Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Four Things You Might Be Surprised Can't Be Done On An iPhone or iPad

In well under a year, I've been sucked into Apple's mobile ecosystem.  Partly this was due to lobbying from TNG (he fervently denies receiving any commissions, but I'm still suspicious).  Partly it was due to the Android world not really locking me in; there were just too many things that weren't quite right.  First, the family caught me ogling an iPad Pro and talked me into getting one.  Once I had that, there was confusion over which text channel messages had been sent and getting an iPhone to consolidate them (since iMessage would go to both devices) started making sense.  Plus my Samsung phone was chewing through batteries; that is one area where Apple seems to have a huge lead.  Also the problem of periodically forgetting which device I was on and using a gesture from the wrong operating system.
In any case, I've now used heavily the iPad for about two thirds of a year, and the iPhone for the summer.  The Pro is a little heavy, but that huge screen is really useful for my miserable (and getting worse) eyesight. I started with social media and personal email, but increasingly I'm using it for work emails as well.  It's great for reading scientific papers, for my multi-branching wanderings through Wikipedia (sometimes yielding at least ten new tabs on the browser) and has become my main way of engaging my daily newspaper habit (can't pinch-zoom the physical one!). It's also become my main Kindle reader, partly because I've mislaid my actual Kindle but also by consolidating everything in one spot.  And it's not bad for watching movies, so long as you clean the screen first and don't have a strong point light source to throw glare on the screen.  Evernote works great as does Google Maps. The cameras on both are remarkably good, though my newest Nikon DSLR still has an edge (but an awful lot more weight) for some situations. But, despite all its value, there are things it inexplicably fails at, and that drives me nuts.  And no, as far as I can tell none of these are related to Apple's notorious shunning of Adobe Flash.  Nor were any of these issues mentioned in today's Apple announcements, despite my thinking they are the most critical issues with the platform.

Forget Reading What Someone Wrote In A PDF Form

I volunteer for a local Boy Scout troop, paying back some of the value I gained as a youth from that organization. My role is to coach the boys on their Eagle service project, a signature element of attaining the highest rank here in the States.  Definitely in the "not my decision" category is the requirement that their document be entered in a provided PDF form.  There's many levels of troubles this creates, though some of the worst have been worked out over time.  For example, in one of the early versions of the form some of the key boxes were of a fixed size, which Adobe addressed by simply shrinking the font so the text fit.  Get wordy, and anyone trying to read it will need a microscope.  Another version of the form would consistently fail cross-platform; forms filled out on a Mac would be unreadable on a PC. Sometimes if you clicked on the box, the text would magically appear, disappearing again when you clicked on the next box.  Those have been fixed.

What hasn't been fixed is that these forms cannot be read on an Android or iOS device; that's the official word from Adobe.  A small mind such as my own might question why a software maker would tolerate their signature product failing at its signature capability (Portable the first word!) on an increasingly dominant flavor of hardware, but Adobe must know better.

you can't actually edit anything successfully.

Ideally there would be a Storify app, but none such exists.  Overall, it is shocking that Storify ignored mobile platforms for a social media system.

Don't Try Editing Wikipedia 

As mentioned above, I read a lot of Wikipedia on my iPad, and more than a little on the iPhone (one thing I don't try to do is use my iPad while standing on a crowded bus or train; that just feels too risky).  During my reading, I often spot small edits I'd like to make, often grammatical, spelling or punctuation fixes.  I'd love to edit them out, but unfortunately that is doomed to failure.  Everything seems fine when entering editing mode, but once I click on the box to start actually changing the text, said text disappears.  I don't remember now if I tried this with my old Android phone, but I think I did.

Can't Create a Story at Storify

If I were starting a blog today, I might seriously consider Storify as a platform.  Compared to Blogger, it is far more facile at including Tweets in a post, which I'd increasingly like to do.  It would also be nice to have one platform instead of two.  Conversely the current owners of Storify, LiveFyre, have now released a Storify 2 which makes me nervous.  I haven't tried it out, but having a 2 suggests that the 1 might be seeing a retirement.  Storify 2 appears to be pitched much more at teams and companies, and appears to also not be free.

The big problem, as I mentioned some time when I was trying to summarize tweets from AGBT this year, is that the Storify editor just completely fails on iOS and Android.  The editor comes up, but nothing can actually be moved around - the generally good drag-to-place interface freezes.

Of course, if Blogger just supported including tweets in a facile manner, rather than a painful multi-step process, I'd be golden.  I could hack something to generate the requisite HTML from tweet ids, but I still wouldn't have the nice rearranging facility that Storify gives me.

I Would Compose Blog Entries, But I Value My Sanity

One recent post was actually started on my iPhone, when I was in a situation where I didn't feel comfortable holding the larger iPad.  It all seemed to work reasonably well, but then I wanted to go review and edit it with the benefit of the larger screen, when I could sit.  To my horror, when I went to edit most of my original text wasn't showing.  I immediately stopped working until I could get to my desk and use my laptop, and to my relief the text I had entered was there.

Now, Blogger makes me nervous in general.  First, it is too easy to accidentally highlight your entire draft and hit some more keys, wiping out the draft.  Second, it is a Google free product - I chose it because it had nearly no learning curve and I wanted to start right away - and Google has shown a terrible tendency to walk away from products with only a niche use.  If they ever decide Blogger is a small niche, then I face the minor pain of capturing all my old posts and the work of setting up something more under my control (probably WordPress running at Amazon).

Parthian Thoughts

For three of four of these headaches, web technology appears to be to blame. Simple HTML has evolved into a morass of features, and there's probably JavaScript underlying many of these sites as well.  All of those standards are complex and difficult to implement perfectly, and then the various groups involved have probably used and abused all sorts of proprietary or not-yet-standard features.   Three of my issues feature for-profit companies that apparently don't care that their products don't work with iPads/iPhones (and in many cases Android), and at least three of these could be seen as wake-up calls to Apple to fix their browser libraries (all of these problems seem to be indifferent to whether I'm using Safari or Chrome under iOS).   So I'll most likely continue to grit my teeth, miss making many valuable small contributions to Wikipedia, and do most my blogging/storifying at home rather than on the train or bus.


Dale Yuzuki said...

Kudos to you, Keith, for giving back to the Boy Scouts organization!

I myself am in the middle of trying to jump-start a cub scout pack that had fallen apart before I got involved, and had the first of three 'Join Scouting' events (all in local elementary schools). Scouting in all of its forms is an amazing, amazing organization.

AMac78 said...

Reading Eagle Project proposals is a common problem -- not limited to iOS device users. It seems the official document was composed as a dynamic XFA form using Adobe LiveCycle, and these editable PDFs are designed so that they can only be opened in Adobe Reader and Adobe Acrobat. Other apps present a message beginning "Please wait...If this message is not eventually replaced by the proper contents of the document, your PDF viewer may not be able to display this type of document." The "Kami - PDF Sign, Edit, Review" extension is supposed to solve this problem within Chrome, but not in my hands :-( As a Mac user, my solution was to download "Adobe Reader," and use it instead of El Capitan's "Preview."

Anonymous said...

How are you accessing wikipedia/blogger? It sounds like the browser you are using is Safari and Safari in my opinion is terrible. Try using a different browser, all your problems could be explained away from shitty browser.

On the other hand, your PDF issue is explained by Adobe being shit. Really shit.