Category Archives: iPhone

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).


“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.


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.)

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.


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 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¢.

Apple Media Event Predictions – iSlate and iLife X

Only way to be right – or wrong – is to make a claim.

If you still haven’t heard anything of the buzz surrounding Apples now confirmed press event on the 27th January, you’re either living under a rock or you’ve got better things to do than follow what’s going on in the world around you. In both cases, you might wanna first read about the Haiti earthquake and then come back here.

Continuing my long line of astonishingly inaccurate predictions, here’s my reading of the crystal ball.

1. The Tablet will be called iSlate. My reasoning behind this: a) isn’t owned by Apple, if it was they’d most likely use that and take ownership over the generic term ‘tablet’. Just like they did with iPhone. b) This, more or less means we’ll be talking about ‘slate computers’ rather than ‘tablet computers’, which is good because tablets don’t have a glorious history. c) They also wont call it ‘iPad’ simply because it’s too similar to iPod, MessagePad and ThinkPad. And it sounds an awful lot like a pad of totally different sort. I like the suggestion by Cabel Sasser that it’d be called ‘Canvas‘. I really do like that, it’s original and new but I’m very sceptical that Apple would use it. It’s too left field for them. (Look at the rest of their lineup; MacBook, Mac Pro, iPhone, Apple TV etc.)

2. iSlate has a roughly 10″ multitouch screen going up to about 1280×800 pixels, same pixel size as the 13″ MacBooks have. Or slightly smaller at 1280×720 pixels. It’ll have the same buttons as iPhone and no more. The dock connector might support plugin in other devices like card readers and alike. I believe that in order for it to be successful in replacing a notebook as a weekend-away computer it has to have connectivity beyond wifi and bluetooth (look at how little you can actually do with bluetooth on iPhone) Like on iPhone, you can’t have background apps.

3. iPhone 4.0 and iSlate SDK 1.0. iPhone 4.0 is mentioned as a side note but the real kicker is showing what developers can do with the iSlate. I believe it’s too risky for them not to talk about apps as the world has, in the past 12 months, gone app-crazy. That’ll be the first question people will have: What does it come with and what apps are out there. Developing apps for it is not much more than developing for iPhone. Most apps can be ported with little effort. One major difference between the current iPhone SDK and the iSlate SDK is that there will be a common file area that all apps can easily access. This means that we can finally have Mobile Me syncing for all apps that wish to support it. It also means that we can dumb photos from our digital cameras to an iPhone or iSlate, edit them on the go and upload to our Mobile Me service and from there to our Mac at home. This means iTunes will always remain synced as well.

4. Last year we got iLife ’09, this is year we’ll get iLife X, pretty obvious, but what’s new? Biggest single thing is that iDVD stops from the lineup and is replaced by iShow or iPublish or something similar that denotes other forms of publishing and content producing than just DVDs. (Really, when was the last time you made one of those?) Killer here is that you can publish to iTunes LP format which gets extended so that publishing an album from GarageBand, animated photo book complete with purchaseble art or a magazine with multimedia components becomes a breeze. And the best part about this is that you can offer them for download through the App Store. Well, best part if you like the App Store. This means that if you’re an author of books with lots of words, it becomes trivial to publish on to the iPhone or iSlate. Or iTunes. And Apple TV. Most people win.

5. iPhone 4 doesn’t get mentioned.

6. There wont be any mention of the iTunes music subscription service that will be launched on 7th Sept 2010.

There we go. Check back here on or after the 27th to see how well I’ve done.

geoDefense Swarm Medium Level 7 Solution

As I’ve been writing my next yet-to-be-published blog post, ‘8 iPhone Games You Must Have’, I’ve been getting deeper and deeper into geoDefense Swarm. It’s really difficult as the dynamics of the game keep changing from level to level and each level often has a unique solution. I’ve been struggling with medium level 7 ‘Nucleotide’, it’s really hard. So hard in fact, that I haven’t been able to find a sure-fire solution for it online.

Well, I’ve just spent a part of my train journey back from Scotland trying to crack this nut. And you know what? I have prevailed. In the end, it was pretty easy; all I needed as to think of what does ‘Deoxyribonucleic acid‘ mean. (This is written on the starting screen of the level.) From that I started thinking that perhaps it’s a hint on the form of defences you have to build.

I first tried with missile towers but the rockets are too slow so ended up using thumps. Upgrade those to level 7 as soon as. I usually do them in pairs so that two will be maxed out before any of the others are upgraded at all.

First time I managed this level, I only let one creep go through. Not bad.

Update: To clarify a little, Deoxyribonucleic acid is, of course, DNA in everyday language. The form that your defences are to take, resembles its form.

Pano Versus AutoStitch – iPhone Panorama App Comparison

What follows is a quick comparison review of two of the most popular iPhone panorama apps. Both are in the don’t-need-to-think-to-purcase category, which is to say under £2 ($3). At the time of writing, AutoStitch (version 1.0.1) is £1.19 and Pano (version 3.2) £1.79 from iTunes App Store.

First main difference with these two apps is that Pano uses iPhones camera to take the photos while with AutoStitch you use pre-existing photos from your iPhones library. Pano also has a quide that appears after the first photo to assist in aligning the next shot. This is very helpful but turns out it reveals the applications biggest flaw. We’ll get to that through the examples.


First two examples were taken inside my house resting the iPhone on a beer can to achieve relatively static position for the camera to rotate around.

Pano (fig. 1):

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AutoStitch (fig. 2):

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Pano wins hands down. Panorama produced is ready to be tweeted or posted on a blog with out needing any cropping or adjusting. Both handle slight exposure variations pretty well, but if you look at the top right corner of figure 2, you’ll notice that there’s a considerable amount of bleeding.

These two examples were taken in my garden. Weather was almost overcast but light levels did keep changing between some of the shots. I also timed the process of creating these panoramas starting from launching the app – or in AutoStitches case, Camera – taking the photos, compiling the panorama and saving it to iPhone’s gallery. Both took about 3 minutes with only few seconds difference.

Pano (fig. 3):

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AutoStitch (fig. 4):

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Now, figure 3 shows Pano’s first flaw, in bright light or with a strange camera angle, it’s really quite hard to look at the alignment assist and get you photos to match. Notice how there’s a fair bit of ghosting and duplication in the photo. Not so good. Pano seems to solely rely on your alignment skills in making the panorama, rather than applying some crazy maths to do the job for you. Figure 4, while un-cropped, does a nice job of showing the scene with out any ghosting or other madness.

Other features worth mentioning

To use Pano in landscape format, you need to change a setting. AutoStitch does this by noticing that photos you’re loading are in landscape, as you’d expect. Pano only uses photos that are shot in the app itself and doesn’t save those separately, which I find quite annoying. Also, taking photos with Pano is slower than using Camera app – you can’t just click click click – each photo needs to be OKed before the app lets you take the next one. Not good when making a panorama with people as subject or if you’re in a hurry.

Meanwhile, AutoStitch is lot more flexible. You can take your photos quickly and process the panoramas later. You’re also not limited in making horizontal, one row panoramas, you can make things like this:

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Pretty cool. It’s made of 22 photos! Can’t do that in Pano.


Get AutoStitch and then spend £1.79 on Photogene to deal with cropping and adjusting (see below) you master pieces.

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Apple Drops iPhone SDK NDA

Fantastic news:

We have decided to drop the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) for released iPhone software.

We put the NDA in place because the iPhone OS includes many Apple inventions and innovations that we would like to protect, so that others don’t steal our work. It has happened before. While we have filed for hundreds of patents on iPhone technology, the NDA added yet another level of protection. We put it in place as one more way to help protect the iPhone from being ripped off by others.

However, the NDA has created too much of a burden on developers, authors and others interested in helping further the iPhone’s success, so we are dropping it for released software. Developers will receive a new agreement without an NDA covering released software within a week or so. Please note that unreleased software and features will remain under NDA until they are released.

Thanks to everyone who provided us constructive feedback on this matter.

Reason, of course, why this is great is that this allows developers to talk to other developers about their apps and issues they might have come against. Having the NDA was a bit like Grain Corp. selling a grain but not allowing farmers to talk to each other how to best grow that grain.The Pragmatic Programmers has already reversed their decision to pull the production of an iPhone app development book. So it’s pretty good news.

What surprises me though is the way Apple has worded the announcement. They are apologetic not that it’s taken so long to reverse the decision but that they had it in place in the first place. That strikes me as being slightly odd. They could have easily just said this was their plan along and that the SDK is in a good enough state that it can be talked about.

On the other hand, maybe they’re apologising for this to make it easier to ignore people complaining about those few apps that haven’t been allowed into the App Store. Remember “…dropping it for released software…” means that you still can’t talk about it if your app is stopped at the gates of Apple*.

Nevertheless, I’m sure 99% of iPhone devs are happy to hear these news.


*Most famous case of an app being rejected entry to the App Store was ‘Podcaster’, an app that would allow you to subscribe to and listen to podcasts on your iPhone. What made it unique over iTunes/iPod combo on the iPhone was that it allowed you to download them directly on it without tethering to a computer. Pretty cool feature if you listen to a lot of podcasts like myself. Reason Apple gave for the rejection was that it ‘duplicated functionality of iTunes’. Fair enough reason as that’s warned about in the SDK. But doesn’t that mean that Apple is worried that someone might do things better than they do? Isn’t it just slightly anti-competitive?

iPhone Planets 1.2

Are you sick of looking at Earth on your iPhone wallpaper? Would you rather see Africa than the US side of Earth? Or do you just want more options? To scratch your itch I’ve created iPhone Planets 1.2.

New features in 1.2

  • Legacy planet, Pluto, added
  • the Moon
  • Asteroid Itakawa
  • Death Star
  • iPod Touch now supported

Other features:

  • Mercury
  • Venus
  • Earth (alternative view)
  • Mars
  • Jupiter
  • Saturn
  • Uranus
  • Neptune

Installing is easy:

  • Download above .zip file
  • Use iPhoto/Aperture and iTunes to transfer images to your iPhone
  • Navigate to the planets on your iPhone
  • Enjoy and share with others!

Compatible with iPhone and iPhone 3G. All images courtesy of NASA. Thank you.