What’s a “widget”?

That’s a reasonable question, given the silly history of the word:

a small gadget or mechanical device, especially one whose name is unknown or unspecified.

If you just want to know how it applies to your iPhone and Mac, skip the first few paragraphs.

In the software world, the story goes a little like this:

Yahoo bought a company years ago, called Konfabulator, who used the term to refer to a kind of mini-app. These little apps would show or do simple things — like weather, a calculator, a clock and calendar, a stock feed, package trackers — any single-purpose kind of information that you’d want to access or manipulate quickly. 

Konfabulator ran their widgets in a dashboard, an overlay on the rest of the stuff on your computer screen. You could have them floating on top or behind, or pop out from the side of your display, I can’t remember all the possibilities.

So Yahoo got ‘em and changed the name to Yahoo! Widgets, and pretty soon everybody was jumping on board. (“Widget” apparently has become a standardized term in software.) Apple put a Dashboard in OS X (still there but probably going away soon), Microsoft called them gadgets in Windows, you get the picture.

This year, Apple introduced a feature into iOS and the Mac, where you can add widgets to your Notifications screen. They are a very cool way to get quick information, and even to add notes and to-do items.

With my Philips Hue lights and the new Hue widget, I can even change the lighting scheme in my home! I just turned my office lights on and the den lights off, in two swipes and one click, without leaving my chair. 

Here’s how to add widgets in the Today view on your iPhone and on your Mac

Widgets I like:

There are more on the phone at the moment. We are waiting for Mac developers to release some goodies.

Note: I’ve used my App Store and Amazon affiliate links.

I pwn thee, I pwn thee, I pwn thee

Do you think that “jailbreaking” my iPhone is a good idea? I have spent some time reading up on it and feel that I am ready to give it a shot.

Before the 2.0 software and the App Store, I definitely did have my first iPhone jailbroken, and thought that the phone was not nearly as useful without those extra features.

Since iPhone 2.0, and especially since they cleaned up and stabilized everything with 2.1, I haven’t had a super-compelling reason to hack (jailbreak) my phone. I do often miss the features — call logs, Qik, SMS mailing or export — that were available in the jailbreaking. and which Apple has not deigned to allow its officially sanctioned apps to offer. Stinkers.

That said, I got burned early on with jailbreaking, when I had to run an update, or had to troubleshoot by restoring the phone, and then I lost all of the data — notes, video recordings, or even game levels — that I might have created with a jailbroken app. So I’ve just learned to live without, and keep hoping that one day, Apple will open up and let some of those great ideas in.

Now, with all of THAT said, I have in fact jailbroken a 2.1 iPhone. I had given my daughter my original iPhone without a SIM card, for her to use as an iPod touch. Worked great… until I updated it to firmware 2.1, at which point the phone deactivated itself. You shoulda seen the look on her face when I told her the next day, “Honey, I temporarily broke your iPhone.” It took me several failed attempts of using the jailbreaking tool Pwnage, and finally using the same group’s QuickPwn in a Windows virtual machine in VMWare Fusion, to get the dang thing unlocked, but I did it, and it works fine. It’ll be the same battle if I ever want to upgrade it to 2.2, and so on. You can see why I haven’t done the same with my own phone, or if my kid were a teenager who actually used it as a mobile phone; I’d hate for either of us to be without a phone for any length of time.

(Side note: Now you’ve inspired me to google “iphone call log”, and find things like this, but it’s going to take me just a little bit of time to figure out how to use it. It appears to be only for those who are comfortable playing in Unix & AppleScript, but it’s only a matter of time before someone writes a GUI application to take care of it.)

iTunes error 5002: Put down your torches and go home

After trawling the discussion boards, finding suggestions to…
~ delete all my apps — which makes you have to reconfigure them on the phone. Blech.

~ find the apps with generic icons, which I no longer had after my last purge

…I finally bit the bullet and went through the alphabetical list, comparing all my apps listed in iTunes with those actually downloaded to ~/Music/iTunes/Mobile Applications. Thankfully the one missing started with a “B”. I killed that in iTunes and was able to run “Check for updates” with no error.

Conclusion: Go through the list in iTunes, selecting each app and doing a File > Show in Finder. The easy way to accomplish this is:

  1. Click on the first app
  2. Cmd-R to show in Finder.
    • If it’s there, Cmd-Tab to go back to iTunes, and right arrow to go to the next app. Go to the top of step 2.
    • If it’s doesn’t show in Finder, Cmd-Tab to go back to iTunes, and either delete that app from your list ‘cos you don’t want it anymore, or redownload it from the iTunes Store. Then right arrow to the next app and go to the top of step 2.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
It’s not really a two-step process, but it didn’t seem worth drawing a flowchart.

My iPhone 2.0 Saga, Part III: Good news/bad news

I started getting this really annoying error in iTunes, when trying to check for updates in the App Store:

“We could not complete your iTunes Store request.
An unknown error occurred (5002).

There was an error in the iTunes Store. Please try again later.”

I had resolved this once in the past by deleting and redownloading apps, but that didn’t work this time. So, since the 2.1 update seemed to go so well with just a straight “Update”, I thought I’d see if the iPhone backup process really was fixed. I didn’t mention in Parts I or II that the 2.0 backup-and-restore system, besides taking an obnoxiously long time, also failed to restore all the preferences to the phone, thus requiring at least a partial reconfiguration of my device.

After ensuring that my backups were turned on, and that the MobileSync folder had a recent backup (only 7.9MB!), your intrepid correspondent hit the Restore button in iTunes. And…

…It worked! The restore process itself was pretty quick, though It took a while to reïnstall all the apps and the music and the photos and the podcasts, but that’s due to my own particular digital gluttony. All my app preferences and other configs and address book and SMS messages and everything came back. All I had to do was reörganize the apps on the Springboard (they installed alphabetically, which is understandable, though I still want Apple to make that easy).


The stupid iTunes error remains. Last time, I tried changing my iTS password and reëntering my credit card info, according to suggestions in the Apple discussions, but that didn’t work, and I really don’t think that’s a reasonable fix, since Apple doesn’t let you use the same password that you’ve used in the last year.

I’m going to do further research on that, but the successful restore was worth an immediate post. 

P.S. I like umlauts.

My iPhone 2.0 Saga, Part II: Fix apps crashing

If all of your third-party App Store apps are crashing, and maybe your phone’s music library is no longer accessible, my very helpful AppleCare technician recommended the following procedure.

  1. Delete all the apps from the phone.
  2. Go into ~/Music/iTunes/Mobile Applications, select all, and copy/paste the list of files into your favorite notetaker, so you can remember all the bloody apps in your Library. I have 99.
  3. Delete all the apps from iTunes, moving files to the Trash.
  4. REDOWNLOAD every single app from the App Store (the Store will let you redownload paid apps without recharging you).
  5. Re-sync the iPhone, perhaps being more particular about which apps you actually keep on the phone.
  6. Reconfigure all your apps, and start your games from scratch. Lovely.

This worked. What a pain, but it worked. So it appears that some application somehow got corrupted, and it screwed up the whole phone. The really annoying part is that, because of Apple’s very closed system, you can’t tell which is the offending app.

Now, only two days ago, after two great weeks of fully stable iPhone performance, the damn thing started crashing again. This time, however, I knew which certain few applications I had purchased recently, and I was able to redownload and reinstall just those, and that did the trick. At least so far.

I just can’t believe that, for all of its “walled-garden” approach, Apple couldn’t prevent one bad… er… app-le, from… umm… spoiling… no, I better not.

Note: I have found, though all of these tribulations, that it is sometimes efficacious to re-install your iPhone applications in groups, according to category. Otherwise, they go in alphabetically, which has its own appeal, but can get tedious if you’re slogging through a long list. I would love for Apple to introduce some kind of quick organizational tool for apps in iTunes that would let you choose the order for apps to appear on the home screen. Ferpetessake, they have categories built in to the App Store! Sheesh.

My iPhone 2.0 Saga, Part I: AppleCare

Starting about 2 weeks after I bought my iPhone 3G (which was on the day of its release), my third-party apps, those downloaded from the App Store, started crashing. All of them. Consistently. Tap on one, it flashes its first screen, then flashes away, back to the Home screen.


For the next month, I suffered: I wiped the phone. I reinstalled. I backed up and restored. I did two full erases, which took upwards of an hour each. I restored again. I probably restored a dozen times, and most of those times I had to re-setup the phone from scratch. I learned a way to extract my SMS messages from the backup files (be ready to use the Terminal!). 

Finally I called AppleCare.

AppleCare for the iPhone is a funny thing. For the most part, the iPhone either works or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, you restore it, and then it starts working again. If the restore doesn’t work, you have a bad phone and you need to take it to the Apple Store so they can replace it.

So I was surprised when the first rep I talked to had recommendations beyond that, and very weird ones, to boot. He told me that:

a) I had too many applications on the phone; that the phone, like a computer, couldn’t handle too many applications running at the same time. I said they weren’t running at the same time: It is very clear that only Apple applications can run background processes, and all third-party programs stop everything when you go close them. He said that wasn’t true. I said Steve Jobs had said it He said it wasn’t true. I said, show me some documentation, something to tell me that there is a maximum number of apps you should keep. He said he didn’t need documentation; he learned it in training. I said, no you bloody well did NOT.

b) I should reboot my phone every day, just like my computer. I told him I very rarely need to reboot my computer. He said I needed to. I said, show me some documentation, something to tell me that there is a maximum number of apps you should keep. He said he didn’t need documentation; he learned it in training. I said, no you bloody well did NOT.

And then I said, lemme talk to your supervisor.

After about 20 minutes, a very friendly and helpful tier-2 technician came on the horn. I told him about a) and b), and he assured me that he had instructed the previous phone monkey not to spread bullpuckey like that around anymore. Thank you, I said, from the entire iPhone-using populace.

Then began our dialogue, by phone and email, trying to resolve my app-crashing issue. We went through the whole restore process a couple more times, when finally he suggested the procedure that, for organizational purposes and ease of reading, I’m going to post in Part II.