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Upon seeing the new Retina Display MacBook Pro for the first time my immediate thought was that the display looked even better than those of the iPhone and iPad. Given that the iOS devices have higher DPI screens though, i sort of dismissed this thought as an impossibility. However, in his latest post – which is all about pixels – John Gruber offers an answer as to why the MacBook Pro screen looks better

One conclusion I’ve made in the weeks I’ve been using this machine: sub-pixel anti-aliasing matters. iOS doesn’t offer sub-pixel anti-aliasing; Mac OS X does. And I believe it’s one reason on-screen text looks even better on the retina MacBook Pro than it does on the ostensibly higher-resolution iPad and iPhone.

So the Mac makes up for a lower DPI display by employing some neat tricks. Well, I can confirm that they most definitely work – the new MacBook display is stunning.

Fullscreen Firefox in Mountain Lion.

I started using OS X Mountain Lion in earnest yesterday (so you can expect a post detailing my thoughts on this new version of the OS sometime in the next few weeks/months/years) and almost immediately ran into a big annoyance with Mozilla Firefox.

In Mountain Lion, Firefox treats fullscreen mode like, well, like fullscreen mode on the PC. That is to say, it thinks you want to run a kiosk and auto-hides all the chrome. That’s fine, except that when you do move the pointer to the top of the screen to get to the address bar or search bar or any other toolbar, the OS X menu bar for Firefox and Firefox’s own toolbars appear simultaneously. And they overlap. And it’s all rather frustratingly useless. Naturally, i assumed that i’d be able to alter Firefox’s behaviour in Preferences but apparently not. You have to use the config editor.

To access the config editor you need to type about:config into the address bar and hit enter.

Now click the twee I’ll be careful, I promise! button and you’re in.

You want to locate the browser.fullscreen.autohide preference in the huge list (the search box should help with this).

Change the value of browser.fullscreen.autohide to false.

And that’s it. Now you should have Firefox working more like Safari and Google Chrome do – ie. how you’d expect.

PS. I haven’t yet worked out how to force the bookmarks toolbar to stay visible in fullscreen Firefox. My bookmarks are there when Firefox is windowed but the moment you make it Fullscreen the bar vanishes. If anyone has spotted the relevant preference in the config editor, please do shout up.

iPhone 4 ownership two years on.

24th June marked the 2nd anniversary of the iPhone 4’s release. That means it’s roughly 24 months since i wrote this, 23 months since i wrote this and 12 months since i wrote this. Another year down the line and there’s not much to add to those pieces, but for the sake of completeness i thought i’d do a follow-up to mark the end of my (and plenty of other people’s) 2-year contract.

Let’s start with the gripes I have with the iPhone 4 hardware. Basically, there are two long-standing complaints and they relate to battery life and the Home button.

I’ve always moaned that the battery life isn’t very good (i’d like an hour or two more from it really) – and that remains the case today – but what has struck me, looking back at those old “reviews”, is how well the phone has kept the battery life it originally had. I still regularly get 6-7 hours of reported usage. I’ve never had a mobile phone maintain near-new battery levels after one year of use, never mind two. I think that says a lot about the quality of components that Apple use.

As for the Home button, well, that’s as temperamental as it has been since about the 10 month mark. For the last few months it has been behaving itself (mostly) but there was a period before that where i came very close to throwing the phone at the floor out of frustration. We’re talking 20+ presses of the button before it’d respond. Not good. Not good at all. (I was also sorely disappointed that the Apple Store refused to fix or replace the iPhone because of this issue.) But then, as before, compare that with past experiences – after a year with a mobile i’ve normally worn out every physical button or key on the device. In fact, my last SonyEricsson did get thrown at the floor after its menu key refused to work for the umpteenth time that hour.

Naturally I have other minor grumbles about the phone (too slippy in the hand without a case on, a little awkward to take landscape-oriented photos, etc) but i don’t think any of those have really changed since my earlier posts on this subject. Any new grievances i’ve had in the last year have been introduced by iOS updates and/or are down to iCloud teething troubles (I’m looking at you here, iMessage).

So do these negatives put me off upgrading to a new iPhone now my contract has run its course? Nope, not at all. I consider my iPhone 4 worth every single penny it has cost me, and then some. The pros far, far outweigh the cons. As i think i’ve stated before, I’d be lost without my phone. That said, tempting as it may be to renew my commitment to Vodafone and get a shiny new iPhone 4S in return, I don’t think i’ll bother right now. Sure the 4S offers a variety of improvements, but – Siri aside – it can do nothing my 4 can’t1. Had there been an iPhone 5 (or 6, or whatever) just released then i’d almost certainly be off buying one instead of writing this. But there isn’t. Instead I’ll wait. The iPhone 4, even at 2 years old, is still a great device and I’m more than happy to stick with mine2 until October comes and we get to see what advances Apple offers up. Who knows, maybe you’ll be suffering a “three years on” blog post this time next year.

  1. No, OK Clever Clogs, this won’t be the case once iOS 6 is released. I’ll miss out on FaceTime over 3G connections and the fancier new features of the updated Maps app. 

  2. On a reduced tariff, naturally. 

Mountain Lion, iOS 6 and new MacBooks.

Two days ago, at their WWDC Keynote event, Apple unveiled the next version of the iPhone/iPad operating system (iOS 6), told us a bit more about the next version of the Macintosh operating system (Mac OS X 10.8 – Mountain Lion) and announced some MacBook updates, including the “next generation” MacBook Pro. I won’t write too much about all this news – in fact, i’m going to skip over those notebook upgrades altogether, other than to say “Mmmmmmm… Retina MacBook Pro” – and just quickly comment on the new features of OS X and iOS that Apple highlighted during the Keynote. (If this format feels familiar, that’ll be because i did exactly the same after last year’s WWDC announcements.)

OS X Mountain Lion

The next version of the Mac operating system, seemingly now only referred to by Apple as “OS X Mountain Lion” (you’ll find zero instances of “Mac OS X 10.8” anywhere), will reportedly introduce “more than 200 innovative features”. Best of luck working out what those are. Here are my views on the 10 that Apple deem important enough to tell us about:

1. iCloud

iCloud is how a Mac, iPad, iPhone and iPod touch work together. It keeps your mail, calendars, contacts, reminders, documents, notes and more up to date wherever you use them. So when you add, delete or change something on your Mac, it also happens on your iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. And vice versa. You don’t have to do anything at all — iCloud is automatic and effortless.

Yeah, we already have iCloud in Lion but Apple are reselling us it based on the fact they’re expanding the number of apps that can store and sync your data in the cloud. An improvement, albeit a quite dull one.

2. Reminders and Notes

Reminders: Organise your life on your Mac. It’s all in a list. More than one, in fact. Make as many lists as you need and easily add to them. Set deadlines and you’ll get alerts as they approach. Set a location from your Mac, and your iPhone or iPad will remind you when you get there. Tick items off your lists as you go and keep track of what you’ve completed.

Notes: Designed for whatever’s on your mind, wherever you happen to be. Think it up. Jot it down. Make it even more noteworthy with photos, images and attachments. You can add, delete and flip through your notes, or do a quick search. Use the Share button to send your notes with Mail or Messages. Pin important notes to your desktop so they’re easy to get to.

In Mountain Lion, Reminders gets separated from Calendar and Notes removed from within Mail, both becoming apps in their own right. And they sync with the versions on your iPhone thanks to iCloud. It’s nowhere near revolutionary and it’s not very exciting but i think this may actually be the update that sells 10.8 to me. I am left wondering about 1 thing though… does this mean Stickies is a goner? (If anyone has access to the Dev release of 10.8 i’d love to know. Thanks!)

3. Messages

Messages with iMessage takes your conversations even further. Because now you can send messages to anyone on an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch running iOS 5 too. Messages appear on your Mac and any device you use, which means you can say hi from your Mac and keep chatting on your iPhone or iPad, no matter where you are.

iChat gets iMessage compatibility and changes its name to match the iOS counterpart. I was very happy to learn of this feature when Mountain Lion was first announced but after playing with the beta in Lion i’ve been sorely disappointed. It has been very flakey. iMessages being sent but reporting they’re not, and not being sent but saying they have. Then the app can take days to properly sync conversations that’ve taken place on the iPhone. It’s been a very poor show. I hope it is sorted for Mountain Lion but won’t hold my breath.

4. Notification Center

Something new is always popping up somewhere on your Mac — an email, a message, a software update, a calendar alert. Notification Center makes it easy to stay on top of it all. Notifications always appear in the same spot on your desktop and disappear quickly so they don’t clutter up your screen. Whenever you want to see all your notifications in one place, just swipe to the left from the right edge of the trackpad.

Another iOS feature comes to the Mac. Could be handy but i’ll reserve judgement. I’m not sure it’s as beneficial on the Mac as it is on the iPhone.

5. Power Nap

When your Mac goes to sleep, it still gets things done with Power Nap. It periodically updates Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Reminders, Notes, Photo Stream, Find My Mac and Documents in the Cloud. When your Mac is connected to a power source, it downloads software updates and makes backups with Time Machine.

Handy update. So long as it doesn’t drain the battery too much.

6. Dictation

Now you can talk anywhere you can type. Dictation converts your words into text. It uses the built-in microphone on your Mac, so there’s no need to set anything up — just start speaking instead of typing. When you say “comma” or “exclamation mark”, Dictation punctuates for you. The more you use Dictation, the smarter it gets. It learns voice characteristics.

You’ve (sort of) been able to do this in OS X for years but this change just makes it all far, far simpler. Presumably the voice-learning aspect of this utilises part(s) of the Siri technology.

7. Sharing

You’ll find the Share button throughout OS X Mountain Lion. It’s the new, easy way to share straight from the app you’re using. Share photos, videos and other files with Mail, Messages and AirDrop. Send links from Safari. And with a few clicks, post straight to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr or Vimeo when the moment strikes.


8. Facebook / Twitter integration

Facebook: With built-in Facebook support, you can share what you’re up to straight from the app you’re in. Post photos or links. Add comments and locations. Just sign in once, and you’re all set up. OS X adds your Facebook friends and their profile photos to Contacts so you can find them fast. When friends update their information on Facebook, it’s automatically updated on your Mac.

Twitter: Tweet links and photos directly from Safari, iPhoto or Photo Booth with the new Tweet sheet. Add comments and locations. And when someone mentions you in a tweet or sends you a direct message, you’ll get a notification right there and then. You can tweet from Notification Center too.

Call me old fashioned, but i really don’t like this. I might occasionally want to share a photo with Facebook but i definitely don’t want my address book filled with the details of all my Facebook “friends”. And i’d rather keep twitter inside an app too please. Maybe i’m in a minority though.

9. AirPlay

AirPlay Mirroring is made for an audience. Because with a click, what’s on your Mac is also on your HDTV. It’s easy to set up with Apple TV. Show web pages and videos to friends on the sofa, share lessons with a classroom or present to a conference room. AirPlay audio streams the music, podcasts and other audio on your Mac to AirPlay-enabled speakers.

I don’t have an Apple TV as i’ve been holding out to see if it would get its own App Store, without which it was a bit useless to me. Putting AirPlay in OS X changes that thinking. There’s a good chance an Apple TV will soon be on my shopping list.

10. Game Center

With the Game Center app on your Mac, you can play anyone on a Mac, iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. Just use your Game Center account from iOS or create one with your Apple ID. Then sign in, and you’re in. See all the games you’ve played and get one going quickly. Check out leaderboards and see how your high score ranks against scores around the world. Game Center recommends Mac games and opponents, so you can start a multiplayer game with your friends and even challenge people you don’t know.

Soon something i very rarely use on iOS will be something i very rarely use on OS X. Hurrah!

Mountain Lion will be available to download through the Mac App Store at some point in July for the princely sum of £13.99. That’s the sort of pricing that guarantees a high uptake rate.

iOS 6

As was the case with last year’s iOS 5 update, Apple boasts that iOS 6, “the next version the world’s most advanced mobile operating system”, will add some 200 new features. Here’s what i think of the 10 changes that Apple are pushing:

1. Maps

Beautifully designed from the ground up (and the sky down), Maps will change the way you see the world. Map elements are vector based, so graphics and text are incredibly detailed — even when you zoom all the way in — and panning is smooth. Tilt and rotate to view an area, and Maps keeps the names of streets and places where they belong. Get visual and spoken turn-by-turn navigation and real-time traffic updates. Even soar over cityscapes to see the sights from the air in amazing, high-resolution quality.

There’s no doubt that this is a big deal for Apple. They’ve kicked Google out of the Maps app and are seemingly very proud of the alternative they’ve created. The addition of turn-by-turn navigation is very welcome and the 3D “Flyover” view (alternative to Google Streetview) looks rather impressive. But i am a little concerned that the (2D) maps aren’t as detailed as they should be, and that Flyover, while impressive, won’t actually be of much use out in the real world. I’m also disappointed to discover that the turn-by-turn sat nav and Flyover features won’t work on any iPhone older than the 4S. The cynic in me wonders if it’s a case of the older chips not being powerful enough, or Apple just trying to get those of us with phone contracts ending soon to consider upgrading.

2. Siri

With iOS 6, Siri understands more languages, works in more countries, and is available on the new iPad. So you can get more things done in more places around the world. Want to know the latest scores and stats for your favorite teams and players? Thanks to iOS 6, Siri knows the answers. Or maybe it’s movie night. Siri can show you the latest reviews and showtimes. Find the best restaurants in town and make reservations. Even open your apps for you — no tapping required.

I’m not sure there’s any real news here, except for the fact Siri is coming to the iPad. The rest isn’t very interesting. When Siri appeared with the iPhone 4S last year, it was labelled as a beta. There’s no indication from Apple whether that’s still the case or not. Presumably if things go wrong, it is a beta and if they don’t then why remind people of that label.

3. Facebook integration

Now it’s easier than ever to interact with the world’s largest social network. And there’s no need to leave your app to do it. Share a photo to Facebook right from Camera or Photos. Post your location right from Maps. Brag about a high score right from Game Center. If you have your hands full, just ask Siri to post for you. You need to sign in to Facebook only once, and you’ll be off and sharing. Never miss another birthday or get-together, since Facebook events are integrated into Calendar. And your Facebook friends’ profile information is integrated into Contacts, so when they update an email address or phone number you automatically stay up to date.

I’ll say it again: I don’t want data from Facebook messing up my address book and calendars. No. Fucking. Way. When Twitter was integrated into iOS last year i dodged it by deleting the official twitter app altogether (i use TweetBot anyway). I hope in iOS 6 there’s some way I can continue to use the official Facebook app without allowing system integration, otherwise it’s getting deleted.

4. Shared Photo Streams

Now you can share just the photos you want, with just the people you choose. Simply select photos from the Photos app, tap the Share button, choose who you want to share your photos with, and they’re on their way. Friends using iCloud on an iOS 6 device or a Mac running Mountain Lion get the photos delivered immediately in the Photos app or iPhoto. You can even view shared photo streams on Apple TV. If the folks you’re sharing with aren’t using an Apple device, they can view your photos on the web. People can like individual photos and make comments.

Yes. Yes. Yes, yes, yes. YES. This is quite possibly my favourite new feature. Especially the fact that it just shares the photos on the web if your friend doesn’t have a Mac or iPhone. In fact, if this “liking” and comment stuff is Apple-built and non-Apple users can use it, then maybe i don’t have to worry about deleting Facebook after all.

5. Passbook

Your boarding passes, movie tickets, retail coupons, loyalty cards, and more are now all in one place. With Passbook, you can scan your iPhone or iPod touch to check in for a flight, get into a movie, and redeem a coupon. You can also see when your coupons expire, where your concert seats are, and the balance left on that all-important coffee bar card. Wake your iPhone or iPod touch, and passes appear on your Lock screen at the appropriate time and place — like when you reach the airport or walk into the store to redeem your gift card or coupon.

This is potentially a very interesting new app for iOS. Potentially. On the face of it, it’s not something i’ll have much use for. But right now it feels like Apple is only telling us half the story here, and that perhaps the rest will be revealed at the same time as the next iPhone. (Sadly, if i am getting myself all frothed up over nothing then this will just be another Apple button on the Home Screen that i wish i could delete.)

6. FaceTime

FaceTime now works over cellular networks as well as Wi-Fi, so you can make and receive FaceTime calls wherever you happen to be. You can even make and receive FaceTime calls on your iPad using your phone number

FaceTime no longer limited to wifi? YAY!! FaceTime over 3G is limited to just the iPhone 4S and new iPad? BOO!!

7. Phone

iOS 6 adds new calling features to your iPhone. Now when you decline an incoming call, you can instantly reply with a text message or set a callback reminder. And when things are just too hectic, turn on Do Not Disturb and you won’t be bothered by anyone — except can’t-miss contacts like your boss or your better half.

Very nice to see that Apple hasn’t forgotten about the telephone portion of the iPhone. These 3 new functions look quite useful.

8. Mail

Redesigned with a more streamlined interface for easier reading and writing, Mail in iOS 6 lets you set up a VIP list so you’ll never miss an important message from your accountant, your boss, or your BFF. It’s even easier to add photos and videos to email messages. And to refresh your mailboxes, all you have to do is swipe down.

Apparently Apple sees a new version of the iOS as a new opportunity to try and get me excited about the Mail app. Yet again it hasn’t worked. Though i suppose the pull-to-refresh gesture is a welcome addition.

9. Safari

iOS 6 brings even better web browsing to your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. iCloud Tabs keeps track of which pages you have open on your devices, so you can start browsing on one device and pick up right where you left off on whatever device is handy. Safari now saves web pages — not just links — in your Reading List, so you can catch up on your reading even when you can’t connect to the Internet.

If Safari was my main browser on the Mac then i’d probably be quite pleased to see this new iCloud tabs function. Maybe it is time to drop Google’s Chrome for a bit and see if how i get on with desktop Safari again.

10. Accessibility

iOS 6 comes with even more features to make it easier for people with vision, hearing, learning, and mobility disabilities to get the most from their iOS devices. Guided Access helps students with disabilities such as autism remain on task and focused on content. It allows a parent, teacher, or administrator to limit an iOS device to one app by disabling the Home button, as well as restrict touch input on certain areas of the screen. VoiceOver, the revolutionary screen reader for blind and low-vision users, is now integrated with Maps, AssistiveTouch, and Zoom.

I’m fortunate enough to have no use for this sort of thing but am so pleased that Apple works hard to be inclusive. In a world where so many only pay lip service to accessibility it’s wonderful that Apple have developed, and continue to improve, tools that people with disabilities find genuinely useful, and sometimes life-changing.

iOS 6 is due to be released in the autumn (I’d guess that means October to Apple) and, as ever, will be free of charge. Well, free of charge so long as you don’t count the cost of the new iPhone you’ll likely be buying at around the same time.

Toshiba SD490EKB.

A quick 15-step guide to retrieving the disc left inside your Toshiba SD490EKB Upscaling DVD Player when it develops a fault and won’t turn on…

  1. Remove the 5 black screws from the rear of the case.
  2. Lift off the metal casing.
  3. Remove the 1 screw holding on the front panel.
  4. Disconnect the ribbon cable that runs from front panel to main circuit board.
  5. Prize open the 5 plastic catches around the edge of the front panel.
  6. Pull off the front panel.
  7. Remove the 3 silver screws from around the DVD drive unit.
  8. Disconnect the 2 cables that connect the drive unit and main circuit board.
  9. Carefully lift the drive unit upwards (there is a ribbon underneath which is glued down).
  10. Gently peel/pull off the ribbon cable.
  11. Turn over the drive unit.
  12. See the bit that looks like it moves? Slide that right to left – the disc is released and the drive tray starts opening.
  13. Pull open the tray carefully and retrieve your DVD.
  14. Now run the above steps in reverse to fasten the DVD player back together.
  15. a) Return the player to the retailer for a refund or replacement, or b) if it’s out of warranty, take it outside, lay it on a flat, hard surface and repeatedly jump up and down on it until there’s nought left to crunch. (Sturdy footwear recommended.)

I’ve had two of these SD490EKBs. Both stopped turning on. The first a few weeks after purchase (replaced by the retailer). The second lasted about 18 months. If you take a look at customer reviews of this range of Toshiba upscalers you’ll see this is not uncommon. Which is a shame, because they’re really good little players otherwise.

Note: Yes, yes, I know this guide might be infinitely more useful if i’d included a photograph for each of the 15 steps but, in my hurry to enthusiastically perform step 15b, i plain forgot to take pictures. Sorry.