Category Archives: Apple

Fingerprint snap back

You know what I thought when Apple announced the iPhone 5s and confirmed it having a fingerprinter sensor? “Jesus Christ, the amount of virtual ink that’ll be spilled in deploring the sensor and how easy it will be to fake ones fingerprint.”

Alas, of course, we didn’t even have to wait for the phone to actually in people hands. Or fingers.

Here’s Cory Doctorow:

More interesting is the prediction that phone thieves will lift their victims’ fingerprints and use them to bypass the readers. As German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schauble discovered, you leak your fingerprints all the time, and once your fingerprint has been compromised, you can’t change it. (Schauble was pushing for biometric identity cards; playful Chaos Computer Club hackers lifted his fingerprints off a water-glass after a debate and published 10,000 copies of them on acetate as a magazine insert).

Also:

“Fingerprints can be a useful addition to security but their value depends highly on the type of fingerprint reader and how it is being used – for example, the best use of a fingerprint is to provide a convenient way to unlock something in a medium to low security scenario,” Mr Rogers said.

First of all, “medium to low security” compared to what? A pin?

Next, since the sensor won’t work with a dead, a.k.a. chopped off finger, I’d imagine it’s really difficult to, but not impossible, to simply lift a copy of a fingerprint and use it to open the phone.

Rich Mogull has a pretty comprehensive analysis of the technology and using fingerprints for authentication.

The Touch ID sensor in the iPhone 5s is a capacitive reader, embedded in the home button. That was a good choice on Apple’s part, since capacitive scanners are more accurate and less prone to smudgy fingers, and can’t be faked out with a photocopy of a fingerprint.

And:

But the real reason is that using fingerprints creates better security through improved usability. Most people, if they use a passcode at all, stick with a simple four-digit passcode, which is easy for an attacker to circumvent with physical possession of your iPhone. Longer passphrases, like the obscure 16-character one I use, are far more secure, but a real pain to enter repeatedly. A fingerprint reader, if properly implemented, provides the security of a long passphrase, with more convenience than even a short passcode.

While I welcome Doctorow’s, and others’, pessimism in introducing new security measures and being critical of technologies such as fingerprint readers, I’d also welcome them to not just criticise, but also offer better alternatives.

I don’t think we’ll see many cases of people fingers being chopped off. If for no other reason, then for that charges on ‘nicking a phone’ are quite a bit less serious than on ‘bodily mutilation’.

A chainsaw, leg and iPhone

photo 4Some six years ago, my dad cut himself with a chainsaw. Accidentally. Right under the knee. It took a good five, six weeks to heal properly.

A few weeks ago he did it again but luckily this time he had an iPhone in his trouser pocket. Turns out, the metal frame around the iPhone works pretty well for stopping the chain and prevented it from eating into his quadriceps.

It reminds me of a story of a U.S. Army soldier in Iraq was shot but the bullet was stopped by his iPod. True, this isn’t quite as dramatic as being shot but he is a keen marathon runner and if he wasn’t able to run for a while, everyone would suffer.

photo 2

So. Leg saved by an iPhone. Big deal. But what’s even cooler is that the iPhone still works perfectly. Even the headphone jack, which is in the corner where it took the hit, still works. No loss of mobile or wifi signal. Pretty incredible.

(The Husqvarna chainsaw he used does have a mechanism that stops the chain from moving when you release the trigger. He had been operating the saw for some three hours which results in the chain loosening, which in turn keeps the chain stopper from working.)

iPad Air will most likely sell for £249 ($299)

I’ve been sitting on this screenshot for a while. Since the iPhone 5 announcement event, in fact.

It’s from the first few minutes of Apple Store UK coming back online after the event. Look at the iPad section and ‘from’ price. At the time, and still today, iPad pricing starts at £329 for the iPad 2. I think the screenshot shows the price that Apple at least at the time was thinking for the yet-to-be-announced iPad Air. £249.

(For the record, you can download the screenshot that was taken on my iPad, here. That’s the untouched, RAW file downloaded using Image Capture.)

Couple of things. First, how could Apple accidentally update the iPad ‘from’ price to a wrong one? It’s probably because they at some point might have planned on announcing the iPad Air in September and this price got stuck on one the website content templates that were consequently activated on the 12th September. Easy mistake to make.

But £249? Isn’t that more than what Google is selling the Nexus 7 for and what Kindle Fire costs? Yes it is and it doesn’t matter.

When has Apple ever intentionally competed on price? Never. After the original iPad came out, other tablet makers were unable to either match Apple’s spec or the price. The iPad was, and still is, unbeatably cheaper but I don’t think this is what they are going for; the price is a side product of an immaculate design and perhaps more importantly, the amazing scale they’re made at.

iPad Air isn’t trying to get into the sub-£200 game but it will establish what consumers are to expect from a sub-8 inch tablet.

Why Apple should buy Vimeo

With iOS 6, Apple is getting rid of yet another link with Google; the Maps app which has always been made by Apple but uses data from Google Maps will start using Apples own proprietary map tiles and directions.

Still, one well known Google property remains on the first home screen: YouTube.

Signs were there early on in February when Mountain Lion was first previewed to a few journalists. OS X is taking good part of iOS and one of those elements is the share button. In ML you’ll be able to share content to different services much like you can on an iPhone or an iPad. But videos, you can only share to Vimeo, not YouTube. This might obviously change by the time 10.8 is released but I think it send a pretty stern message: there is nothing Apple needs from Google.

After becoming a father just over a year ago I’ve shot a lot of little videos of our son. Email isn’t great for sharing files like that so I most often just upload them to YouTube as an unlisted video and send the link to my family. System supported service for uploading videos to is essential, even more so than for photos.

What’s stopping them? I don’t think Vimeo ‘is not for sale’. Any venture capital funded company that doesn’t have a clear path to turning large enough profits to bring a good return for its investors, is for sale. At the right price.

Biggest problem there is is the sheer scale of iOS; 365 million users* would definitely put an unpresented strain on the service. What better way then than to test how well it scales by incorporating it in a smaller product like OS X Mountain Lion?

UPDATE: After reading this again, I realised I didn’t clearly answer the question. Reasons are that 1) Vimeo on its own won’t be able to scale fast enough and 2) Apple is all about integrated services that it has full control over.


*Devices sold as of June 2012

Why did Apple wait until now before including USB 3.0?

I sometimes get into–let’s call them debates–with someone* about Apple. His comment was this:

Oh, Apple is caving in and adding USB3. Guess Thunderbolt was the failure it was made to be. Well, I’m happy: Less peripheral connection standards, the better of everyone is.

(He did compliment Apple for now including a USB port on both sides of the new 15-inch MacBook Pro.)

Let’s start in order, one by one.

Why did they wait until now with USB 3.0? Were they never going to include it or was this their plan all along? My guess is that they kind of knew they’d end up including it eventually but wanted to give Thunderbolt a head start. Let’s call it a strategic delay. As a standard, Thunderbolt is superior (more on that later) but to get peripheral manufacturers to adopt it they wanted to have on the market a good number of computers that only supported TB, Not USB 3.0.

If you look at the PC industry in general, you’ll notice that it’s pretty conservative when it comes to killing off legacy technologies. Don’t believe me? Sony, Dell and Toshiba have just launched new laptops and all three include a VGA port (via John Gruber). VGA ports? Yes, VGA ports. VGA was probably revolutionary when it was invented but that was literally 25 years ago. It’s time to move on.

I feel embarrassed using this analogy but heyho.. “If Henry Ford listened to his customers, he would have made a faster horse“. In other words; Don’t sell your customers what they want, sell them what they need.

Is Thunderbolt a failed standard? It can fail in two ways. 1) it’s a useless, badly thought our standard that doesn’t do what it’s meant to and/or 2) it doesn’t achieve wide enough adoption to be considered an industry wide standard. Number 2 remains to be seen, but at the moment things don’t look that bad; at least Western Digital, LaCie and G-Tech have external hard drives that support it. While Apple seems to be the only one having a Thunderbolt port on a display, you can use a Thunderbolt to DVI adapter and have the screen as the last node of linked devices.

This neatly brings us to why as a technology Thunderbolt is so great. To simplify this, it is basically like connecting something straight to the motherboard via a PCI Express. It delivers speeds up to 10Gbps which is so fast that you can’t find a single hard drives fast enough to take advantage of this (You can make a RAID array of SSD drives to do this). Unlike USB 3.0, it supports daisy chaining devices. You can have three hard drives, a Blu-Ray drive and a display hooked to the same port and use all of them at the same time. What’s not to like?

Finally, with this in mind, if you want less connection standards Thunderbolt is the one to have. I don’t mean the industry should completely abandon USB, there’s still lots of good uses for that, not least because it is so widely accepted.


*As the conversation happened on Facebook and the original status wasn’t public, it’s not my place to say who this person is.

That’s So Finnish

Nokia used to be a Finnish icon. Torchbearer of innovation, engineering and design.

Then, in 2007, Apple released the iPhone and denied Nokia the opportunities to be innovative, continue to create iconic designs or even engineer decent phones. If there’s anyone to blame for Nokia’s misfortune, slide in profits and marketshare, in the recent years, it has got to be the iPhone, Apple and their creator, Steve Jobs. Right? If only Nokia had invented the iPhone, all would be well.


Too many newspaper and magazine articles in Finland about Apple are blaming them for single handedly reducing Nokia from being one of the largest companies in the world to one which future as an independent company is no longer certain. (Microsoft could have bought them twice over with their cash holdings.)

Here’s David J. Cord for Helsinki Times: “[Steve] Jobs has probably been directly responsible for thousands of Finns losing their careers at Nokia or its subcontractors”.

Here’s another quote from Kauppalehti (to call them Financial Times of Finland is giving them too much credit but for the sake of familiarity, that’s the role they play there): “It is widely assumed that the [24th October] release date of Steve Jobs’ biography is timed to take press coverage away from Nokia World [which was on 26th Oct in London]”

Both quotes, I believe, represents the populist views that the press in Finland are eager to imbue. It’s easy to blame Nokias misfortunes to an outside force rather than be critical of the Finnish icon.

What’s worst in this is that this misguided view is mostly only held by the press and some of the public. Nokia management knew the ship was going to run ground unless the course was changed. They tried to change it but were not able to.

One personality trait that Finns have is a fear of failure. When you’re biggest fear is to fail it becomes near impossible to talk about it and accept it when you have failed. Nokia has been much more than just another company to Finns.

But that was in 2007. Now, in 2011, it’s high time for the press in Finland to grow up and 1) report on lessons that can be found in what went wrong with Nokia and 2) give a fair treatment to innovation that comes from outside the borders.

Tested: Nike+ GPS for the iPhone Review

Nike+ GPS iphone app main menu view copy
Nike+ plus has been around since 2006 when it was first introduced as a peripheral for the iPod nano. It worked by having sensor in the sole of your compatible Nike running shoe which sent the data to your iPod. When syncing your iPod to your computer, you could then send your exercise data to the Nike+ website for storage and sharing. Main issue with the Nike+ sensor is that it’s essentially a pedometer, it counts steps. There’s nothing wrong about using a pedometer, you just need to be aware of their limitations. Don’t expect better than ±10% accuracy.

In comes Nike+ GPS for the iPhone. As the name implies, it uses iPhones (3G, 3G S or 4) GPD receiver to track your run and you don’t, obviously, need to buy any hardware. I ran over 140km split across 10 exercises with the app. It’s not masses but I’d say it’s enough to get a good idea of what the app about. Much of the review is about how I would use it and the kind of training I’m doing so keep that in mind. I didn’t test the features I couldn’t care less of.

The Good.

It’s only $1.99 (£1.19). Nike+ kit for your iPod nano is around £20. I think for that, anyone wanting a little bit of encouragement for your runs should get it and try it out. I really like the map view of the run with each kilometre (or mile) marked. What makes this even cooler is that you can switch to a ‘heat map’ view. This creates a gradient with green-yellow-red to mark the fast and slow parts of your run. Is that useful? I’m not sure. As it doesn’t take into count the effort you’re putting into the run, yellow or red might either mean your running slowly or you’re running slow because it’s an up hill (website has an elevation view as well but it’s only directional. Read: inaccurate). Nevertheless, it’s fun little feature to show off your run with.

You can also label your runs with your mood, weather conditions and write a short note to remind yourself how it went or what type of run it was.

If you’re Nike, you can have the likes of Paula Radcliffe and Lance Armstrong do voice overs for the app. So they did. Yesterday, Lance congratulated me for the fastest 10k I’ve recorded with it. Another time Paula said I just did more exercises this week than the week before. Nice touch.

I was also impressed with it not draining the battery too badly. I would leave for 3 hour run with a full battery and return with at least 60% left. Your milage may vary, I’m using it with the iPhone 4.

The Bad

Heat map display should have a way of increasing the contrast around the areas where you’re actually running. To explain. Say I’m on a 15k run around the streets of London. There’s bound to be places where I have to stop or walk for ten, fifteen steps. These spots are marked as your slowest pace for the exercise although they might only count ten meters of the training session.

If Nike is listening, I’d recommend ‘crushing’ those areas off of the scale and marking them in black thus leaving more contrast for the actual run. At the moment all of the heat track just looks a bit too similar all the way through.

The Ugly

For the past two years, I’ve done more or less every one of my runs with the Polar RS200 SD. It’s extremely accurate. On my last marathon in Edinburgh, it was only 300 metres off. That’s less than 0.5%. People who have tested these, say that it’s more accurate than the current GPS based running computers.

That said, I’m very disapointed with the accuracy – or the lack of – with the Nike+ GPS. It can be that the iPhone’s Location Services isn’t giving it accurate data but most runs it’s been off by a considerable margin.

Fig. 2

Fig. 3

Nike+ GPS iPhone app exercise heat map view detail 2 copy

Fig. 4

Look at the fig. 2. That’s a heat map of a run I did on 3rd October. Notice anything strange? Was I really running at 1:23/km pace? Pace faster than Usain Bolts pace on 100m. That fluke is caused by the GPS getting mixed up and it thinking that I’m in two very different places almost at the same time. The GPS tracking isn’t continuous, it pings the satellite every few seconds and if the location is very different between those two samples (see fig. 3), it wont think there’s something wrong. Instead, it’ll think I’m Clark Kent and thus capable of such speeds.

Not only does that screw up how the heat map is show. More importantly it throws of the total for the exercise. In the case above by almost two kilometres. Also, it’s not only limited to these large ‘once of’ inaccuracies. Look at fig. 4. At least when running in a city, there’s a constant jiggle on the route. This, over time, adds a fair bit into the over all distance. Trees and bridges are another weak spot. I think Nike could do a lot in software to improve the accuracy even if the GPS data isn’t perfect.

The last straw for me personally was yesterday. I was on a 10+10+10k run (cleverly to mark 10/10/10*) around my usual route through Tower Bridge and Westminster, when on the way back it stopped my exercise at around 24k mark without telling me it had done this. If you’re collecting data from your runs, nothing is more annoying than incomplete data.

Conclusion.

I think it’s OK for some runners. I wouldn’t recommend it to long distance runners or anyone wanting a reliable way of recording runs that are longer than 10k. If you’re a beginner runner and want some encouragement, go for it. Me, I’m sticking with the RS200 but will also give RunKeeper a try so stay tuned for another one of these reviews.


*Take this a step further:

Running 10+10+10k in training for a marathon is fitting as 101010 is 42 in binary and marathon is just over 42k. #running

(to quote myself)

A Galaxy For Your iPad [Updated for the 2012 iPad with Retina Display]

The set of photographs that come with your iPad are great. However, you might want something more. Here’s one I put together. It is, obviously, inspired by The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. To get it on you iOS device, just tap the Don’t Panic link below and and tap-and-hold when the large image appears. Then just select Save Image.

Don’t Panic – Retina quality
Don’t Panic

That image is courtesy of Nasa. You can find the original here: M82 – Galaxy with a Supergalactic Wind.

By the way,
When the original iPhone came out in the UK almost 3 years ago, I put together a collection of alternative planets, just incase you got bored of the western hemisphere of Earth. you can find that here. (Yes, alternative view of the Earth is included.)

We’re In The App Business, Baby

There’s few things better in life are than the feeling of achievement. Unlike most project that I work on this took more or less only 3 weeks from idea to a product.

Last summer after running the Edinburgh marathon, I thought that there must be a better way of creating split times when preparing for a race. (Split times are used by runners to help them run at a consistent speed through out a long race.) Initially I though it should be a website that would help generate them I quickly let go of the idea as I didn’t think I could recoup the money I’d need to invest in it. As you probably know, I’m not a programmer, and I would have had to hire someone to come code it for me.

Then around mid April this year I was listening to an interview of Ryan Carson on the Pipeline podcast where he was talking about the importance of passive income. In the interview, Ryan mention a website called smartpassiveincome.com where the author, Pat, blogs about different passive income streams that he’s been able to create. One of many things he’s doing is developing iPhone apps. As he’s not a developer, he outsources the development work via various outsourcing websites. I guess hearing how little you can have something developed inspired me return back to the idea of making something that helps runners create those split times.

The process itself was almost scarily fast. I mocked up about four or five screenshots in Photoshop to see how the app might look. I then posted a job on a freelancer outsourcing website. Few days later I had enough proposals to choose from and in another 2 weeks the app was ready! Once the ball was rolling, it took surprisingly little time to get it finished.

So what’s the app then? It’s called Split Times. Check out the video below to see how it works. Or get it in the App Store, it’s only 99¢.

Price of Bits

End of last week Amazon pulled all of Macmillans books off their website and the Kindle store to try and bully the book publisher to let them sell ebooks at a lower price of $9.99. Moments later, they caved and all the books were back, some with higher prices.

Macmillan’s argument was that they should be able to sell bits – as in ones and zeros – at the same price as they sell hardbacks.

Amazon’s argument, I presume, was that they – both Amazon and Macmillan – can make more money by selling the ebook version at a lower price. Shifting physical goods costs money, shifting bits across the Internet doesn’t.

There are three loser in the case when Amazon makes a decision to sell bits for cheaper:

1. The company who prints the book and later has to collect unsold copies of books and pulp them.

2. Climate chance deniers are angry at less trees being torn down.

3. And book publishers autonomy suffers.

Of course, Macmillan only cares about the latter. They want to feel like they’re in charge. They don’t want the bookstore to have the control over what they themselves used to be able to control.

As a bystander, it looks a lot like when Tesco/Asda/Sainsbury’s dictate milk producers at what price they’ll need to sell them milk. Undercutting their actual cost-of-production prices thus making it necessary for governments and the EU to subsidise farming.

Only that… the difference here is that book publisher don’t write books, they publish them. Writers write books. And at no point in this argument between Macmillan and Amazon is anyone asking ‘what do the authors think of this’. Why? Because they’ve been messed about for long enough and they don’t have a voice when it comes to Big Business.

Sure, the top 10 authors make a fair bit of money. The rest don’t. If John Graham-Cumming makes $1.30 per copy of The Geek Atlas sold, all you can think of is to ask where does the rest disappear. It’s the same thing with artists and bands, they make about 6 per cent of the selling price of a CD or a song. No wonder why piracy is rife. Or was, until some figured out that people want easy access to music and that can be paid for with advertising and gigs.

Interestingly, John also says in his tweet that he makes $1.96 per sold ebook. For maths illiterates amongst my readers, whom there are none, that’s more than the hard copy.

(I’m only using him as an example as I knew the numbers. You should run and buy his book, it’s great. I’ve bought a copy for myself and two to give as gifts. By the way, that link is an affiliate link, if you use it, I’ll make a bit of money. In fact, I’ll probably make more than John does from that purchase. That’s how strange the whole setup is.)

OK. I’ve been rambling on a bit without a clear goal.

Why can’t Macmillan allow Amazon to set the price? I’ve got a hunch that, they, Amazon, know far better what sells and at what price than anyone in the room.

They are scared and insulted. That’s probably why.

Selling bits

There is a lot that has to be said for perceived value of a product. Just ask people reading newspapers; paper copy of the same news is valued at £1, digital copy is valued at zero pounds.

When watching the iPad announcement, I made an argument that the average price for an iPad app is going to be more than the average price of an iPhone app. Let’s pull couple of numbers out of the hat: average price of indie software for Apple platforms:

Macintosh: $20
iPad: $5 (for apps that are made to work on just that platform)
iPhone: $1

My reasoning behind this is that it’s easier for a consumer to justify paying more for a product that runs on a faster, larger device. Perceived value.

By far, most ebooks (that are NOT in public domain and many of the ones that are) are DRM protected, therefore can only be viewed on the device they were bought for and cannot be lent to friend. Yes, you can only read a book on the paper it was printed on (pretty good DRM) but no-one is going to tell you not to lend it to your friend.

As I’m limited in this way when buying a book, I don’t think I should be paying as much for an ebook as I pay for a hardcopy. I value the art that has gone into writing the book as much, but as a product, an ebook offers a lower value* because of the limitations it imposes on me.

So, what changed. I’m pretty sure Amazon is quite anxious of what Apple is going to do with their iBook Store. Biggest reason for them to worry about is whether Apple is actually going to pull Amazon’s Kindle app for the iPhone of of the App Store and thus no longer be able tosell books for that device. I think this would be classed as anticompetitive behaviour and it wouldn’t go down well with the courts, from Apples point of view. Amazon would win, but everyone would suffer. I also think that we’re close to seeing whether Apple still thinks it’s in the hardware business rather than starting to show signs of wanting to make money with software and content.

Amazon, on the other hand, should concentrate on it’s ‘we’re a bookstore’ business. Not to forget about Kindle completely but to make sure they stay competitive in the ebooks market. I have no doubt they wouldn’t, this case with Macmillan just shows it. They’re not selling quite that many Kindle’s that they could stop selling lots of books to read on them.

Book publishers, like record companies, will need to find ways of staying relevant as more and more books are being published with out them. They need to find and nurture talent.

Most of all, this is an interesting time for authors. There’s a million ways for a book to be published. It used to be that the hardest part was to get noticed by a publisher, now, if you can get noticed by your audience, you can actually make it. I predict that with in a few months, there’s going to be iPhone OS (for both iPhone and iPad) developers who have a plug’n play – or plug’n publish – solution for you to sell your book on these devices. In my previous post I mentioned iSites, that allows you to publish your social media content and blog through an app. It’s trivial to do this for a book. Just wait and be ready.

Ending note

This was a bit of a brain dump. So many companies have vested interests and legacy to hold on to that it really annoys me when I feel that progress is being stifled or slowed down. The paradigm has changed a long time ago but many still feel like holding on to the past. Everybody needs to really think ‘what business am I in’ and not try to have foot in the door to other contradicting areas. I guess I need to keep that in mind myself as well. What am I good at, get better at it and do it.

* Must be said that in many cases, especially for textbooks and manuals, an ebook can offer more value with it’s lower footprint and the fact that I can read it on-screen with the work I’m doing.