Falling Behind

For the last 5 years, it’s felt very much like Apple was leading the way with mobile operating systems and technology, but in the last 12 months it’s very much going in the direction of Android, and in the last 24 hours, Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8.

The problem is Apple seem to be making very small improvements every year, which while impressive aren’t enough to keep people locked in their ecosystem.

iOS6 brings some very welcome improvements, but if all we know about from WWDC is all they’re planning on bringing to the table this fall, I think it’s time to reassess my commitment to Apple for my mobile phone.

We’ve had the same, almost completely blank, lock screen for years. It shouldn’t need to take an “event” for information to be shown on it, and it’s the same with the grid layout on the home screen – That’s not good enough for a modern phone when Microsoft are producing things like the gorgeous, 100% customisable, live updating, home screen which can contain probably up to 50 pieces of information at a glance.

Let’s hope the iPhone 6 launch event includes a significant overhaul to the at-a-glace view that it seems everyone else but Apple are able to nail at the moment.

The Real HD Revolution: Native OSD

I’m a bit of a broadcasting geek. Beyond my love of code and web, you’ll find me happily reading all about broadcasting technology, bitrates and polarisation.

I joined the HD revolution in April 2010, the day Freeview HD launched from the Mendip transmitter, but something has always bothered me. All the existing channels were straight simulcasts of their non-HD origin but at a higher resolution, including enlarged OSD’s, so the downscaled SD feeds are still perfectly legible. This is the cheapest way to go HD. You only need to care about the downscaling for your SD feeds, which is something that can be done at playout (The place where your final composed feed gets made and is actually sent out to broadcast – ITV use technicolor and BBC use Red-Bee Media for this)

To many, that may well be what they think HD is and the vast majority of my friends “can’t see the point” in getting excited over HD content or services, let alone paying the premium for the hardware to watch it.

I’ve always been able to know HD content from SD, to the point where watching SD content bothers me – My usual routine when channel surfing is to switch to the “HD channels” tab of the Sky EPG and find something else to do if I can’t find anything on there.

Today, ITV changed something in their HD playout, at least for their Euro 2012 coverage: They switched to native on-screen display graphics, and what a difference that makes.

Now, if you’ve got Sky and watch Sky News HD at all, you’ll know exactly what I mean here. It’s where your HD feed uses graphics native for display on HDTVs – the end result to a viewer is much crisper, smaller graphics – It’s a bit like going to a high-DPI screen on a mobile device.

Sky did this from Day 1 on their Sky News HD channel, but it was their demonstration piece of their new broadcasting infrastructure. The rather wonderful Simon Stirrat, one of my twitter followers who is a Broadcast Support Engineer informed me Sky went to extreme lengths to build their HD workflows, including the creation of whole new buildings to support it. It requires 2 completely different streams to produce a native OSD graphics and a rather large amount of bandwidth – a single pre-transmission compression HD feed is at 1080i50 is about 1.5gb/s.

I’m looking forward to being able to demonstrate to the folks who say “I don’t see the point to HD” the difference, but for me it’s like upgrading to HD all over again, hence the childlike excitement.

Here’s hoping the BBC can join in soon and provide the native OSDs on their channels, because it’s a simply beautiful future.

Tech Tip: Sky Remote Record

I had Sky installed last weekend as those of you who follow me on twitter. Everything was perfect, but whenever I tried to activate Remote Record on the website, I got the error:

We’ve been unable to update your Remote Record details. Please try again later.

Despite Sky support telling me to just wait, as it takes time after a new install, it turns out this is due to the Sky ID I was trying to activate it on being assigned to a previous remote record account. In this case, it’s the same Sky ID I used when living at home many years ago, and it was confused by that account no longer existing, and me having my own.

The only fix to this error is to contact Sky, who’ll have to escalate it up to their IT to clear the history.

On Writing

I’ve never enjoyed writing. I have an awful lot to say, but i’m usually best when that’s limited to 140 characters on twitter of instant messenger conversations, and even those tends to be spread out across a few posts, rather than writing long sentences.

In fact, the only time I ever got a detention in school was where I tip-ex’d one spelling correction in an English essay, and rubbed out the teachers comments as I was happy with it and because I couldn’t be bothered to rewrite it all.

I never had a computer back in school, and didn’t get one until I went to college. This meant every piece of work I ever did at home was handwritten.

Computers have corrupted me since then. I wrote a letter this weekend by hand this week for the first time in a while as I wanted it to be more personal. Typing is easy and the most personalisation you get is font choices, and kerning. And while kerning excites me way more than I should admit, the chances of the reader caring as much as me is very slim. Using a computer has changed the way I write and I’ve become dependant on backspace.

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Lost Pleasures

Two years ago, minus a little over a month, I hopped on the first train from Swindon to Bath. The commute was a regular occurrence (though usually not that early), but today was different. I had the day off, and I was heading to one of the most special events in a modern, Apple loving geeks diaries: An Apple product launch.

It was the iPhone 4. I had my reservation papers and arrived at the usual at-least-one-hour before opening time, my iPhone 3G was weeping dejectedly in my pocket while I waited second in the people with reservations line, secretly gloating at those in the longer line without reservations. About 30 minutes early, we were allowed in to start the process, and I was very quickly out with my new iPhone 4, walking past the (really rather huge) line at the O2 store in Bath’s Southgate centre.

The next part is the boring bit, 16 months of pleasure mixed with a little debating on whether leaving the usual 2-year upgrade cycle to hop on board the iPhone 4S (which didn’t happen) we’re at around October last year, and this is where things start to go down hill…

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