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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!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

TIP: iPhone Screen Capture

One feature added to the new iPhone 2.0 operating system is the ability to capture whatever is on your screen at the moment with a button combination. Hold down Apple's Home key and then the Sleep/Awake key on the top right corner of the iPhone (the same key you tap to start up your iPhone from sleep).

Once the button combination has been struck, you will notice the iPhone screen flash white. After it does that, go to your photo gallery and you will see the last addition is your screen capture.

Next, in the lower left hand corner of your photo gallery screen, you'll see a box with and arrow coming out toward you. Click on it and you can send this photo to your email or if you have MobileMe, you can send it to your web gallery. This is awesome!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Browsing in the Apps Store

Free Applications Worth Checking Out:

#1 Remote - an iPhone remote to control iTunes and Apple TV. If you own Apple TV is this a MUST HAVE app and its free. In simplest terms it turns your iPhone into a remote control for Apple TV and also iTunes running on your desktop or laptop computer. Couple your devices with the iPhone and you will get menu lists of songs and video by artist, title and type and you can search just like with iPod music and video selestions.

#2 AOL Radio - an application powered by CBS that allows you to listen to live radio over the internet. The interface provides lists of stations by genre (country western, jazz, talk radio, news, etc) and you can stream favorite shows like KCRWs The Business, Design and Architecture or This American Life. Drawbacks - battery eater.

#3 Save Benjis - with Save Benji's the idea is to find the cheapest price available on the web for all kinds of products. You can browse by category or enter the bar code into a search box and Save Benjis goes out to the web and finds the cheapest prices for that product. For results it not only provides a list of the cheapest prices and places to purchase but also a product description and reviews other buyers have written for the item. Drawbacks - it should have a build in bar code reader for the iPhone camera to read.

#4 Currency - a one trick pony app that lists the current exchange rates for countries and major currencies around the world and it is free. Drawbacks: a currency converter could be added but simplicity does have its virtue.

#5 Whrrl - a really cool concept, mapping, social networking, location and friend tracking free app that (like video iChat) is most useful if you have a bunch of friends or family and everybody buys into contributing to its premise and, did I mention, its free.

#6 Pandora - a streaming music service that provides free music for your iPhone based on picks (thumbs up/thumbs down) preferences you make while listening. Pandora was created on the web first and this little free app for iPhone provides a clean and platform specific design. The company claims CD-quality audio and the streaming works well even on edge. Drawbacks - it is a drain on battery, however if you have a docking station or one of those docking stations mounted in a case with stereo speakers, you are golden.

#7 Box Office - this free movie finder app is also a bit of a one trick pony, however, doing a simple yet very useful iPhone app seems to be the key to the kingdom. You can browse either by movie or by theater and it uses the current location finder to assist you with knowing where you are. You can configure the settings to open the geographic range or distance from home. The app also lets you read reviews from Rotten Tomato and purchase tickets through Fandango

#8 vSnax - basically a news and entertainment aggregator of video content, vSnax provides clips from CBS, VH1 MTV, E! and others. While you might find much of the content gossipy, aimed at the Brangelina twitters, and for guys and girls who want to ogle Ford Models, the service seems to work smoothly on both Edge and Wifi and its free.

#9 WeatherBug - this weather app adds additional features to the temperature and weekly forecaster that comes installed in the iPhone. Those added features are live heat index, humidity, dew point, rain amount, wind speeds and wind direction. There is also a button for radar which didn't work when I clicked on it and according to internet accounts was broke for other reviewers as well, But its free and if you are a weather buff, you'll want to check it out.

#10 Jott - Jott records voice memos and converts them into text notes. Swipe a task after you complete it, and it strikes through the words. If you don't like tapping words in on the keyboard or need them converted, Jott can be useful. Drawbacks: they need to improve speech recognition and recording length, add more of the features offered in their phone-based service, and send crossed out notes to the trash. Free.

#11 eBay Mobile - I have never purchased anything on eBay and just like I don't go to garage sales or buy things out of the back of a plain white vans on the backstreets of Chinatown in New York, I don't plan on buying things on eBay. However, if you are an eBay auction denizen, you will find this mobile eBay app indispensable for searching, bid, check on sold items, monitoring your accounts and this elegant interface makes viewing items on the fly super easy.

#12 Shazam - A clever idea to a obscure problem: ever been in a cafe or coffee-shop and your hear a song playing on the music system and its killing you because you can't name the song or the artist? Pull out your iPhone, launch Shazam, click he "Tag It" button and the little app will listen and name that tune in 15 seconds. Once it is tagged it will keep it on a list and you can then buy it from the Apple iTunes Store, view rock-vids or send track info to friends via email.


LESS THAN $10

#1 City Transit - this is the BEST NYC Subway map available and at $2.99 one of the cheapest (don't bother with the $15 one) In addition to the maps of NYC underground system, it has Long Island Railroad (LIRR), and Metro North Commuter lines as well as an antique map for aesthetic pleasure. The app captures service advisories that keep you up to date and links to Google maps and "where am I" features for finding the nearest stop that make app this a must for native New Yorkers and tourists alike. I no longer live in the City but having this app on my iPhone gives me the vicarious thrill be being back on the streets. Drawback: The screen res for the maps is fairly low and while you can make out the station names and lines, it is bit-mappy and quality should be improved.

#2 GuitarToolKit - a guitar tuner that uses the iPhone mic to detect sound that has a metronome and cords feature. $9.99 is the lowest price for a basic standalone guitar tuner from the local music store, so having this on your iPhone is a plus and a bargin to boot.

#3 Comic Touch - another simple unadorned app that adds comic strip bubbles (speak, thought, whisper, exclaim) and alllows you to write captions under your iPhone photos. Turn your life into a comic strip then you can email episodes to friends for $5. Drawback: If this App catches on, it might become cute email round-robin spam that you hate getting from friends and family.

#4 Mobile Flickr - a full-featured Flickr app developed by Karl von Randow that allows you browse photos by sets, tags, search for photos, read and make comments, or see photos from other Flickr members. Uploading to Flickr over wi-fi is fast but it can be slow taking pics and saving them, the $3 charge is better than the $9.99 (w/o ads) for the competing Exposure app that has no upload feature and poor user interface.

#5 MLB at Bat - MLB at Bat has to be a mobile app on the iPhone that sets the standard early for sports applications. $4.99 will get you wireless score access and in-game video highlights for every game on the MLB schedule. MLB Advanced Media has scaled the app to stream video to Edge phone smoothly at lower resolution and higher quality video to 3G and wifi connected iPhones. At this point MLB is selling at the $4.99 price through the end of this season and it will not be known if they will require a new sale/upgrade for next year and if the price to will remain the same. A similar service has been available on the web for a $3.99 month subscription.

Drawbacks: MLB stripped down this mobile version and could have easily provided box scores, team and division standings and player stats to make this window into baseball full-featured. As it is you will have to couple this app with another like the free SportsTap or Baseball and you might want to hold onto them if MLB decides to stop their service after the World Series. NOTE: MLB has issued a cease and desist order against the baseball enthusiast who wrote the amazingly detail rich Baseball App because he used team logos to frame all his stats and historical data the MLB app fails to provide in At Bat.

If the name of the app appears in italics it means the screen capture next to the description is for that app.

iPhone Most Desired Feature: FREEDOM!

After all is said and none, and we've all picked over the bones after the new platform release (iPhone 2.0), the Apple Apps Store, and the upgrades to the MobileMe network and the 3G iPhone... you kind of feel like the savagers at a warehouse remnants sale. We had our shot at the entrails but where is the meat?

What I've found after the July 11th release is a universal shared feeling among iPhone owners, iPhone potential owners and those who hold out against getting one. We want freedom from ATT contracts. And with this new release the dislike of ATT only intensified. Why? Because ATT thinks along the lines of the old business paradigm: Establish a monopoly then screw the customers with excessive rates, fees and special charges outside the basic plan.

When you look at the computer industry you think of Moore's Law. The technology gets faster, the capacity bigger, while at the same time the price drops due to increased acceptance and growing market. With ATT the moment is opportune to simplify their billing, lower their prices, increase the number of features they are offering, speed their services and by dropping their prices exapnd their share of the cell phone users market.

Instead what will happen with this growing dissatisfaction is developers (black hat, gray hat, and white hat) are going to find a way around the ATT calling plan.

The Apple iPhone is just the type of category redefining, paradigm shifting product that can propel a massive growth in customers switching and finding happiness with their service. Instead, everybody hates ATT and is struggling to break free.

We want freedom from ATT.

Friday, July 11, 2008

3G iPhone Launch Nightmare?

The verdict is in and the buzz around the internet is Apple is in the middle of a roll out nightmare. According to the New York Post (not normally a reliable source for anything) early in the day the iSNAFU has arrived on the streets of New York. The story reports that new 3G iPhone users have been experiencing problems getting the phone to boot out of the box.

A more reliable source Arstechica is reporting iPhone Parousia into activation apocalypse with customers in AT&T stores unable to activate their new iPhone due to the servers being down.

Also, the Apple MobileMe servers have been down all morning for us in the Midwest and persumably all over the world.

Inforweek is reporting Apple servers were overwhelmed by the huge surge in attempted activations of the new iPhone. Not only did the iPhone go on sale in the U.S but buyers in 21 other countries also drew down the capacity of Apple's servers to respond to phone activiation, software downloads by old iPhone users seeking to upgrade, and MobileMe initiates.

One Apple tech specialist explained that the Apple servers did not go down, they've just slowed to the point that it takes much longer than the patience of the iPhone users seeking to upgrade. When old iPhone users start to download the 2.0 upgrade and feel the stress of the duration, they stop the upgrade and then find their iPhone has been bricked and will not function for naything but emergency phone calls. Apple has designed the iPhone to work as a crude handset even if all the other software such as contact lists, voice mail and the operating system itself is not functioning.

CNET is calling the 3G launch one of the clumsiest product launches ever with Apple refusing to sell the new iPhone to "foundation" accounts, red lettered in their Apple Store computers as PLU. Those accounts, according to Matt Asay who found himself locked out of buying the 3G iPhone, must buy a iPhone from an AT&T store and not an Apple store.

Our advice to current iPhone users is to not upgrade until the surge is over.

iPhone Things Still Broke

There is a reason I got kicked out of the Apple Store! Friends tell me it sounds like a Seinfeld episode and it was like when Elaine got kicked out by the soup Nazi when the peach faced Mall of American assistant night manager booted my butt from the store yelling "...and don't come back!"

You see, I am not happy to buy into the blind loyality of the Apple faithful. I think there is still room for improvement wiht their products. I feel insanely great is still possible and that new products often fall short.

Items still not fixed in iPhone 2.0

1) voice input for notepad -- okay this is another opportunity for the 3rd party developers to shine (Jott for iPhone is on the way) however, why hasn't Apple make this feature a built-in to iPhone 2.0?

2) lack of Flash and JAVA support -- a friend said to me this wasn't Apple fault it is Adobe's for not making their software iPhone capable. Still, it is a pain in the butt when you go to a site and you get s stupid looking blue cube, I don't care whose fault it is!

3) copy and paste -- iPhone users and Apple faithful have been screaming about the lack of the feature from DAY ONE on the iPhone. Apple must be taking pleasure with each upgrade telling themselves, na-na-na, we still didn't listen (tongue stuck out)

4) improving the predictive text feature -- it is totally cool when it is right but a complete hassle and pain in the ass when wrong. I f Apple lets us turn it off or if its predictions were better we'd love touch-screen typing even more

5) video camera -- video is still mysteriously absent without leave from the iPhone. Although, I've heard 3rd party developers are uploading their video capture software to Apps Store and certainly the current iPhone camera is always in moving picture format, why doesn't Apple provide video software on the platform?

6) portrait mode keyboard in ALL applications (especially email and notes)

7) MMS messaging -- although I am not a text messaging kind of guy (other means of communication are far more effective and efficient) MMS is a standard in the world of mobile devices and this is a big barrier to widespread iPhone adoption by the finger bangers.

8) Bluetooth -- providing iPhone owners with bluetooth capability would introduce a range of accessories such as printers, wireless bluetooth headdsets and even short range communications and content sharing potential

9) 5+ Megapixel still camera -- there are other phones on the market providing more pixel depth with their cameras than the current iPhone and with the emergency of web 2.0 photosharing and geotagging capabilities the need for better quality with quickly become obvious


With this current iPhone 2.0 release and the newly established Apps Store, I think we can expect huge improvements with the functionality of the iPhone but it doesn't excuse Apple sitting on its hands and not make improvements to its hardware/software platform.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

iPhone & iTunes 7.7 on Apple Servers

Anxious to get started with iPhone 2.0 in advance of the official software update release?

A 225 MB download of the iPhone 2.0 firmware update has been found on Apple servers by ferreting Mac community members.

In addition to the push-pull mail, calendar and contacts features Steve Jobs revealed at the WWDC, the new iPhone software is reportedly capable of supporting full iWork document support so that you can view Pages, Numbers, and Keynote created documents.

Apple is also offering full support for Microsoft Office docs for Powerpoint, Word and Excel viewing. Improvements to the iPhone user interface include bulk-delete and move capabilities, the ability to save images from e-mails into their Photo Library, as well as settings for Parental Control.

Download and install at your own risk an you should be running iTunes 7.7. Reviews of the new features and reports of new application downloads are starting to come fast and furious now on the web.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

.Mac Servers are Down


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In preparation for the migration to MobileMe, the .Mac servers have been out of service for most of this morning, Wednesday, July 9th and will not be available thru Thursday. Judging from the message screen, it appears the shut down is world-wide and Apple promises to restore service as soon as possible after the switch over has been accomplished.

MacWorld is publishing a link to the Mobile Me software download for updating your desktop and laptop Macs if you are a .Mac user.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Apple App Store Opens Friday

In Apple's usual secretive fashion, imposing a silence pledge upon 3rd-party developers, the long anticipated App Store will unveil itself on Friday July 11th.

The big question waiting to be answered is how will iPhone 3G compete with the simultaneous weekend release of Eddie Murphy's MEET DAVE, Ellen "Juno" Page in THE STONE ANGEL or HELLBOY2? Will Apple be able to bring 3G into the Apple Stores like a massive fireball from space and explode onto the market with its "camp in line" rollout tactics? Who will win the weekend box office purse sweepstakes?

In the mean time, there is no button on Apple's iTunes Store for new iPhone applications. Thrill seeking-geeks discovered that by typing "Twitterrific," "TypePad" or "ShoZu" in the Search iTunes Store box, the Apps content will appear in the results and you will be able to browse and read about free and for sale apps and utilities that will be launched at the end of the week.

However, if you don't have an iPhone running version 2.0 (in others words a 3G iPhone that goes on sale at 8:30am on Friday in Apple Stores) you will not be able to install and use the applications you find with your searches until Apple makes iPhone 2.0 update available to all iPhone owners.