. With apps open, it looks even better, even if it's also a webOS ripoff:

What makes this interface even more amazing is how it's more consistent with the Mac than any multitasking on iOS in the past: Remember, iOS 7 apps, thanks to the fact that the status bar is part of the app, are technically all full-screen apps. What happens when you take a Mission Control app on the Mac full screen? It becomes its own workspace. In that sense, if you count iOS 7 apps and "spaces" as one and the same, not to mention the home screen (similar to the desktop shortcut in Mission Control on the Mac) as its own space, guess what? You find that the new task switcher IS an iOS version of Mission Control in every which way. And if Apple adds an iOS version of Dashboard in iOS 8 to provide at-a-glance information to take on Android, well, I think we all know just where it might go:

That's pretty awesome if you ask me. However, it's not the only welcome change that iOS 7 has in store. Another long-overdue feature that should have been there from square 1: Control Center.

Of course, we all know what makes Control Center useful: It was previously impossible to do things like enable Airplane Mode and disable Wi-Fi without first going into the rather convoluted Settings app, and in some cases dive deep into multiple sub-menus. iOS 7 fixes that. Of course, this feature has definitely been in proprietary Android forks like TouchWiz since the pre-ICS days (and in stock Android, via swiping to the right in the notification shade, since 4.2, which came out in October 2012), but now iOS users can also experience it, which is great, because now the smartphone market is actually the competitive one that it should have been from the get-go.

As for the negative, one has to look no further than the minority of apps that haven't been updated to obtain the flatter look, including the app I'm typing in right now, Blogger:

And Instagram:

Notice how, in these apps that haven't yet been updated, the old iOS 6 keyboard still shows it's ugly head? For comparison, here's how the iOS 7 keyboard is supposed to look, shown here in the Messages app:

Exactly. This inconsistency simply isn't supposed to happen, period. Third-party developers had a good three months to get their apps working on iOS 7 from the get-go since unlike us end users, they actually had access to beta releases; yet as this insanity explains, they simply were too lazy to take advantage of that time. At least, some of them. Others, like Twitter and Facebook, actually look great on the new OS:

Of course, developer readiness is key to preventing this inconsistency here. In many ways, however, this inconsistency certainly isn't Apple's fault. It's that of the third-party developers that didn't heed Apple's warnings and take advantage of the extra time that the beta releases offered to them. So, really, from a first-party Apple standpoint, the update is definitely an amazing change. It's definitely an improvement over the previous OS iteration by far, and the redesigned, open-feeling user interface along with its awesome changes allow Apple users to finally join in on the awesome design that the competition has been taking advantage of for years on end.

17 September, 2013

Why iOS betas are developer-only

Less than 24 hours before the day (but not hour or minute) of the officially announced iOS 7 release. As an iPhone 4S user, of course, I'm actually glad the wait is almost over, knowing that at the very least, the redesigned user interface is much-needed due to the hellishly outdated look that is skeuomorphism. However, there are Apple zealots out there that are far more impatient. As far back as WWDC, people screamed their heads off. "Why do developers get it and not us?" was the most common question. And it's a question that has an obvious answer: Because back then, it was a beta release, and beta releases tend to be beta-quality.

What does this mean? Well, there's a redesigned user interface, isn't there? There's over 200 new features as well, right? During the rapid internal development prior to beta release, those features introduce bugs. In some cases, a single new feature may introduce multiple bugs in one fell swoop. Everything from graphics glitches (reports of iPad "pinch-to-exit" causing stutter-frames) all the way to bugs that, when exploited, crash the entire OS, all bugs that new features and APIs tend to introduce. So, out of all those issues, what's the most common one? Most often, the issues are at the application level.

Segmentation fault. Null pointer dereference. Don't these terms raise a bright red flag in your head? They don't to the average user, but to me, you bet they're probably the most common reasons why third-party apps don't work at all on a beta OS, but rather crash on startup or even, in more extreme cases, crash the entire OS. It's because, in addition to new features and new APIs, a new OS also sees the deprecation, and therefore removal, of APIs being replaced by new ones. So, when an app tries to create a new instance (using the "new" keyword) of an object or class that's been obsoleted and doesn't exist, the app has just dereferenced a pointer to a null object, resulting in, what do you know? SIGSEGV being sent to the app, which forces the app to exit abnormally -- a crash.

This pain is just one example of a bug that app developers have to endure when developing apps. There are others, too. For example, some developers will try to create fonts in apps the easy way out by extending system fonts for use as, say, button text or core navigation indicators. So what happens when those system fonts are obsoleted? In the case of iOS 7, the old iOS 6 font, as thick and bold as it was, became completely obsoleted and swapped out for Helvetica Neue Light. Apps that weren't updated to take advantage of said font to make sure the app still works found their entire apps lacking any text at all, no button labels, no descriptions, no core navigation indicators, no nothing, just blank boxes across the board no matter what part of the app they were in -- a serious usability pickle indeed.

Of course, many of these issues would be fixed by now, seeing as though we're only one day away from public release. However, the next time you get all envious, greedy, and otherwise have that "I want it now!" mentality, think about what that means. You may be saying "I want the features now!" or "I want the new look now!", but at the same time, you're also saying "I want the bugs now!" and "I want the crashes now!" and "I want the incompatible apps now!" when you're talking about an unfinished product. A beta, despite how much like the final product it may look, IS an unfinished product, because under the hood, bugs, many of them showstoppers, will do some serious harm to the overall experience.

13 September, 2013

Want your Start menu back? Get a Chromebook

Remember when Microsoft released Windows 8? How the Start button was removed? How they slapped a tablet OS on desktop users? Well, actually, I have never used Windows 8 myself due to switching to Linux (in one form or another) as my main OS back in the Vista years, but that's just me... Anyhow, being a touch-oriented OS, Windows 8 is nearly impossible to use with a mouse and keyboard, isn't it? Sure, Windows 8.1 eventually will bring back a Start button... but instead of opening up a menu, it will simply bring you back to the Start screen, in all its touch-oriented ugliness that leaves anything with a mouse and keyboard painfully in the dust for the majority of users.

All this combined is hurting Microsoft tremendously, causing Windows upgrades to continue to slow to a crawl, with Windows 8 barely making it to 5% of the desktop market (thanks, Apple). Microsoft has even resorted to attack ad campaigns, also to no avail. In alienating its own users, Microsoft execs are digging their own grave for their own business. And now, we have yet one more nail in the Windows coffin: What Microsoft started for itself, Google will finish.

Chrome OS to the rescue. In the latest Dev channel update (version 31.0.1626.3, platform 4670.0.0) on my Acer AC700-1099, there was a change to the Aura interface that's sure to get the attention of Windows users who want their Start menu back: the app launcher button has been moved to the bottom left corner of the screen, right where the Start menu used to be in Windows, as per the below screenshot:

Now, I know what you're thinking: Will I be able to use a Chromebook without an Internet connection at all? Yes, you will. In fact, you'll even be able to have native-like packaged apps installed that function the same way extensions do. Will your MS Office documents and spreadsheets be viewable or editable? You bet. And they are also capable of being converted and uploaded to Google Drive for subsequent editing AND collaboration as well, even offline (provided you set up the offline environment while connected to the Internet first).

Of course, you'll also have the added security that Chrome OS offers, from the read-only (and write-protected) hard drive (or SSD), to Chrome's multi-layer sandboxing, to boot volume verification that even Secure Boot can't rival. And of course, you'll be getting FREE new versions of Chrome OS every 6 weeks pushed right to your Chromebook, no constant update checking required. The 6-8-second boot times are of course a fantastic icing on the cake, and they save any user time that could otherwise be wasted waiting for the computer to boot. So, is anyone else ready for a win-win situation?

09 September, 2013

What Doesn’t D**n You Makes You Stronger

Sin. People tend to cringe at the word. Especially those who are absorbed in the Old Testament way of life. Yet the undeniable truth is that we as humans all make mistakes, and every little mistake, every slip, every retaliation, every sexual desire, every porn watch, every feeling of ‘I want that’, every refusal to give, every refusal to assist others, every shout, every curse word, is a sin. There’s no doubt, therefore, that a mistake I made days before my 16th birthday was undeniably a big enough sin to warrant even a worldly punishment.
The events leading up to that turning point began in June 2008. I was one person that wanted freedom, and wanted freedom fast, not thinking of the responsibility that’s supposed to go with it. Many of my fellow teens had all the freedom, all the fun in the world, yet my parents, being baby-boomers who had me at an old age, were so ultra-conservative that they would do anything to keep me from having that freedom. So, when their finances also went down the tubes and my parents, sister, and I all had to leave a 2500-square-foot 4-bedroom-3-bath house with a pool in the backyard for a 2-bed hotel room, at which hotel my dad happened to be working at the time, that evil was magnified tenfold. My tendency to want to go places and do things with people was greatly hindered by the lack of space and the ability for my parents to spy on me at all times. My dad, being a night auditor working the 11PM-7AM front desk shift, screamed his head off at me the minute I set foot outside the hotel room door. And then there was my sister.
Being 5 years younger than me, my bratty sister and the 20-friend gang clique that she masterminded did everything in their power to bully me, and in that hotel room especially, there were countless times where her, my dad, and I would all escalate to the breaking point. Screaming. Punching. Kicking. Yelling. Everything was a nightmare. When my family finally got the chance to rent a townhouse, I thought, ‘Yes!’ There was finally enough bedrooms for space to be available to everyone. Uh, not so fast.
March 20, 2009. In less than a month I would be 16. My family finally sits down to have dinner in the temporary townhouse, when my mother, all shaken up by the amount of yelling, screaming, and cursing going on in the hotel room, decides to use her unforgiving heart to impose a zero-tolerance policy on cursing, despite the already hard family tensions and extreme emotional scarring going on. The punishment? Automatic desert ban. I thought, ‘Okay’. But little did I know, that would exacerbate the situation beyond what any of us could fathom.
So what happens? My sister uses her name-calling to continue to make me get all mad. At the table, all she ever did was call me names (what exact names they were I don’t quite remember, or there would be dialogue here). And she would curse as well. For 10 minutes, until finally, something slips out of my mouth accidentally in response that wasn’t the least bit cool. But my mother didn’t care. She continued to be biased towards my sister anyway. If only she had banned both of us, none of this would have happened. But no, she only banned me. She even rewarded my bratty, slutty, evil sister with ice cream, while imposing the desert ban despite the fact that both of us were in the wrong. That’s when I snapped. My mother vs. my sister vs. me. False imprisonment. Threats with kitchen weapons. We were all using such evil towards each other, and me significantly more so given how I was always a target in the past. So when my mother finally decided to take out a cell phone to call 911, I decided to throw it on the floor and shatter it into pieces. It didn’t matter. She told my sister to do it. That’s when I got even more defensive. Eventually to the point of using pieces of my yet-to-reassemble bed to barricade my door shut. It didn’t matter, however, because the cops came anyway.
“Hello, are you in there?” the cops say through my heavily barricaded bedroom door.
“Y-y-yes,” I reply, with such a scared, intimidated tone I could barely speak.
“We’re just making sure you’re okay,” they say politely. “And don’t be scared of us, because we’re only here to help.”
Given how polite and calm they were, I decided to comply, lifting the pieces of my yet-to-assemble bed off my bedroom door one-by-one and letting police in. I was very surprised, shocked, in fact, after all the commotion to have such a calm, peaceful response from police. And they offered psychiatric help, knowing that a month and a half earlier I was in a private psychiatric hospital to detox me from medications that instead of helping my Asperger’s syndrome ended up making it worse, promising to take me to the same place. But when I got in the back of the car and slept in it, taking care not to lay on my tightly cuffed hands which were in excruciating pain every time I leaned into them, for 20 minutes, I was in for a surprise when I finally woke up at the destination. Instead of taking me there, they took me to juvenile hall.
“I’m screwed!” I thought.
I knew there would be a court date, but it wasn’t going to be immediate. I was in the cell, lying on the cot, just praying my head off.
“Lord, what’s this going to do to me!”
“I know I’m a sinner, but the world doesn’t tolerate sin nearly as much as You do!”
“Will I have to celebrate my Big 16 in this hell on earth?!”
I was so fearful of what kind of an environment this was, I could barely speak at all. When questioned, I stuttered so much they could barely hear a word I was saying. I became so quiet, so scared, in fact, that they even wrote my landline phone number down wrong! That of course would carry over to the probation department (more on THAT later). I started participating, therefore, in Bible studies that pastors were starting to use in the cells.
“Maybe I’m here for a reason,” I thought.
So, I joined others who shared similar stories in the cells themselves. I began to continue to receive the Holy Spirit and pray my head off. And when the court date arrived, my fear quickly turned to hope. A plea deal was reached, with the help of she who got me arrested: my own, now very forgiving mother. The sentence? Only 10 days! I was also charged with only a misdemeanor, not a felony. I thought, ‘Yes! Thank you, Jesus!’ And also, I would be relocated to another part of the juvenile hall campus. One that was protected from the rest of the place, one where violence among teen inmates simply did not occur. And it also had an in-unit classroom, meaning that we all could catch up on school work in the place as well. On top of that, this in-jail classroom would later become the scene of a miraculous turning point in my thinking and understanding.
The life in there, however, would be far from perfect. The guards watched inmates like hawks. That was a good thing, however, because it prevented all forms of violence. I was obedient. I was quiet. There were others, however, who weren’t. When there was suspicion, we were all strip-searched. Scanned with metal detectors. If there was any uncertainty about an action or about the location of police property (which was usually every other day or two), the guards would go from door to door, cell to cell, conducting metal detector scans and strip searches through and through until the guards were certain the entire unit was clear. The entire place was a dystopian, authoritarian enclave of Orange County, reminding me very much of the society that George Orwell painted of a future 35 years off back in 1949. And one day, it pushed an African-American fellow inmate of mine (possibly from a gang) to the breaking point.
“F*** you, guards!” the guy shouts across the in-jail classroom that I happen to also be
sitting in.
“Everyone, put your heads down!” the guards say in response.
I along with everyone else ― all 40-some-odd people in the in-jail classroom ― did as commanded, except for this monster in here, who continued to shout at guards. In fact, I started to pray. Silently, of course, so as not to speak, which we were all told not to do. In the meantime, however, this guy continues to yell and curse. He’s tased. He’s pepper-sprayed. He’s cuffed. He’s held on the floor, face-down so he can’t breathe.
At the same time, I’m untouched. My fear and trembling actually made me a better person than he was, just like my parents, teachers, and school administration had said all along! After all, anger is a sin, right? I suddenly realized in that moment, the night before being released, that I actually could do what I thought I couldn’t do: refrain from violence in adversity. I once thought refusing to lash back at bullies was absolute cowardice, but now I actually had real-life proof, from a first-person perspective, that nonviolence and cowardice are actually exact opposites. I suddenly started to see that the security in place was a good thing, because it actually prevented the bullying that went on in school all the time from happening in this jail for kids, while at the same time creating the perfect environment for this miraculous first-hand demonstration by the Holy Spirit to take place.
The very next day, April Fools’ Day, 2009, my time in that hell on earth was up and I was released. I walked with my mother into the parking structure and got in my mother's car, thinking “Hallelujah!” I took those experiences with me, including that awesome learning experience in that in-jail classroom. The Holy Spirit then continued to shape me, continued to transform me, and I did a complete 180 from the ‘eye for an eye’ lifestyle I had lived before. Not to mention, of course, that I was released on April 1 anyway, right on schedule.
So, where did I celebrate my 16th birthday, on April 14, 2009? Certainly not in jail like I feared I would, that’s for sure! It happened to be a Wednesday. At the time, that was my normal worship night! I ended up celebrating it with the awesome fellow worshippers of mine, at the awesome Mount of Olives Church youth ministry (The R.O.C.K.) that I know and love.  However, I wasn’t done yet. I would be on probation for 1 year. So, I still had to comply, knowing how much I would hate being incarcerated again. During that probation, I had many rules and restrictions, including one where I would need to stay at home past 10:00 at night (which is a common restriction on juvenile probationers anyway). A year later, I waited for hours in the courthouse hallway to enter the courtroom again, this time to terminate probation, excited that it was already certain I had done the time.
“Probation termination request granted,” the judge rules.
“Yes! It’s finally over!” I ecstatically thought.
And just in time, because the spring of 2010 was the time when the Holy Spirit finally got me transformed enough to actually start taking classes in public (El Toro HS) instead of non-public non-sectarian school (more on THAT later), and my senior year would start the following June, when I would finally be there for the majority of my school day. Had I still been on probation during senior year, my life would have been completely miserable due to the inability to go outside at night past 10:00, but nope, I was actually able to attend the same activities (including the all-nighter to end them all: Grad Night) that every normal student attended. I couldn’t be more thankful. Of course, at the same time as this El Toro awesomeness, my family would have to pack up and move again due to the townhouse landlord’s rent-skimming scheme. This time, however, we ended up only being in a hotel room for 3 months instead of 9, followed by 27 months in a 2-bedroom apartment. Not the best place for a family of 4, but it was still an improvement over a hotel room. It would take until November 16, 2012 for the American dream to finally return to my family again.
So, my advice to all who use violence: Don’t. Fighting sin with sin may make people even with each other, but in doing so it brings both parties closer and closer to a hell on earth. Not only was I made stronger by this incident, but also more normal, more of a light in a world of darkness than ever. I can rest assured that because of what Jesus did at the cross and in the now empty tomb, regardless of my sinful past, I’ve already been saved. To be honest, I have even felt feelings about going back there. Not as an inmate, but as an evangelist. Sharing my testimony. Being a light in a world of darkness. A Holy Spirit-guided ray of hope for the lost. Because after all, faith without works is dead, right? As long as I am guided by the awesomeness of the Holy Spirit, turned from sinner to saint, I cannot be more thrilled, couldn’t be more fearless to actually use The Word to not only my own advantage but also that of all those who are around me. So, just as I turned from the grip of anger, pride, and retaliatory tendencies, so should everyone else.