Visual Voicemail fixed

One of the oh-so-cute features of the iPhone is visual voicemail, the “duh” feature of showing you an actual on-screen list of your voicemails instead of making you sit through voice prompts.

Bad: My iPhone mysteriously reverted to the classic “press 7 to delete” system when I changed rate plans a couple weeks ago… with voice mail disabled altogether so callers couldn’t leave messages until I noticed it and set up a new password.

A little Googling indicates this is a fairly common mix-up, and the only way to restore visual voicemail is to call AT&T tech support and have them fiddle with your account settings.

Good: AT&T tech support was able to fix the account settings so it works again… after a half hour on hold… :)

WTF: The AT&T tech swore that visual voicemail doesn’t work if you have a WiFi connection active. He had me disable WiFi while initially testing it, then when I asked him about it he told me outright that Visual Voicemail only works on the EDGE network and therefore you must turn off WiFi to check your voicemail.

This is demonstrably false; just to confirm I hadn’t been crazy for the couple of months my voicemail was working just fine, I turned WiFi back on, left myself a voicemail, and retrieved it just fine in all its visual glory.

It’s entirely possible that the voicemails still download over EDGE, but having the WiFi up doesn’t seem to interfere at all.

Now if they can just add a feature to route phone calls over WiFi, I could actually get calls through from my flat. ;)

First production <video> tag support lands… without Ogg support

So, Apple pushed out Safari 3.1 for Mac and Windows today, which adds support for the HTML 5 <video> tag… unfortunately, without native Ogg support. :(

Fortunately, it uses QuickTime as the backend, so if you have the XiphQT plugins installed, it will play Ogg Vorbis and Theora files. Yay!

Filed two three bugs for our video plugin detection on Safari…

Wikipedia local search?

iphone-search.png

So, the other day Apple finally got round to releasing the iPhone SDK… While there may still be issues with the licensing and distribution, I’m at least intrigued about the possibilities of location-based searches — using the device’s knowledge of its physical location to search for articles about nearby places.

For kicks, I spent a few hours of my spare time prototyping a location-based Wikipedia search, with the interface optimized for a device like the iPhone.

I’m using a copy of the Wikipedia-World database, which has pulled coordinate data out of articles and linked them up via interwiki links. Results within an approximately ~20-30km range are sorted by distance and optionally filtered by text, then spit out in a list with little thumbnails.

Links are currently to the experimental WAP gateway, which tends to load rather faster over a slow connection and has nice big text. ;)

A small iPhone native app could pull up the device’s location, then pass it off to a web application like this (or present a similar list in native UI).

This does raise some questions to consider…

  • What are the privacy implications of getting people’s physical locations in addition to just their IP addresses? Would we have to update our privacy policy? How should we log or aggregate data for debugging and statistics purposes?
  • Do Wikimedia’s open-source software policies conflict with the various restrictions on software distribution for locked-down devices like the iPhone?

Update 2008-03-21: While we’re still waiting for Apple to let us into the beta program for official development, some enterprising individual has made an unofficial app for this which should install on jailbroken phones.

Case-insensitive OpenSearch

I did some refactoring yesterday on the title prefix search suggestion backend, and added case-insensitive support as an extension.

The prefix search suggestions are currently used in a couple of less-visible places: the OpenSearch API interface, and the (disabled) AJAX search option.

The OpenSearch API can be used by various third-party tools, including the search bar in Firefox — in fact Wikipedia will be included by default as a search engine option in Firefox 3.0.

I’m also now using it to power the Wikipedia search backend for Apple’s Dictionary application in Mac OS X 10.5.

We currently have the built-in AJAX search disabled on Wikimedia sites in part because the UI is a bit unusual, but it’d be great to have more nicely integrated as a drop-down into various places where you might be inputting page titles.

The new default backend code is in the PrefixIndex class, which is now shared between the OpenSearch and AJAX search front-ends. This, like the previous code, is case-sensitive, using the existing title indexes. I’ve also got them now both handling the Special: namespace (which only AJAX search did previously) and returning results from the start of a namespace once you’ve typed as far as “User:” or “Image:” etc.

More excitingly, it’s now easy to swap out this backend with an extension by handling the PrefixSearchBackend hook.

I’ve made an implementation of this in the TitleKey extension, which maintains a table with a case-folded index to allow case-insensitive lookups. This lets you type in for instance “mother ther” and get results for “Mother Theresa”.

In the future we’ll probably want to power this backend at Wikimedia sites from the Lucene search server, which I believe is getting prefix support re-added in enhanced form.

We might also consider merging the case-insensitive key field directly into the page table, but the separate table was quicker to deploy, and will be easier to scrap if/when we change it. :)

Mandatory Apple reactions

Like every other Apple fanboy, of *course* I have to post my reactions to the MacWorld announcements…

iPhone updates: Firmware updates are welcome, but nothing earth-shattering.

AppleTV movie rentals: Potentially very cool… The price point is about even with going to a BlockBuster store without having to get off your ass. I will say though I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with Netflix’s flat monthly fee and huge selection.

Limited selection for TV is the reason I haven’t used my AppleTV much in months except for playing music in the living room… My shows are available on iTunes, but half of my lady’s aren’t, so we ended up getting cable.

If the selection’s decent and downloads actually *do* start “in seconds”, the new AppleTV software should be perfect for spur of the moment rentals, but if we’re already paying a flat fee for Netflix I don’t have much incentive to use it frequently… unless I have to see something *now* I can put it on my queue and wait.

I’m assuming of course that the software update will come for older AppleTV units…

MacBook AIR: A year or two ago this would have been the answer to my prayers — the fairly compact form factor of the MacBook, while thinner and lighter than my first love, the PowerBook G4 12″. I’m a bit leery of the lack of an optical drive and losing some of the wired ports, but it’d make a great travel / conference / meeting machine and everything but the FireWire can be replaced with USB extras for “what do you mean, there’s no WiFi?” emergencies.

I have the suspicion though that the iPhone’s going to eat up a lot of my computer-on-the-go requirements; it’s already got mail and web, and an official SDK should let us see extra apps come in (chat, organizers, games ;) that lessen the need to lug a laptop around town.

Seeing Apple lurch towards solid-state drives is verrrrrrrrry exciting, but the cost is still high and the capacities too small for a primary-use computer (my iPhoto or iTunes libraries *each* would fill the optional 64GB SSD, and they’re only going to get bigger).

Now if we can just get the pervasive connectivity that the iPhone delivers built in to the laptops…

Sweeeet

Hadn’t noticed this before… on Leopard, when you do a window screenshot (command-shift-4, space) it now captures the window’s drop shadow over a transparent background.

Shadow! Shit yeah

That’s pretty cool for demo screenshots; I used to use temporary white backgrounds and capture an area around the window manually, but this is way prettier. :D

Leopard Spotlight

Spotlight keeps deciding it has to index my external hard drive all over again. Is this going to happen every time I reboot? Or is it just because I almost never have to boot unless I’m recovering from a crash or power outage?

Sigh. At least it lets me search the internal drive while it’s doing it.

Leopard thoughts

So since I’ve got an iMac with Leopard sitting around in my home office, I figured I’d try actually using it for a while. My impressions so far:

Spotlight: YES! Searching actually seems to work at a reasonable pace so far. Seems to be nicely replacing Quicksilver as an app launcher.

Terminal: YES! Tabs and an integrated SSH agent? I’m sold! Won’t need SSHKeychain anymore.

Spaces: meh Turned it on, haven’t really used it yet.

Finder: meh The new icons are uglier. “Cover flow” for documents seems pretty useless, though vaguely amusing for the ol’ porn folder. ;)

The Dock: meh Its uglier, but who cares? I only see it when I’m actively clicking something on it.

iCal: meh The detail drawer is gone, replaced with annoying popup thingies. Suckage. Update: The new iCal is a fricking disaster. Trying to see or edit details of events is basically impossible. Extra clicks, popups obscuring your view, lack of feedback while changing dates. Someone needs to be shot.

Boot Camp: meh I gave up on dual-booting years ago in my Linux days. Virtualization for the win!

Mail, iChat, Safari: No terribly interesting changes.

Time Machine: haven’t touched it yet.