The iPhone 3G S: coming soon-ish

The Carphone Warehouse is guaranteeing that pre-orders for the iPhone 3G S will be delivered on 19 June, subject to availability.  So if they only get a delivery of half-a-dozen, there will be plenty of disappointed punters, but CW will have upheld its guarantee.

I was all ready to make the move this evening, but the website informed me that to port my number within two days, I have to call rather than ordering online.  Tomorrow, I expect. I’ll be going for the 16Gb black model, signing up to the 18 month contract.

Two things concern me about the iPhone: contact management and the keyboard.  I’ve heard woe stories about the iPhone’s management of contacts, but I’m hoping that the GMail application and Google Sync. will sort all that out for me.

As for the keyboard, I’ve gotten used to the BlackBerry Storm’s SureType keyboard, and will be moving to a non-clicky, QWERTY keyboard, although I hear that more and more apps are catering for landscape typing, which is good.  (I do like the “gotten” Americanism.)  The fact that the key that the device recognised you as having pressed pops up is nice, and will hopefully avoid the regular back-tracking I find myself doing on the BB.

Overall, I’m pumped (another gratuitous Americanism) at the thought of at last getting one, and am glad I’ve waited until this model has come out.  I’ve never been an early adopter.  It’s just not in my make-up.  Too cheap and too cautious.

Anyway, more on the 3G S when I get my filthy hands on it: on or after 19 June, according to the guarantee.

TfL: it’s not all bad

A lovely juxtaposition from TfL.

TfL's juxtaposition

iPhone 3GS or Palm Pre?

I am currently using a BlackBerry Storm.  In the main, I like it.

But typing is still fiddly.  And I use that feature (or want to use it) enough to make the fiddliness irksome.  It allows typing in both portrait and landscape mode, coming with a full QWERTY keyboard in either mode.  (QWERTY is one of the slowest words in the world to type, for me at least.  It should be as easy as playing chopsticks on the piano, surely.)  But in either mode, even my rather slight finger pads are that bit too cumbersome to promote error-free typing.

It also has a SureType keyboard in the portrait mode, combining adjecent QWERTY keys into single keys to allow for fatter fingers and T9-style intelligence to figure out the words you want to type from the various possible combinations available.

But even these keys often result in mistakes as your finger glides over the wrong key to get to the right one.  The depression of the key (it is a physical depression) may seem to be in the right place, but the trailing thumb (double-thumb typing) often makes the device think you were hitting the key to the outside of the one intended.

So I have two major draws at the moment.  The iPhone 3GS.  Which I assume will come with the same gripes as above but which will have so many applications that maybe I’ll forget about those foibles.  Or the Palm Pre, which will have the QWERTY-style keyboard but will suffer from the same application-devoid experience as the BlackBerry.

Can anyone shed any light on how good/bad iPhone typing really is?  Maybe it’s better than it is on the Storm.  Maybe it’s not.  I need data so that I can make an informed decision.

Re-categorising: I’m scared

I’ve been putting Google Spreadsheets posts in the All things Excel category for want of a better place to put them.  Should I change the name of the category to Spreadsheets?  It seems a bit like the end of an era to get rid of the Excel word.  But times are achangin’, and I think I need to change with them.  Thoughts?

Maps and Gantts in Google Docs. FTW

I’m not sure when the feature was introduced, but you can now incorporate maps within Google Spreadsheets, maps that display icons driven from mapping search terms (e.g. postcodes) as opposed to latitude/longitude combinations.  You do so by inserting a Gadget.  Thanks to Tom Viner for pointing me to this.

This is a great step forward, as you can publish the spreadsheet and put the script tag into any html page to display it there.  The only issue is: it ain’t working for me. Apparently, my page is missing the Google Maps API.  Google doesn’t give any insight into this error message, either in its Google Documents help or through what I thought was its rather comprehensive search engine.

It’s also got a bunch of other very cool gadgets to insert.  The most useful I’ve found is the Gantt chart one.  You put your MS Project data into one sheet and you can have a very good-looking Gantt chart in another, drawing from that data.  Very cool indeed.  There are some seemingly powerful chart gadgets too.  Lots to explore.

But as for the maps, I’m flummoxed.  And I don’t know what to do.

Beautiful date formats

I’ve struggled with date formats for some time now.  Formats for dates that don’t need to be interpreted by computers that is, those that appear in documents.  For the sake of example, we’ll use the sixth day of December last year.

While in America, I did as the Americans.  Shorthand was 12/6 (or “twelve six” when voiced).  Longhand, it was December 6, 2008.  When combined with the year, it always struck me as slightly odd that the specificity was inconsistent from left to right: first came the month, which was then made more specific with the day.  Yet at this stage, the reader doesn’t yet know the year.  In the UK’s DD/MM/YYYY format, specificity decreases from left to right.  Although arguably, what use is the day without first knowing the month?

The comma in the American longhand version was necessary to separate the two numbers.  At first, I was uncomfortable with the proximity of these two numbers.  But over time, I came to regard it as an attribute rather than a hindrance.  And I came to adore the longhand variant.

(The shorthand version continued to confuse me throughout my two years there, and mentally I had to deconstruct the two numbers bleated out to figure out what they represented, particularly for days in the first twelve of the month.  Not ideal, being a project manager.)

Now back in the UK, I’ve recently settled on a format that I’m comfortable with.  In Excel, we’d say d mmmm, yyyy.  In English: 6 December, 2008.  Where the year is redundant, I simply opt for 6 December.  Never should either be preceded with a jarring the.  (My word do I hate that?)  When talking of a month, I use December 2008, without the intervening comma—it’s too short to warrant one.

For the full variation, I like its simplicity.  I’ve never been a big fan of the superscripts that come into play with ordinal numbers—when I do use ordinals, I always reject MS Word’s auto-formatting, leaving them in standard font—6th.  And I feel that the comma is necessary to give some rhythm to the construct.  As for the months, I feel that our Gregorian legacy is sufficiently poetic and inspiring for the months not to be abbreviated.  Let’s save that crime for data files.

Relevancy and pleasancy

Do people care about the look-and-feel of search?

If you look at Google, apparently not.  Its interface is very usable and intuitive.  But it’s hardly visually creative is it?  There is little visual separation between the various elements—header links, main results, related searches, sponsored links, footer links—beyond their relative positions on the page.  No treatment has been done to indicate behaviours on hover (links are already underlined) and generally, it’s a rather flat experience.

Bing, however, is a bit richer.  You’re presented with a default background image (mine is of a lovely sea-front in what might be Morocco—Agadir?), a theme that is maintained to a lesser degree on the search results page.  The left-hand navigation has some colour, and the search results enjoy a very subtle treatment on hover, getting a rather odd “bar with a ball” on their right.  Hover over the ball and you’re presented with a further excerpt from the destination page.

Admittedly, the vast majority of the look-and-feel draws straight from Google: all Arial; blue, clickable search titles, black summaries and green non-clickable URLs.  The cached page link on Google is a soft blue, compared to Microsoft’s soft grey, but that’s the only notable difference between the rivals’ main results.  (Sorry, did I say “draws straight from Google”?  I meant “coincidentally shares almost all of its features with Google, having been defined through focus groups and independent design, as opposed to copying its main competitor.)

Do people care that much about the look-and-feel of search?  It’s a means to an end, its main job being to get you out of there as soon as possible.  So why bother stylin’?  And maybe Google doesn’t go heavy on visuals out of fear for the consequences: if we add a background image or background-colour search results on hover with a lovely pastel shade, will we suddenly lose 20% of our market share?

Bing has gone some way towards making the interface pleasant as well as the results relevant.  But I doubt the former will do much to attract swathes of customers.  And its lack of an I’m Feeling Lucky equivalent maybe indicates a lack of confidence in the latter.  It will be interesting how things play out.

Battery power

My laptop decides it’s time to call it a day when its battery power hits 16%.  At this point, it automatically hibernates, sleeps, or whatever other subtle Windows variant there is.  (I’m not quite sure which it does, as the screen merely goes black accompanied by an unrefined, system-type beep.)  Once it’s fed and watered (not literally watered; don’t try that at home, kids), it comes back to life with everything in the state in which I left it.  Which is nice.

But given that the last 16% of the battery is of zero use to me, surely it would be better to calibrate the percentages based on usable battery life, the machine shutting down on hitting zero rather than some seemingly arbitrary number greater than zero. The battery life available to me would be the same, but I’d have a greater sense of how long I’ve got left.

(As an aside, just like the battery-power icon that sits in my system tray, I like to think of the power in my battery being used from right to left, the 16% remaining in the tank at the end of a battery-heavy day being above the F1 and F2 keys, making the laptop slightly heavier on the left.)

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