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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.