Thursday, July 4, 2013

iOS 7

Following the recent WWDC announcements I decided to pay the necessary fee and enroll as a 'developer' for both, Mac OSX and iOS programmes. As such I was allowed to download previews of the upcoming versions of both products and 'experience the magic'.

I can't say I was too impressed by either one. The least of the two was Mavericks... I wonder if it's even worth the launch for only so little added new functionality. On the other hand Apple claims that most of Mavericks' spicy bits were hidden under the hood and were invisible by them casual users. Anyways, I won't spend much energy going over the same descriptions that have already been written and explained a million times by scores of bloggers and reporters before me. I sincerely hope Apple engineers add some extra pizzazz in both products by the time they move them into commercial availability to make them worth the upgrade, even more so if Apple plans to ask a fee for either one.

All being said, in iOS 7, I must admit, the changes seemed far more conspicuous than in Mavericks. It's a far reaching overhaul of the UI for sure. Johnny Ive put his fingers deep into the UI look and feel this time. I must say, if you despise skeuomorphism as much as I do (sorry, Scott), and prefer minimalism instead, you are going to love this version. They really did their best in reinventing far more natural and intuitive ways to interact with touch screen devices. With a touch of Apple class of course. To make St-Steven proud up there in heavens, watching over their shoulders every step in the way. What else is to do up there anyway? Talk to those old bores about eternity and the meaning of life in a timeless world? Monty Python did that before and far better than the Bible itself. Nay! Nothing for Steve. Nonetheless, many smartass Apple haters rushed to blame it right after the keynote suggesting Apple designers 'copied' Google's UI (my ass). Now we all know quite well who copied whom on this, don't we? One ain't born yesterday, right? Anyways...

Above all, the upgrade to iOS 7 is 'normally' quite fast and straightforward. At least, if you do this the right way... I know that for a fact as I already upgraded two devices so far, a slow iPad 2nd Gen and a much faster iPhone 5. The iPad I even had to do twice to get it right. It was a scream! It was my first attempt, and of course I screwed up big time. Eventually I managed to fix it deep into the night (or early morning hours better said). I initially undertook the upgrade as a mere agnostic (a dumb ass, that is) and ignored simple common sense. That would teach me...

Actually here's what happened. To ensure the minimum of piracy, Apple requires iOS devices to be registered via their respective UDIDs by duly enrolled developers before upgrades can take place with success. That UDID (Unique Device Id) is usually hidden behind the serial number on the summary tab in iTunes. So, the correct sequence is, to first register an iOS device under an annual subscription iOS developer role, and then upgrade it so that the upgraded firmware gets effectively activated by Apple. In one single developer subscription one can actually register 99 devices in total; quite a generous offer indeed, good to supply 'copies' to your entire Sicilian mob familia.

Me, being me of course, I obviously reversed the regular sequence... So, I upgraded the firmware first and eventually had to find out the harsh way when the system reacted with a frustrating message 'activation impossible, first register the device by its UDID and then try again'. That is, I had to roll back the device to its earlier firmware version (6.1.3 in my case), copy its stupid UDID from iTunes, register it at the developer's site, and start all over. And Bob's your uncle, nooot? Easier said than done, folks. Reinstalling an older version of the firmware has always been harder than one should think. System software is not usually designed to fall back to previous versions after upgrades (unless you are called Microsoft). That's shootin' your right foot, innit? Some monkeys on YouTube even go as far as to terrify casual users by claiming that if you get the 'no activation possible' pop-up means that your device is doomed into a useless scrap and no cure is possible, never ever. Better throw your iPhone to the dogs, they say. Unless you listen to them, of course, as they gallop to your rescue. Beware of such idiots. They crawl out of your browsers in shedloads!

Anyways, reinstalling the previous version of the iOS over and above version 7 wasn't only doable, but proved quite simple after all, at least if you are handy at certain Apple witch-doctor skills. BTW, all I'm describing is explained much better over here.

Step one, you need to download a copy of the earlier firmware package, a file with a lego cube icon and a file extension of .ipsw. Most iOS junkies have known these files well, ever since Jobs launched the iPhone 1.0, and subsequently the wonderful tribe of jailbreakers emerged out of the woodwork. In Step two, the locked iOS device is put back onto its (infamous) DFU mode with a tricky combination of pressing the 'power' and 'home' device buttons in a given sequence and for a certain number of seconds.

So, on a device that is powered OFF and connected to iTunes (I mean really powered OFF, as it happens when the Power button is pressed until a red horizontal slider appears on the top):

1 Power button : Press for 3 secs
2 Power and Home button together: Press for another 10 secs
3 Home Button: Keep pressing (while letting go the Power button) until iTunes confirms the DFU mode is reached.

The rest is much easier. In DFU mode, you 'option' (alt) click Restore and point iTunes to the previous version (6.1.3 here) .ipsw file. The restore process starts and a few minutes later, the device is put to its previous iOS firmware, connects to iTunes and it's data appear on your Mac or PC (iTunes application). Picking up next the UDID is trivial, by right clicking the serial number in the summary tab. As the click reveals the UDID, the right-click enables you to copy it (it's got far too many digits to be any good if you wanted to type it manually; life's too short for this) and paste it in the device registration panel, in the developers' pages. Of course, this process only works for 'developers' as I said earlier, that is people who paid a hundred bucks for a year's subscription. Most end-user cheapos of course want to do the upgrade without activation, the 'illegal' way... 100 bucks still seems a lot of money in many places around the globe. Eventually, the firmware activation is the kind of thing that scores of hackers put their arms around to find a way out (called a workaround). Some folks suggested that if you force an 'update' instead of a 'restore' you bypass activation altogether. I wouldn't really know. I been 'legal' and paid my dues.

Second time over, of course, I did it in the right sequence. First, I registered my device's UDID, and only then I upgraded. All in all in less than fifteen minutes, done and over with it.

The 'user experience' with 'bauhaus' lookalike minimalism has been cool so far. Most functions seem to work as by design. I was even unexpectedly called into a Facetime session from overseas from an iOS 6 device and it all worked like a charm. So far I have migrated about sixty-seventy apps (pretty complex stuff, I can assure you) but other than a few crashes here and there most of them seem to run just fine. Only shortcoming, as I reckon they're still working on code optimisation, responses weren't as snappy as I would have liked. Especially on the iPad 2nd Gen. It felt like Galaxy, so to say... Apparently iOS 7 requires a lot more horsepower to make minimalism happen. Less is more, as Ive sez. Thus, the lew look is likely destined to their top hardware performers, and undoubtedly their new upcoming designs, with faster processors, SSDs and peripheral connections.

It's hard to advice anyone, especially those with only one device to 'waste', to upgrade to iOS 7 now for the sheer pleasure of an early preview. If you can afford the expense and you're brave enough, then why not, just do it. Being ahead of the masses in experiencing brand new products and technologies is a kind of addiction too. It's better than watching soccer anyway. Or the Tour de France. At least, to some of us it is...

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