iPhone 4 Bumper Bumps USB-Dock Cables

I’ve tried to let this go…on the grounds that it is too trivial to merit an entire article. But I just couldn’t do it.

I’m talking about Apple’s iPhone 4 Bumper.

Initially, I had no intention of buying the Bumper. It didn’t seem necessary. I changed my mind after reading about how it could mitigate the iPhone’s now infamous hand-grip-induced reduced signal strength.

Some have argued that Apple should give free Bumpers to iPhone 4 owners — as a remedy for the signal strength problem. I’m not arguing this.

Others have complained that $29 is too expensive for what amounts to a little strip of rubber and plastic. Perhaps. But it’s a well-designed strip. In any case, that’s not my gripe here.

My concern is the cutout at the bottom of the Bumper. This is where you insert the Dock connector cable (or where you would attach the iPhone to a Dock or similar peripheral). The cutout is so small that virtually all existing docks and cables no longer snap in when the Bumper is in place. As it is not especially convenient to temporarily remove the Bumper, there is no easy work-around. [If you're still not clear exactly what I am describing, check out this Cult of Mac article. It comes complete with photos.]

It is true that the USB-Dock cable that ships with the iPhone (as well as with the iPad and currently shipping iPods) fits through the Bumper. I have heard that some third party peripherals also include a newer slimmed-down compatible connector. However, most do not. At least not yet. Regardless, if you have a prior investment in a collection of cables and peripherals, chances are these will not work with the Bumper. This includes Apple’s own cables that shipped with older iPhones and iPods!

Over the years, I have come to accept the idea that design changes in iOS devices may result in newer models not fitting into older Docks. I have similarly come to terms with the fact that almost any sort of case will prevent an iOS device from connecting to a Dock. As some iPad users have lamented, this includes Apple’s iPad Case preventing an iPad from connecting to Apple’s iPad Dock.

Despite all of this, one thing has remained true (at least for everything that I have owned): No case has prevented a Dock cable from connecting. Until now.

I use several of these USB-Dock cables. Doing so allows me to sync/charge iOS devices from multiple locations (more than one device at a time, if desired) without needing to carry a cable around with me. My initial solution to the Bumper problem was to buy a couple of new cables. [Yes, Apple is generating a lot of extra money from from me here. First, I spend $29 on a Bumper I didn't expect to buy. Then I spend $19 each on a pair of cables that I only need because I bought the Bumper. Some might cynically claim this is all part of Apple's devious plan. I'd like to think otherwise. Still, it's irritating.]

The extra cables turned out to be only a partial solution. I have a Richard Solo external battery for the iPhone. This no longer fits when the Bumper is on. My wife has the special USB-Dock cable that came with Apple’s Bluetooth headset (which Apple no longer sells). This cable will not work with the Bumper. I have a power adapter and cable for charging the iPhone in a car. It too no longer connects to an iPhone 4 with a Bumper. And so it goes.

Still, I have tried to remain tolerant. I am all too aware (as evident by comments in the Cult of Mac article) that some will find such complaints to be “whining” about an insignificant matter. And I know I could solve the matter simply by forgoing the use of the Bumper (or perhaps by using a blade to handcraft a larger opening in the Bumper). Still, what makes it hard for me to let this go is how easy it would have been for Apple to avoid the problem altogether.

As one potential solution, I investigated purchasing a SendStation Dock Extender. Unfortunately, the Extender itself is incompatible with the Bumper (the manufacturer is currently working on an upgrade). What’s worse is what the SendStation people pointed out about what it would have taken for Apple to prevent this hassle: “We have absolutely no idea what the Apple engineers had in mind when they’ve created the Bumper case. {The problem is caused by only}…0.3 mm in thickness and 1.0 mm in width.”

Really? I just don’t get it. Why couldn’t Apple make the opening 0.3 mm thicker? Is that too much to expect? What was Apple’s rationale here? Did Apple pay so little attention to the matter that they were unaware of the situation? That would not be typical. Or is it that they just don’t care? Of course, Apple PR is not commenting. Perhaps if some user sent an email to Steve Jobs, he’d offer a helpful one sentence reply. Regardless, unless Apple redesigns the Bumper sometime down the road, it comes down to a choice between bypassing the Bumper or chucking your collection of older cables and Dock devices.

Posted in Apple Inc, iPhone, Technology | 1 Comment

Steve Jobs’ Top Reasons for Rejecting Apps

At today’s WWDC Keynote, before shifting his attention to iPhone 4, Steve Jobs spent some time on a few other iPhone-related topics. Surprisingly, one of them was defend the “curated” nature of the App Store (Steve must have delved into a thesaurus to come up to this colorful alternative to “closed”). In particular, he offered the three top reasons why Apple rejects apps: 1. The app doesn’t function or do what the developer says it does; 2. The app uses a private API; or 3. The app crashes.

These all seem reasonable; hard to argue with any of them. The only problem is that (with the partial exception of the private API issue) they have little or no bearing on the reasons behind the rejected or accepted-but-later-ousted apps that have made news and generated controversy over the past couple of years. It doesn’t explain the rejection/removal of so-called “porn” apps, of apps that contain political criticism, of apps that mention “jailbreaking” (yes, this one involved my iPhone book), of “widgety” apps (removal still pending) or of most of the other reported cases. This list also doesn’t account for the coming prohibition against Flash-based apps (although Steve has covered this matter elsewhere). There may well be defensible reasons for all of these rejections, but they are not in the top three that Steve chose to highlight. That’s probably why these rejected apps make news. If they were rejected for any of the top three reasons, it wouldn’t be a story.

Posted in Apple Inc, iPhone, Technology | Comments Off

Predictably Partisan

In a recent NYT Op-Ed column, conservative commentator David Brooks wrote: “In the weeks since the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the political debate has fallen into predictably partisan and often puerile categories. Conservatives say this is Obama’s Katrina. Liberals say the spill is proof the government should have more control over industry.”

Although I doubt it was Mr. Brooks’ intention, his quote puts the spotlight on an common and significant difference between Conservatives (typically Republicans) and Liberals (typically Democrats) — with the Conservatives winding up on the wrong side of the tracks.

Liberals “predictably” argue for more “government control.” Increased government regulation is indeed one common goal of liberals. Liberals would argue that, while government is far from perfect and can contribute to wasteful spending, unregulated business is the greater of two evils. Under the best circumstances, government serves as the watchdog for the “common man,” the citizen without the money, power and lobbyists to otherwise compete with the interests of big business. You (especially if you are a conservative) may disagree with this position. But you cannot dispute that it is a legitimate political position — a statement of principle.

Conservatives’ main arguments (at least according to Mr. Brooks) are typically statements such as “this is Obama’s Katrina.” Rather than a statement of principle or indication of what action they might propose — it amounts to name-calling. The intent is to disparage Obama at every opportunity and thereby, hopefully, gain a political advantage. I also find it ironic (as John Stewart similarly pointed out) that this particular Conservative tactic rests on comparing Obama’s actions to an even larger screw-up by his Conservative predecessor, George W. Bush. Not to mention that, at the time of Katrina, these same Conservatives were likely supportive of Bush. In other words, they are not only name-callers but hypocritical name-callers.

I don’t mean to suggest that Liberals always take the high-ground and are never guilty of similar behavior. But, on average, you are much more likely to see things split this way than not. Remember, I am not the one who initially made this point. I’m just the messenger. The message originates with an acknowledged Conservative —  pointing out what is readily taken as the “predictable” truth.

What’s worse here is that, what the Conservative side of the debate lacks in principle and honesty, it makes up for in emotional appeal and political effectiveness. Shouting phrases like “Obama’s Katrina” over and over again on Fox News resonates with their political base much more than anything that Liberals manage to do. That’s one key reason that Liberals too often come out on the losing side of these “debates” with Conservatives — regardless of the relative merits of their “predictable” positions. As long as the public rewards Conservatives for their approach, the situation is unlikely to change. If anything, in this current hyper-partisan climate, I only see things getting worse in the months and years ahead.

Posted in Media, Politics | Comments Off

Lost finale: Great but…

As an initial reaction, I found the the final episode of Lost to be fantastic. In every sense of the word. The tearful reunions, the death of FLocke, the passage of the torch to Hurley. It was a satisfying conclusion that was well worth the wait. The final scene, with Jack’s eye closing and the plane flying away, was truly poetic.

However, the more I reflected on the episode, the more my enthusiasm began to wane. The part of the finale that focused on island events held up well enough (as long as I could get past the somewhat silly notion that turning off and on a magical light at the bottom of a cave was the key to humanity’s survival). It was exciting and rewarding to watch.

My real problem was with the flash-sideways universe. Superficially, it too was wonderful to watch. The reunions of all those characters, many of whom had died seasons ago, was touching and heartwarming — providing me with a sort of personal redemption for all the time and energy I had devoted to the show over the years. However, I eventually realized that I was being seduced by these mini-happy endings. As enjoyable, well-written and well-acted as they were, they were covering up serious flaws.

The entire flash-sideways universe turns out to be a microcosm of the main problem with Lost itself. It is not so much that there are so many mysteries that remain unanswered. It’s that what answers we have and what mysteries remain just don’t hold together well. There are internal contradictions, things that don’t make sense, and a lack of a basic framework to hold it all together.

Here are just a few of the questions that I find myself asking about what happened in the finale:

Why did this flash-sideways sort-of-purgatory exist at all? Is it a necessary passage for everyone who dies or just the people related to the island?

Why was the flash-sideways universe constructed to represent a better version of a world that sort-of might-have existed if Oceanic 815 had never crashed? Of all the possible sort of purgatories that one could imagine, why this one?

With almost all the characters in the flash-sideways universe having a much better time than they ever did in real life, why should they be in such a hurry to leave once they discover what is going on? [Okay, I know going to some sort of "heaven" must feel even better…but still.]

For that matter, the characters’ awakening seemed to depend on Desmond putting the wheels in motion. Desmond only did this after being awakened himself, apparently due to the “test” that Widmore gave him on the island. What if Widmore never gave that test? Would they all remain in the flash-sideways world forever? Or would they gradually awaken anyway?

[Speaking of Desmond's test, why was it even necessary? If Desmond had failed the test, it's not like there was a Plan B. Why wouldn't Widmore trust Jacob's advice and assume Desmond had the necessary power to survive the light?]

Further, why was it important that these flash-sideways characters be unaware of the true nature of their existence — until after Desmond begins his final quest? And why was the simple realization that they were dead all they needed to know to move on?

If Jack didn’t really have a son (as he was told in the episode), then what exactly was his imaginary son? All the other main characters were “real” now-dead people. What happens to the son and all the remaining people (including Ben) after our heroes leave? Does the flash-sideways world continue without them? Is Jack’s son suddenly an orphan? Does anyone remaining in purgatory wonder what happened to these people? Or is the purgatory world just rewritten as if they never existed?

[Speaking of Ben, I found his role in the finale to be disappointing. After having a grand performance the week before, where he kills Widmore and seems to become FLocke's ally again, all of that is dropped in the finale as he largely fades into the background until he meekly emerges as Hurley's #2.]

It also seemed a bit odd that the final gathering at the church was so focused on Jack. Everyone was waiting for Jack’s arrival — from people who died before Jack to people who died long after Jack. Why was Jack’s arrival the key event needed for everyone else? Why not Kate? Or Hurley? Or Sawyer? Was this Jack’s personal purgatory? Did the other characters have their own?

And what was Penny doing in the church? She was not one of the island people so important to Jack. In fact, Jack hardly knew her at all. Based on what Jack’s father explained, she didn’t seem to fit.

Worst of all, after all the build-up and promises, the sideways universe turns out to have nothing to do with the main story line. I had assumed that somehow the sideways universe was a consequence of the Jughead H-bomb blast at the end of season 5. But no. All that blast seemed to accomplish was to move the key characters from the 1970′s back to the present. The only real purpose of the whole flash-sideways universe appears to have been to offer a way for the producers to give us a quasi-happy ending.

Many of the answers to my questions are admittedly not critical to know. But, to me, if you’re going to build a fantasy world and ask us to invest in it for an entire season, you can at least put it in a context that is more than a set of arbitrary “rules” with no way to predict or understand why any rule is the way it is.

If pressed, I could come up with answers to some of the questions. But they would be ones that I made up, not necessarily the “true” ones. I know some will say that the answers don’t really matter — that there may in fact be no true answers. It’s all meant to remain a mystery and be open to different interpretations — that was the deliberate intent. It’s only the redemption of the characters that matters. I am willing to go with this idea up to a point — but the episode pushed too far beyond that point for me.

Finally, I confess to have trouble with the whole spiritual direction that Lost took this season. Had I known, back in seasons 1 and 2, that this was to be the ultimate answer to Lost’s mysteries, I might not have kept going. It did not seem to be where Lost was promising to go back then. I had expected a more science-fiction direction — and I am disappointed that this was not the case. But that’s just me.

Still, in then end, I’m glad I did stay around. Despite its flaws, Lost remains one of the most ambitious, intriguing, and thought-provoking series ever on television. I truly enjoyed the ride. We won’t see its likes again anytime soon — if ever. Aloha Lost — I’ll miss you.

Posted in Entertainment, Television | 2 Comments