Untethering your iOS Device

Listening to the most recent This Week in Tech, I heard the same thing from certain panel members that I hear from tech journalists all of the time: I just don’t want to plug in my iPhone/iPad/iPod into the computer (or something like that).

The want/need for an untethered experience for your iOS device seems to be the holy grail/unicorn-wearing-leprechaun-trousers for certain members of the technology press for the “one thing” that Apple needs to do to get them to drool over iOS.

It’s easy to get into the mindset that your needs are what the greater consumer needs, but many times that just isn’t the truth. I can think that people need to ditch Windows for Linux so that I don’t have to worry about supporting that OS, but that isn’t the reality of the situation.

The “tethering” of your iOS device to some computer serves some very important purposes that are just NOT REASONABLE AT THIS TIME to do over a wireless network (which is most often what is brought up as the alternative).

First is content movement back and forth between the device and the customer’s machine. Music, movies, pictures, apps, settings, etc. all travel back and forth between the iOS device and the computer via a USB cable. That can be GBs worth of data going back and forth at any one time, and doing that both in a timely fashion and consistently really is only doable over a cable.

Sure, streaming services can provide many of those services (as far as content is concerned) but with the reality of data caps and inconsistent network connectivity, that’s a non-starter for most consumers. Media stored on the persons device is infinitely more reliable than that streamed from the internet. Now, if you don’t use your device for media then who cares?

The second, and more importantly to me, is data backup. When you sync your iOS device with iTunes it makes a complete backup of the entire system. The importance of that cannot be overstated. I have had my wife’s iPhone fail (long story), but all of the data was safe because I had been able to backup the device the night before and I could restore it back to its former settings with no problem.

Professionals talk of getting consumers to backup their information, and Apple is maybe the most successful at this by, to an extent, forcing customers to plug in their iOS device to do certain things and doing a backup at that time. Working for the Apple Store for four months (shout out to all of my friends at Bayshore), I liked being able to tell someone that they will be able to get all of their stuff back just by plugging into iTunes are restoring from the last backup. That’s powerful and useful.

Finally, for now, networking is hard. Getting a wireless network up and running can be hard work depending on the house, the internet coming in, and the hardware you are using. People are reluctant to spend money on decent networking equipment, but if you are going to be pushing GBs of data over that wireless network to sync information and make backups then you are going to need some beefy networking equipment along with better standards supporting higher throughput.

The idea of having an untethered experience with your iOS device is awesome and I hope it comes one day, but there is a lot of infrastructure work to be had before that reality is going to come to pass. Apple is a forward-thinking, but also very conservative company that will more than likely not be moving to this until the very last moment that they have to, and when they can ensure that it will work well for customers.

Besides, think how fast things will be when we finally get Thunderbolt?

Firefox Moving to Chrome’s Dev Model

Firefox is moving to Chrome’s development model of rolling releases, getting away from the large, cumbersome release schedules that have been the norm for the project for a very long time.

Of course, the first thing they need to do is release Firefox 4, finally, and then ramp up the new production model to try and release new features as they are ready instead of setting milestones and rolling them into large releases.

I welcome the change and hope it will push Firefox ahead as fast as Chrome has been moving.

On Wording for Webpages

I frequent the University Web Developers social network and try to keep up with what is being talked about there. Mainly this has to do with my current work as a webmaster/web developer/web person at Martin Luther College, but it doesn’t take much to take some of the discussions going on there and expanding them to the web as a whole.

One recent discussion has focused around the wording for a particular part of the website that has to do with student housing. The question boils down to this: do you use the name of the department or something that more generically points to the purpose of the area of the site.

The two phrases being tossed about were “Residence Life” or “Housing.” A third term was brought in by someone else, “Dorms” later on, but my thoughts are the same regardless: go with what a person would actually be thinking of when they come to your site. I don’t know of anyone who is going to come to the site and think “I really need to find out more about residence life.” However, I can imagine (because I did this myself) that people would come thinking about “student housing” or “dorm life” and both of those would fall under the simpler terms.

When presented with options on how to word things, try and go with what is the more clear and will speak the clearest to your intended audience. Sometimes trying to be consistent (with department names) can cause more confusion and ultimately lead to more problems than was intended.

Clarity for the user should trump almost everything else.

No Snowblower

I vainly hoped that the snow would hold off for the rest of the winter (or at least the major stuff) after we moved into our home, but sadly that did not happen. We’ve had a fair amount of snow over the past 36 hours and without a snowblower it has been a pain to try and remove it.

A shovel is not the right tool for major snow removal, even with the decent shovel that I am in possession of. No, a snowblower would be a much more effective tool right now but is not going to be purchased at the moment.

Luckily, when you move into a house in a town, you don’t just gain a house, you also gain neighbors. We have probably the best two neighbors a person could ask for and one of them owns a snowblower. He also likes to use it. A lot.

So, a snowblower is on “THE LIST” for next winter so that I can help the neighborhood out when we dig out of these 12+ inches of snowfalls. Right now I am just very thankful for wonderful neighbors who are watching over my family while I am gone to work.