December 20, 2010

imageThe Mophie Juice Pack Air was an accessory that received praise for the iPhone 3G and 3GS. And while the iPhone 4 has good battery life in general, there are always those who will want more, particularly since – for all the nice, extra access touches for things such as screen orientation lock that we’ve seen in iOS 4.2 – it’s still a hassle to turn off features that drain the battery such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

I was a bit disappointed when I checked out Mophie’s new Juice Pack  Reserve and Boost for iPod and iPhone. They felt cheaply made, particularly the dock interface extension which sometimes would stick. butt the company has returned to form with its flagship iPhone charging case. The Juice Pack Air complements and can charge the iPhone 4 from a standard microUSB connector. It also includes a four-LED battery meter.

I still have a few quibbles. I’d like to see the cutouts for the buttons at more of an angle to make them easier to press even though this might sacrifice a bit of protection. Also, the top part of the enclosure can come loose if you are trying to grab it out of a tight pocket. Still, the Juice Pack Air is a great option to provide abbot 70 percent more battery life to he iPhone 4 and a great choice for those who are willing to trade its svelte profile for going the extra mile.

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July 1, 2010

Black and white iPhone 4 models at 30-degree angles.Apple says that the iPhone 4 is much more than just an incremental tweak from previous iPhone. And while it can defend that claim, the arrival of the iPhone 4 reminds me quite a bit of the arrival of the iPhone 3GS in many ways. First, a large part of the value lies in the release of new software, in this case the newly renamed iOS 4. Second, much as the iPhone 3GS ushered in video capture to the platform, iPhone 4 has added video (and stills) capability to the front of the device, providing the key hardware for the FaceTime videoconferencing.

Software

The three most significant new features in iOS 4 are multitasking (albeit Apple’s limited flavor of it), folders, and the universal threaded e-mail discussions, and they all improve the efficiency of working with the iPhone.Multitasking is particularly helpful when you need to switch among more than two apps and especially if those apps were located on different home screens (a scenario that folders also ameliorates). Apple’s approach has its drawbacks. For example, when you return to the e-mail client or a Twitter client, those apps will only then connect to the network and start downloading new messages. So if, for example, you haven’t remembered to switch to that app before entering a place with no coverage, you won’t have access to the latest updates. The upside to limitations like this is enhanced battery life, which I’ll discuss later.

In a release that has done much to alleviate the repeated swiping to move among home screens and e-mail inboxes, the task switcher seems like a throwback. While swiping to the left to access media controls is a good idea, Apple need not have so many screens of recently opened apps, and removing them from the selection row takes too much time and is potentially confusing. Also, it’s not clear why Apple preserves so much of the screen to the near-useless space of the active app when you are in task switching mode. These could all be addressed with simple fixes – devite, say, half or even 3/4 of the screen to task switching and implement WebOS-style flicking away of icons (or, even better, preview screens) to remove them from the app switcher.

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April 13, 2010

imageIts hard-line stance against Flash (how come no one ever talks about Apple banning Silverlight as well?)  notwithstanding, there have been steady signs that Apple is being more open to different kinds of apps that once perhaps would not have passed muster in its iTunes app store. Examples include MapQuest competing with Google Maps and Slacker, Rhapsody and others offering alternatives to iTunes purchases (although really representing “coopetition”). Indeed, if Apple is, at its heart, a platform company as Steve Jobs says, then that’s the way it should be. And both Apple customers and the company benefit.

Regardless of why Apple approved Opera mini, it is an asset to the platform, perhaps a parting gift to first-generation iPhone users stuck on an EDGE network. Due to its proxy architecture, Opera mini is much faster than mobile Safari. It also offers great Web site fidelity, and (somewhat less efficient than in the desktop version) tabbed browsing, but can’t work around the prohibition of Flash content. On the other hand, it doesn’t use the universal pinch and zoom gestures, and there are times I wish it allowed greater levels of zoom although I found the text to be quite readable. It’s somewhat counterintuitive that Apple allowed this “commodity” browser – so widespread in its availability on not only smartphones but many feature phones – onto the app store. But I’m sure customers won’t be complaining.

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April 8, 2010

image If you’re asking whether Apple implemented multitasking in iPhone 4.0 (and you’re not a developer), then you’re asking the wrong question. Multitasking headlined the seven “tentpoles” that made up the major new features of iPhone OS 4.0. Apple is bringing the benefits of multitasking through a clever mix of new system features that extend the benefits of multitasking that Apple pursued with push notifications.

Covering such major bases as background location tracking and extending background music playback from the iPod app to Internet services such as Pandora, there are now very few multitasking needs that won’t be met with Apple’s approach that, according to the company, preserves the keys of security – an approach that Apple maintains will preserve the keys of security, simplicity, performance and battery life.

The task switching in iPhone 4.0 complement other changes that used to require a seemingly endless series of swipes to get at information. These include a unified inbox and folders for grouping apps. (It would be great if the app store let you designate an app upon downloading). indeed, these should even free up more screen real estate for another new feature – custom wallpapers beyond the lock screen.

In the Q&A following the announcement, Apple was asked about widgets, a feature available on the Mac and on Android, but not on the iPhone. Apple seemed open to implementation at some future time, particularly with the iPad and took a step toward more lock screen functionality with music playback controls. All in all, the update should go a long way toward removing many user interface inefficiencies that Apple had begun to attack in the platform, as well as make using the iPhone a smoother and less frustrating experience on a daily basis. But since at least some of these features – especially the headlining multitasking – have been available from major competitors, it begs the question whether iPhone OS 4.0 is enough to beat back not only the imrovements of the core Android operating system, but what others are building on top of it.

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June 10, 2009

I’ve seen many reactions to the WWDC keynote that characterize the iPhone as something less than a compelling upgrade (while bemoaming the price of said upgrade) and pointing to the new $99 price of the original 8 GB iPhone3G as the bigger news out of WWDC. The entry-level iPhone is poised to be an aggressive challenger to many competitors, but some argue that it may be too aggressive against the iPhone 3G S.

I agree that the improvements in the iPhone 3G S are not as dramatic as the ones we saw in the move to the iPhone 3G, but the app ecosystem will add value to video capture on the new model. The extra $100 for the 16 GB 3G S is not a lot when amortized over the cost of a two-year AT&T agreement. And then there is AT&T’s 7.2 Mbps network upgrade, which could make the iPhone 3G S much faster at network operations in addition to local operations.

Regardless, Apple does very well with premium products. The 16 GB nano does quite well despite there being 8 GB models; it’s long been that way with higher iPod capacities. And especially with the iPhone, it’s in Apple’s long-term interest to accept some cannibalization of the high-end now in the name of extending the platform. I was surprised, for example, to see that there were already 5,000 Android apps and that the platform is accounting for 9 percent of mobile Web traffic according to charts that were presented at WWDC. Apple may lead in the smartphone app race, but it’s a long way to the checkered flag.

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March 18, 2009

image It’s paradoxical that Apple will support a wild array of devices in iPhone 3.0 but, at least as of yesterday, the company did not announce general support for external keyboards via either the dock connector or the HID Bluetooth profile. I’ve blogged before that a small folding case enclosing a keyboard and an iPhone/iPod touch would be a popular accessory and provide a competitive response to other smartphones that include a QWERTY keyboard. The iPhone software will be in an even better position to capitalize on such a keyboard once mail and other applications are available in a landscape orientation.

I believe that external keyboards are something Apple hasn’t yet supported as opposed to doesn’t want to support. However, there may be hope for one even if Apple doesn’t support them generally. Here’s how it would work. You purchase the keyboard and when you plug it in to Apple’s dock connector, it pops up a special writing application custom-developed for use with the keyboard. When you’re done writing, the app could take advantage of the new in-app e-mail or copy and paste functionality to transfer the text elsewhere. This is similar to how the now-endangered landscape-orientation mail writing applications work today. Of course, it’s all a giant kludge, but one I’d be willing to endure.

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image I disagree with the Gizmodo assessment that Kevin Rose was spot on with his iPhone predictions. It was a pretty safe bet to say that copy and paste would be in and multitasking would remain out. Of course, he was wrong on MMS and ignored the new functionality available to developers. But where he really missed the mark was saying that iPhone OS 3.0 would answer the functionality of the forthcoming Palm Pre.

Some of the Pre’s signature software features are (foremost to me) the Synergy integration of Web data, unobtrusive notifications, and a sleek multitasking “card” interface for applications. (The last has already seen a similar implementation for Web pages in Safari for iPhone.) Still, here was no mention of support of anything like those features. iPhone OS 3.0 adds universal search, but the implementation is different than Palm’s. Besides, I see that mostly as more of a blow against RIM, as the BlackBerry’s e-mail search was a distinct advantage that it had over the iPhone. I was surprised (although pleased) to see stereo Bluetooth support added, but this is of course a feature that many phones support.

Indeed, much of the focus yesterday was on the richness of the iPhone’s API that now incorporates even more of the capabilities available in desktop Mac OS as well as a wide range of new device support for the dock connector (although maddeningly no keyboard support via it or Bluetooth). Palm has likely avoided competing head-to-head against Apple’s rich developer infrastructure and dock connector ecosystem because of Apple’s strength.

There may well be more that Apple has up its sleeve before iPhone 3.0 rolls out. For example, given the multitouch conflict between Apple and Palm, I was surprised to see no new multitouch gestures rolled out. (Even MacBook trackpads are evolving their use of multitouch faster than the iPhone.) But for the moment, it appears that Apple and Palm are each playing to their strengths.

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March 8, 2009

imageThere’s been a lot already written about Kindle for iPhone and I’ll have more to say about it soon. The Kindle iPhone app is pretty basic, in line with one might expect for a 1.0 product, but represents an auspicious start for electronic books branching out from dedicated readers, which will be a niche market for the foreseeable future.

One of the best best features of the iPhone Kindle app is support for WhilsperSync, Amazon’s synchronization technology that keeps your library and  multiple instances of a book updated to the latest reading “location”. It’s a great idea that fits in well with how one might use e-books on an iPhone, catching up on a few pages during some downtime. Wouldst that other sellers of rights-managed content were so generous and flexible with product that has been legitimately bought. Unfortunately, due to the iPhone’s multitasking limitation, one must remember to start up the Kindle application to sync book locations prior to going offline in a train or airplane and to keep it connected (or reconnect it) to get the sync back to the on Kindle. I’m sure this could all be resolved through MobileMe, but that doesn’t seem to be the case yet.

Clearly OS X is a its heart a multiasking operating system. I don’t think Apple will capitulate to the increasing competitive pressure of the Pre and other operating systems per se, but if compelling applications appear on rival platforms that require true multitasking, Apple may need to reconsider.

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February 23, 2009

Gizmodo highlights an interesting demo video of how Apple could use iTunes to do a far more efficient and effective job of app management than is resident on the iPhone itself using the richer object manipulation capabilities of the PC. Some capabilities I’ve been hoping for that are demoed include reordering screens and selecting multiple icons. I’m not sure I need the “space locking feature.” But on the other hand, it doesn’t include the screen-naming feature I’d like to see.

I think Apple would have been more open to this back at the debut of the iPhone where the device was more dependent on the computer for tasks such as activation and sideloading. Gradually, though, as the iPhone becomes a more robust platform in its own right, the notion of the computer as the digital hub – at least for peripherals – seems to be fading. What replaces it? Perhaps the PC is disintegrating into fragment computing – notebooks and netbooks depending on the mobile usage model, MIDs to rival consumer electronics, and a home server for housekeeping and personal media distribution around the home.

In related iPhone wish list news, CrunchGear reports that someone has hacked Apple’s handset to accept input from an external keyboard via Bluetooth.

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January 30, 2009

image Predictions that we would see an iPhone nano at Macworkd Expo this year turned out to be wrong but rumors persist nonetheless. There’s no indication that this alleged new iPhone is cheaper or smaller, but that’s a direction that would be in step with how Apple evolved the iPod. And if you really want something iPhone-like but smaller with multitouch and a keyboard, that’s coming soon.

Given the relatively big font size used throughout the iPhone display, Apple could probably get away with a somewhat smaller screen, perhaps 3.2”, but I couldn’t see it getting much smaller than that. It’s just that other technologies in the device seem so intrinsic to its operation that it’s difficult to see where Apple would reasonably cut corners. Flash memory is one variable and we’ve certainly seen Sony and Microsoft experiment with different storage capacities to diversify their fixed videogame platform.

I’m actually more interested in what Apple will do to advance the iPhone in the next generation or high end and that is an even bigger quandary. The iPhone 3G nailed the two biggest targets in faster data and GPS and I’d expect the next iPhone to have a higher-resolution camera with autofocus. That’s an easy win.. Video capture would of course be nice especially for early adopters who use Qik and similar services. It would be great to see the iPhone be a more active contributor to iLife content.

But the other hardware gaps seem like things that Apple purposely wants to avoid – a physical keyboard, a memory card slot, and stereo Bluetooth. Perhaps, though, Apple will finally open the dock connector to third parties. It would probably take about three days for companies to announce add-on keyboard cases that turn the iPhone or iPod touch into a clamshell device, which would be a godsend for composing anything longer than a paragraph on the go.

The other big opportunities are software improvements. There are three that top my wish list:

  1. Just as the original Mac moved from single-tasking to multitasking, so must the iPhone. Apple displays Safari pages in a manner similar to the way Palm isplays applications and could extend that system to applications. If Apple isn’t going to embrace true multitasking yet, at least use a tile metaphor to streamline application launching. But true multitasking seems like an eventuality to me as Moore’s Law continues to reign.
  2. Organizing icons around the home screen gets unwieldy with many applications and screens. Screens should have names like folders. While we’re at it, how about a setting to automatically update applications?
  3. Universal – or at least e-mail – search. This is the killer Blackberry feature.
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