Thursday, May 27, 2010

I Want iPhone Multitasking. Now!

While folders were my #1 most desired feature for the iPhone, multitasking was more of a nice-to-have for me.  Those days are long gone however as I now find myself wanting multitasking for more and more apps by the week.

It use to be that I couldn't read someone demanding for iPhone multitasking without the first (and usually only) example listed was so that they could keep listening to Pandora while switching to use other apps.  While I started using Pandora years ago and it was one of the first iPhone apps that I downloaded, my personal listening habits are such that I rarely use it.  And whatever my old iPhone usage habits were, it seemed the lack of 3rd party app multitasking (since the Apple apps included with the iPhone already have it, which is why you can listen to the iPod app while using any other non-music app with your phone) wasn't that big of a deal.  But lately I've been using WunderRadio a lot and it stinks that I can't do something as simple as look up the current song I'm listening to in the iPhone's iTunes app without cutting the music.  Or check up on my bank accounts with Mint, check sports scores on ESPN ScoreCenter, check my twitter account on get the idea.

So while I respect Apple's reasons for being slow to adopt 3rd party app multitasking for the iPhone and - with up to 7 different APIs for developers to choose from to best suit their app - I'm very enthused about how Apple is implementing it, I'm getting anxious - if not foaming at the mouth - waiting for this feature to arrive.

It will be a great leap forward for the iPhone and its users.  Take the example I used above with being able to pull up iTunes from any radio app.  The possibilities for apps working with other apps in a symbiotic fashion are exciting and can only make the iPhone platform more appealing for developers and users alike.

So not only can I not wait for app-wide multitasking on the iPhone, I also can't wait to see how it expands the possibilities of what some of my favorite apps can already do.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Response: Why the Number of iPhone Apps is No Longer Meaningful

This is a response to an article from the always excellent John Martellaro of   In the article John opines about how it was once important for Apple to tout how many apps were available for the iPhone.  But now with the number of apps exceeding 200K it ceases to be relevant.  What are the relevant metrics then?  Well check out the article to find out, it's well worth the 3 minutes of reading time.

As for my take, the number of apps available for the iPhone was a Big Deal when the iPhone and app store were still reaching out to new customers. It was important to show that the app store had developers behind it and that it was a thriving ecosystem.  Now after 2 years of having the app store and 3 years of the iPhone, I think it’s safe to say that Apple has achieved the respectability and market penetration it desired to call the whole iPhone ecosystem a success.

From here on out, the number of apps doesn’t really matter like it once did, and as John accurately notes it can only lead to ammunition for Apple’s mobile competitors as the Android ecosystem tries to catch up. Time for Apple to make another trademark maneuver and change the rules before the market catches up. Focus on the few remaining markets the iPhone hasn’t penetrated before settling in as the leader not in total market share, but in high revenue market share - just like where the Mac platform sits today.

In the meantime, I would like to see Apple diverst some of its attention back to the iTMS ecosystem (particularly AppleTV, NOW before GoogleTV makes it irrelevant), change MobileMe's iDisk to allow transparent access to you hub Mac's My Documents folder from any iDevice (just like DropBox), and maybe clean up the OS X GUI a little bit more.  They are amongst the few significant holes in Apple's digital hub architecture, but like any hole left open it's just opening the door for a competitor to come in and exploit it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

I Want My iPhone Folders. Now!

My #1 most desired feature on the iPhone - by a country mile - was folders for organizing my apps.  So when such folders were announced as a forthcoming feature of iPhone OS v.4, I figured this would satisfy my desires with this knowledge that my wish would be fulfilled in just a couple of months. 

I thought wrong.

Since the announcement, my desires have descended into frustration and is now borderline outrage.  Before I had no problem sitting down in front of my hub Mac and spending 15 minutes (or more) organizing my 11 pages of apps.  But now, forget it.  I've given up on organizing my apps all together.

Being able to organize your apps in iTunes was a much needed step for the iPhone, but it always was a crutch solution.  The real problem was that 11 pages of apps was just ridiculous.  I gave up on scrolling past the 5th screen a long time ago and have now gotten quite comfortable using Spotlight to find the app I want.  I'd say that's quite a pretty impressive behavior change coming from someone who still rarely uses Spotlight on the Mac.

So how's that working for me?  Not as bad as you might think.  The Spotlight search is awesome as I can find most apps just by typing in 3 letters.  And it's smart too.  When I was following the NCAA men's basketball tournament using CBS' March Madness app, I would just start typing "NCAA" and Spotlight found the March Madness app before I was finished typing, even though NCAA doesn't appear in the app name.  Cool stuff!

Still, I find myself denouncing my iPhone more and more for not giving me a better way to organize my apps than trying to keep related apps (ex. news, sports, weather) together on the same page.  How much longer can this behavior continue?  Please Apple, don't make me find out.  Give us iPhone OS v.4 sooner rather than later.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Fine Print: Goodbye Canon i9100, Hello HP PhotoSmart Plus

It's a day that was long coming and now it has finally arrived. My long-in-the-tooth Canon i9100 met its successor on Tuesday, a new HP Photosmart Plus printer/scanner/copier combo. Getting a new printer was on my to-do list for over a month, but all of a sudden it just seemed like a good belated Mother's Day/early wedding anniversary gift. And much to my wife's shock (and a little of my own), I did not research my purchase one bit.

I just went to Target, looked at what they had - which was about 12 printers all within all between $80 and $135 - and just went with the most expensive model. I tried to compare features, but they all seemed the same. Except this HP seemed to be the only one that supported wireless printing, something that I don't see myself needing but could be very useful in the future, in addition to several other features that I really don't think I need either.

But to really understand why I got this printer, you would have to have lived with my Canon i9100 for a while. I've had it for almost 7 years and even then I bought it used off of E-Bay as I was cheap back then. The appeal then was that Canon i9100 allowed you to print your own 17x9 prints. I had dreams of filling my walls with awesome prints of my awesome photos.

However the dream quickly led to reality, and it wasn't pretty. For example:
  • Keep those ink cartridges fresh: there was nothing worse than starting one of those large 17x9 prints and watching white lines appear in the middle of the photo because at least one of the ink jets got clogged. At roughly 75 cents for a sheet of 17x9 paper and expensive ink, you could see your money go down the drain.
  • Oh, and just because each color comes in its own cartridge means that you just have to change that much more cartridges. I swear the ink would evaporate if the printer sat.
  • 17x9 photos are a little wider than your typical 4x6, and if you frame your photos are carefully as possible this could have a dramatic affect on your prints
  • Also while 17x9" was a nice wide print, good luck finding any frames that can fit them.
  • Back when I first got the printer, most of my photos had been shot on a 3 megapixel camera. Even though 3 megapixels are more than enough for good 4x6 prints, printing them up to 17x9 often meant the prints were blurry when viewed up close.

Ultimately it became apparent that this was the kind of printer for someone who runs their own photo labs. Someone who prints every day. So it was with great sadness as I watched this printer drain my pocketbook with every $50 set of ink cartridges (and that was off of eBay, retail price would be $78 + tax!). Actually I didn't realize it, I denied it. But in the last year even I could not ignore the fact that the printer couldn't produce any color besides red and black accurately and having to run the printer utility to unclog the print head before almost every use. I finally had to admit that I not only needed a new printer, but this printer has been one of the worst investments I've ever made.

I briefly considered getting another Canon 17x9 printer. But with their current model running $450 on Amazon, knowing that I can comparably sized prints from Walgreens or Sam's Club for well below $20 and remembering how much hassle the i9100 was, I gave up the dream.

So here am I with a new printer in front of me ready to be setup this weekend. Will I finally be able to print my own prints when I need them now? Will I still have to replace ink ever few months even if I haven't been using the printer? Stay tuned, I'm excited to put an end to one of my worst chapters in home electronics and open a hopefully much happier new one.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

iPhone OS 4.0 - A Whole Bunch of "Finally"

Apple finally gave us a teaser about what to expect in the next version of the iPhone OS and I'm already drooling over it. Its not so much that iPhone OS 4.0 will be give us a lot of Earth shattering features, but that it will refine the existing interface in ways users have been clamoring for since the iPhone went supernova with its introduction of 3rd party apps. In fact, a lot of these features have been present in the jailbreak community for some time. So now, Apple finally catches up and gives users these well-deserved features. So in my personal order of enthusiasm, here's what we're getting when we download iPhone OS 4.0 sometime in July.

  1. Folders

    I've been wanting folders on my iPhone almost as long as there has been an app store. It's not just that I keep filling my iPhone up with apps - my iPhone is filled right now and I've deleted several dozen apps off my iPhone in the past couple of years. It's about organization.

    I like to keep several different apps that present the same information in different ways. For example, for general news I usually use USA Today's very polished iPhone app. But sometimes I like to use Google News, and some other times AP News, and still other times the NY Times. I like the diversity and being able to try out different sources.

    I can easily dedicate separate screens for all my sports apps, weather apps, music apps, arcade games, brainteasers, etc. I have far more apps than Apple has screens for. While Apple tried to help by upping the number of home screens to 11 with iPhone OS 3.0, it was Pyrrhic victory. I don't even scroll past the 6th screen anymore, I hit the home button, scroll one screen left to the spotlight search, and start typing in the app name. It works really well and I have to say, maybe Apple did this on purpose to get me to use the spotlight search. OK, probably not, but it's worked out well for me.

    So thank you Apple for finally getting us folders on the iPhone. Hands-down my favorite new feature, even though it is long overdue.

  2. Multitasking

    This is the feature that everyone on the Internet seemed to be talking about. And almost every one of them said it was needed because they listen to Pandora and hated having to stop the music just to check their e-mail, send a text message, etc. Seriously, it really did seem like that. Then a few weeks ago I started to have the same problem - not with Pandora because I rarely listen to it but with several other radio apps I use (WunderRadio, KCRW, and my beloved but late WOXY).

    So finally Apple will give us multitasking. Actually, 7 different flavors of multitasking. Don't worry, for us they will all taste the same, the different varieties are for the developers to choose which option will work for them. One flavor is specifically aimed to keep music playing in the background when you switch to another app, just like the iPod app already enjoys. Another flavor will be aimed for applications like Skype that just need to sit in the background until summoned.

    This is seriously cool. Apple's reasons for withholding multitasking until now - fear of complicating the user experience, a lack of available RAM in earlier iPhones and the potential energy consumption from letting too many apps run around just to name a few - do make some sense. Without an elegant way to manage multiple running applications, the iPhone's trademark simplicity could be compromised and battery life could be severely reduced. In concept at least, it appears that Apple has found a balancing point between all these issues.

    Most importantly, if you have friends who are Droid fanatics like I do you can finally tell them to shut up already. And if they still give you flack, be sure to point out how many task manager apps there are in the Android app store. And how many of those sell like hotcakes. But only if they throw the first stone, don't be that guy who brags about all his phones' cool features. Not only is just the wrong thing to do, but also because in 6 months the Android will roll out some cool feature that the iPhone can't touch.

  3. Game Center

    I don't want to get to deep into this because I plan to blog about this separately. But here's a tale of two games. I downloaded a game, Words Free, based on reputation and it's reasonable, impulse shopping-friendly price (free!). This Scrabble knock-off was a winner simply because I was playing against real people and it was fascinating to me to build an impression of someone just because of the words they played. Similarly I downloaded Monopoly a couple of weeks later expecting the same experience. Sadly I was crushed when I fired up the game and saw that there was no playing other players beyond your living room or wi-fi network. It almost goes without saying that the computer AI was no match for a real person, and after about 5 games I gave up on this app.

    As inexcusable as it is to me to not incorporate Internet play on an iPhone board game, now Apple will truly make it inexcusable for all developers.

  4. Enterprise Features

    While I won't be using these directly, anything that brings me closer to my dream of accessing my work e-mail on my iPhone is a pretty big deal.

  5. iAd

    Unlike a lot of people, I have no problem with iAd (except for the name, anybody else getting tired of the i-names yet?). I accept that advertising, even in-app advertising, is necessary for many apps to survive. At least iAd gives advertisers a chance to make the typical in-app ad for more friendly. Being able to click on an ad and not have it open a Safari window is already a 1000% better than how it works today. If more ads were fun and tied in with the app you're using, everybody wins.

  6. Local Notifications

    To me this is part of multitasking. Apps that are in the background can notify you when they need attention. Uhm, yeah what else are they going to do, bounce up and down on a dock?

  7. Custom Backgrounds

    Another bragging point for Droid users and jailbreakers. Nice, especially in conjuction with folders, but nothing worth high-fiving about.

  8. Enhanced E-mail

    Probably will be useful, but it really doesn't stand out to me. Maybe I need more e-mail accounts?

  9. iBooks

    Well this just makes too much sense not to happen. Of course if you buy iBooks for your iPad you should be able to have them on your iPhone. And of course if you have an iPad you'll only read these iBooks on you iPhone only if your iPad is 1) out of battery life 2) left at home or 3) being used by another family member.

  10. Fast App Switching

    Also part of multitasking, when you switch back to an app that you had previously opened, it will reawaken in the same state as you left it. Well duh, that how it should work. This isn't a feature, it's a right.

  11. 5x Digital Zoom

    This is a joke, right? No "finally" here, the iPhone still doesn't get an optical zoom yet Apple is bragging about a built-in digital zoom?

  12. Other Stuff

    Gizmondo has a very good run down of at least a couple other dozen features that are too small to mention on their own, but they are almost all pretty good. In particular I'm interested in the ability to create your own playlists in the iPod app, which is an interesting change of pace from Apple's philosophy to do most if not all of your organizing on you hub Mac and not on your cloud devices (iPhones, iTouchs, iPads). Hmm, could an album creator be far behind for the iPhone's Photos app? Please Apple, please?

Finally, what other things should the next version of the iPhone have? While writing this article I came up with a few:

  • Add basic photo editing tools to the Photo app, much like Apple did for video in last iPhone software revision
  • Rename the photo app to iPhoto, then try adding more features from the desktop version to the iPhone version. At least let me sync my iPhoto slideshows to my iPhone through the Photo app, and not store them as movies in my desktop iTunes library.
  • Trimming video in the Camera app is great, but would it be too much to ask for some cropping tools too?
  • Optical zoom and better low-light photography for the phone. OK, the zoom is hardware and this was a software-only announcement, but it really is time for an optical zoom on the iPhone.

Have your own wishes? I'd love to hear them so please drop them off in a comment below.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Open-Source Fanboys Rejoice: Big Corporation Dumps Flash from its Website

Finally it's not just Apple, Google, or pro-open technology Web site authors who are drumming to a different beat when it comes to using Flash. The Register has reported today that Virgin American airline has decided to avoid using Flash on its website.

Justifiying his iconoclatic stance, chief information officer (CIO) Ravi Simhambhatla told The Register "I don't want to cater to one hardware or one software platform one way to another, and Flash eliminates iPhone users. This year is going to be the year of the mobile [for Virgin]."

Ravi goes on to explain that once the standard is ratified, the Virgin American airline website will also move to HTML5. I'll bet that statement brought a lot of smiles to some folks at Cupertino and Mountain View, CA.

The most important point in the article however is not that Flash is evil or open-technologies are inherently superior, it is the importance of understanding what your customers want, determining and weighing the pros and cons of the available technologies and then making the best possible choice.

Ravi nails it in this one succint quote: "Flash is really, really good, but as long as you can keep the hardware controlled...If the hardware you are trying to put your product on isn't [controlled] then Flash is questionable."

In Virgin's case they decided that Flash wasn't the best choice for their website, based on Flash's performance, its inability to reach iPhone users, and how it played a limited, nearly inconsequential role on their existing website. But before anyone declares Flash dead, note that Virgin Airlines will use Flash for their upcoming check-in kiosk system based on its ability to provide a rich interactive experience in a controlled environment.

So today I congratulate Virgin Airlines for their pragmatic approach to incorporating technology for the benefit of their customers. Not that I think they'll need it. Usually when companies make informed technology decisions instead of "going with the flow" or following a prevalent ideaology, the customer wins. And happy customers almost always turn into repeat customers. That's how to do business.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

State of the Nation? Blah! Try State of the Internet

I would not be surprised if Americans were more interested in the words "State of the Internet" than "State of the Union." The Internet plays an increasingly larger role in many of our lives. How many? How much? How come we get so much spam? Well the answers to these and many more questions are answered in this addictive, stat-driven multimedia video.

State of the Internet video put together by Jesse Thomas.

Wow, roughly 1/4 of all humans have access to the Internet? Over 80% of e-mail is spam? FaceBook page views outpaced MySpace by over 10:1?

One question it didn't pose was with FaceBook and YouTube serving up so many page views and videos, respectively, when will either of them start turning a profit (if ever)?