Where is my iPhone Mini?

I’ve been an iPhone user and fan ever since the original iPhone came out and I’ve used one for the past four and a half years. I had the original iPhone, the 3G, the 3GS and then I skipped a couple of models and now have an iPhone 5. I’ve smashed the screen, obviously, by dropping a dumbbell onto it, but it seems unfashionable to have an iPhone with an intact screen these days and the dumbbell thing* gives me man points.

Smashed screen aside, the iPhone 5 is a very capable smartphone. However, I’m at the point with it where I believe it is in fact too capable I’m struggling to justify ownership of it. I find that I actually use very little of what it has to offer. I use the phone, obviously, text messages, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Maps, Camera, iPod occasionally*, National Rail enquiries and a handful of other apps on an occasional basis. Although my old 3GS was slow, there was none of this that it couldn’t do and there is nothing I use my iPhone 5 for now that I didn’t use to use my 3GS for (with the exception of the camera, I didn’t used to use that on the 3GS because it was properly awful). I use mobile apps on my iPad much, much more than I do on my smartphone; my iPad is where I need the mobile computing power and features.

My point is that I’m paying for (£45 per month on a lease) and carrying around this massive overpowered pocket computer with me everywhere I go, with its fragile screen, poor battery life and a relatively high chance that I’ll get mugged for it one day, when I barely use its capabilities. When Apple launched the iPad Mini earlier this year I had very high hopes that they would follow suit with a smaller iPhone, the iPhone Mini, or whatever; a device which isn’t as powerful as a full-blown iPhone but is smaller, has a better battery life and can do the basics like make phone calls, text messages, basic social media apps, iPod, a reasonable (if not overly fancy) camera, etc.

My hope was that they would base it on the iPod Nano:


This device has a small colour multitouch screen with an iOS-like interface which is clearly capable of handling a form of application selection. I cannot imagine how it would be hard to include the necessary electronics for a mobile phone and wifi into a package this size, even if it had to be slightly thicker perhaps than a plain iPod Nano (in the same way that the iPod Touch is thinner than the iPhone). It would have been perfect for me, so I got quite excited when I saw the rumours about the iPhone 5C – perhaps the “C” stands for “compact”?

But no.

The iPhone 5C is nothing more than a re-packaged iPhone 5, except they’re making it out plastic, which will arguably be more robust, but is actually a decision that has mainly been made for cost-reduction purposes. Despite this, the 5C is by no means a bargain, offering a saving of just £80 over the even more powerful and even more expensive flagship iPhone 5S, which they have introduced to replace the iPhone 5. The top of the range 64Gb model costs more than an eye-watering £700.

They’ve missed a beat here. I’m not normally underwhelmed by Apple launches (although I am by no means a frothing fanboy before, during or after them), but this one may as well have never happened.

* I have, incidentally, eliminated the possibility of future dumbbell related screen smashes with the purchase of an iPod Shuffle for use in the gym. It’s not possible to smash the screen on this because it does not have one.


Driven to drop Google Drive for Dropbox

Cloud computing is a wonderful thing, whether you are a business or a consumer. It isn’t the answer to everything, but it’s certainly solved some common problems, not least of which is the issue of back-ups. These days for a few dollars per month everybody can transparently back-up most if not all their important files to servers on the Internet and have those files synchronised between multiple computers and mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

There’s also no shortage of companies willing to offer their cloud storage services. Some services, like Amazon’s S3 service, are geared towards developers for integration into software (although Amazon now have a consumer offering), but there are many aimed at consumers who want a simple way of achieving transparent backup of their personal files. Microsoft, Symantec and Google all offer solutions, although not all are cross-platform.

Google Drive

Up until last week I used Google Drive, having taken up the service since it was launched earlier in the year. It costs $4.99 per month for 100Gb of storage and comes with software which you install on your computer and it automatically manages the sychronisation of your files, so long as you save them in the special “Google Drive” directory.

However, Google Drive was not without its problems from the very start. The software is not particularly well written and it is apparent that it has some bugs. It suffers from massive memory management problems and is prone to crashing without warning. This was especially annoying during my initial upload of files, which would have taken around a week if the software had remained running, but it did not and it would quit every few hours. Because I was either not awake or not at home to keep restarting it each time it crashed, my initial upload took far longer.

But it got there in the end, and for around six months it successfully kept my files safe and sychronised between my computers. I still had the memory issues (it typically used between 700Mb and 1Gb of RAM even when idle), and so I often found myself having to quit the software in order to free up some RAM if I needed it. This wasn’t ideal as it meant that I had to remember to restart Google Drive in order to ensure my files were kept up to date, but I lived with it.

Restoration test

Then, at the end of November, came a real test of the value of Google Drive. The hard disk in my desktop Mac Mini developed unrecoverable hardware problems, and I had to replace it. Although this was a time-consuming process it was not a disaster for me as I had all my important data in one cloud service or another. I have all my music on iTunes Match, all my development work on Github and all other files that I would be upset about losing in Google Drive. I have other files that aren’t on any cloud service stored on an external hard drive; these are files that could be replaced relatively easily if I had to and it’s not worth backing them up.

So I merrily removed the old hard disk without attempting to remove any of my data from it and installed the new one in its place (putty knives and swearing is always involved when upgrading an old-shape Mac Mini). I installed the operating system from scratch and all my software on the new hard disk and then began the process of restoring my data from the various cloud services. Github and iTunes Match worked like a charm straight off the bat, but Google Drive was, unfortunately, an entirely different story.

I installed the latest version of the software and entered my Google account details. It thought about it for a bit, allocated itself a whopping 3.25Gb of RAM, and then started to download my files. “OK”, I thought, “the RAM thing is even more annoying than it was before, but whatever”, and left it to do its thing. After downloading around 700Mb, it displayed a window saying that “An unknown issue occurred and Google Drive needs to quit“. The window also said that if this happens repeatedly I should disconnect my account.

It did this seven further times. Each time I was able to download around 100Mb of data before it displayed this error again. After the seventh time it didn’t download any more data, no matter how many more times I ran it. It had only downloaded 1.3Gb of my 55Gb of data. So I tried disconnecting my account and logging-in again. It insisted on starting the download from scratch, forcing me to discard the 1.3Gb already downloaded. Unfortunately it did exactly the same thing, repeated errors and then “maxing-out” at around 1.3Gb of files after numerous restarts. It was, frankly, ridiculous.

Out of frustration I called upon Google’s support, which as a paying customer I was entitled to. Their suggestion was to uninstall and re-install the software, and this suggestion came 48 hours later. Needless to say I was not particularly impressed. I did not believe for a second that this would fix the problem and that I was simply being taken through a standard support script. This was the final straw with Google Drive, after all the upload issues, memory issues and now this, an apparent inability to restore from my precious backup when I needed to.

I am 99% sure that it was crashing due to poor memory management (i.e. it was running out of memory), if the console messages were anything to go by. I considered that following their reinstallation advice would be a waste of my time based on this and I would further waste my time attempting to explain my technical suspicions to them. I needed my files back and I needed my cloud service back, on my timescale and not on Google’s.


I am fortunate to own two computers, and this was my saving grace. I still had the copy of the Google Drive directory on my other computer, so I still had a local and up to date copy of all my files. If, however, I had only one computer, I would have been entirely at the mercy of Google to get my files back. That was not something that I decided I was comfortable with and so I decided I had two choices:

  1. Persevere with Google’s support and, assuming they manage to fix the issue, continue to tolerate their piss-poor software going forward.
  2. Use the other copy of my files I had, find an alternative cloud storage service, upload them to it, and dump Google Drive.

I chose the latter. I had heard good things about Dropbox. They are a small firm for whom online storage is their entire business, rather than just another product, which is the case for Google. It is absolutely in their interest to get their offering right, because if they don’t they don’t have a dominant global search engine business (for example) to fall back upon. I wouldn’t be surprised if Google Drive grew half-arsed out of project that a Google developer created on his “do your own thing” day of the week, a privilege extended to Google developers as standard, to the envy of most others.

Dropbox is twice the price of Google Drive, costing $9.99 per month for 100Gb instead of $4.99. This isn’t a high price to pay for a reliable solution in my opinion. Like Google Drive, it too comes with software to be installed on your computer(s) which creates a special directory into which you save your files and it sits there in the background and uploads and downloads files as required. The difference between the Dropbox software and the Google Drive software is that the Dropbox software does so without using all your RAM and without quitting every few hours. Amazeballs!

It took around 7 days to upload my files to Dropbox, during which the software did not crash even once and used no more than 400Mb of RAM at its peak. Google Drive’s memory management was so poor that it never released memory if it didn’t need it any more; its RAM usage just kept going up and up and up. I was supremely impressed with this; this is how Google Drive should have been from the very beginning and the fact that Dropbox can do it means there is no excuse for Google Drive not to be able to. I am currently in the process of downloading these newly-uploaded files to my other computer en-masse, and guess what, still no crashes and it doesn’t seem to think that downloading 55Gb is a somehow insurmountable task, so doesn’t give up after the first 1.3Gb.

Other things I like about Dropbox:

  1. Great mobile app for iPhone and and iPad. This, too, Just Works, and allows viewing of a wide range of file types. It also backs up the camera photos from each device, which is a nice touch.
  2. It has an API, which allows it to be integrated into other software and services, such as IFTTT. This is more exciting for me than it probably would be for most people, but it’s something that Google Drive doesn’t have.

Of course, Dropbox may well not be without its own problems which are not yet apparent. If any transpire I will of course report on them, but initial tests and use of the service is very promising, and certainly far better than comparable early days with Google Drive.

So there you are. If you’re looking for advice on which cloud backup service to use, I recommend Dropbox. It’s compatible with Mac OS, Linux, Microsoft Windows, iOS (iPhone, iPad) and Android. Enjoy.


iPhone 3GS and OS 3.0


I’m a little underwhelmed with the iPhone 3GS, if I’m honest. Although I will take advantage of a free upgrade to a 3GS in January (because why wouldn’t I?) I certainly couldn’t justify either buying out the remainder of my contract now, or indeed the extra cost of a 3GS over a 3G if I was buying a new one.

The 3GS has four advantages over the 3G. Two features, the faster processor and the much improved camera (with video capabilities) are fair game, I’m not going to argue with those. But the other two seem virtually useless in comparison, those being voice control and a compass, of all things. I guess these two features might help people who use their iPhones whilst driving, but it remains to be seen just how useful they prove.

iPhone-OS-3.0-SoftwareThe OS 3.0 software update, however, is much more valuable and important than the hardware update. Although I’m disappointed that there’s still no support for running applications in the background, OS 3.0 has a plethora of improvements that make using an iPhone generally better.

Most notable amongst the new features is MMS, which is fantastic, but I’m still annoyed with Apple for having taken nearly two years to implement it on the iPhone platform; there was really no excuse for not having it from the start. Other features of note include Spotlight search and cut and paste facilities, something else that people have been crying out for for ages.

Internet tethering is another feature that would be amazingly useful had O2 not made it virtually impossible to use by applying punitive “bolt-on” prices to anyone who actually wants to use it. iPhone users are supposed to be on an “unlimited data” tariff with O2, but if you want to download that data to a device other than your iPhone then you have to pay for it again.

There are hundreds of other improvements. I’ve found a comprehensive list of them and a detailed guide about how to get the best out of them if it’s not clear to any iPhone owners who are having trouble noticing the changes after updating.


iPhone 3G


Myself and H received our free iPhone 3Gs the other week, and they’re absolutely great. I wasn’t displeased with the original iPhone, which I bought in January, but there were some notable features that were missing from it, in particular 3G and the ability to install third party applications. Both these shortcomings have been resolved with the new version and also has proper GPS now too instead of the poor-man’s version which attempted to triangulate your position from mobile masts. The best thing about the upgrade was that it was free and Envirofone are giving me £115 for my old one, so, result!

I’ve a mandate from work to think about developing applications for the iPhone, because my boss has one too and is very fired up over it. Unlike Microsoft, Apple give their development platform away for free, rather than charging thousands for it, so that’s a good start. The only problem is that Apple software development, whether for Mac OS or the iPhone, is all done using Objective C and C++, which I have absolutely no experience with, so I did a fair amount of shopping on Amazon for some suitable O’Reilly books last week with the intention of getting to grips with it, if myself and my lackey can fit it around our current commitments.

I have of course installed all sorts of new applications on my iPhone, ranging from arcade games to news feeds to website specific applications, such as those provided by Facebook and Google, but the “killer app” that I’ve found is Apple Remote. This application allows me to play music from either my iTunes library or H’s (on separate computers) to any set of remote speakers in the flat (we have a set in the living room and a set in the bedroom), as well as on the computer on which the library resides, of course. So we can sit in bed and summon up any music we want, including Internet radio, and have it play wherever we are. Either of us can control it, at the same time, using both our iPhones too. It’s brilliant, and I actually don’t understand why it doesn’t ship with the iPhone since it’s written by Apple and made available for free anyway.

Still no picture messaging on the new iPhone though, which surprises me, I would have thought that would be very easy to implement, especially given the 3G support.



iphone-tripleMy old mobile didn’t survive Federation at New Year. I pulled it out of my pocket at about 1.00am and it had gone bonkers; it was just flashing numbers up on the screen and the keypad wasn’t responding. Removing the battery and restarting it dealt with the crazy numbers, but didn’t do anything for the keypad. I don’t remember getting it wet or bumping it into anything, but nonetheless, it was fucked.

I’d been holding off getting an Apple iPhone until the New Year anyway and the death of my old phone combined with the death of my last iPod in October left few excuses not to then get one, so I did. I absolutely love it; principally because it combines an iPod and a phone into one single device that’s 100% compatible in every way with my Mac computers, rather than some sort of third party bodged compatibility as provided by other manufacturers. It’s a total dream to use and allows me not only to make phone calls, listen to music and send texts but also read and write e-mail in a way that’s actually easy and works properly, and also to surf the web using what’s stops very very short of being a proper web browser.

Of course, I’ve had derision from many people for buying it, whose complaints tend to be centred around the same few issues:

  1. You can’t send picture messages.
  2. You can’t text more than one person at the same time.
  3. It’s too expensive.
  4. You can’t record videos.
  5. It doesn’t have 3G.
  6. You have to use O2.

I’d like to officially submit the following responses to these points so that people can shut the fuck up about them once and for all:

  1. I’ve never sent a picture message in my entire fucking life.
  2. Incorrect. Firmware 1.1.3 allows multiple text recipients.
  3. I could have easily spent more on an iPod Touch and a separate phone of similar quality. I’d also have ended up with two devices in my pocket.
  4. Oh noes! How will I fill up YouTube with meaningless rubbish now?!
  5. It connects to your wireless network at home and the EDGE data connection is plenty fast enough for what you need it to do when you’re not at home.
  6. Frankly, anything’s better than the utter piece of shit that it’s T-Mobile’s awful cellular network. I can now make phone calls from inside my Dad’s house.

Any perceived compromises made are outweighed by its clear and irrefutable benefits. It’s great, for example, being able to listen to music and then have a phone call put through directly to your headphones without having to change devices or have a second device embarrassingly ring away in your pocket because you can’t fucking hear it. The iChat-style text messaging system is splendid, taking what Blackberrys do to a more logical conclusion. Google Maps works exactly how you would expect it to. It’s also frighteningly easy to download music off iTunes with it, although whether or not that’s a benefit is subjective of course.

If I had any complaints about it it would be that the camera isn’t particularly good and that they’ve been a bit slow in opening it up to third party developers. The former I can’t do anything about, but the latter will be resolved in February, apparently. I want an SSH client, an IRC client and an iChat client without having to use some sort of web application bodge. I expect my wishes will be granted relatively quickly.

So no, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but then nobody is being forced to buy it. Indeed, because of its price many people are being forced not to buy it, which I suspect is more of a motive to pick holes in it than people will admit to. It reminds me of those pricks who bray “oh yeah, well, I could have got a BMW but I got something much better instead“, whilst driving a fucking Passat or something.