Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Apple iPhone 4 Dazzles

Apple iPhone 4 could hardly be called a surprise. The cat was out of the bag after the San Mateo County Sheriff obtained a warrant and searched Gizmodo's editor Jason Chen's Fremont, Calif., home for the missing (stolen?) iPhone had been revealed to the world. Chen paid $5000 for the iPhone to Brian Hogan, who did not own it but said he obtained it at a Redwood, California bar where a Apple engineer Gray Powell had been separated from it. What a drama!

In his announcement from the stage of WWDC 2010 in San Francisco, Steve Jobs seconds before the new slimmer phone appeared on the screen joked, "Some of you might have seen this..." to a thunderous laugh in the audience. Yet, Apple did not fail to dazzle and wow not only this audience of programmers and engineers dedicated to Apple's success but to the throngs of those listening and watching around the world. Some in the media have called Facetime the iPhone 4 "killer app" and while that might just still need to be proven, it added a sexiness and allure that simple software upgrades cannot.

Let do a rundown list of the most important changes to the iPhone with 4:

Hardware upgrades:

Front and back camera (5 megapixel)

LED Flash

720P HD Video 30 fps

up to 40% longer battery life (talk time)

24% thinner

Retina display (326 pixels per inch) 960 x 640 res

Software upgrades:

FaceTime videoconferencing application (uses both front and back camera)
iMovie for iPhone

iBooks for iPhone

iOS 4 has multi-tasking

iOS 4 allows you to organize the desktop icons into folders

While much of these hardware and software had been speculated about in the press, looking at the new glass and aluminum iPhone and seeing the added features of front and rear 5 megapixel camera and newly labeled Facetime application made it a bold new iPhone that perks the interests of users everywhere. A larger battery inside a solid 24% smaller glass and aluminum box makes it a substantially different feeling object in the hand.

Perhaps more significantly, the new iPhone has a new glass display with 320 pixels per inch that renders all on its screen more beautiful, clean, and clear from photos to video to text. Coupled with the new 5 megapixel still and 720 HD video cameras this phone becomes more and more serious as a video recording and still picture camera.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

iBookstore is iPad Achilles Heal

In almost all respects Apple's iBookstore is the model for future delivery of published materials from college textbooks, contemporary fiction and non-fiction as well as periodicals. But it is not there yet. It ain't cooked. Not ready for prime time.

Apple's iBook reader for the iPad is a beautifully designed eReader software platform with features that give users built-in search, navigation, bookmarking and highlighting features. When you buy a book from Amazon, you just wish it were readable in the iBook application because of the greater software users tools. But on the iPad, everything remains glued to their distribution outlets. I would like all my magazines, books, software manuals in ONE library. But that's not the case.

The iBookstore is Apple's achilles heal right now. Partly due to poor organization but mostly due to a lack of inventory, Apple has a lot of catching up to do. The offerings on the iBookstore are sparse, especially with back inventory and non-fiction.If you have a particular interest in say, urban history and anthropology, the iBookstore is weak. Inventory is critical to reaching a mass market accpetance, although, Apple in a few short months have totally eclipsed their competition.

I've tried to search for a number of important non-fiction books in the iBookstore and gotten no results. Books like "Naked City" Richard Flordia's "Who's Your City?" and "Rise of the Creative Class" bare no results. With few successful search results, I turn to browsing the categories and find, for instance, under "Biographies & Memoires" I'm shown a selection of maybe 25 or 30 books, most of them considered to be "popular culture" or books about well-known celebrities or sports figures. The inventory MUST get better to reach a critical mass audience.

One can only hope, given the aggressive growth of Apple's iTunes music store, that Apple has the marketing muscle to being publishers to the table and make content available, and not only extensive but authoritative in its scope. But they better get moving fast as Amazon had a considerable lead and other competitors like Barnes & Noble and Borders Books have with their Nook and Sony Readers an upper hand with access to publishers even though their eReaders are archane and hopelessly out of date.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Apple iPad - Revolutionary Device?

Apple calls their long anticipated and hyped iPad "...a magical and revolutionary device..." and expects to outsell their iPhone as they manufacture a million a month beginning in March. The iPad is almost completely made up of a 9.7-inch LED-backlit IPS color display and one button on its face. The tablet is all monitor controlled by a multi-touch display and runs the iPhone operating system (currently being upgraded for iPad) which means it can run the 140,000+ apps sold on the Apps Store.

Is it revolutionary? Tablets or slates have been around a long time and failed to capture the computer using public imagination. IBM ThinkPad was introduced to the companies line of computers back in 1992. Bill Gates heralded a new era of tablet computing back in 2001 and reiterated his belief they'd become popular in 2005 but they've only reached 1.3 percent of the computer buys in the marketplace. But the problems with tablets in the past is they tried to simply be another form of the laptop or desktop with a different device form factor. Gates insisted they have stylists but that never caught on as stylists have never worked for PDA's, Smartphones, desktops or laptops.

What Apple proposes to introduce is a new category of device that is coupled with a content delivery system that never existed back in 1992 or 2001. Perhaps more revolutionary than the device itself is the ability of an iPad owner to download books, movies, music, magazines, multimedia, still photos, the web and email all through one simple a clean source - iTunes, the Apps Store and iBook. Even more significantly, Apple introduces users to a whole new world of software developers who write solution specific apps with a small and efficient footprint and low or reasonable cost to the user. This represents a significant challenge to bloatware and high priced licensed software companies who came to dominate the market.

Again, it's about simplicity and and elegance not hardware over-burdened with design or bloatware. Apple has stripped away all the ports, slots, keyboards, buttons, pens, trackpads, drives and drivers and by so doing, as David Carr said, has negated the "deviceness" of the iPad. It has become simply a window to content.

At its base, the iPad is simple a reader, a video player, a consoleless game device. and a rich application environment for thousands of developers to launch their fame and fortune from their basement or garage just as Jobs and Woz did back in the late 70s. Making the decision to run iPad on the iPhone OS as opposed to the Mac OSX was a significant revolutionary statement to the software development world.

The critics who say the iPad is simply a iPhone too big for your pocket really missed the boat. They don't get it but their boat is sinking. Rumors are, of course, that iPad may one day be upgraded to Mac OSX but never at the expense of the huge iPhone apps development community. What Apple did by backing iPhone apps developer is to bring hobby computing and software designers (at the core of Apple's founding) back to the software industry.

All along the critics of the iPad have taken the tack that it fails to emulate current stock of computing devices in the marketplace - comparing it to smartphones, laptops, netbooks. tablets, or the features of a desktop (keyboards, full-fledged operation systems, ability to run bloatware apps, etc.). As usual. they've completely missed the point - the iPad is not just another iteration of the old. When Apple rolls out new and innovative products like they did with iPod, iPhone, and even the Mac itself, they search consumer users needs and invent a whole new category of computing device for viewing content. The risk is, as it has always been for Apple innovation, is the marketplace ready for a new device and content delivery system?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Top 20 iPhone Apps of 2009

The biggest computer tech success story of 2009 has been the emergence of the iPhone apps development community. While everyone is quick to credit the iPhone and Apple with rock-star status in product development, the real driving force behind the iPhone success are the solution specific small footprint and inexpensive apps. The expression "There's an app for that" has become as pervasive in culture as "I can't believe I ate the whole thing!" or "Where's the beef?"

1. Dragon Dictation (FREE) - there is still much to be fixed with Dragon Dictation but it is a category starter in the realm if speech-to-text and it performs better than many counterparts that have been on the desktop computer for years. While you are there also check out Dragon Search (FREE) an app by the same company that does voice activated searches using multiple engines like Google, Bing, Wikipedia, YouTube and your local iPhone storage.

2. Qik (FREE)- Qik is another app in its infancy but it allows you to video stream to the internet or capture video and upload it to Facebook, YouTube or Twitter, a similar but more limited free app Ustream is also a recent add to the Apple Apps Store. Qik can also be used by non-3GS iPhone users to capture video to their iPhone.

3. ReelDirector ($7.99) - a full featured video editing environment for the 3GS iPhone. This app allows you to assemble multiple clips, apply transitions, titles and credits, trim clips. add voice over narration and even a music score. You can make a reasonably professional looking video without ever needing to leave the iPhone. There are a bunch of new video capture and editing options for older first generation iPhones and 3G available also.

4. Print and Share ($6.99) - allows you to print text and photos, email documents or attachments from your iPhone directly to a printer over wifi, 3G or Edge

5. Bento ($4.99) - a simple and elegant database application that lets you design your own databases, choose from templates, capture data and even sync to your home computer (providing you have the desktop Bento app) across wifi

6. Layar (FREE) - augmented reality apps are bound to become bigger in 2010 and Layar is one of the first to allow you to point your camera down a street and Layar will tell you what shops, restaurants and buildings house the landscape in the finder. It also has layers that describe real estate for sale, prices, etc. A similar location information gathering AR app would be Cyclopedia ($1.99)

7. Air Mouse ($1.99) - turns your iPhone into a remote control mouse pad, keyboard and device controller for your computer. This is a great tool of you use a Mac-Mini in your media cabinet and attach it to your digital TV.

8. Pano ($1.99 on sale) - I love this app. It allows you to take multiple panel panorama photos and then stitches them together for you on the iPhone.

9. Photogene ($2.99) - this apps does everything most average users of Photoshop need to do to correct color, rotate and adjust images, add or subtract saturation, lighten skin tones and even apply some filters to photos shot on the iPhone. any image in your Photo Gallery can be edited by Photogene

10. QuickOffice ($9.99) - allows you to edit Word and Excel documents on the iPhone

11. Sketchbook ($1.99) - a pretty full-featured drawing environment for the iPhone with layers, the ability to import photos from your gallery, the ability to switch brushes and change the brush size, opacity

12. PicTranslator ($1.99) - this app allows me to take a picture of text written in other languages (Brazilian Portuguese for instance) and then it will translate captured text into English and even speak it back to help with pronunciation

13. WhatTheFont (FREE) - okay so this is for publishing designer geeks but still cool, as it allows me to take a picture of a font typeface and it then tells me what the font style/type it is

14. Mint (FREE) - A personal finance tool that allows you to track, budget, and manage you money on the go. You set up for an account, add your online banking accounts, credit cards, IRAs, home mortgage

15. Camera Genius ($.99 for a limited time) - a better camera app for the iPhone than allows you digital zoom in on your subject, apply an anti-shake stabilization, a burst mode to capture multiple frames, apply a composing grid on the screen when it picture shooting mode, and a timer so you can set the camera up and then run into the frame.

16. Music streaming/Radio apps (FREE) - you keep hearing from the Zune fanboys that iPhone lacks an FM tuner. This I don't get because there is a wide range of music streaming and radio apps form NPR, MPR, PRI, CBC, BBC, C-SPAN Radio, Pandora Radio, AOL Radio, Sirus,, Slacker Radio. Listen Zune dudes, radio as we knew it is dead.

17. RSS Player ($2.99) - for those who gave up radio long ago and embraced the podcast revolution in content library, RSS Player lets you manage your both your audio and video feeds and shows by download or streaming

18. Travel apps (varying prices) - one of the areas that has proven to be a big boon to iPhone apps is travel and we could easily fill pages with suggestions. Topping the list is Flight Tracker (.99), a program that will track you flight, gates, arrival and departure times, delays, etc. Many iPhone users like this app in conjunction with travel organizers like TripIt (FREE) and Trips (.99). Many cities with public subway systems like the Paris Metro, New York Subway, or London Underground offer maps, station locators, route advisories, etc that can make you trip much easier to plan and organize and even speed your daily routines. You will also find apps that can find restaurants, places of interest, and shops, specific museum guides with floor plans and collection overviews for instance at the Louvre and National Gallery of London. Translation apps assist you with overcoming language barriers in destination countries Translate It (.99) and iTranslate (FREE) or iTranslate Pro ($1.99) are universal translators with over 50 languages supported. Shown here is a augmented reality screen in the Paris Metro app that shows you exactly where the Metro stops are and the direction and distance from you feet to the nearest entry locations. Pretty sweet!

19. Air Sharing ($4.99) - Air Sharing lets you save HTML Web pages, PDFs, text files, you name it, for off-line perusal anytime, anywhere as well as transfer docs between you home computer or laptop using wifi

20. Pixelpipe (FREE) - for those who embraced the blogging revolution, Pixelpipe makes blogging on the iPhone as simple as spending email messages. Once you've set up Pixelpipe to direct your media to your accounts (Blogger, Flickr, Facebook, Picassa plus 110 destinations). I've seen some really interesting on-the-road travel blogs and personal diaries maintained using Pixelpipe.

NOTE: Due to problems with their app crashing, Layar has temporally removed the free app from the Apple Apps Store. They have promised to fix it and return to the Apps Store when it is stable and functioning properly.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

iPhone 3GS Gets Video Tools

The cornerstone of a whole new set of tools for the iPhone video enthusiast is ReelDirector, a full featured editing environment that allow you to assemble, trim and cut clips, apply transitions, titles and credits and record voice over - all without ever leaving the iPhone 3GS. In the last few days, with the upgrade to version 2.4, Nexvio has added the ability to add soundtrack music. This is a fast, on-the-run video editing set that even the most professional video editor or producer can take advantage of in assembling videos without the aid of a computer or dedicated editing bench.

The essence of the ReelDirector editing environment is the clip assembly screen, where you can see a timeline of you video, photo-stills, and audio clips along with the current frame where the playhead is active. The elegance of ReelDirector is simplicity and the application should serve as a reminder to Apple programmers who messed up the iMovie interface and perhaps could even simplify the Final Cut apps to locate the user in current mode and place in their projects. Never-the-less, once you project elements start to come together, regardless of the users ability level with video editing, you'll be surprised at the capabilities of the iPhone to assemble sophisticated videos with simple touch and drag interface. With virtually no keystrokes, commands or multiple drop down menus, you can do you entire project while waiting in line at the motor vehicle license bureau or dentist office. We've come along way.

A good friend who has been a film/video producer for 25 years said when I showed him ReelDirector, "We are going to see a feature film shot and edited on a iPhone real soon."

And there are a few other apps that also portend the future of film/video making on the iPhone. When used in conjunction with ReelDirector, these little aaps add style and flexibility


This video app allows you to capture video in slow motion, accelerated motion or take an existing clip you've shot with the iPhone's built-in video software from you're Photo Gallery and render it in slow motion. While this application will allow you to take a single clip and apply the effect to varying results, using it conjunction with ReelDirector in an montage of editing treatments, it becomes more powerful as an add-on to ReelDirector and a methodology in preparation for editing. This provides storytellers with a set of tools to make your productions more impactful and interesting to view.


I cannot help but feel VintageMaker is the first in what could be a class of applications for videomakers on the iPhone. Currently, VintageMaker has three style templates - 20's Movie, 60's HomeVideo, and Black & White.

Essentially, using video filters and music, VintageMaker takes a video clip and applies a look that is evocative of the name. The 20's Movie applies black and white as well as a scratched celluloid effect, speeds the frame rate 2X (although you can adjust it faster or slower) and you can select piano music that sounds like the soundtrack that might accompany a 1920s silent film. After rendering the clip for the special effect, you can then import it into ReelDirector in a longer piece or add title cards, end credits and voice over narration to complete your movie.

VintageMovie's other effect is 60's home movie that adds a orange/reddish cast common to film stock from that period, scratches a jittery frame effect and the sound of a 8mm projector to evoke the feel of the 1960s.

While the styles are specific in their use, you can easily imagine of suite of effects that could be applied to video for other effects or corrections to video that will evoke specific moods or placements in time and place or for effects used in genre's like sci-fi, westerns, film noir rock-vids, or experimental video.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

iVideocamera Brings Video to non-3GS iPhones

For a long time we've known that the iPhone 2 and 3G were certainly capable of recording video. Jailbroke iPhones have had, through a software app, been able to record video but now Apople has approved iVideocamera for the App Store.

Some of the limitations on this app are bewildering. For instance, the frame rate is low and you are severely limited by not being able to record more than a minute at a time. The price for iVideocamera is .99.

I would add the caveat that this is a severely impaired application and that one might be better served by installing Qik on the 3G iPhone and/or iVidCam (version 2.0) ($.99). iVidCam looks like the best option for 2G and 3G iPhone users at this time because the screen res is higher and it can record unlimited sized clips (depending on space available on your phone).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

ReelDirector Let's You Edit Video

ReelDirector 2.0 is a new iPhone App that allows you to really edit your iPhone clips into a movie very simply and intuitively on the iPhone. And for a limited time ReelDirector is available in the Apple Apps store for $4.99 as opposed to its regular retail price of $7.99.

With ReelDirector you can assemble multiple clips, trim and split, apply transitions, titles and rearrange your edit in the time line. You can also import still photos and (since version 2.0) apply the Ken Burns effect to animate their motion. A very important feature for YouTubers and video bloggers is the ability to add a voice over narration track. Once you've rendered your final edit you can email it or save it to your camera roll. All this makes the full assembly of a edited video possible without ever leaving the iPhone and loading it into a editing program on your computer.

A few enhancements would make this app dynamite. First, allowing users to add a music score from their iTunes library would fill it out and make it a full-featured editing environment. Second, being able to preview the entire assembly before rendering (even if the preview could not show transitions or titles) would be valuable to the average editor.

And third, while you can post your finished videos to YouTube from your camera roll or using other third party apps like Pixelpipe, it would be fabulous to use the Shared button to upload directly while presently you can only send it to yourself and friends using email. And the email feature is severely limited due to the duration and file size limitation on the iPhone.

Most owners of this app will tell you it is a bargain at $4.99.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Apple TV's Bleak Future

A few years ago I bought an 160 GB Apple TV with the hope and expectation that I'd be able to store, time-shift and obtain a level of video-on-demand that digital technology and the web have been promising for decades. Only to be disappointed.

Last fall, when my home was broken into and the Apple TV stolen (without the remote) I figured the slim little aluminum box spent the entire winter in a ditch next to the freeway. Even a thief had to come to realize what they had was a closed system of little resale value and without the remote it could not be controlled.

If you go back through the history of Apple and its successes and failures, you will list the Newton, Mac Cube, and perhaps the Performa TV as big failures, Now, you should add Apple TV to that list. But, but the slim little silver box would say, "I cudda been a contenda..." And that is a true statement.

Designing a closed eco-system for Apple TV was the first big mistake. Apparently Apple wanted users to obtain all their film, TV and music content for their Apple TV through iTunes. Initially, downloading content from iTunes was extremely slow and ripping copies from your DVD collection like we did with our music from CD collections was not officially approved. This barrier put a big damper on wide-spread use and acceptance.

Another huge drawback to the Apple TV eco-system is the device did not have a DVR and could not record and time-shift your favorite TV programs, movies or documentaries. Apple insiders speculated before one keynote after another that Apple would upgrade Apple TV and make it more like other serious media center players (such as TiVO) but Apple uncharacteristically ignored customer demand. Software writers scrambled and wrote apps to jailbreak the box, making it easier to put content where we wanted it, add web surfing to access media on web sites, and still Apple refused to heed the call an improve their product.

When you looked at the back panel of the Apple TV you saw a USB port and the very first idea that flashed into my head was, Wow, now I can take an external USB storage drive and archive material to it but Apple wouldn't allow this and the software never supported it. When I asked the Genius' at the Apple Store "Why?" all they could say in agreement was, I doesn't make any sense other than there was probably some "Apple Legal" reason for it. That's not a good thing to tell faithful consumers of your products. And Apple seemed to never find a compelling use for that USB port.

Now, as many tech reporters have noted, Apple avoids talking about sales and what's happening to the Apple TV. Apple likes to characterize their commitment to the box as "a hobby." Meaning what? Apparently nothing more than just a cursory interest in pushing its technology, not providing serious upgrades and refusing to be on the cutting edge of the media center technology. Steve Jobs persistently throws off questions about Apple TV unit sales, which by his own observations about Kindle sales, means they are not hitting any kind of hoped for sales projections.

Easily Apple TV could be better. It could be a contender. Simply add a DVD player, DVR recording capabilities, and upgrade the software to include the record and capture features in EyeTV or with TiVO and you'd have a serious media component to add to the livingroom media center. I simply replaced my Apple TV with an old Mac Mini (see my iPhone remote controller review below) and the major motivation for this was bringing a DVD player next to my TV. Software improvements, beside the superficial 2.0 upgrade that did little more than improve the look could take full advantage of wifi and the inerconnectivity of all software and Airport connectedness of home networking.

Has Apple now completely missed the train as it leaves the station? Digital media set top boxes and the Netflicks, TiVO, Boxie, hulu, and other video-on-demand services emerging, has Apple basically thrown in the towel with Apple TV and stopped innovating on that platform?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Air Mouse iPhone App

My newest app find is Mobile Air Mouse developed by RPA Technology in Boston, MA. I decided to take my old Mac Mini and hook it up to our HD flat screen TV basically to use it as a DVD player. The hook up went easily after purchasing a HDMI cable to connect the Mini with the TV.

However, in order to control the Mini I still needed to connect the keyboard and mouse and, even though I have a wireless QWERTY keyboard, it still quite weird sitting on the living-room couch with a keyboard, not to mention using the mouse on "mouseable" surfaces.

Then I discovered the Air Mouse in the apps store on sale for $2.99. It fit this bill perfectly and more.

As I said, it had been my intention to simply use the Mini as a DVD player, However, the Air Mouse is so useful, surfing the web, reading emails off the Mini and viewing photos in iPhoto that there are multiple functions I can use the TV set for now that I never imagined before.


The Air Mouse application for iPhone will work with both Mac OSX 10.4 or higher and Windows PC XP or Vista but they must have wifi capability on the target computer. After purchasing the app from the App Store, you are required to go to the Mobile Air Mouse web site and download the free Air Mouser Server to be installed in your applications folder.

Once you launch the Air Mouser Server application on the target computer, you will see an icon of a yellow mouse on your menu bar if you are running a Mac, or an icon in your system tray if you are on a PC. You can then start up the iPhone app and the iPhone will automatically find the target and you are off and running. Air Mouse also lets you configure specific IP addresses, set passwords and control multiple computers. The setting are stored with the Air Mouse Server so you can control a Mac at home and a PC at the office, each keeping its own settings.


The Air Mouse has a few different screens designed specifically for running your DVD and media player as you can see in the photo above. The media screen screen contains the most common buttons you need to control most media apps. The large round middle button is used to play/pause media tracks. On either side are the Back and Next button, for going to next or previous tracks. If you double tap the Next/Back buttons they can be used to Forward or Rewind your media. Below these keys are a volume up/down, Mute, Channel Up/Down and a numeric keypad for changing channels. The Menu button has many purposes that vary depending on what program you are running on the computer but usually takes you back to the next level up or the menu selection level on the DVD player.

On the top half of the screen is the track pad. It works like the trackpad on you laptop computer allowing you to move the cursor around on the screen tap, double tap and select items or buttons on the screen.

All this was more functionality than I ever expected from an iPhone App for remotely controlling the Mini. While Apple's Remote application for controlling Apple TV is simple and elegant it can be oddly difficult to navigate menus linearly with the limited options of both the iPhone Remote App and the small white one button remote that ships with Apple TV. Air Mouse has them both beat just for running Front Row or other media apps.

BUT WAIT, there is more...

Air Mouse has another screen called web keys that can be used while you are surfing the web in Safari, Firefox or your chosen web browser. Below the top trackpad area, the web keys screen contains the most common buttons you'll need to control a web browser. The top row of keys contain Back, Search, Home and Next buttons. To open a location, double tap the search button. The second row of keys Reload, Stop, Bookmarks and Zoom In/Out buttons. These are up for the most common browsers, but if your browser is not included, you can add a new browser by clicking the Web key in the server settings for your target computer be it Windows or Mac.

With so much multimedia content being transformed and shifted to the web, you'll find as much media to access using a browser there as in any healthy DVD collection. Certainly this was more than I'd imagine I'd get from a $2.99 app.

The Air Mouse also uses the iPhones accelerometer as a substitute for the trackpad. When you are in the Accelerometer mode (you get there by tapping the crossing arrows symbol in the top left hand corner of the trackpad) you can move the pointer on the screen with hand motions while pointing the iPhone at your computer or TV screen. There is a little finesse to get used to controlling the motion and it is best for you to view the Demo video on the Air Mouse web site before trying but it really is simple and intuitive.

Air Mouse can be used in combination with any application as a substitute for the mouse and keyboard on your computer. In addition, you can assign macro functions to keys that allow you to, for instance, launch Front Row or iPhoto by one touch. The keyboard also works for text entry, typing URLs, writing in a text application or responding to emails. Air Mouse is one iPhone app that you will find increasingly more useful as you use it and one of the best Apps in 2009.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Is Apple Evil?

With success comes envy and Apple, after decades of being the underdog, is now on the receiving end a wave of success envy.

Many in the industry would say that is a good problem to have and Apple stock and sales seem to agree.

But then you've got the haters. Most would say, who cares. And I agree.

The major objections that people raise with Apple today have to do with the success of the iPhone and the Apps Store. In recent months Apple (not that it did not do so before) has been restricting applications for being available on its Apps Store. Most notably the Google Voice App and s slew of porno apps that developers and some users want Apple to sell badly.

I completely agree with the concert expressed by iPhone owners with Apple restricting Google Voice calling app, not to be confused with Google Voice that has existed on the iPhone for almost a year. Google has been an excellent partner to Apple's growth in the smartphone market, developing excellent apps like Google Maps, Google Earth, and the Google Voice driven search apps that wows non-iPhone users to the point that, I believe, it drives iPhone sales.

Apple has every right to restrict the use of applications on the iPhone that threaten the stability of the iPhone platform. They have the right to restrict apps in their store by shady or unreliable software developers that might infringe upon or sully the iPhone users experience and drive customers away.

But Google is a very reliable partner, a great software developer and they write incredible apps that sell iPhones.

Some critics speculated that in the contract between AT&T and Apple there was a clause that allow AT&T to veto or blackball applications that gave iPhone users the ability to add functions that competed with the AT&T contract. That's highly probable and even understandable since AT&T gives money to Apple in its contract. But AT&T said no, they did not stop the Google calling app from the iPhone.

At that point Apple should have put the Google app up on the Apps Store. End of story.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

10 Things to fix with iPhone 3.1

1. Wifi syncing
2. Ability to edit video (combine or string clips, add music, add voice over)
3. Control over iPhone "desktop" or ability to organize icons
4. Allow Google Voice app on iPhone for calling
5. Get rid of AT&T exclusive contract
6. Customize keyboard to add row for numbers or frequently used characters
7. Take picture by pressing anywhere on screen rather than small button
8. Customize the background under the icons
9. Give users great control over prefs, such as Hide Icons that you use infrequently but don't want to delete completely; have customizable views for Home, Work, Travel, or Weekends; easier control over toggling on/off things like accelerometer, GPS, Bluetooth, 3G, Wifi, and Edge
10. Background applications (providing Apple can insure stability)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Augmented Reality App Shows You What's Nearby

This NRU shows off Zagat data, by just pointing your iPhone around the place you are standing. Marko Balabanovic, head of innovation at labs in London, UK, gives us a sneak peak at how it works.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Scene Recognition Engine

A software engine for iPhone to recognize static scenes of architectures, streets, posters, rooms, and so on. Due to the ability to specify what user is watching in real time in very strict manner, SREngine has applicable to wide range of AR-related applications (AR: Augmented Reality).

Friday, June 12, 2009

To Jailbreak or Not to Jailbreak?

That is the question that's been running in the minds of many iPhone users for months if not a year.

But on the 2nd anniversary of the release of the iPhone and with the announcement of the new 3GS iPhone with video and enhanced digital camera capabilities, many of the original iPhone owners will have handsets outside the AT&T exclusive contract. And what do you do with an old 1st Gen iPhone or the 3G iPhone you are leaving behind for an upgraded 3GS?

The jailbreak and unlocked iPhone option seems much less criminal now than it originally did. Concerns about voiding the warrantee, getting around the contract, violating copyright, etc. become moot looking at the piles of old iPhones stacking up in the drawers of buyers who went for the upgrade.

Both Apple and AT&T must see the huge change coming to the marketplace of "exclusive" control over the device and digital delivery system it uses. Will Apple, as it once did, still brick iPhones not in contract or using jailbroken software? I think they will have to rethink these actions in the future. There will be a lot of enthusiastic iPhone users who are not under an exlusive contract and who want to buy content and apps using jailbroke software.

Times are a changin'...

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Watching this clip from one of the first MacWorld San Francisco conferences just 90 days after the release of the Macintosh computer in 1984, one cannot help but mark a beginning and fill an evolution from that time to now and all the revolutionary steps along the way.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

No Show Big News

Probably the biggest news going into MacWorld San Francisco is not what insanely great new product Steve Jobs is going to seductively wave in front of everyone, The big news is Jobs won't be there. The infamous Jobs keynote that has as legend would say launched a thousand ships will not launch new products anymore.

This is an end of an era.

As much as Apple or Jobs himself want to play it down -- this is HUGE. Oh yeah, Apple is going to say they have leaders who can make Apple's case before their software developers and third-party partners as well as the loyal Apple base but no one inisder the company or outside is as important to Apple products, their design, and has the ability to articulate with such pitchman skill was Steve Jobs.

Add to that fact, Apple is saying it will not attend show like MacWorld any longer and you have a significant change in the culture of how Apple releases new products to the public.

With all the speculation about what Apple would reveal next week, a few things seem to be coming clear: there will be no Netbook (rumors are it might be unveiled in fall 2009) and the thrust of Apple announcements will be focused on updating the Mac-Mini line of computers.

An Nano-iPhone still remains uncertain, although, case manufacturers say they have orders for a new phone form factor - not an accurate indicator of Apple announcement. More than likely, we will see small changes: a 32 GB iPhone, a 64 GB iPod Touch and a upgrade to the iWorks suite of applications putting more of its functionality in the cloud.

This incrementally reflects a more conservative nature of Apple, the slowed pace of its R&D, and its increasingly reluctance to jump out and lead the industry with new category defining products.

The biggest news of the new year is Apple has chosen not to show up at the biggest Apple show of the year.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Next Apple Wave

What will Apple unveil next?

Obviously, the retail consumer-drive Apple has swung into the Holiday season trying to move its inventory of iPhones, iPods, MacBooks, iMacs and MacPro Towers so we will not be hearing any new products for the remainder of 2008.

Then comes MacWorld SF and the speculation has already begun about what the new year will bring.

A favorite prediction is the iPhone Nano, a $99 iPhone with 8GB of memory designed to be sold in WalMart stores. A few weeks back there was a twitter all around that Apple and WalMart had made an agreement to sell a cheap iPhone with stripped down fearures of a phone and iPod MP3 player with Apple ease-of-use interface (illustration above). This would be too easy for Apple and, although they might want to take advantage of the price point to expand their share, this solution seems to the answer market managers look for rather than product innovators.

There are a lot of questions being asked about what will happen to the Mac-Mini, the tiny box that works for many desktops and pushes the bottom price of Apple's CPU line. Will Apple announce changes to the line of mini's or discontinue them?

A Mac Netbook would be a small sized cross between a tablet, a notebook and a laptop. The talk is Apple will want to come into the line of products with this priced at $599 and replace the Mac-mini or, at least, compliment the Mini with a much more mobile and touch interface device. As you might know, here at Apple Tech Blog, we've been advocating for a keyboard-less mobile tablet for over a year now and had hoped it would be announced at MacWorld SF 2008.

What Apple discovered in 2008 was the huge potential of the online Apps Store for selling software via the air waves. this sales and marketing model might now be in place for a Netbook to reap the benefits of sales in software downloads. An army of new software developers have profitably written and produced a huge number of apps for the iPhone and it could be good business and good will for Apple to turn this army in a new direction

The critics of the Mac Netbook say that the size of the Netbook market (just a little over 5 million units have been sold) is way too small for Apple to become interested and hope to see a ROI, however, Apple is in good shape to invent the category and with the App Store and iTunes drive tens of millions of new buyers into a new product category for the computer innovator.

Then, as usual, everybody else will follow, right?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Google Android to Launch Sept 23rd

The International Herald Tribune headline reads "Google's Android no match for iPhone - Yet". As Google is a company, much like Apple, with a corporate culture that encourages outside-the-box thinking, incredible innovation and wiz-bang design, we've all been enthusiastically waiting Google's unveiling of Android.

The handset being previewed is the HTC Dream, a gold or beige touch screen with a slide out tiny keyboard that all together has a retro-70s look and feel. The software desktop design doesn't make its own statement, instead choosing a file folder metaphor and a flat blue one-dimensional viewing plane. From what I've seen, it is unimpressive from a visual design standpoint.

Android is a mobile phone and computing platform to rival the Apple iPhone. Google's designers have promised that the Andriod will being using some of the best iPhone break-throughs such as touch screen technology, built in accelerometers, open platform and a developer SDK, with a user-interface that maximizes ease-of-use and graphics. Android also presented the possibility of a rich cloud-based computing set of tools integrated with Google's web storage and interactive applications.

Significantly, the Android promise was that a smart phone with a clever software interface could be purchased and owned without an excessive AT&T exclusive contract.

While searching for more information on Android I came across the presentation (video above) given by a Google engineer. Presentations like this one boggle the mind. In his demonstration, things don't work, the connection and loading of pages is slow, and his claims of coolness are not matched by what he is showing. His demonstration of how Android works could not have made me more uninterested in the handset or less impressed with the software. I was excited about Android but this guy almost killed the joy I had built up in my mind for a Google phone.

And I am always astonished that companies like Google and Microsoft never seem to be able to surpass Apple design. I want them to break the mold because it is good for us as end-users. And they have the sample product right in front of them to analyze, dissect and improve upon. Google says they don't think they can match "the consumer experience" of the iPhone. I ask: "Why not?"

There is much to be improved upon with Apple's iPhone. If Google says it cannot surpass it then they are not seeing it clearly as a consumer device and how it integrates into mobile computing and the users needs. The iPhone was a paradigm shifting innovation in smart phones and mobile computing but it is far from perfect. Apple has left out critical functionality and not delivered on performance specs that exist out there in other devices.

Why do we have to be disappointed with the Android launch on September 23rd?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"Banned by Apple" A Status Category

This week Apple banned another third-party iPhone application from distribution through the Apple Apps Store.

Podcaster is an app like Diggnation On The Go and Mobility Today, that allows iPhone owners listen to podcasts directly on their phone. Apple banned Podcaster because, as they explained in a letter to the developer, it duplicated the functionality of the podcast features in iTunes.

Let's make it absolutely clear that Apple in all its developers forums and public announcements of the rules governing placement in the apps store, namely software that could be called: “Porn, privacy, bandwidth hog, unforeseen, malicious, illegal,” that "duplicated the functionality of iTunes" was not one of those rules for developers to follow.

Alex Sokirynsky, the developer of the rejected application, found Apple's explanation confusing since many small applications available for the iPhone duplicate and expand upon existing functionality of the iPhone.

A host of applications that do calculator functions, weather apps, expanded notes, calendar, etc. would confirm Sokirynsky's observation. Other bloggers and computer publications speculated that Podcasters function of allowing iPhone users to download multiple podcasts directly to the the iPhone and iPod Touch by-passing iTunes was of greatest concern to Apple.

Expressing outrage with this reasoning, blogger John Gruber accuses Apple of anti-competitive behavior stating: ""Let's be clear: forbidding 'duplication of functionality' is forbidding competition. The point of competition is to do the same thing, but better."

In my estimation, Apple has made a bad decision by banning Podcaster. First, Podcaster cost $9.99 and wouldn't likely gain much pentration that Apple would notice a shift in its podcasting traffic on iTunes.

Coming as the next in a line of developer rejections -- NetShare (an application that allows you to use the iPhone as a modem) Pull My Finger (an silly app that makes 18 sounds of flatulence) and "I am Rich" (a $1,000 application with a picture of bling) were all pulled by Apple over the course of the past few months -- banning Podcaster has raised the ire of Apple iPhone developers.

From an end-user perspective, Apple's ban of Podcaster undermines the demarcation between legit reasons for keeping Apps out of the App Store and anti-competitive behavior. Apple has every right to protect users from Apps that crash or unstable, apps that don't play well with either the operating system or other apps, and apps that do nasty, unwanted, and unintended things to its users. But what Apple has done with both Podcaster and NetShare is increased the level of suspicion and cynicism about its corporate behavior.

And now the developer community is expression anger at Apple for their capricious actions. Apple's apps bans bring more attention to the applications than they deserve. And the ban creates ill-will among a developer base Apple certainly wants to cultivate rather than alienate. These developers might easily run to another platform such as Android to build their apps.

On its face, with a ten buck download charge, Podcaster is not a winner but Sokirynsky now enjoys the status of being "Banned by Apple."

Monday, September 8, 2008

Apple "Let's Rock" Announcements

Tomorrow's "Let's Rock" show marks another big Apple iPod product upgrade announcement when the company is expected to upgrade the iPod Touch, iPod Nano, and new versions of iTunes (8.0) and QuickTime 7.2.2.

Many of us are hoping for an iPhone upgrade to 2.1 in hope that it will fix the crashing, dropped calls and bad battery performance we've been experiencing since the big July roll out of the 3G iPhone, MobileMe, and the Apple Apps Store. And it would be nice if they can fix MobileMe to work as one would intuitively expect it should work.

Friends who are still sitting on the fence before jumping off and buying an iPhone have said they would like to see the iPhone upgraded to 16GB and 32GB models, boosting the hardware capacity just enough to live out period of the terms of their excessive 2-year AT&T contract.

And it would be nice if Apple could fix the really annoying constant problem with upgrading Apps from the Apps Store. I've gotten to the point where I am untrusting and apprehensive when upgrading Apps since it crashes the iPhone (everytime) and it erases all the settings and writes over all the files in those apps. It just doesn't act like you would expect stable and user friendly Apple applications to act.

You can read in various regions of the internet people expecting a sub-$100 iPhone. Ain't gonna happen my friends.

Apple has become increasingly conservative and more corporate in the past year. Their upgrades and changes to technology, I think one can safely bet are going to be creepingly incremental and piece meal. While the iPod Touch will become sleeker and skinny, you should not expect to see added features like a camera, a microphone for voice recording or dictation or hardware improvements that might justify paying more for it than an iPhone.

One feature Apple is hoping to thrill us with is it Genuis Bar the only new feature being added to iTunes. This is rumored to function something like Pandora or a new app in development called Stitcher, whereby the application learns your song and radio preferences and then suggests or puts together playlists from your iTunes library and the Apple Store. While this feature will certainly be welcomed, it is not a radical new idea or approach to digital media devices. It's not going to Rock Your World as tomorrow's event suggests it might.

Apple seems to want to position the iPod Touch as a pocket gaming machine and to keep the Touch from overlapping in capabilities with their iPhone, presumably because Apple now more fully enjoys the revenues coming from the AT&T contract kickbacks than it does giving its customers awesome features.

I can tell you the one big feature I want for my iPhone is the ability to use my iPhone without an AT&T contract. Right now it is the only feature I want Apple to be working on.

Plain and simple: I should not be bound to undesirable terms and conditions, terrible service and a corporate culture that cares little for its customers in order to own an Apple product.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

TIP: iPhone Email Batch Delete

With the iPhone 2.0 upgrade you will find that Apple has added the ability for users to delete or move multiple message from your email inbox to a folder or delete them. In the original version of iPhone, you have to perform these basic functions with messages one at a time.

When you are in your email inbox and you press the Edit key in the upper right hand corner a blue/gray bar will appear across the bottom with two buttons: Delete and Move. Down the left side of the message summary, you'll see round buttons and if you press them it will place a check mark next to the message you wish to act upon. You may select consecutive messages or intermitten ones and then either press the Delete button to remove them or Move button to store them to another folder.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Jailbreak Apple TV

Often what happens when consumer technology doesn't live up to its potential is hackers, open communities, and hobby enthusiasts jump into the void and began writing personal solutions to their hardware/software needs.

We saw it with the iPhone when an instant community of programmers and open source developers jumped forward and jailbroke the iPhone and iPod Touch so they could load their own applications and break free from ATT contracts. Then, last month Apple opened the platform and the iPhone coupled with the Apps Store is a revolutionary new device in the world of mobile computing.

Now, let's hope this same process occurs with Apple TV. As it is the Apple TV is a woefully inadequate device as a closed system. In the world of set-top boxes and digital media devices, it is non-finisher even after its upgrade to include movie rentals and purchased downloads.

Apple enthusiasts will say that Apple is hamstrung by a film and entertainment industry that restricts its ability to innovate and provide the solutions its users are asking for and even demanding. If so, it is time for the hackers to step up.

For instance, Apple has a USB port in the back of the Apple TV that is terribly under-utilized. Why can't this port be used to connect a backup hard drive or accept a flash drive for load your home movies directly into Apple TV? What can't this same USB port be used to connect 3rd party hardware like EyeTV? or a $99 DVD player like the one Apple makes for MacBook Air?

Why can't the Apple TV communicate with the web directly using a Apple TV specific redesigned version of the Safari browser just like your iPhone? (Actually, it can with an easy fix.) Why can't I run iTunes direcly on Apple TV and purchase music I don't want filling the hard drive on my Mac? Why can't Apple create a platform for developers to write entertainment, news and information, health and fitness apps as well as games for the Apple TV?

There are so many kludgy things broken with Apple TV that Apple programmers refuse to fix (just try typing URLs or word searches on Apple TV) that the hacker community must now step forward and change the terms of the game and improve the concept.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

TIP: Smart Keyboard for URL Completion

When I got my iPhone 1.0 and grew accustomed to using the touch screen keyboard, I thought it was really smart of Apple to add context sensitive keys to the keyboard.

For instance, when you are in Safari browser and want to type a URL, it adds a key .com to the keyboard to shorten your typing task. However, I found that not all URLs end in .com and was frustrated with .net, .org and other endings. With 2.0 Apple has made the keyboard even smarter.

Now in Safari web browser, when typing a new URL, hold down the .com button to get a selection of other domain name endings for the url: .net .edu and .org. By tapping on one of the endings, it will append it to complete your URL. The iPhone is even smart enough to understand if you are outside the U.S. and offers domain extensions appropriate to the country you are in.

Another new keyboard trick added with iPhone 2.0 allows you to get .net .edu or .org domain name endings along with .com by holding down the period (.) button in the compose email screen.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

TIP: Making Your Own Currency Converter

An item missing from the core set of Apple iPhone utilities is a Currency Converter app built-in. As you can see from this iPhone screen capture, using the Stocks app you can track daily currency fluctuations just like stocks:

1. Go to the stocks app
2. Add a new stock
3. Use the format Currency symbol 1 plus Currency symbol 2 (without space between) =X (example to convert US Dollar to Canadian Dollar would be USDCAD=X or for the Euro it would be USDEUR=X)

A nice thing about this approach to tracking currency information is daily rates will be listed with other stock market information and you will see the daily +/- change, a day/month/year history of the currency plotted on a graph just like other stocks in the Stocks app.

Add as many world currency entries as you want. You can get currency symbols here or do a search for world currency symbols in Yahoo or Google.

TIP: Capturing Images Off the Net

A long awaited and much anticipated feature of iPhone 2.0 is the ability of the phone to capture an image off the internet and save them to the phone. Apple has made this process very simple and elegant.

This is how it works: find an image on a web site you want to capture, hold your finger on the image in iPhone's Safari Browser for a longer time than usual, a pop-up dialog will appear giving you options "Save Image", "Open Link" and "Cancel". Hitting "Save Image" will save the image in your Photo Gallery.

Now, just add copy and paste feature for text, address, and calendar items and we'll be happier!