Thursday, August 5, 2010

iPhone Exploit - Dangerous?

In the last week or so a group developed a web page that would jailbreak almost any iPhone just by navigating to that page. This reduced the process of jailbreaking into the realm of absolute simplicity. All that was needed was one swipe to confirm the action and it just happened.

This was made possible by a security hole in the code that processed fonts inside PDFs or Acrobat Reader files. I call this a security hole because it is actually an unintended action by code that is actually there to server quite a valid purpose. This only becomes a security hole if it does something that some person does not want it to do. For instance is an apparently harmless program that installs a virus a security hole or simply a malicious program? When you consider the whole gamut of possibilities on all consumer computer platforms then one man's security hole is another man's utility.

Let us look at this in context. The more a platform is able to do the more it becomes subject to such exploits. The first exploit of this type I became aware of was way back in the 80s and the early days of the Mozilla browser. A URL could append executable code into their web address and when the Mozilla browser loaded this web address this executable code went into an area of memory that caused it to be executed. As far as I know no one ever used this to run malicious code but it was the forerunner of many thousands, if not millions, of such exploits and has resulted in a huge underground industry targeted at MS Windows PCs.

In the early days of the PC when MS-DOS ruled viruses had to be introduced using floppies and then later using USB sticks. At that time they were no more than malicious. Later when dialup was common websites that could hijack your dialup connection and cause your modem to silently dial a premium number started to appear but that was really the extent. Today there are many exploits and many types of malicious activity. The two most common and obnoxious are the key logger and the bot-net. The key logger records everything you type along with the web sites you visit and sends them to a central location. They look for sites that you visit such as banking and gaming so as to collect your passwords and credit card details. The bot net is just as insidious but far more powerful. It allows the owner of the bot-net to control millions of PCs and do things such as attacks on corporate sites. These bot-nets are hired out to criminal organisations to use for their nefarious purposes.

The thing is that these activities are common om PCs for the simple reason that there are so many of them and it is easier to do this on a platform which has the majority market share. It is worth nobodies while to do this for the Mac or Linux or Solaris. There is hardly any point. The games that people play regarding which platform is "more secure" is rather petty and pointless. One million attacks on a PC as opposed to one hundred on a Mac makes the relative security games seem silly.

Now back to the iPhone. Sure there is this ability to run code on the iPhone via this hole but how many people do you know who own an iPhone has actually had a malicious attack? Compare that with the number of people you know how have been affected by a PC virus. As far as I know there has never been a malicious attack on an iPhone despite the security holes that have appeared. The simple reason is that it is worth nobodies while when there is this huge plethora of PCs out there. It has nothing to do with the relative security of the platform.

In fact on many platforms this type of facility is built in so as to make the user's life easier. Personally I would not care if this "exploit" was never fixed. It takes the likelihood of a malicious exploit from next to zero to ... well perhaps almost nothing. Should users be afraid. No. Should users care. No. If you really want to feel safer remember to look both ways before you cross the street.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Android Vs iPhone - will it sell

David Teeghman of Discovery News wrote several articles on why he believes that the Android, Google's phone OS, will defeat the iPhone iOS and why the Apple phone will finally languish.

The last two articles are here;

The problem is that his arguments are full of holes. Lets look at his points.

"...the iPhone is only available through AT&T, where it will languish"
Thus is a typically US centric view. In most countries, as is the case here in Australia, the iPhone is available unlocked and also on most carriers that have 2G/3G networks. Do not blame the sub standard carrier networks in the US for the issues with the iPhone. Neither should he blame the iPhone for the questionable regulatory situation in the US. If you want phones unlocked make sure that your government outlaws anti-competitive practices.

"...Apple's iPhone Operating System only operates on the iPhone"
Good point. And I concede that this is an issue but not as big as he seems to think. It has pushed the iPhone from zero to the biggest smartphone usage in four years. Despite what the punters said at its launch four years ago.

His parallel with the Mac of the 80s is inappropriate. There are many significant differences. The Mac was launched in a different market, was aimed at a difference audience. Was competing against a number of good products and did not provide many unique and groundbreaking features which no other product had. What the iPhone did was re-define the smart phone and every other OS has been trying to catch up since. I am not saying that they will not but Apple has such a lead now the momentum will carry on for a very long time. Apple have to make some serious mistakes to loos the plot now.

"It has always insisted that it develop and sell its own software"
Again he has a good point. However, while people are able to obtain good software for nothing or small outlay and very conveniently then users will not care. What Apple has done is provide a single easy to use portal for all users. Whilst I have serious concerns over Apple's monopoly of iPhone apps it has re-defined the smartphone software market. Despite the issues with this model it has actually worked to Apple's advantage.

"Last time, Microsoft dethroned Apple"
This is a misrepresentation of what happened. There was no throne in the mid 80s. There was no clear leader with many different platforms. There were many runners in the race and it was certainly the openness of the PC that made it the winner. But that was a different market and the OS only rode on the back of the success of the PC. There are many more things that could be said about that time and why it was that MS-DOS/Win won the day but to say that there are any parallels here is to misunderstand both markets.

"And Google will do a better job than Microsoft, which has developed a series of terrible operating systems that are prone to viruses."
All OSes are more or less prone to viruses. The only reason that the PC became the leader was its proliferation. There was no point in trying to load viruses on platforms that only have a small proportion of the market. Why hit thousands of platforms when you could hit millions.

The whole thrust of his final article is cost.

"HP sells five times more computers each year than Apple. It's no wonder, when the HP Pavilion laptop starts at $579 and the Apple MacBook Pro costs at least $1,199."

Not sure about his statistics but if you look at the price/feature comparison then the prices are now pretty close. I think that the issue is that Apple do not want to be in the $579 laptop market. That is a decision they have made and that must suite them. However the market is completely different and this is more or less irrelevant to his point.

"Apple's market share will fall precipitously as more users abandon the iPhone for the more economical Android."

Possibly. I bought the iPhone because it was the first phone that did what I wanted in a handheld device. It has issues and annoyances but compared to whatever else was on the market it was streets ahead.

It is try that the Android has caught up tremendously but the plethora of viable alternatives has not stopped the sales of the iPhone 4.

I think what the author is missing is the true reason that the PC has such a huge market share now. In the late 80s the PC really took off. The reasons for this are more or less unimportant since it is the momentum that this created that ensured its longevity. So long as they maintained a product that was attractive to consumers then they would continue buying them. The iPhone has a momentum that only serious mistakes by Apple can stop. People are still buying them in droves and price does not appear to be such a factor to the consumer as it is to the author.

There is one factor that the author is ignoring and it is an extremely clever marketing strategy for Apple, the app store. Once people buy an iPhone and they start buying apps then they have invested in more than just the phone, they have a good incentive to stay with an iPhone since they have several hundreds of dollars in apps they they will have to abandon if they move to another platform. This reinforces users loyalty to that platform. This means that people who have had an iPhone for a one or two year contract are unlikely to move to another platform. The iPhone is definitely in for the long haul and as good as Android is it will continue to dominate the market.

Maybe the iPhone will decline in the years to come and other smart phones may grow in popularity but the momentum that the iPhone certainly has the market share and will continue for a long time. What I believe that the Android is doing is filling in the gaps for people who would not necessarily buy a smart phone but want to dabble their feet. As well as satisfying the smartphone needs of Apple haters and fence sitters. Now that Apple has shown the mass market that a smartphone can be a smart choice it is now opening the market for all smart phone players and to my mind whether it be Apple, HTC, Samsung or whatever the market has changed irreversibly and the smart phone has now come into its own thanks largely to Apple.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The iPhone jailbreak and the DMCA

A few months ago Apple asked the US copyright office to rule on whether jailbreaking the iPhone violated the copyright legislation. The latest event in the saga is a recommendation by the US Library of Congress on the DMCA. You can see the relevant information in this excellent article by Will from interMobile.

What the DMCA act says, and also the Australian legislation as amended in 2007, is that it is a violation of copyright to break encryption, or to write software that breaks encryption, or to distribute software that breaks encryption that is in place to prevent copyright software from being copied or distributed in violation of the terms of the copyright.

In practice this means that ripping DVDs and Blu Rays by breaking the encryption is a violation of the copyright. Even writing and selling the software is not permitted. The Australian legislation does have several exemptions. My reading of it suggests that non-commercial use is permitted so long as the copyright of the work in question is not violated. In other words it is OK to rip CDs, DVDs and BluRays for personal use or if the work itself is out of copyright or in the public domain, or the work permits copying, or for "fair use".

However jailbreaking an iPhone does not in and off itself result in the ability to copy protected software to other devices. A further step is required of actually breaking the encryption on the app itself. For this reason jailbreaking does not violate the DMCA according to the Library of Congress. To establish this as law it needs to be tested in court but this is unlikely since this recomendation from the Library of Congress makes it unlikely that such a case would succeed. I think it is clear that Apple has accepted this as an umpires ruling. This will not stop Apple from trying to prevent jailbreaking though.

As far as Australian law goes we can safely assume that jailbreaking is not a violation of the Australian copyright legislation. In my opinion neither does it affect hardware warranty. We have very clear rights in law against hardware defects and despite what any one says nothing that Apple says either in their conditions or in public statements can negate our statutory rights. In any case you can easily do a restore before taking the phone back for repair/replacement.

Hopefully this will put an end to the ill-informed statements made by some people regarding the legality or otherwise of jailbreaking.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

iPhone Slip Case/Backup Battery

Last week I went looking for a slip case type backup battery to recharge my iPhone in the absence of power. In those rare instances when I have been overusing my iPhone and I am out of the car or away from home or desk. I have one of these devices that plug into the bottom and it has been very useful on several occasions and for about $20 from eBay is excellent value for money. The problem is however that they are awkward to use and do not fit into most iPhone specific USB docks. It does fit in my radio/dock and it can be charged with the USB iPhone cable.

I did a search on Ebay and found one on sale from accdigital for less than $20 including shipping. It took less than a week to arrive from China and for $20 I thought that it was worth taking the risk. If it was rubbish then I was only $20 down compared to the brand name products which were around the $70-80 mark plus shipping.

It claims to be 1800mAH which is a little more than the internal battery. This just more than doubles the battery capacity of the phone.

The item arrived in the post about a week after I bought it from eBay in a bubble wrap pack for protection. In the package was the battery pack, a USB cable and instruction written in your typical Chinese broken English. The instructions were however perfectly intelligible, with some re-reading.

I put the pack on charge by plugging the supplied USB cable into the USB power adaptor that comes with the iPhone. I left it for about an hour or two to make sure that it had a full charge. It claims to charge in 30 minutes but I have not had a chance to put this (or its claimed capacity) to the test.

The iPhone slides nicely into place and once the small switch on the bottom is turned on it begins to re-charge the phone. The battery and phone can be charged with the supplied USB cable and it will even sync with iTunes with the USB cable attached without having to remove the battery pack. The pack only weighs 66.5 grams and although it does add to the phone's weight of 137 grams (203.5 grams) does not fee unwieldy in the hand due to the pack's shape.

You could leave the pack connected permanently and use the USB cable to charge and sync or you could charge it separately and use it in emergency situations only. Either way it is a great addition to anybodies accessory pack and great value for money.

Pros: Light weight, feels good in the hand, can sync and charge using the supplied cable, cheap.

Cons: Cannot use a cradle to sync/charge while the battery is in place.


Despite the one drawback I can happily give this five stars. The price more than outweighs the inconvenience of having to remove the phone when docking. The ability to sync and charge both the phone and battery with the USB cable is an excellent feature.

I had an opportunity to test the capacity of the pack. I was at 10% charge and attached the pack to the phone. I continued using the phone continuously and within an hour the pack was completely flat and the phone was charged up to about 80%. This probably roughly equates to one full charge which is about right. The pack felt quite comfortable all the time I was using the phone with it connected. This confirms my initial score.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

iPhone 4 Antennagate or...

How to elevate a non-issue into a media scrum.

Apple's press conference and the media response is yet another demonstration of how easy it is to manipulate the media and how hard it is to get a reasoned and objective response when the media are only interested in hyperbole and sensation.

You can see a summary of the Apple press conference here and the video here.

To summarise their thesis is that all phones suffer from differing sensitivities when holding the phone in different ways and the iPhone 4 is no different. However in real world situations the iPhone has excellent performance and many are reporting better performance in low signal conditions that the previous models of iPhone. This is certainly born out by the reviewers who are mostly saying the the iPhone 3GS has more dropped calls than the iPhone 4. Indeed some are saying that the iPhone 4 is a far better performer, take for instance this Australian blogger who cannot replicate the "death grip" no matter how hard he tries.

Steve backs this up by quoting return rates on the iPhone 4 which are lower than for the iPhone 3GS at the same point. If there was indeed such a big issue surely users would be returning their phone in droves. This is not happening and indeed the reports from users such as the one above is that there is no issue. In one case the user returned his phone and the replacement fixed his problem (cannot remember where I read this but it was from a tech blogger). From AT&T data in the US the number of calls for antenna issues is 5.5 per thousand or about half of one percent. This is pretty low considering the publicity that has surrounded the issue. The actual return rate is one third of that for the iPhone 3GS. This hardly rates as a significant issue if people who are using the phone do not think it is an issue.

What about the media response. Well this article from the ABC shows how poor the state of real investigative journalism is in the world today. The headline alone shows that the author did not even bother to read the transcript or watch the video. The two sources she quotes are Gizmodo who has a vested interest and a lawyer who is binging a class action against Apple and AT&T. Gizmodo was prominent for obtaining a prototype of the iPhone 4 and tearing it down. They have since been precluded from Apple events and there is little love lost between the two. In fact Gizmodo has been leading the charge against Apple. Neither of the two sources for the ABC article could be considered to be objective observers. It seems to be that the ABC simply regurgitated the anti Apple slant from these sources and did not bother to verify their claims. Lazy journalism at its worst.

If you want to know the real story then listen to people who are using it on AT&T's rather dodgy US network not the ivory towered journalists or parties with a vested interest.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Net Portal - A Nifty Network File Explorer

I was thinking just the other day that one of the missing features of the iPhone was a proper file explorer as you find on all other computer operating systems. Even on my old PPC (Windows Mobile) there was a file explorer.

I then discovered Net Portal. This provides access to a local directory (not a real file browser but considering the Jobsian restrictions we are subject to not bad) and to network shares. It does provide access via a VPN but this has to be configured and requires some network skills to configure this. I have not tested the app using a VPN. There are two versions of this app., Net Portal Lite which is free and is restricted to viewing PDF and image files and Net Portal which is unrestricted. The full version is AU$3.99.

Using Windows and Samba shares is pretty easy and is a straight forward configuration. You need to have shared directories from your Windows machine or using Samba from your Unix/Linux/Mac host. You can then add a new machine to the Machines page by using the host name or IP address. Once you have set up the host details you then select the host and the list of shares appears. You can then navigate to the file you want to open and if it a supported file type it just opens in the appropriate format. I was playing some music from my Samba share and it worked flawlessly.

Net Portal is one of those utilities that ads basic functions that you would have thought would be included in the basic OS. Indeed, I am a little surprised that this type of utility is allowed considering the stranglehold over the iOS that Apple exerts. I half expect that Apple either remove the app or get the dev to remove some of the features. However, this is a nice little utility that does one thing and does it very well indeed.

Monday, May 17, 2010

VOIP or Another Way To Make Phone Calls

This term VOIP has been bandied around for a while now and for those who are not tech savvy it can be pretty confusing. Even those of us who are technically inclined can be bamboozled from time to time. In this post I will attempt to cut through the tech and try to explain what it is and how it can save you a lot of money.

What has this to do with the iPhone? Up until recently Apple has placed severe restrictions on the use of VOIP applications on the iPhone but they have now dropped them and it now makes it far more attractive to use VOIP and thus potentially save you a bunch of money.

VOIP who?

VOIP is an acronym meaning Voice Over IP, or Voice Over the Internet. Many people have heard of Skype and the associated product Skype Out. This has been around for many years and has become quite popular and although it does use a voice over the Internet type system it is not exactly the same. With VOIP you can use a regular phone you buy from K Mart, plug it in to a dedicated box (ATA) and use it much like a normal home phone. Skype uses its own system of sending the voice information but VOIP uses a standard system called SIP that is supported by most network equipment manufacturers.

Many companies now use VOIP on their phones and if you work for a large company chances are you use one at work. Corporations and organisations such as Telstra, IBM, HP, and the CSIRO now either completely use VOIP or are starting to introduce VOIP for their telephone service.

How Does It Work?

Lets look at your average company. Put It In Here Inc (PIIHI) has offices in Adelaide Melbourne New York and London. They use your regular PABX (local office exchange) in each location. The PABX has a yearly maintenance contract and has quite a high cost to the company. Every time the company makes an interoffice call it incurs the regular STD, ISDN charges and outside calls incur normal phone charges.

PIIHI also has computer networks in each office and Cisco provide the network equipment and maintain their network. PIIHI decide to go with a VOIP service. They have to upgrade all of their network equipment to cater for the VOIP service (but it was due for an upgrade anyway). They also have to buy new phones at a cost of about $800 each but this is a fraction of their total Comms budget. But now everyone in the office has a smart desk phone with headset and a computer based phone management system to manage favourites, voice mail and re directions. All of the employees can now redirect their desk phone to any other phone in the company or even to their laptop so that they have full access to their phone service on a headset on their computer. If the employee wants to change desks they simply plug their phone and computer into the network point at the new desk. In fact regular telecommuters can simply plonk themselves down at any desk and have computer and phone available. That is not the best part. Because all offices are on the Internet inter-office calls are now free and outside calls cost a fraction of what they used to cost. All calls to Adelaide, Melbourne, London and New York (where most of PIIHI's customers are) are now free from all PIIH offices. Thus the total Comms bill for PIIHI is now close to zero.

The VOIP service that you an I would use for our personal use does not have all of the fancy features that the PIIH inc service has but it is much more like your home phone but cheaper and more versatile.

OK, I'm Confused. Get to the point...

Fair enough. This has nothing to do with your humble iPhone, or does it. Bear with me.

So VOIP calls are made via the Internet and cost next to nothing, especially if the person at the other end is on the same system as you. How do I set it up?

There are a number of providers who can provide your average punter such as you or me with their own VOIP service, two of which are Pennytel and MyNetFone. There are a number of ways of using this service but I will stick to the three that we are likely to use.

Firstly you can use what is termed and ATA device. Both Pennytel and MyNetFone can supply and ATA device preconfigured. At its simplest the ATA device has a power socket, a network socket and a phone socket. All you need to do is plug it into your home network, plug in an ordinary phone and it just works. You can start making calls immediately. The ATA device costs from about $20 to $100. Pretty simple. Once it is plugged in your new phone works exactly as if it was your regular home phone.

You can also use VOIP it on the computer using some software and a headset. It is similar to Skype here. Again you just make your phone call as if you were using your home phone.

Finally you can get iPhone apps that work exactly as if you were using your iPhone to make a phone call, except you are not using your phone's sim to make a cellular call, you are using your data connection (3G or WiFi) to send the VOIP information.

How Much is The Going to Cost Then?

If you want to only use it at home using your ATA device then it will cost you the ATA device, phone if you do not have a spare and the cost of the calls. Different providers have differing charging structures but they are typically around 10c per call untimed inside Australia and 10c per minute to major international centres.

If you use it on your computer there is no extra charge. The computer software is typically free (but there may be a one off license fee for some parts of the software).

There and a number of iPhone apps varying from free to over $10 and Pennytel does have a free dedicated app but it only works if you are using WiFi. Pennytel are planning an update that will allow it to be used over the cellular network but that is not yet released.

My two favourite providers Pennytel and MyNetFone have differing price structures but the most basic plan is free and costs inside Australia to fixed lines are 8c and 10c untimed. If you want people to be able to ring you on your VOIP service then you need a DID (Direct In Dial) number. This usually costs about $5 per month but this depends on the plans and specials that they may offer from time to time. This is not necessary for Pennytel to Pennytel, or MyNetFone to MyNetFone calls. As a for instance, one of my friends save roughly $2o odd on his wife's first call to the UK. Instead of paying over $20 the call cost about $2.50 using VOIP.

Go to the links above for more details on the plans but most people can start with the untimed plan and see how they go. After all the basic plans do not have any monthly fees.

My ISP Does VOIP. And what about Naked.

Most ISPs now provide a VOIP service but you should compare the price of your ISP with other VOIP providers. They usually incur a monthly fee, they are more expensive and do not have flexible plans. Also having multiple providers which do not incur a monthly fee is handy. It enables you to use the provider that provides the cheapest rate for each type of number. It is also handy to have a backup provider in case one of them is having technical difficulties which does happen from time to time.

A number of ISPs are offering a naked broadband service, some with included VOIP. This means that you can cancel your home phone and just use the VOIP service as your primary phone with your mobile as a backup. This can save money but do your sums first. What can appear to be a good deal may not turn out quite as good once you add it all up. But going naked is certainly an option, particularly if you can use voip on the iPhone using one service and you have an ATA device with a DID number from another service on your home network. In a last resort people can still contact you via your mobile phone.

What about the iPhone Apps?

You have done your sums, chosen a provider(s) and you are ready to get it onto the iPhone. What options do I have and how do I do it?

One thing I need to highlight is that you can only use one voip service from one location at a time. This is important to understand. For instance, if you have your ATA device at home and you connect to your VOIP service from your iPhone then the ATA device drops its VOIP connection. In fact I believe (but am not sure) that you cannot connect to the same VOIP provider with two differing user IDs over the same broadband connection. In other words, if two people in the same house have two different VOIP accounts with Pennytel they cannot both use it through the same ADSL connection. However you can use the cellular network if this happens.

The following are some of the many VOIP apps that are available and their strengths and weaknesses. These are not recomendations just a very brief overview and you really need to do further research before spending money on any of the paid apps, especially the more expensive ones.


This can only be used with the Pennytel service. It works fine and all that is required is that you put in your UID and password. You will find this in the confirmation email they sent you. Connect to WiFi, open the app, type in the number or choose from your contacts and dial to your hearts content. Pennytel are working on an update for VOIP over 3G.

Pros: Free. Easy to configure. Dedicated to Pennytel. Can receive calls. Very secure.

Cons: Does not work without WiFi, does not have push, does not support other providers.


This is more of a social networking app with IM integration including VOIP. The VOIP part is fairly basic but it is pretty easy to configure. However it requires a Fring account to use and some may see this as a security issue.

Pros: Free, easy to configure, works over WiFi.

Cons: Only supports one account. Not configurable for improved quality. Requires a Fring account which posses a possible security risk.


This is the free version of iSip which is probably the most feature rich VOIP app. See iSip below.

Pros: Cheap $1.19. Configurable for a wide range of options. Preconfigurd for many popular VOIP providers for easy setup.

Cons: See the full version for additional features.


This is the full version of iSipSimple and is one of the more expensive clients but has everything one could possible want. It supports multiple accounts, inbound calls, push notifications of inbound calls, contacts integration, recents, favourites, and can be used over the cellular network.

The push service does not work for some providers and although many people claim that push works fine I am one of the many who have not been able to get push working. I have the latest version and I can receive and answer calls using push but we cannot hear each other when the phone answers. I have also found the inbound calls are somewhat unreliable.

Pros: Works over 3G. Supports Push. Simple configuration for many VOIP providers. Multiple acounts.

Cons: Push does not always work. I have found it somewhat buggy. Expensive $7.99.

V Phone

This is almost as versatile and has many of the features as iSip but without push. I have the 4.0 Beta OS installed and cannot get V Phone woking so I cannot comment on its features but for the price it seems quite good unless you want push notifications.

Pros: Works over 3G. Two accounts. Contacts integration. Simple setup with many pre-configured providers.

Cons: Does not support push.


This is a generic social networking app that also allows voip calls. By default it uses the Nimbuzz voip service but you can configure it to ues your own voip account.

Its features are somewhat limited and has no call history or favourites but for a free simple client that includes integration with other social networking sites is perfectly fine.

Pros Simple, can include other social networking services in the same client, free.

Cons, no push, no favourites or recents.


This is a fully functional client that supports multiple connections, push, favourites, avatars and an in app purchase of G.729 codec. The G.729 codec is licensed so requires an additional purchase for most clients that support it.

It is said to be extremely easy to set up but I cannot confirm this since I have not used it. However from the list of features I cannot see anything missing. However at AU$9.99 it is at the more expensive end of voip clients.

Pros: Push, multiple accounts, favourites and recents, many features, in app purchase of G.729

Cons: The Expsnsive that I have reviewed.


I hope this gives you a better understanding of VOIP ans provides you with the confidence to get your voip account and start saving money on phone calls. For a small number of people VOIP will not really save much money but for most of us we can save a large proportion of our monthly bill with voip.

Go to one of the voip providers, sign up for a free and PAYG account, get one of the free clients from above, set it up and try it out.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The 10 most annoying things about the App Store

After trawling through apps in the "New Free" and "Price Drop" categories in the app store I have come to loath the habits of some people who submit apps to the app store. It is hard enough to find what you want but to have it littered with dross is sometimes too much to bear. This is my list of the ten most hated habits of app developers.

  1. Description in the title. This is where the entire title is the description of the app. Let me see if I can provide a hypothetical example, "An app to do something or other over either Wi Fi or 3G but better than any other example - or not *** but especially my competition *** and just to make sure tells you stuff as well" Put it in the description guys.
  2. Descriptions that start off with a page of customer reviews. In a word Who Cares! Get over yourself. I want to know what the thing does not what some buddy of yours was paid to say. If I want to read the reviews I will read them myself. For goodness sake - how hard is it to read the reviews myself. I am not an idiot.
  3. Also, while we are on the subject of descriptions, who cares about what you think of your app. A description is for descriptions, not your inflated opinion of your programming ability. Two paragraphs of how wonderful your app is without actually telling me what it does is a sure fire way of getting me to skip over it and onto the next app. Life is too short to waste my time reading your self adulation.
  4. On the other hand descriptions that tell me nothing about the app. Typically these contain one or two sentences that have no bearing on what the thing actually does. How hard is it to tell us what your app actually does.
  5. Now this next one is really really annoying. Paid apps that change price every one or two days just so that they will make it into the price drop lists. There are a few apps whose price changes like clockwork every day and they are constantly cluttering the price drop list to generate sales. These apps are useless pieces of rubbish and I would not give them the time of day except for the fact that they are irritatingly noisy.
  6. Apps that do not tell me what distinguishes the "Lite" version (free) from the paid (pro or full) version. A very nice app appeared a few days ago in both a paid and free version and I spent quite some time reading both the paid and free descriptions only to find that the descriptions were identical. I then got the free version to try and discovered that the free version lacked some features which were listed in the descriptions of both versions. This is not an isolated example. Detirmining the difference between the free and paid versions is often pure guesswork. Compared to the time put into developing and listing the app it takes hardly any time to get the description right. Please, please clearly indicate what you will be getting extra in the paid app up front so that I know what I am getting and why I would want the paid version.
  7. Automated app generators. This is a fairly new service. You go to the web site, you put in the URL of what you want to be converted to an app, you pay your money and you get the iPhone app. This is nothing more than HTML-App converter. Many of the submitted apps are not even customised further, just submitted as is with bugs and dodgy descriptions. They are really non-apps. Nothing more than you would get by going to their web site. The app store is being bombarded with these dodgy non-apps, up to hundreds per day. This practice has now been banned by Apple but there may still be some apps generated by this method.
  8. Useless screen shots. A single screen shot of a title page is hardly a good selling point for an app. The good news is that I have never really seen a single useless screen shot app that I consider worth buying. It tells me that the developer has so little confidence in their app that they do not want you to see what it actually does.
  9. Keywords missing or wrong. Apple provides keyword searches for app for good reason. If you don't put in the keywords how on earth are people going to find them. I have searched for apps in vain due to the developer not putting in keywords so that they can be found amongst the million plus app in the app store.
  10. Multiple apps in lieu of configuration. Multiple languages, different regions, how many times do you want to submit the same app with just a slight difference? Please get some idea of how to develop an application. If it is one app make it one app. Identical sports apps for each team, the same navigation app for different cities. Do not clutter the store with this rubbish. You have in app purchase, use them. It is not that hard. And for free apps there is absolutely no excuse.
For all that is to love about the app store it lends itself to a level of abuse not seen previously. Of all of the apps in the App Store maybe 90% could be removed immediately without anybody shedding a tear. And of the remainder maybe 10% are worth considering. Apple may think that quantity is a wonderful thing but much has been sacrificed for quality.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Why the iPhone is a virus platform waiting to happen

The constant mantra of Mac users that they don't get viruses is nauseating to say the least. Everybody knows that the reason they do not get viruses is not for some technical reason that they are invulnerable but simply because it is not worth the virus makers time. There are far more PCs and why target 10% of the market when you have 90% at your service. In fact in the heyday of the virus developers the share was more like 5% to 95%.

The situation is now reversed with the release of the iPhone. They have a lion's share of the market and not only are these devices popular but they are on all day every day and have 24 hour network access regardless. It is a wonderful resource just waiting to be tapped.

The release of a couple of exploits for jail broken phones was just a toe in the water. "But", I hear you say, "Isn't the iPhone supposed to be fully protected against this type of thing?" "This is what was promised us as being the benefit of having all code personally encrypted by Apple." You would have though so but such is not the case. Do you remember my rant against DRM (Digital Rights Management) and Protected Computing? Well, here is the deal. Whatever schemes people dream of to protect data and systems there are about a million people dedicated to circumventing it. Let me give you an inventory.

Games for the PC, C 64, Atari etc in the 1980s - they were all cracked.

DVD copy protection, cracked.

BluRay copy protection - cracked.

GPRS (digital mobile phone) encryption - cracked.

iPhone app encryption - cracked.

Now some guy has managed to create code that will run on any phone and make the phone think that that code came from Apple. Combine this with the recent issue of people inadvertently selecting an in-app add and the fact that every phone comes from the factory with a standard root password the iPhone is the hackers oyster. It is only a matter of time before exploits are as common for the iPhone as they are for the MS Windows PC.

The con that protected computing is there to protect the consumer is merely a ruse to control the user.