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Posts Tagged: iPhone

iLog

Thursday 28th April 2011

I’m a little late to the party on this, but there’s been lots of coverage lately about iPhones “tracking” people. The original script that was released to look at this data was Mac-only, and at the time I couldn’t be bothered to hack it to work with Windows machines, so I couldn’t look at my own records. Happily though, other people have done it instead, so I’ve been able to have a look at the data from my own iPhone.

The above image shows every data point in the database, since I first got my iPhone last year. And from that, it looks like there’s some quite detailed data there. Certainly, from memory, the above map doesn’t seem to be lacking anything (although even at that level, I can see some anomalies, places I haven’t visited).

There are obvious concerns that arise from the concept of your phone logging everywhere you go. Clearly, from the data you can get a rough idea of someone’s movements. Each of those data points has a date and time associated with it, so from that you could build up a rough idea of where in the country I was on a given date. But can you tell more than that?

This all seems to come from WiFi and phone masts, so I assume that the most accurate information (in terms of location and time) would be in places with the most WiFi hotspots and phone masts. You can see from the image above that I’ve visited London in the last year. I went there for a day last August, so I thought I’d look to see how accurate the log is.

Now, London probably has the highest concentration of phone masts and hotspots in the country, so I assumed that the “tracking” data would be pretty accurate. In fact, it’s quite mixed. Right off the bat, there are two clumps of data points in areas that I didn’t visit (around South Kensington, and around Shoreditch). Additionally, there’s quite a spread of data points on the top-left of the map. If you look closely, they vaguely (very vaguely) track the train line that I used to travel in and out of London; and in fact the timings do coincide with those journeys.

The stuff in the middle seems to be more accurate. I had an interview that day at the Royal Academy of Engineering office, which is near to St James’ Park; there are a clump of points around that area, because I got there early and so walked around the park for a little while. I also walked upto the British Museum from there, and as you can see there’s a big trail in that general direction. During the day, I also spent some time in Hyde Park (time to kill…), so I find it quite interesting that there’s very little in that general area.

Now, looking at the data, I think it’d be pretty hard to work out exactly where I went, without already knowing it beforehand. Many of the data points have the same timestamp (I assume the phone fetches a bunch at the same time), and as you can see there are more than a few in places that I didn’t actually visit.

To expand on this, here’s a similar map showing a visit to Cardiff, last month.

In this case, I’d driven down to Cardiff to pick up my younger brother, and was there for about half an hour. The exact journey I took was West along Eastern Avenue (near the top of the map), south-east down Whitchurch Road and Crwys Road, and then onto the street my brother lives on; and then the same route in reverse about half an hour later. Looking at the data from my iPhone, it’s pretty much impossible to tell precisely where I went.

I’m not saying this data couldn’t be useful. It can paint a broad picture of where someone has been, and if that formed part of a larger investigation into the person then that information could be invaluable. But to gain access to this requires access to the phone, or the computer it syncs with, which isn’t always possible. And, as I say, it’s only a very broad picture. Looking at all of the data from my phone, there is no way that you could even work out where I live, for instance. If someone got hold of my phone and took this information from it, then it’d be fairly useless to them.

When details about this first surfaced, I was a little unnerved about it. However, having looked at it and seen the level of inaccuracy, I think that much of the negative publicity that Apple has received has been a little over egged. It’s a minor concern, especially given that mobile phone networks already record locational information as part of their service (and I’d bet it’s a fair deal more accurate than what’s stored on the iPhone). It’s a minor (and interesting!) mistake, which Apple are now fixing.

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iPhone 4

Wednesday 14th July 2010

To be honest, I was fairly sure that I probably wouldn’t get an iPhone 4 on release day. I know that stock was really scarce (and indeed still is), and I really couldn’t be bothered with getting up uber-early in order to go queue outside a shop for one. But I thought it was still worth going to the shops at 9 o’clock, just to see. It’s not as if I had anything better to do!

Sure enough, the first couple of shops I visited had about 5 each, and they were sold by the time I got to them. But one of the sales assistants tipped me off that the local Best Buy (!) had a decent number in stock, so I went down there. There were about 20 people queueing outside the entrance, so I thought “why not? Can’t take too long” and joined the line. And about 5 minutes later, an employee walked the queue to ask us what version we wanted, and to put our names on the list to allocate us phones. Yay!

I was somewhat wrong about it not taking long though. It was taking an age for the sales people to process each order, so I still had an age to wait. I really didn’t think I’d be there for more than an hour, but in fact I ended up spending 2 or so hours in the queue, then another three quarters of an hour with the sales assistant actually buying the damn thing. Because of course, there were 4 assistants dealing with iPhone sales, and each sale was taking ages because O2 was initially taking ages to sort out upgrades and the like.

Anyway, 3 and a half hours after I set out to get one, I returned home with a shiny new iPhone. I’ve had it a few weeks now, so I’ve had a decent amount of time now to get used to it.

The phone I traded in to get this was an iPhone 3G. I’d had that for a while and I really liked it, but this is definitely a massive step ahead. The software is obviously mostly similar because it uses the same OS. That said, there are obviously new features to iOS 4 and some of those aren’t available to the 3G. Multitasking is the most obvious thing, and it works really well on the iPhone 4. I know it’s taken ages to come to the iPhone in comparison to other platforms, but one of the things I like about the iPhone platform is that once Apple implement a new feature, it works really well. The implementation on the iPhone may not be “real” multitasking, but it works well for the way most people use their phones, and that’s the main thing. For instance the new version of Spotify for iOS 4 is excellent, and runs really well in the background without noticeably slowing things down.

Also, this iPhone is much quicker than my 3G. For instance, I always found that the Spotify app would take forever to load on the 3G, and is pretty clunky to use too. On the new iPhone it opens pretty much immediately, and is extremely responsive when you navigate around the app. The camera is also much better. The 3G camera was ok, it was usable for most things (indeed, the picture in the header of this page was taken with my old iPhone), but it was always a bit hit and miss as to whether the pictures would be any good. The new camera is much better in this respect; even low-light pictures are pretty good. Oh, and it records 720p video, which looks pretty snazzy.

I’ve not tried FaceTime yet because I don’t know anyone else with one of these phones, but I’m pretty keen to give it a go.

This is all pretty much peripheral though, because in my opinion there is one thing which really sets this phone apart from anything else: the screen. It wouldn’t be exaggeration to say that it’s pretty much the best screen I’ve seen in any device. I can’t see the individual pixels unless I hold the phone about a 20mm from my face, so everything is incredibly smooth. Reading on the old phone used to tire my eyes after a while, but this is much more readable because the text is so much smoother. Oh, and it’s brilliant for watching videos on. HD videos from YouTube look really, really nice. In fact the other day I did a comparison with a 3GS, both showing the same video from YouTube, and it was surprising how much clearer the new phone is. Honestly, this thing has to be seen to be believed.

I would love an iPad with this screen… (but that’s probably quite a way away)

I also think that the phone looks absolutely gorgeous. Photos don’t do this thing justice, I reckon. It’s pretty understated, but quite classy. That said, it’s also pretty badly designed.

Mobile phones are portable. In the real world, they get exposed to a pretty hard life, and in fact it’s more than likely that the typical phone will be dropped several times over its lifetime. So good phone design would look good in 12 months time as it does when it’s new. It should be able to weather the inevitable scrapes and knocks. Glass screens are pretty unavoidable on phones like this, but this has a glass back too. You don’t need me to tell you that glass shatters, so this phone is pretty damn fragile. That’s bad design.

But there’s another problem, and this one is amazing. The aerials for the iPhone have been placed on the outside edge, in order to save space and move them outside the case. Good thinking? No. There’s a point on the bottom-left corner of the phone, which if touched causes the network signal to be severely attenuated. You can literally place your finger on this spot and watch the phone signal decrease. If you hold the phone naturally, it’s easy to inadvertently touch this part of the aerial and have this effect. There’s no excuse for this, it’s just really poor design, and could have been easily sidestepped by applying a transparent coating to the aerial.

Steve Jobs’ response of “just don’t hold it like that” is really unhelpful as well…

Anyway. These problems are mostly solved by a case, which is something I would get anyway (and that doesn’t in any way excuse Apple for shockingly poor design, it just means that it doesn’t affect me massively). So I really like the new iPhone. Unless you’re still tied into a contract for a while, I think it’s an absolute no-brainer for current iPhone users to upgrade. Especially if you’re still using a 3G (or earlier)… Obviously if you don’t like the general iPhone model then this isn’t going to do anything for you, but lots of people just want a smartphone that’s powerful yet really easy to use, and the iPhone 4 does that brilliantly.

As long as you don’t hold it wrong.

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