Category Archives: Apple

iPad: Initial Thoughts

One of the first features that struck me as surprising was the screen form factor. 4:3. As in, 4:3, like no other screen Apple makes. First, it feels strange to steer away from the expected widescreen aspect ratio the iPhone has, not least because most iPhone apps will run natively on this device.

On the other hand, will it be mostly used in portrait or landscape? I use my iPhone in landscape mode to play some games and watch videos, which I do only occasionally. I use portrait mode for most other things, like, browsing the web, email and Twitter. If most you need is portrait mode, then 4:3 format is wider and thus more useful.

The screen resolution is 1024 by 768 pixels. This is the same as the 12 inch PowerBooks used to have. When you look at a number like that, first impression might be that it’s way too small. Remember how awkward it used to be to work on a small screen if you had used a larger one? But then it occurred to me, iPhones screen doesn’t feel small although it’s only 320 by 480 pixels.

Why doesn’t it feel small? Because the interface and content you’ll use on it is designed to fit a specific screen size and resolution. Look at what you use with an iPhone; apps that are designed only for the iPhone or now the iPad, and websites which scale to the screen size beautifully – in most cases – and often enough there’s a custom made design for an iPhone. Screen can any size, what matters is how you use that space.

The Price

I think Kevin Rose nailed it by comparing it to the Kindle DX, which at $489 is only $10 cheaper than the 16GB model of the iPad. This was the biggest surprise to me.

Kindle DX 9.7” – $489.00

1024×768 color display upgrade – $1.00
Internet browsing upgrade – $1.00
iPod w/16GB upgrade – $1.00
Run iPhone apps upgrade – $1.00
1Gz A4 processor upgrade – $1.00
H.264 720P HD video upgrade – $1.00
Bluetooth upgrade – $1.00
10hr battery upgrade – $1.00
Multi-touch display upgrade – $1.00
Digital compass/accelerometer – $1.00

Your cost: iPad $499.00

As I tweeted earlier, if I were an Amazon VP or engineer working on the Kindle, I probably wouldn’t show up at work as Jeff Bezos is gonna fire the whole department. It’s incredible that Apple is going to be able to sell this at $500. I don’t think many expected that as the starting price point.

(Must be pointed out that, yes, the Kindle has a far superior battery life over the iPad. Do I care? No.)

And the best bit?

I travel a fair bit, mostly to Finland and Scotland to see our families but usually a bunch of other trips too, so I’m away from home probably around 50 days of the year. So far I can go without my laptop for about two days (yes, you can call me sad) but I don’t think I’ve ever been to Scotland for a long weekend without it.

What I consider as the watershed point is that can I load photos and videos from my cameras on to a larger device while I’m away to look at them and send them to other people. With the iPhone I can’t, with the iPad I can. That, to me, that changes everything.

Presumably, as the iPad will have versions iWork applications (Pages, Keynote and Numbers), there is going to be a place to hold other types of media as well. So far, you’ve been able to do this with third-party apps and with the awkward method of emailing files to yourself. Also, as the screen size and computing power of the machine will make this easier, I believe you’ll finally be able to edit Google Docs better than on the iPhone.

It’ll be very interesting to see whether or not you’ll be able to easily move files using Mobile Me as a gateway to your computer. Also, can I put a USB memory stick in the accessory port to copy files with?

How this might help me do a better job

Some might describe me as an ADD computer user. I never have less than 5 apps running or less than 10 Safari tabs open at any given point in time. I could be working on something and then I hear a bleep and suddenly I’m doing something completely different. This can be a good thing but often it’s hard to concentrate on one thing at a time. Cmd + tab and cmd + shift + ‘square brackets’ are my most used keyboard shortcuts.

The iPad wont have multitasking in the way that you could very quickly, without thinking, change to another task or app. This, I think, will be a great productivity improvement to me. The platform will force me to concentrate.

It’s not a reason to put ‘single-tasking’ on a device but it’s a great side benefit. I’ll probably go as far as to not have notifications turned on. We’ll see.

Final thoughts

Apple didn’t talk about how an independent publisher could publish content on to the device. There is that new iBookstore to go along the App Store and iTunes Store but no word on how can I get my content on there. So, I guess I was wrong about the changes in the – so far un-announced – iLife X. That’s a shame but again, I think third-party app developers will come and fix this. There already is a very cheap way of getting your social media and blog content into an iPhone app. At iSites you give details of what you want on it, pay $25 and publish. In few days or a week you’ll have you own, self-branded, iPhone app in the App Store. (By the way, there will be one for myself and for Suklaa, my company, very soon.) I believe there’s going to be similar schemes for publishing books as well.

Will I get one? Yes. Right away? Probably not. It depends on few things. I got the iPhone the day it came out but with this, I’m probably willing to holdback for at least few months and wait for them to iron out the kinks.

But then again, I can imagine it already being a revolutionary device that will change how and where I work and interact with people.

Resistance is futile.

Further reading:

Images courtesy of Apple Inc.

[Footnote not worth having in the main article]
A lot of people are angry at Apple for not having Adobe Flash run on the device. Did they really expect it to? iPhone is never going to support Flash. Period. Neither is the iPad. Period. If you have a problem with it, first read John Gruber’s article Apple, Adobe, and Flash and then either get over it or buy a Windows netbook. Flash is dead in the water.

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) iTablet.com 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.

Few Things for Apple to Improve On

As much as I love Apple and the ‘stuff’ they make, there are few things they really need to work on. Here’s the top 5.

1. Cable and earphone durability and pricing. Each Apple notebook I’ve ever owned have had it’s charger fail. Each pair of headphones I’ve owned with my iPhones have failed (either the rubber around the edge of the ear piece haas come off or the bit closes to the bit that connects to the phone has broken). These are not cheap to replace; charger goes for about £60 and iPhone headphones almost £20(!). Twenty quid is a lot of money for something that literally costs about 10 pence to manufacture. Talk about nickel-and-diming customers.

2. Battery pricing. We gave Darina’s three-year-old MacBook to my mum for Christmas. A few days before wrapping it up, the battery gave up. Fair enough, it was old enough to fail but when I started looking for a replacement I was in for a shock: £99 for an Apple branded official battery! One hundred pounds for a laptop battery! What a rip off. I ended up going to eBay and getting an aftermarket battery that came in at £40 including delivery.

3. Time Capsule. When I first started using it for backups I quickly realised it wasn’t very good at all. Backups of only few megabytes might take hours to complete and it was really susceptible to backup failures if the computer was put to sleep. But when I started using Backblaze for our off-site backups I realised how terribly implemented the Time Capsule really was. Backblaze backups that go over our broadband connection are faster and more reliable than the local network Time Capsule backups using Time Machine. Adding to this that ours has started to drop the regular wifi connection about five or seven times a day, the Time Capsule is a total failure. I talked to Apple about this, but as it was a few months over it’s 12-month warranty, all they could offer was to sell me a new one. It does comfort me to know that I’m not by myself in this.

To this I might add that if you’re not using Backblaze or some other similar offsite, over the Internet backup system, you are clinically insane. At $5 a month it’s a total no-brainer.

4. Crackidy crack, they can’t do plastics. Back of my iPhone 3G is cracked from few places where it wouldn’t crack when dropped (around the dock connector area and between the metal rim and silence switch). This is a common problem most people who haven’t dropped theirs and/or keep it in a case, have their plastic backs cracked.

Everybody I know who owns or has owned the plastic MacBook has had a crack on the front right wrist rest area. In the corner. Yes. You’ve seen this. Darina had her keyboard replaced twice because of this. No wonder they’ve moved to machine carved aluminium for most of their notebooks.

Plastic failures also might have played a role in the plug being pulled on the Cube.

5. iTunes Store pricing. May not be completely Apples fault but why is it that my local Sainsbury’s or Amazon has many of the titles for less money than on iTunes.

Let’s look at the bestselling top 5 film sales on iTunes Store:

(iTunes Store UK/ Amazon.co.uk)
1. Saving Private Ryan (£3.99 / £2.98)
2. District 9 (£10.99 / £9.98)
3. The Taking of Pelham 123 (£10.99 / £11.98)
4. The Hangover (£10.99 / £9.98)
5. The Hurt Locker (£10.99 / £11.98)

It’s not too apparent in new releases but once the film has been out for few months, Amazon prices tend to fall to £5-8. This isn’t the case with iTunes, those prices stay at £10.99 until there’s a promotion. For example, WALL-E is £10.99 on iTunes and £7.98 on Amazon UK for 2-disk special edition. Bargain.

I know this isn’t necessarily Apples own fault as their pricing policy might be somewhat dictated in their contracts with film studios but if they were to fix this, I’d definitely buy more films from there.

So, there we go. Do you agree? Disagree? Do you have anything to add? Let us know!

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.

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.

Conclusion

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

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Scheduling Time Machine Backups with AppleScript and iCal

Great news to all Time Machine users! It’s actually possible to schedule when you allow backups to happen. Problem has been that Time Machine tends to go on at times when it’s really not that convenient; when your working on something heavy and don’t want the extra CPU usage or when you need to leave your flat but don’t want to abruptly stop it backing up (latter can be really harmful to your backup so should be avoided). Two lines of AppleScript and few iCal events will fix this!

Few easy steps:

The Script

1: Open Script Editor.app from Macintosh HD/Applications/

2: copy and paste this in to the window:
do shell script "defaults write /Library/Preferences/com.apple.TimeMachine AutoBackup -bool true"

3: Save As: “TM-On” in Macintosh HD/Library/Scripts/Time Machine/

You don’t need to change the defaults

4: Open a new document in Script Editor

5: copy and paste this in to the window:
do shell script "defaults write /Library/Preferences/com.apple.TimeMachine AutoBackup -bool false"

6: Save As: “TM-Off” in Macintosh HD/Library/Scripts/Time Machine/

In iCal

(As there’s going to be repeating calendar entries for every day I’d suggest adding a new calendar so you can hide it.)

1: Create a new calendar entry for today.

2: Decide what time you want to turn Time Machine on. I’ve set it to 13:00 so it’ll be on when I get home. Also set it to repeat daily.

3: Set Alarm to Run Script and underneath File… and browse to /Macintosh HD/Library/Scripts/Time Machine/TM-On.scpt

4: Set it to go 1 minute before the event (if you set it to ‘on date‘, repeat wont work)

5: Repeat above steps for turning Time Machine of and you’re done. I’m turning mine off in the wee hours of the morning but if you like watching stuff on you laptop in bed you might want to turn it off – say – 21:00 so it won’t be backing up when you want to go to sleep.

6: Relax… or watch the video below. It shows how this is done in about 4 minutes. Click here to watch this video in HD on Vimeo.

[Update 1] If you’re having problems using this, it might be that you don’t have a .plist for Time Machine. As odd as it sounds, Darina’s MacBook was missing this completely. In order to create it, just go to TM preferences and add something to the excluded list. This will create a file called com.apple.TimeMachine.plist in your systems main library.

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.

kristian

*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.

iPhone 2.0 – Few Quick Notes

So I managed to download the 2.0 update sometime before coming available on as an official update (as of writing this, it’s still not available)

Here’s few initial thoughts, for your pleasure:

  • App Store is very nice to use, as easy as it was to use the Wi-Fi iTMS, it’s soo-u easy to download apps. Almost too easy, you can quite quickly end up downloading all sorts of little apps. I haven’t tried un-installing any yet, but I’m sure I’ll get to do that very soon.

Few Apps I downloaded

  • Remote. iTunes library remote control. Uses Wi-Fi to connect and surprisingly works on my PowerMac G4 which doesn’t have an Airport card itself but is connected to the Time Capsule. One less reason to get off the sofa. I hope Eye TV will develop something similar.
  • Super Monkey Ball. It’s harder than it looks in the SDK demos. And I can’t seem to be able to continue from same level after leaving the game. This might not be true, I haven’t played it that much yet.
  • NetNewsWire. Fantastic. Reason why I won’t even look at any other aggregator is that this syncs with the desktop and web interface of NetNewsWire. This is probably what I’ve been mostly missing with the iPhone. I get most of my news and blogs through RSS (I can’t understand why so many people still don’t use it) and have become quite reliant on it. It’s a simple, free and a must have app.

Other notes:

  • You can now search for contacts. I’m not sure if I like the way this is implemented- you have to scroll to top of contact list to search, rather than there being a dedicated button.
  • International keyboards! My favorite new feature after Apps. Maybe 15% of texts I send are in Finnish and this just got a lot easier. I hated the way it used to try and correct my words to English. (i.e. when spelling the word ja [Finnish for and] it would always correct it to the English word is. Super annoying but it’s fixed now, thank you.)
  • MobileMe supports contact/iCal etc. syncing. I think it’s disappointing that you need to pay £59 per year for something that should really be free. Seeing how easily the Remote app works with iTunes, the only reason Apple wants us to pay for that sync is that MobileMe still lacks useful functionality for most consumers. Which really comes down to greed. Perhaps someone else will develop a sync app, I’d be happy to pay money for it.

OK, that’s it. More to come when I have more time to spend with this. BTW, I’m not sure when I’m getting the 3G, could be bothered rushing to O2 store. They kept texting me saying how scarce they are and how if you want one this summer, you have to get it now. No thanks, I’m sure I can get one this weekend.

–kristian

Mobile Millennium Edition

I’m glad to say I wasn’t the only one getting things wrong. Apple joined me in the quest for humbling experiences. Not only does the name ‘Mobile Me’ will take time to get used to, but it also reminds us all of the beginning of this century or I really should say millennium. Windows ME was the most hated Windows OS until Vista took it’s throne. What was Apple thinking, are they insane? Who was in charge of branding? I think it’s embarrassing:


-kristian