Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Sparrow for iOS

Saturday, March 17th, 2012
Sparrow for iOS

Sparrow – Gmail-friendly Email for iOS

I’ve been waiting for Sparrow for iOS ever since they teased it back in January. Sparrow for Mac OS has been a joy to use, from its beautiful and simple interface to its deeply integrated Gmail/Google Apps Mail feature set (we’ll just call it Gmail from here on out). The iOS version has honored its big brother in both of those areas. Both versions exemplify the quality experience one would expect within the Apple Universe.

This isn’t a full review; it’s more of a highlight reel of the features that are most important to me for mobile email from a Gmail poweruser’s perspective.

Sparrow is what mail should be like on the iPhone

  • Unique signatures for each account
  • True label support for Gmail
  • You don’t have to choose between “Delete” or “Archive”
  • “Unread” and “Starred” quick views
  • 1 single swipe allows access to single-click “Star,” “Label,” “Archive” and “Delete”
  • Very clean approach to email threads

Push Support: The Killer App?

Sparrow has explained why push isn’t available, for now, in the mobile version. This will understandably turn off a lot of people. My guess is that most of these people won’t be Gmail power users or have multiple accounts. For me, it’s a minor annoyance with an easy workaround.

I put Sparrow and Mail in a folder on my iOS dock. Apple Mail handles notifications, but I manage email in Sparrow (the Mail badge eventually catches up). I’m willing to deal with this more than deal with Mail’s greater shortcomings.

Apple Mail just doesn’t “Get” Gmail

For Gmail accounts, Apple Mail only allows a toggle switch between Archive or Delete. You can’t do both. In the past, I would only be able to partially manage my emails, opting for Delete on the iPhone, then Archiving on Sparrow for Mac or within Gmail itself. That means I would have to look at every email twice, unless it was deleted.

I chose the “Delete” function on the iPhone because using Apple Mail’s “Archive” feature would strip off labels applied by my carefully crafted filters within Gmail (77 of them for my personal account alone). Many of my incoming emails receive multiple labels for quick reference later. Sparrow allows quick access to those labels and allows you to add or remove multiple labels.

Multiple signatures: Apple… are you listening?

When iOS 5 added “Shortcuts,” I thought that they finally provided a workaround for their lack of multiple signature in Apple Mail. Nope. All you get is a string of characters, no paragraph returns. So, if it doesn’t look right to have all of your contact information on one line at the end of your email, you’re out of luck.

Sparrow, on the other hand, provides unique email signatures for each account. In my case, with personal, business and club staff email accounts, it’s nice to automatically include the appropriate contact information for each occasion.

A request for Sparrow

Please take advantage of the TextExpander API. Apple will never do this, which drives me nuts when I have to type on my iPhone. I have so many quick replies and shortcuts based on TextExpander. As fast as I am on my iPhone virtual keyboard, TextExpander can add a paragraph in a couple of keystrokes.

And finally…

Sparrow has asked its customers to rally behind them and ask Apple to permit push for Sparrow using the VoIP API (not likely) or by adding another, similar API. That’s a reasonable request, but I’d recommend providing some details to improve the turnout of support. In the past, sending an email to Steve could net a genuine response. Is Tim Cook going to be our next point of contact (tim@apple.com)? Would it make sense to submit a request using Apple’s iPhone Feedback form? My ears are open.

Add push and TextExpander support, then I can banish the Apple Mail icon to the same last page folder that hold Stocks, YouTube and Weather. (Don’t even get me started on Newsstand)

Apple and “Adult” Apps

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Well, there appears to be a another shift in Apple’s App Store policy. First, they wouldn’t let anything in the store that was provocative. Then they opened the floodgates and thousands of explicit apps started showing up. Then, just a couple of days ago, they banned explicit apps. Today, we hear from CultOfMac.com that there is a new “explicit” category for App Developers when submitting their apps. Does that mean that adult apps are on their way back again?

In a previous rant, I lamented the poorly implemented Parental Controls and App Rating system on the iPhone. To recap, setting Parental Controls Age Restrictions on the iPhone would hide screenshots of apps that have a more “mature” rating, but continued to show the apps with their provocative names and icons (NOT kid-friendly). It also removed unrated apps from the iPhone, including some very kid friendly apps (such as Horse Lover).

My goal was to have Apple completely hide apps with an age rating higher than the setting in Parental Controls. Hopefully, the events of the last couple of days are an attempt by Apple to do just that.

Read more about this ongoing story:

MacRumors.com: Apple Adds ‘Explicit’ Category for New App Store Submissions

CultOfMac.com: Is Apple Preparing To Add An ‘Explicit’ Section To The App Store?

iPhone age restrictions do not hide 17+ apps, just their screenshots

Monday, January 18th, 2010

“Tasty Pasties 18+ Amateurs” and “Boob Party” are currently on the Top 25 Free Apps in the Apple App Store. I know this because my 8 year old showed me. But let me back up a little.

I have purchased each generation of iPhone as they came out. When I bought my 3GS, I had two leftover iPhones and two clever young ladies who are equally enamored with technology. I set each of my daughters up with the deactivated iPhones working essentially as big iPod Touches. And they were happy. Ecstatic. I am the coolest Dad ever.

I took the expected precautionary approaches. In Settings: General: Restrictions: I turned off the following:

  • Safari
  • Mail
  • YouTube
  • Location
  • In-App Purchases
  • and at first, Installing Apps (App Store)

Since I would be the one managing any media on the device, I didn’t set any age restrictions on music, movies or apps. Eventually, I turned on the App Store so they could browse and choose an app as a reward for a good grade, helping around the house, etc. Standard parental incentive program.

This wasn’t really a risk at the time, Apple was not allowing apps that weren’t family appropriate. Since then, Apple has opened the flood gates of soft porn (but not Google Voice). Again, I know this because my 8 year old showed me. The app screenshots were the iPhone equivalent of a “Girls Gone Wild” TV commercial. All the naughty bits were covered with black dots, very small black dots. This set me into panic mode. I quickly exited the App Store and began trying to keep this kind of material out of reach.

I’m not a Puritan. I understand the market for these products. I also understand that I am responsible for what my girls have access to. As a responsible parent, I went back into Restrictions and limited apps to 12+. Sweet! That was easy. Thanks Apple!

Relieved at such a simple fix, I went back into the App Store and guiltily typed in “boobs” to see if I had successfully addressed the issue. Nope. There were plenty of apps willing to fill my request. A little disappointed, and still feeling uncomfortable about doing this on my daughter’s iPhone, I went searching for the screenshots. They were gone. I can find the apps, see their icons and read their full description, but the tiny black dots and the ladies underneath were gone. Not what I wanted or expected. I wanted the apps to be completely invisible. No app, no name, no busty icons.

This restriction also caused two more problems. First, it turns out that enabling Restrictions will include the catchall “Unrated”.  Any app that is unrated gets the same treatment as a 17+ app. Second, some apps are given 17+ ratings, not because of age-inappropriate material, but because of the ability of the app developer to push unfiltered content to the app (see example below).

An example: Horse Lover. A natural for my girls. They love horses. Eat, breath, play horses. This app is currently “Unrated”, probably because it fetches a daily photo from somewhere “out there”. That means that you can’t use it if you have ANY age restrictions on the iPhone.

My girls came to me immediately after enabling Restrictions for apps asking why I deleted some of their programs. They wanted all of their apps back. If I turned off restrictions, they would be exposed to the new wave of grownup apps in the store. So, there was only one choice left… the App Store is now turned off. I am no longer the coolest Dad ever. I guess the title wasn’t going to last forever, but it was fun while it lasted.

The Mother-in-law’s Switch to Mac

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

A 5 year old, home built, Windows XP machine is what started this. It was going to be fun. Yes, fun to migrate my mother-in-law, from Windows, to a new 21.5″ iMac. Her older model PC had a kid’s account on it. Yes, those little ‘people’ that are smaller than we are, but often think they are smarter. The machine had all the required protections one could think of, anti-virus, automatic updates and the use of limited accounts in XP. But, it didn’t have any anti-kid software. My fault I guess. I knew it needed it.

It would seem these guys were smart enough to ask grandma to log into an admin capable account so they could ‘do homework’. Uh, homework requires admin rights? Hum. An install of Limewire later and we end up where we are today. A reinstalled PC for the kids, and a new ‘Grandma Only’ iMac. The fun begins…

The re-install issues with the PC were crazy. I won’t go into it here, but let’s just say the fun was fading fast. It should have been declared a paperweight, but it made no sense to invest money in a machine for the kids. Underpowered or not, it could be saved, and it was. Once it was declared Kid-Safe it was time to take the PC data and move it to the Mac.

The email client on the PC was Outlook 2003. It seems there is no easy, & free, way to migrate email from Outlook (not Outlook Express) to Apple’s Mail.app. This version of Outlook uses the proprietary .pst file for all data storage. I did not like the export format choices available. There are paid apps, like Little Machines O2M which, for $10, is supposed to migrate Outlook mail and folders. The reviews I saw were mostly good ones, but it just seemed crazy to have to pay. After a lot of browsing, I settled on installing Eudora on the PC and importing the Outlook data. Then I moved the Eudora data to the iMac and imported it into Apple’s Mail.app. Worked great, except that I ended up with a ton of empty emails. It seemed like one blank email for every real email. At first I thought maybe that was how the email existed in Outlook but when I realized every sub-folder had the same issue I figured it was something to do with conversion. I actually wanted to try it again to see what would happen, but at that point I was just glad to have it done.

Contacts were not that bad. I figured the easiest way was to use a standard vCard format. Note that word ‘standard’. In Microsoft talk that mean ‘everyone but us’. Outlook does not have an export format that makes it easy, but there is a way. Select all the contacts in Outlook and under the ‘Action’ menu is a command to forward them as vCards. Genius. I can forward vCards but can’t export them. So Outlook knows what they are and by choice is screwing with me. I just mailed them to myself, saved them out and imported them into Apple’s Address Book app.

For printing, the plan was to use the existing printer, connected to the Mac as the print server. It was connected to the iMac, setup and tested. It used a Gutenprint print driver and then it was shared. Looking good. I had Bonjour installed on the PC, but could not get any printing going. The Bonjour Print Wizard would see the printer and add it, but no luck. I reinstalled Bonjour without any better result.  I tried installing the printer on the PC manually, while using a generic Postscript driver as I had seen recommended. Nope. I tried entering a network printer on XP using a queue path to the iMac’s CUPS printer. For refernce, the path is http://<IP address of Mac>:631/printers/Queue Name. No luck there. I decided to try Bonjour again and it worked. No friggin’ idea why. Nothing changed. But why question it. I ran to the next challenge.

I started moving her data from the PC via the LAN and was looking like it would take well over an hour. Instead I cancelled the copy and pulled her data drive out of the PC. I hooked it up with my cables, to the iMac, as an external drive using an adaptor, kind of like this one on Amazon. I had the data moved in less than 15 minutes.

At this point i just imported all the photos into iPhoto and all the music into iTunes. With nothing but documents left behind I put all of those into her Documents folder and life was good.

There were some issues that had no easy solution. She had a number of Microsoft Publisher files. There is no equivalent to Publisher on the Mac platform, and no way I found to easily convert the files. I say easy because I could have opened them in publisher on the PC and exported them in some common format, like HTML. But, she would still not have the Publisher  app she was familiar with. I have the files there if needed, and can always do the conversion route. Since they are all at least a year old, I figured it may be best to have her learn how to create them on the Mac, using Mac apps. Movie Maker files were also a no go. Again, I kept them just incase she ever needs them but for now the migration is done.

Since the move, she has had no major issues. The Apple Mail toolbar disappeared for some unknown reason but it was a great lesson, and easy, to show her how to bring it back. The printer paused inexplicably, and wanted admin rights to resume. I am not sure what triggered it, since I was not there, and I’m not sure why it needed admin rights to un-pause, but it was an easy fix.

Al-in-all, not too bad. She now has a fast and reliable machine. The kids? A slow and painful computing experience. I feel so bad for them.

Google Voice: One Number & More

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

In Mike’s post, “Google Voice: One Number to Rule Them All“, he went through what Google Voice is, and why he likes it. If you don’t understand what Google Voice is, I would suggest that you read that post before continuing here. I won’t be going into all the features here. I am going to focus on the features that, for my specific use, I think could use a bit more discussion.

Incase you still did not read Mike’s post, and are not clear on Google Voice, let me do the short version. First thing is, it’s in BETA. You can request an invite to the BETA on the Google Voice Site. Google Voice is a free service where you are given a phone number. Yes, another phone number. But this phone number is special. To start with you have a say in what number you get. Using wild cards you search for a number pattern of your choice. Let’s say your name is Joe. You could search for ‘*4JOE’. That might return 555-555-4JOE. A free vanity number. Cool.

(more…)