Category Archives: Technology

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¢.

Uncertain Future of Polar

My running computer of choice is the Polar RS200 SD, which includes a wrist watch, a heart rate monitor (HRM) and a foot-pod which accurately measures my speed and distance traveled. I’ve been using it for almost a year now and can’t imagine running without it. I’ve ran more or less 1500 km with it so far.

With the way things are going, it looks like it’ll be my last Polar. They have stopped innovating outside their watches. My 7-year-old model of a watch already does 100% of what I want from it during a run but even the newer models do little for me after a run.

This post is a about things I think are necessary for them to do so they can survive.

1. Embrace the Mac

Polar customer support when I asked them about their plans for developing an app for the Mac:

“We’re following the Mac market share closely but so far don’t think it’s big enough for us to concentrate on.”

Concentrate or take notice of?

Market share illusion

I know many of the few PC-using readers of mine will think “here we go again, another Mac fanboy upset his Mac wont run something”. And it’s true, I am upset. It’s a real shame Polar doesn’t make a Mac application. It’s a shame for me as a runner and it’s a shame for Polar. They will end up loosing me as a customer because of it.

The Mac has about 9% market share of personal computers and it’s growing. But market share is a cold statistic that doesn’t take into count either the actual human or the computer behind the number. In June this year in the US, Apple’s share of over $1000 computers was a massive 91%. Those are sold to people who care about the quality of the product they’re buying and are willing to pay more for it. They have more disposable income.

My last argument to shatter the market share illusion comes from a games developer:

Consider this:

  • Out of the several hundred thousand downloads of Tribal Trouble. the Mac is responsible for 23%!
  • Out of all sales of Tribal Trouble, the Mac is responsible for 47%!

[Oddlabs Blog]

This is after they decided to port their popular PC game to the Mac. There is less choice in games and software on the Mac but this should not be seen as an obstacle but rather as an opportunity.

Competition

The four leaders in the market of running computers are Polar, Suunto, Garmin and Nike with their Nike+ product.

Neither Polar or Suunto make a Mac app. Garmin does and it looks pretty decent. Nike+ syncs with nikeplus.com using iTunes on a Mac or a PC. On top these there’s a slew of apps for the iPhone (just search for ‘running’ in iTunes store and find out for yourself).

(Out of the iPhone apps I’ve only used RunKeeper. For free you’ll get duration, distance, pace, speed, total rise, elevation versus speed and path on map and if you pay a little – £5.99 – you’ll get some extra social features. RunKeeper still, in my experience, has it’s downfalls but I’m sure those will be fixed one day.)

Talking about the iPhone, it has been seen as, like iPods, a ‘gateway drug’ that often leads into buying a Mac. People get used to the easy user interface and the fact that ‘it just works’ and end up buying a Mac as a result. Apple has sold 40 million iPhones and most of them are not Mac users. Yet.

I recently went to few specialised running shops here in London and asked what customers are buying and why. Result; Polar is popular but more and more people are buying Garmin ‘because it supports the Mac’.

I also did a quick survey amongst 13 friends of mine who are active runners. 9 out 13 are Mac users! That’s 70%.

So what should Polar do about this?

I’m not suggesting that they should necessarily go ahead and build a Mac app. It would be nice but at the same time they’d be splitting their resources (all though, in reality it would mean hiring Mac developers or another company to build it). And it could end up being like killing half a bird with one stone.

I believe they should build a very good web app along with little helper apps on both Windows and Mac that transfer data between the Internet and the exercise computer. This takes the pressure off of keeping two different complex apps current on two different platforms. It saves money and it saves time. And it makes a lot of sense.

2. Socialize

Not just because it’s hip. Running is a solitary sport. Roll it in flour, have a running club or run with a friend; in the end of the day, you stamp those kilometres all by yourself.

How much effort is Polar putting into it’s polarpersonaltrainer.com website? Although they change the copyright notice in beginning of the year to 2010 from 2008, not much has changed in a while.

Queue PolarSocial.com

Polar should extend their existing online service so that you can share your results and experiences with other runners you know and find new friends who are local to you. I would love to be able find other Finnish runners in South East London to run with. People are already doing this on other social networks and Polar themselves are in the prime position to, not create, but facilitate the community that already exists around their products.

“I’m not a runner. I’m a Polar runner.”

It’s not about reinventing the wheel. It’s really about taking their existing online services few – or few dozen – levels up. On top of it being the destination to store you past exercises and plan for future ones, you can share this data with other likeminded runners.

There are lots of running groups on Facebook, Yahoo Groups and other forums as well as there are dedicated social networks for runners; like Strands.com. From these, it’s easy to see that there is demand for this.

3. Open Up.

Polar is a hardware company. They make physical objects athletes can wear while exercising. Then, why do they tie you up to their platform when your exercise is over? Why can’t you click a button at polarpersonaltrainer.com that says ‘export my data’?

Is it because they they think closedness is good? It scares me to load my data into a place that I can’t bring it with me if I wish to leave. That’s why my exercise calendar is on Google Docs. No, it’s not a completely open platform but at least I can export my data in various different formats as a backup. Or edit it on my desktop.

There’s two things Polar needs to do when it comes to openness.

First, they have to build an SDK and example apps around their platform(s) to enable third-party developers to build on top it. Perhaps not as far as running software on the watches themselves but desktop applications that will lead the way in innovation. Think of how well the iPhone has done after allowing third party apps. Apple sells a lot more of their devices as a result of supporting a large amount of applications.

Second. The data held at PolarSocial network they should build ought to be open. API and widgets, fire hoses of data that developers can use to build other services around. For example, look at Twitter. 80% tweets come from other platforms that their own website.


What’s my point? This is the same struggle many other companies are going through. The paradigm has changed and you either change with it or you die.

Polar, if you’re listening, get in touch. I have tons more ideas on how all this should be done and I’d really love to help. I’m in the market for a new running watch and I’d like it to be a Polar.

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.

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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