Apple Workarounds

IMG_6551.jpgThose of you who know me know that I'm something of an Apple fanboy. I may not have a burning desire to own an iPad, but I love my iPhone and I love my Macbook Air. As of this moment, I would never consider switching to anything else.

But that doesn't mean that Apple is perfect, or that it doesn't have frustrating features that can lead you to pull your hair out.

Recently, I took my car in for a new car stereo. This is not a frivolous investment. I do feel the need to have iTunes playing as I drive. It helps keep me focused, especially on long, boring trips. A decade-and-a-half ago, Erin and I would make mix-tapes for our trips. We later graduated to mix CDs. Now, with my iPhone, our entire music collection is at our finger tips. And when car radios were upgraded to include USB ports to plug our iPhone into (and these radios were available in the $100 range), I decided to make the investment.

Well, that old investment started to wear down and get a little flaky. Apparently car radios take a lot of punishment, what with the Canadian elements. So I decided to invest in another radio, and I discovered that not all radios are made alike.

I've no complaint with the sound system. But whereas the old car radio would take over the operation of my iPhone until I pressed and held a special button, whereupon my iPhone touch screen was made available to me, this model doesn't have any means for me to get out of the "Accessory Connected" blank screen whenever my iPhone gets plugged in. Apparently, it would much rather we use the dials on our car radio to sort through our songs. All 5,308 of them. I tried pushing buttons. I actually dug out my owners manual and looked things up. No go.

But I did find this site here. Apparently, the complaint about the "Accessory Connected" screen is pretty common, and two iPhone applications address this by providing an alternative interface: MyTunes and Panamp. I've paid for and tried both apps, and I would have to say that Panamp is better. MyTunes is a lot more ambitious, offering a sound equalization system that's supposed to power up your tunes and give you the best (read: loudest) experience regardless of your speaker. Personally, I found that turning up the volume accomplished much of the same thing. Worse, MyTunes proved to be flaky, and it was frustrating the way it constantly had to rebuild its database of tunes that iTunes already had at its fingertips.

Panamp is a lot less ambitious. It's just an alternate interface. There's no fancy sound equalization features. There are some intriguing ways of accessing your music. Most important, though: it just works. And priced at $1.99, it's hardly worth thinking about as a purchase.

But what gets me is this: these are the two options that are available to you if you don't Jailbreak your phone -- which is to say, take advantage of one of the iPhone's security flaws to break out of Apple's control and download a bunch of programs that aren't sanctioned on Apple's App Store. One of these applications is NoAccessorySplash. How it works is very simple: by allowing the program access to your iPhone, you can then tell it to take the "Accessory Connected" splash screen and... just delete it.

That's it. Take this gif or jpeg that sits atop your iTunes interface and prevents you from doing anything and wipe it out, giving you access to iTunes features that have always been there, and giving you access to your music while your car stereo is playing it.

In other words, the fact that our car radio takes over our iPhone and forces us to use the radio button to control our tunes is a feature of Apple which Apple could easily dispense with. And so I have to ask, what the hell is Apple thinking in allowing this interruption of our control to take place?

A similar thing happened a couple of months earlier when I tried to interview Gerard Kennedy. I gave his campaign my cellphone number and thought to myself, "I'll be talking to him through the microphone on my earphones, so my hands will be free to type. Wouldn't it be nice if the iPhone could also record the phone conversation so I could play it back later and ensure that Mr. Kennedy was quoted correctly? My iPhone is a marvel of software and hardware, surely it could do something as easy as that?"

Er... no. Not only is there no feature which allows iPhone users to record their phone conversations, Apple shuts off its voice recorder application while the phone is in use. The only feasible means of recording my conversation with Mr. Kennedy was to put him on speakerphone and have my Macbook Air record the conversation, which means it would record my tick-tick-tick of my fingers while I typed madly away. Or I could use a bunch of other applications that gets around Apple's ban on recording phonecalls by having both parties call another number, and pay a not unnoticeable amount to have this third party do the recording.

True, Apple clearly has some legal fears, here. The laws concerning the recording of phone conversations varies from state to state, with some places banning it outright, and others not. In Canada, you can record a phone conversation as long as one of the two parties knows that the recording is going on. And, yes, recorded phone conversations can be used for sinister purpose, but often they're not. Most often it's freelance journalists like myself who are conducting a phone interview and would like to have a recording of the conversation in order to ensure accurate reporting.

I like a lot of things about Apple, and many of these things do require that I give over a lot of control to Apple to ensure just the right experience. But there are limits. And it would be nice if Apple could default a little more towards letting their users make their own decisions once in a while.

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