kottke.org posts about iPhone

Goodbye cameras, hello networked lensesJan 03 2014

Craig Mod, writing for the New Yorker, says goodbye to cameras as photography transitions to the use of "networked lenses".

After two and a half years, the GF1 was replaced by the slightly improved Panasonic GX1, which I brought on the six-day Kumano Kodo hike in October. During the trip, I alternated between shooting with it and an iPhone 5. After importing the results into Lightroom, Adobe's photo-development software, it was difficult to distinguish the GX1's photos from the iPhone 5's. (That's not even the latest iPhone; Austin Mann's superlative results make it clear that the iPhone 5S operates on an even higher level.) Of course, zooming in and poking around the photos revealed differences: the iPhone 5 doesn't capture as much highlight detail as the GX1, or handle low light as well, or withstand intense editing, such as drastic changes in exposure. But it seems clear that in a couple of years, with an iPhone 6S in our pockets, it will be nearly impossible to justify taking a dedicated camera on trips like the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage.

And indeed, the mid-tier Japanese camera makers (Panasonic, Fujifilm and Olympus) are struggling to find their way in the networked lens era. A few years ago, I wrote a post called "Your company? There's an app for that." about how smartphones were not only going to make certain devices obsolete, but drive entire companies and industries out of business. This bit, about cameras, seems almost quaint now:

Point and shoot camera -- While not as full-featured as something like a PowerShot, the camera on the iPhone 3GS has a 3-megapxiel lens with both auto and manual focus, shoots in low-light, does macro, and can shoot video. Plus, it's easy to instantly publish your photos online using the iPhone's networking capabilities and automatically tag your photos with your location.

The best camera is the one you have with you the one with built-in posting to Facebook.

The birth of the iPhoneNov 27 2013

iPod phone

On Medium, an excerpt of Leander Kahney's book on Jony Ive about how the iPhone came to be developed at Apple.

Excited by Kerr's explanation of what a sophisticated touch interface could do, the team members started to brainstorm the kinds of hardware they might build with it.

The most obvious idea was a touchscreen Mac. Instead of a keyboard and mouse, users could tap on the screen of the computer to control it. One of the designers suggested a touchscreen controller that functioned as an alternate to a keyboard and mouse, a sort of virtual keyboard with soft keys.

As Satzger remembered, "We asked, How do we take a tablet, which has been around for a while, and do something more with it? Touch is one thing, but multitouch was new. You could swipe to turn a page, as opposed to finding a button on the screen that would allow you turn the page. Instead of trying to find a button to make operations, we could turn a page just like a newspaper."

Jony in particular had always had a deep appreciation for the tactile nature of computing; he had put handles on several of his early machines specifically to encourage touching. But here was an opportunity to make the ultimate tactile device. No more keyboard, mouse, pen, or even a click wheel-the user would touch the actual interface with his or her fingers. What could be more intimate?

Turn your iPhone into a microscopeOct 22 2013

With $10 and a little elbow grease, you can turn your iPhone into a really nice digital microscope capable of 175x magnification, allowing you to take photos of plant cells:

iPhone microscope photo

Here's how you do it:

(via ★interesting)

Part of the untold iPhone storyOct 05 2013

In what appears to be an excerpt from Fred Vogelstein's new book on the Apple/Google mobile rivalry, a piece from the NY Times Magazine on how the iPhone went from conception to launch. That the Macworld keynote/demo of the phone went off so well is amazing and probably even a bit lucky.

The iPhone could play a section of a song or a video, but it couldn't play an entire clip reliably without crashing. It worked fine if you sent an e-mail and then surfed the Web. If you did those things in reverse, however, it might not. Hours of trial and error had helped the iPhone team develop what engineers called "the golden path," a specific set of tasks, performed in a specific way and order, that made the phone look as if it worked.

But even when Jobs stayed on the golden path, all manner of last-minute workarounds were required to make the iPhone functional. On announcement day, the software that ran Grignon's radios still had bugs. So, too, did the software that managed the iPhone's memory. And no one knew whether the extra electronics Jobs demanded the demo phones include would make these problems worse.

Here's video of Jobs' presentation that day:

Computers are for peopleSep 27 2013

The Kottke post I probably think about most often is 2009's "One-handed computing with the iPhone." It just has all these perfectly rounded sentences in it, like this one:

A portable networked computing and gaming device that can be easily operated with one hand can be used in a surprising variety of situations.

Try to take the adjectives and adverbs out of that sentence. (Strunk and White say to "write with nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs. Strunk and White are often surprisingly stupid.)

But also try adding any more adjectives or adverbs in. Try adding in or taking away any of the clauses. Try writing a better sentence that describes the same thing. (This is also known as "the Mohammed Test.") Try to misunderstand what the sentence means. I'm a professional writer. So is Jason. I appreciate this stuff.

There's also a lot of structural and emotional variety in this post. The author gets mad. He makes jokes. But mostly, he observes. He studies. He empathizes.

People carry things. Coffee, shopping bags, books, bags, babies, small dogs, hot dogs, water bottles, coats, etc. It's nice to be able to not put all that crap down just to quickly Google for the closest public restroom (aka Starbucks).

It is very occasionally necessary to use the iPhone while driving. No, not for checking your stock portfolio, you asshole. For directions. Glance quickly and keep your thoughts on the road ahead.

My wife spends about five hours a day breastfeeding our daughter and has only one hand available for non-feeding activities. That hand is frequently occupied by her iPhone; it helps her keep abreast (hey'o!) of current events, stay connected with pals through Twitter & email, track feeding/sleeping/diaper changing times, keep notes (she plans meals and grocery "shops" at 3am), and alert her layabout husband via SMS to come and get the damned baby already.

I liked "layabout husband" so much when I read it, I started referring to Jason as "noted layabout Jason Kottke." At a certain point, I forgot where the phrase came from.

But read that last paragraph again. You can't read that description of Meg and not think of it every time you either are or aren't doing any of the things she does in that sentence, every time you have to have to carry a bag and use your phone, every time you have to open a door and use your phone, every time you don't have to use your phone while walking down the street but you do it anyways, because you can, and the fact that you can now means that you have to.

I think about it every time I cover a new gadget and companies start touting its hands-free features, how it's added a new voice interface, how its new keyboard algorithm makes it easier to correct for typos. People didn't use to market that sort of thing. But companies started to notice it was one of the things their customers liked best.

I also thought about it when I read these tweets Meg wrote, just yesterday and this morning, about how the newer iPhone's longer screen borks its one-handed functionality.

I have enormous man-hands, and I still think that the trend toward enormous screen sizes on smartphones stinks. Not only is it harder to use a phone with one hand, it's harder to fit a phone in a pants pocket, and a long, thin phone is more likely to tip over and get knocked off a table or shelf.

Markets are gonna market, and specs are gonna spec, but it often feels like companies are forgetting that computers are for people, first. And people have bodies, those bodies have limitations, and all of us have limitations in specific situations.

We're all disabled sometimes. If I turn off the lights in your room, you can't see. If I fill the room with enough noise, you can't hear. If your hands are full, you can't use them to do anything else.

But as Sara Hendren writes, "all technology is assistive technology." When it's working right, technology helps people of every ability overcome these limitations. It doesn't throw us back into the world of assumptions that expects us all to be fully capable all of the time.

That's not what good technology does. That's not what good design does. That's what assholes do.

I think often about Jason's post on one-handed computing because I'm in the story. He wrote it for his wife, and he wrote it for me. I'd badly broken my right arm in an accident, snapping my radius in half and shooting it out of my body. Emergency room doctors stabilized my arm, then surgeons took the fibula from the left leg and used it to create a graft to replace my missing arm bone.

I'd broken my right leg, too, and sustained a concussion. With both legs unstable, I was stuck in a bed most days, and even when I could start putting weight on my left leg again, I couldn't climb in or out of bed to get into a wheelchair without help. I'm over six feet tall and I weigh about 300 pounds, so most nurses and orderlies were out of luck helping me. I couldn't type. I couldn't use the bathroom. I had hallucinations from the pain medicine. I was extremely fucked up.

Another victim of the accident was my Blackberry, my first-ever smartphone, which I bought just before I finally got my PhD. (I revealed this once in a 2010 post for Wired. Commenters called for my head, saying anyone whose first smartphone was bought in 2009 had no business writing for a gadget blog. "I'm sorry," I told them. "I spent my twenties learning things, not buying things.")

After I was discharged from the hospital, I spent money I didn't have to get an iPhone 3G, which was my phone for the next three years. It was mailed to me at the rehab institute where I learned how to walk again. And it changed everything for me. Even with my left hand, I could tweet, send emails, browse the web. I could even read books again -- even print books weren't as easy as the iPhone.

And then I read Jason's post about one-handed computing. And I thought and thought and thought.

I started blogging again. I even started my own community blog about the future of reading. The next year, that led to some articles for Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic.

I was back home by then. My injuries had cost me my postdoctoral fellowship and a second crack at the academic job market. But I was able to audition for and win an entry-level job writing for Wired the same week that I did my first stint guest-hosting for Kottke.

And I swore to myself that I would never forget: technology is for people.

Anyways, the accident that broke my arm in half was four years ago today.

It was on Jason's birthday. He was 36 then; I was 29. His son was two, almost exactly the same age as my son, his brand new baby daughter less than a week old.

It was all so very long ago. It was the beginning of the rest of my life.

If you ask me why Jason Kottke is important to me, it's because in 2005, he found my little Blogspot blog when it only had a couple dozen readers and started linking to it. It's because his idea of "Liberal Arts 2.0" led to a book I made with friends, some of whom went off to make extraordinary things of their own. (We offered to let Jason write the forward; characteristically, he declined.)

Then Jason became my friend. Every so often, he gives me the keys to this place he's built -- home to the best audience on the internet -- and lets me write about things I care about. And because of all of that, I got a second chance -- me, with all of my flaws and frailties, my misdeeds and mistakes.

But really Jason is important to me because Jason is always writing about how technology is for human beings. He doesn't bang gavels and rattle sabres and shout "TECHNOLOGY IS FOR HUMAN BEINGS!" That's partly because Jason is not a gavel-banging, sabre-rattling sort of person. But it's mostly because it wouldn't occur to him to talk about it in any other way. It's so obvious.

The thing that tech companies forget -- that journalists forget, that Wall Street never knew, that commenters who root for tech companies like sports fans for their teams could never formulate -- that technology is for people -- is obvious to Jason. Technology is for us. All of us. People who carry things.

People. Us. These stupid, stubborn, spectacular machines made of meat and electricity, friends and laughter, genes and dreams.

Happy birthday, Jason. Here's to the next forty years of Kottke.org.

My voice is my passport. Verify me.Sep 13 2013

Soon, new iPhone owners will be able to use a fingerprint to access a phone or buy something on iTunes. Apple's introduction of this fingerprint technology adds a nice layer of security and a bit of convenience for those whose fingers are too tired to type in a four-digit password. But soon, we will be interacting with a lot more devices that have no screens, and biometrics will be the logical way to secure our data. Companies have already developed ways to identify you, from your fingerprints to your heartbeat. And while these methods certainly seem more effective than simple (and often easy-to-hack) passwords, it's a little worrisome that we'll essentially be sharing even more personal data, right down to our person. In order to give us the promise of more security, companies will want to know even more about us. It feels like we've passed a point of no return. So much about us is stored in the cloud (our finances, our communication, our social lives) that we can't turn back. The only way to protect what you've shared so far is to share some more. Protect your data with a password. Protect the password with some secret, personal questions. Protect all of that with your fingerprint or your heartbeat. Before long, you'll have to give a DNA swab to access a collection photos you took yourself. It's a trend worth watching. The last decade was about sharing. The next decade will be about protecting.

iPhone 6 InfinityAug 12 2013

Apple fan fiction is more popular than ever and usually takes the form of mockups of designs for new products and alternate designs for existing products. There's been a recent burst of creative energy unleashed on Dribbble around the idea of an iPhone with a screen that wraps completely around the device (or at least down around the sides). Claudio Guglieri seems to have accidentally started it with this mockup of an RSS reader he's working on:

Iphone 6 Infinity

Fabio Basile dubbed it iPhone 6 Infinity and made a Photoshop template that others could use to make further mockups. More mockups from them and others followed: Side Screen, another Photoshop template, a wrap-around social app, an alternate lock screen, and these subtle side indicators.

Iphone 6 Infinity

Leaving aside for the moment the issue of how a touchscreen device that's all screen would function while being held, the visual effect is pretty cool.

Stupid calculationsMay 31 2013

From a new site called Stupid Calculations, here's what an iPhone consisting of all the iPhone displays ever built would look like plopped down in the midst of Manhattan. Behold the Monophone:

Monophone

I also enjoyed this dicussion of what a distribution of actual cash from Yahoo to Tumblr would be like.

What if Marissa preferred instead to thumb off hundred-dollar bills into an ecstatic crowd of Tumblr owners? Using the stack of hundreds kept handy around the house, I conducted a test that worked out to a rate of 90 bills per minute. It could certainly go faster, but it's important to make a little flourish with each flick, a self-satisfied grin spread across the face. 90 bills per minute x $100= $9000. $1.1 billion / $9000 per minute = 122,222 minutes or 2037 hours or 84.87 continuous, no-bathroom, no-sleep days.

And what will she be getting for all this generosity? In addition to the office, it buys 175 Six Million Dollar Men; with 175 employees as of May, the acquisition works out to $6,285,714 per employee. That's $41,904 per pound in livestock terms (175 employees @ an average of 150 lbs= 26,250 lbs total).

Wanting to be likedMay 24 2013

This interview with a 14-year-old girl about how she uses her iPhone and social media is almost equal parts fascinating and terrifying. Some choice quotes:

"I'll wake up in the morning and go on Facebook just ... because," Casey says. "It's not like I want to or I don't. I just go on it. I'm, like, forced to. I don't know why. I need to. Facebook takes up my whole life."

--

"I bring [my iPhone] everywhere. I have to be holding it," Casey says. "It's like OCD -- I have to have it with me. And I check it a lot."

--

Not having an iPhone can be social suicide, notes Casey. One of her friends found herself effectively exiled from their circle for six months because her parents dawdled in upgrading her to an iPhone. Without it, she had no access to the iMessage group chat, where it seemed all their shared plans were being made.

"She wasn't in the group chat, so we stopped being friends with her," Casey says. "Not because we didn't like her, but we just weren't in contact with her."

--

The most important and stress-inducing statistic of all is the number of "likes" she gets when she posts a new Facebook profile picture -- followed closely by how many "likes" her friends' photos receive. Casey's most recent profile photo received 117 "likes" and 56 comments from her friends, 19 of which they posted within a minute of Casey switching her photo, and all of which Casey "liked" personally.

"If you don't get 100 'likes,' you make other people share it so you get 100," she explains. "Or else you just get upset. Everyone wants to get the most 'likes.' It's like a popularity contest."

--

"If I'm not watching TV, I'm on my phone. If I'm not on my phone, I'm on my computer. If I'm not doing any of those things, what am I supposed to do?" Casey says.

Josh Miller asked his 15-year-old sister about social media trends. That was six months ago, so everything has probably already changed, but it's still an interesting read. (via digg)

How blind people use InstagramJan 03 2013

Tommy Edison shows how he uses Instagram on the iPhone.

So we'll just take a picture of the crew. Why I'm holding the thing up to my face like I can look through the thing is beyond me, but here we go.

His Instagram feed is available here. (via ★precipice)

What if Apple launched iPhone 5 on Kickstarter?Sep 26 2012

If Apple launched the iPhone 5 on Kickstarter, it would have been the first $1 billion campaign:

iPhone 5 on Kickstarter

$1.7 billion in sales for a weekend...not bad. I got the rough first-weekend sales numbers from Asymco and fudged the rest.

iPhone in CSS3Jun 19 2012

iPhone CSS3

Is it real or is it CSS3? Amazingly, the above image was made entirely in HTML and CSS3 by Dylan Hudson. (via ★interesting)

The iPhone: maybe the best thing for the blind since BrailleMay 03 2012

For some visually impaired folks, the iPhone has been nothing short of revolutionary.

For the visually impaired community, the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 seemed at first like a disaster -- the standard-bearer of a new generation of smartphones was based on touch screens that had no physical differentiation. It was a flat piece of glass. But soon enough, word started to spread: The iPhone came with a built-in accessibility feature. Still, members of the community were hesitant.

But no more. For its fans and advocates in the visually-impaired community, the iPhone has turned out to be one of the most revolutionary developments since the invention of Braille. That the iPhone and its world of apps have transformed the lives of its visually impaired users may seem counter-intuitive -- but their impact is striking.

See also Austin Seraphin's account of the first week he spent using an iPhone.

The other night, however, a very amazing thing happened. I downloaded an app called Color Identifier. It uses the iPhone's camera, and speaks names of colors. It must use a table, because each color has an identifier made up of 6 hexadecimal digits. This puts the total at 16777216 colors, and I believe it. Some of them have very surreal names, such as Atomic Orange, Cosmic, Hippie Green, Opium, and Black-White. These names in combination with what feels like a rise in serotonin levels makes for a very psychedelic experience.

I have never experienced this before in my life. I can see some light and color, but just in blurs, and objects don't really have a color, just light sources. When I first tried it at three o'clock in the morning, I couldn't figure out why it just reported black. After realizing that the screen curtain also disables the camera, I turned it off, but it still have very dark colors. Then I remembered that you actually need light to see, and it probably couldn't see much at night. I thought about light sources, and my interview I did for Get Lamp. First, I saw one of my beautiful salt lamps in its various shades of orange, another with its pink and rose colors, and the third kind in glowing pink and red.. I felt stunned.

(via NextDraft)

The iPhone, an automobile for your mindApr 25 2012

Tom Vanderbilt says Americans don't walk as much as they used to; automobile usage has eaten into our perambulation time.

If walking is a casualty of modern life the world over -- the historian Joe Moran estimates, for instance, that in the last quarter century in the U.K., the amount of walking has declined by 25 percent -- why then do Americans walk even less than people in other countries? Here we need to look not at pedometers, but at the odometer: We drive more than anyone else in the world. (Hence a joke: In America a pedestrian is someone who has just parked their car.) Statistics on walking are more elusive than those on driving, but from the latter one might infer the former: The National Household Travel Survey shows that the number of vehicle trips a person took and the miles they traveled per day rose from 2.32 trips and 20.64 miles in 1969 to 3.35 and 32.73 in 2001. More time spent driving means less time spent on other activities, including walking. And part of the reason we are driving more is that we are living farther from the places we need to go; to take just one measure, in 1969, roughly half of all children lived a mile or more from their school; by 2001 three out of four did. During that same period, unsurprisingly, the rates of children walking to school dropped from roughly half to approximately 13 percent.

Sherry Turkle says young Americans don't converse as much as they used to; usage of mobile devices like the iPhone and iPod has eaten into our chat time.

A businessman laments that he no longer has colleagues at work. He doesn't stop by to talk; he doesn't call. He says that he doesn't want to interrupt them. He says they're "too busy on their e-mail." But then he pauses and corrects himself. "I'm not telling the truth. I'm the one who doesn't want to be interrupted. I think I should. But I'd rather just do things on my BlackBerry."

A 16-year-old boy who relies on texting for almost everything says almost wistfully, "Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I'd like to learn how to have a conversation."

In today's workplace, young people who have grown up fearing conversation show up on the job wearing earphones. Walking through a college library or the campus of a high-tech start-up, one sees the same thing: we are together, but each of us is in our own bubble, furiously connected to keyboards and tiny touch screens. A senior partner at a Boston law firm describes a scene in his office. Young associates lay out their suite of technologies: laptops, iPods and multiple phones. And then they put their earphones on. "Big ones. Like pilots. They turn their desks into cockpits." With the young lawyers in their cockpits, the office is quiet, a quiet that does not ask to be broken.

A cockpit or perhaps the safe bubble of the automobile? Steve Jobs was fond of saying the personal computer was "a bicycle for our mind":

I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The condor used the least energy to move a kilometer. And, humans came in with a rather unimpressive showing, about a third of the way down the list. It was not too proud a showing for the crown of creation. So, that didn't look so good. But, then somebody at Scientific American had the insight to test the efficiency of locomotion for a man on a bicycle. And, a man on a bicycle, a human on a bicycle, blew the condor away, completely off the top of the charts.

And that's what a computer is to me. What a computer is to me is it's the most remarkable tool that we've ever come up with, and it's the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds."

Perhaps then the iPhone is an automobile for our mind in that it allows us to go anywhere very quickly but isolates us along the way.

ps. This photo that accompanies Vanderbilt's article is kind of amazing:

Walking fail

Totally speechless. I think it's further from my desk to the bathroom here in the office than it is from that house to the bus.

Turn your iPhone into a toy carApr 04 2012

Makego is an interesting iPhone app...it turns your phone into a toy vehicle. This short video explains:

Makego turns your iPhone / iPod Touch into a toy vehicle. It encourages fun, open ended collaborative play between parent and child. Combining creativity and imagination with the virtual world on screen. Select your vehicle within Makego, then interact with the drivers and their world through animations and sound. This release has 3 vehicles to play with: a race car, ice-cream truck, and river boat.

I could easily see building a neat case out of paper and having Ollie and Minna playing with it. I could also see Ollie taking the race car over a big jump and smashing it into another car and oh shit the screen is cracked. The Lego case option is cool though...just slap some wheels on it and away you go.

Mostly dead liveblog of Apple's eventMar 07 2012

Despite my half-hearted and shameless plea on Twitter for an invite to Apple's product announcement, I am sitting at my desk in NYC today, sucking on lemons. Lemonade tastes better, so to that end I will be blogging the liveblogs blogging the announcement. Blog, bloggy, blog, blogggggggggggggg. Bla. Guh.

The thing starts at 1pm ET, so come back then for the only mostly dead Apple liveblog set in Hoefler & Frere-Jones' lovely Whitney ScreenSmart typeface. Can you beat that, Gizmodo or GDGT or Ars Technica or Engadget or The Verge or Macworld?

As a teaser, I'd like to offer the world's worst prediction for today's event: Apple announces the iPhone 5. Could you imagine though? After Apple declined the version number bump with the introduction of the 4S, what would a device need to do to warrant it? A fusion energy source? Teleportation? A camera that sees into the future? My money's on a built-in quadrotor system so that your phone could autonomously run errands for you or spy on your enemies.

Update: Notes will appear here, newest at the top.

The event is over. Thanks for joining me. I miss "one more thing". :(

So Apple has now used "iPod classic" and "new iPad" for product names. Uh, New Coke?

They are keeping the iPad 2 on sale. $399 for 16 GB Wifi model.

They *still* haven't told us the name of the new iPad. Is it just iPad? No 3 or 2S or HD or whatever?

John Gruber: "iPhoto looks brilliant."

The Colts released Peyton Manning. This doesn't make sense to me.

iPhoto for iPad. Photo editing, effects, photo-beaming, and "photo journals". $4.99, available today.

iMovie for iPad looks nice...edit 1080p video right on the camera. The trend in devices has always been towards smaller...will the capabilities of the iPad-sized touchscreen make them bigger again?

Henry Birdseye: "I'm waiting for a keynote where Apple says, 'We don't have a new, magical iPad for you. The magic was inside you all along. Now go outside.'"

"This new device has more memory and higher screen resolution than an Xbox 360 or PS3." Your company? There's an app for that.

The blurry photos taken at the event by the various livebloggers aren't really doing justice to the new iPad's retina display. That looks....great?

The stock market is reacting violently to Apple's news...AAPL is up over 0.06% on the news. Whoa!

App demos. Zzzzzzzz..... Give us more things we can say in words. Words!!

Robin Sloan is in the future, live-tweeting the iPad 8 launch. "Cook listing all the ways people use iPads today: reading, faceblasting, watching 3DHD, drone control, genome browsing, etc. Boring..."

New iPad starts at $499 and it costs the same as the iPad 2 does now. Pre-orders available today, shipping on March 16.

Mike Monteiro: "I bet Schiller looks awesome in HD. You can SEE the individual meals!"

4G LTE. Whatever that means. Fast mobile network I guess. Lots of megaflops per hectare or something. Weird bit of acronym soup from Apple who usually eschews such nonsense.

You can talk to the iPad and it will write down what you said. Not quite Siri I guess?

New iPad will have the same camera as the iPhone 4S. With 1080p video recording.

And they are announcing the newest version of this iPad, which shall remain nameless for now (slide says "The new iPad"). It has a retina display. (Surprise!)

Apparently Apple makes a product called the iPad. Interesting.

iCloud will sync movies. iTunes supports 1080p. New Apple TV (just a box, not a whole TV...at least not yet). $99, available March 16.

iOS 5.1 will be out today.

Nothing yet.

Plastic surgeon pushing iPhone FaceTime faceliftsFeb 27 2012

In Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace wrote that videophone technology wasn't popular due in part to vanity.

And the videophonic stress was even worse if you were at all vain. I.e. if you worried at all about how you looked. As in to other people. Which all kidding aside who doesn't. Good old aural telephone calls could be fielded without makeup, toupee, surgical prostheses, etc. Even without clothes, if that sort of thing rattled your saber. But for the image-conscious, there was of course no answer-as-you-are informality about visual-video telephone calls, which consumers began to see were less like having the good old phone ring than having the doorbell ring and having to throw on clothes and attach prostheses and do hair-checks in the foyer mirror before answering the door.

Now DC-area plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Sigal is offering what he calls the "FaceTime Facelift".

"Patients come in with their iPhones and show me how they look on [Apple's video calling application] FaceTime," says Dr. Sigal. "The angle at which the phone is held, with the caller looking downward into the camera, really captures any heaviness, fullness and sagging of the face and neck. People say 'I never knew I looked like that! I need to do something!' I've started calling it the 'FaceTime Facelift' effect. And we've developed procedures to specifically address it."

(via @timbritton)

Apple to fix iOS address book accessFeb 16 2012

Apple is going to modify their iOS software to force apps to prompt for address book access. From John Paczkowski at AllThingsD:

"Apps that collect or transmit a user's contact data without their prior permission are in violation of our guidelines*," Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr told AllThingsD. "We're working to make this even better for our customers, and as we have done with location services, any app wishing to access contact data will require explicit user approval in a future software release."

This is good news.

iOS apps and your address bookFeb 15 2012

Details are finally starting to trickle out about how various iOS apps use the address book data on your phone. The Verge and Venture Beat both have good article on the subject. What they're finding is nowhere near the 13/15 ratio that Dustin Curtis reported last week but Curtis has also said:

Second, for obvious reasons, I promised the developers I reached out to that I would never reveal who they are. Many of them have, since last week, changed their practices.

What I like about The Verge and VB articles is that they both end with Apple's role in all this. In a future release, Apple should make sure that rogue parties can't do stuff like this. If you're going to have a store where every app has to be approved for the good of the end users and the integrity of the system, this is *exactly* the type of thing they should be concerned with.

Update: Insider did some digging as well.

More on iPhone address book privacyFeb 08 2012

Yesterday, developer Arun Thampi noticed that the Path iPhone app uploads a user's address book to their server without asking the user first. And by address book, I mean all the phone numbers and addresses and email addresses of everyone in your phone's address book just gets sent off to Path. And not only that, Path stored that information on its server. To their credit, Path apologized and deleted the data from their server.

But this is a larger problem than just Path. In a post from earlier today, Dustin Curtis reveals the dirty little secret of iPhone developers everywhere.

It's not really a secret, per se, but there's a quiet understanding among many iOS app developers that it is acceptable to send a user's entire address book, without their permission, to remote servers and then store it for future reference. It's common practice, and many companies likely have your address book stored in their database. Obviously, there are lots of awesome things apps can do with this data to vastly improve user experience. But it is also a breach of trust and an invasion of privacy.

I did a quick survey of 15 developers of popular iOS apps, and 13 of them told me they have a contacts database with millons of records. One company's database has Mark Zuckerberg's cell phone number, Larry Ellison's home phone number and Bill Gates' cell phone number. This data is not meant to be public, and people have an expectation of privacy with respect to their contacts.

13 out of 15! Zuckerberg's cell phone number! Maybe I'm being old-fashioned here, but this seems unequivocally wrong. Any app, from Angry Birds to Fart App 3000, can just grab the information in your address book without asking? Hell. No. And Curtis is right in calling Apple out about this...apps should not have access to address book information without explicitly asking. But now that the horse is out of the barn, this "quiet understanding" needs to be met with some noisy investigation. What happened to Path needs to happen to all the other apps that are storing our data. There's an opportunity here for some enterprising data journalist to follow Thampi's lead: investigate what other apps are grabbing address book data and then ask the responsible developers the same questions that were put to Path.

Update: I am aware of this very confusing display of data from the Wall Street Journal. It indicates that of the ~50 iPhone apps surveyed, only three (Angry Birds, Facebook, and TextPlus 4) transmit address book data to a server. That's not exactly the widespread problem that Curtis describes (the data sets are likely different)...it would be nice to see the net cast a bit wider.

Update: Oh, and that WSJ survey is two years old. (thx, @marcprecipice)

Your not-so-secret iPhone address bookFeb 07 2012

I take this to mean that any iPhone app can download your address book to their servers? What. The. Hell! Apple?

Upon inspecting closer, I noticed that my entire address book (including full names, emails and phone numbers) was being sent as a plist to Path. Now I don't remember having given permission to Path to access my address book and send its contents to its servers, so I created a completely new "Path" and repeated the experiment and I got the same result - my address book was in Path's hands.

Unicorns and wheels: Apple's two types of productsOct 05 2011

A common reaction to Apple's announcement of the iPhone 4S yesterday was disappointment...Mat Honan's post at Gizmodo for instance.

I was hoping for something bold and interesting looking. The iPhone 4 was just that when it shipped. So too were the original iPhone and the iPhone 3G. If I'm going to buy a new phone, of course I want it to look new. Because of course we care about having novel designs. If we didn't we'd all be lugging around some 10-inch thick brick with a 12 day battery life.

Mat's is an understandable reaction. After I upgraded my iPhone, Macbook Pro, and OS X all at once two years ago, I wrote about Apple's upgrade problem:

From a superficial perspective, my old MBP and new MBP felt exactly the same...same OS, same desktop wallpaper, same Dock, all my same files in their same folders, etc. Same deal with the iPhone except moreso...the iPhone is almost entirely software and that was nearly identical. And re: Snow Leopard, I haven't noticed any changes at all aside from the aforementioned absent plug-ins.

So, just having paid thousands of dollars for new hardware and software, I have what feels like my same old stuff.

Deep down, when I stop to think about it, I know (or have otherwise convinced myself) that these purchases were worth it and that Apple's ease of upgrade works almost exactly how it should. But my gut tells me that I've been ripped off. The "newness" cognitive jolt humans get is almost entirely absent.

For me, yesterday's event, Apple's continued success in innovation *and* business, and the recent CEO change provided a different perspective: that Apple makes two very complementary types of products and we should be excited about both types.

The first type of product is the most familiar and is exemplified by Steve Jobs: Apple makes magical products that shape entire industries and modify social structures in significant ways. These are the bold strokes that combine technology with design in a way that's almost artistic: Apple II, Macintosh, iPod, iPhone, and iPad. When they were introduced, these products were new and exciting and no one quite knew where those products were going to take us (Apple included). That's what people want to see when they go to Apple events: Steve Jobs holding up a rainbow-hued unicorn that you can purchase for your very own.

The second type of product is less noticed and perhaps is best exemplified by Apple's new CEO, Tim Cook: identify products and services that work, continually refine them, innovate at the margins (the addition of Siri to the iPhone 4S is a good example of this), build interconnecting ecosystems around them, and put processes and infrastructure in place to produce ever more of these items at lower cost and higher profit. The wheel has been invented; now we'll perfect it. This is where Apple is at with the iPhone now, a conceptually solved problem: people know what they are, what they're used for, and Apple's gonna knuckle down and crank out ever better/faster/smarter versions of them in the future. Many of Apple's current products are like this, better than they have ever been, more popular than they have ever been, but there's nothing magical about them anymore: iPhone 4S, iPod, OS X, iMacs, Macbooks, etc.

The exciting thing about this second type of product, for investors and consumers alike, is Apple is now expert at capturing their lightning in a bottle. 'Twas not always so...Apple wasn't able to properly capitalize on the success of the Macintosh and it almost killed the company. What Tim Cook ultimately held up at Apple's event yesterday is a promise: there won't be a return to the Apple of the 1990s, when the mighty Macintosh devolved into a flaky, slow, and (adding insult to injury) expensive klunker and they couldn't decide on a future direction for their operating system (remember Copland?). There will be an iPhone 5 in the future and it will be better than the iPhone 4S in significant & meaningful ways but it will also *just work*. And while that might be a bit boring to Apple event watchers, this interconnected web of products is the thing that makes the continued development of the new and magical products possible.

Apple predicted Siri 24 years agoOct 05 2011

In 1987, Apple made a video showcasing a concept they called Knowledge Navigator:

The crazy thing is that the year in the video is 2011...and Apple announced something very much like Knowledge Navigator (Siri, a natural language voice assistant) at their event yesterday. (via waxy)

Multi-touch finger paintingsSep 30 2011

Ha! Evan Roth is selling a series of "multi-touch finger paintings" called Open Twitter, Check Twitter, Close Twitter. The paintings are made by placing tracing paper over an iPhone screen while he checks Twitter with a painted finger.

Open Twitter, Check Twitter, Close Twitter

Modern day cargo cultsJul 27 2011

Adrian Hon cites Kickstarter & iPhone clones as evidence that cargo cult thinking is alive and well in the modern age.

Kickstarter isn't the only success to attract cargo cults. Mere months after the iPhone was announced in 2007, a parade of competitors built their own cargo cults around it, hoping that by mimicking the iPhone's design and its characteristic 'apps' they'd attract customers who don't know any better, even if their phones didn't have the same range of apps as Apple, or weren't as fast.

(via waxy)

Fluorescing tattoo for tracking body chemicalsJul 25 2011

Using a modified iPhone and a fluorescing nanoparticle tattoo, researchers at Northeastern University have found a way to monitor chemicals in the blood without drawing blood.

The team begins by injecting a solution containing carefully chosen nanoparticles into the skin. This leaves no visible mark, but the nanoparticles will fluoresce when exposed to a target molecule, such as sodium or glucose. A modified iPhone then tracks changes in the level of fluorescence, which indicates the amount of sodium or glucose present. Clark presented this work at the BioMethods Boston conference at Harvard Medical School last week.

The tattoos were originally designed as a way around the finger-prick bloodletting that is the standard technique for measuring glucose levels in those with diabetes. But Clark says they could be used to track many things besides glucose and sodium, offering a simpler, less painful, and more accurate way for many people to track many important biomarkers.

Best of Damn You Auto Correct!Jul 22 2011

I'm sure a bunch of these iPhone autocorrected conversations are made-up, but I was still almost crying with laughter by the time I got to the end of the list.

Gum In Puss

Faking native iOS apps with HTML/CSS/JavaScriptMar 09 2011

Matt Might has a nice tutorial on how to make mobile web apps look like native iOS apps using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

If you a flick a web app past the bottom or top of the page, the page itself gets elastically tugged away from the URL bar or the button bar (or the bottom/top of the screen if it's in full-screen mode).

This behavior is another giveaway that your app isn't native, and it's rarely the behavior you want in a native app.

To stop this behavior, capture touchmove events on the document in JavaScript and cancel them. You can do this by adding a handler to the body tag, and invoking the preventDefault method on the event object.

Huh, you can even do "pull to refresh" in JavaScript.

One big advantage of native apps that cannot be addressed by HTML/CSS/JS is the browser interface itself. The Gmail web interface is fantastic, but every time I open a link in my email, the browser goes through its elaborate new window opening process. And then when I want to go back to my email, I have to touch the windows button, close the current window, and then click back on the mail window. The whole process is too inefficient and slow compared to the same process in a native app: no starting browser animation process and one touch to get back to what you're doing. If Apple addressed this issue -- say by making it possible for a web app to "open" a sub-browser with different open/close interactions instead of a full-fledged new window -- using web apps would be less of a pain in the ass.

FoursquarathonNov 06 2010

If you're running the NYC marathon tomorrow, have an iPhone, and are a Foursquare user, 4SQ CEO Dennis Crowley has the low-down on how to track your progress throughout the race by auto-checking-in to 4SQ at all the mile markers.

I'm going to use Mayor Maker tomorrow during the NYC Marathon to auto check me in to every mile marker as I run past them. I'll be running w/ my iPhone in my pocket (with GPS turned on). Every time I run over a mile checkpoint, Mayor Maker will send that checkin to foursquare and foursquare will send it back out to Facebook and Twitter. Cool, right?

Muji iPhone and iPad appsNov 02 2010

The Japanese no-brand retailer Muji is taking an interesting approach to their iPhone and iPad apps. Instead of just having a product catalog/store app (although they have that too), they're also offering apps that are very much like the products they offer in their real-world stores. There's a simple calendaring app that syncs with Google Calendar, a notebook app for sketching and note-taking, and an app called Muji to Go that combines a bunch of different functions that travellers might need (weather, currency exchange, power socket guide).

iPhone: a revolutionary device for the blindSep 20 2010

A blind man buys an iPhone and it changes his life.

The other night, however, a very amazing thing happened. I downloaded an app called Color ID. It uses the iPhone's camera, and speaks names of colors. It must use a table, because each color has an identifier made up of 6 hexadecimal digits. This puts the total at 16777216 colors, and I believe it. Some of them have very surreal names, such as Atomic Orange, Cosmic, Hippie Green, Opium, and Black-White. These names in combination with what feels like a rise in serotonin levels makes for a very psychedelic experience.

I have never experienced this before in my life. I can see some light and color, but just in blurs, and objects don't really have a color, just light sources. When I first tried it at three o'clock in the morning, I couldn't figure out why it just reported black. After realizing that the screen curtain also disables the camera, I turned it off, but it still have very dark colors. Then I remembered that you actually need light to see, and it probably couldn't see much at night. I thought about light sources, and my interview I did for Get Lamp. First, I saw one of my beautiful salt lamps in its various shades of orange, another with its pink and rose colors, and the third kind in glowing pink and red.. I felt stunned.

(thx, david)

MoMA iPhone appAug 16 2010

The only reason I ever go to MoMA anymore is so that my son can see the helicopter and whatever motor vehicles are on display in the design collection, but if I get a chance to sneak away soon, I'm definitely making use of the MoMA's new iPhone app: tours, a catalog of thousands of works, events calendar, etc.

2004 iPhone predictionJul 16 2010

Paul Graham's Hackers and Painters, published in 2004, contained the following footnote:

If the Mac was so great, why did it lose? Cost, again Microsoft concentrated on the software business and unleashed a swarm of cheap component suppliers on Apple hardware. It did not help either that suits took over during a critical period. (And it hasn't lost yet. If Apple were to grow the iPod into a cell phone with a web browser, Microsoft would be in big trouble.)

Then again, a few footnotes later Graham writes:

I would not even use Javascript, if I were you; Viaweb didn't. Most of the Javascript I see on the Web isn't necessary, and much of it breaks. And when you start to be able to browse actual web pages on your cell phone or PDA (or toaster), who knows if they'll even support it.

Maybe he meant Flash? (via oddhead)

How to hold an Apple press conferenceJul 16 2010

Apple is holding a press conference today, which will presumably address the antenna problems that few actual customers seem to be having on the still-selling-like-hotcakes iPhone 4. I have a number of sources at Apple and based on my conversations with them, here's my prediction on how today's event will play out:

Steve Jobs will come out on stage and will sit in front of a large olde tyme cash register. He will immediately begin taking questions from the assembled journalists and bloggers. As the first-question scrum begins, Jobs will start madly ringing up purchases on the very loud register while pointing to his ears, shaking his head, and shouting "gosh, I'm sorry I can't hear you guys over the sound of the register". This will continue for several minutes and then the press conference will be over.

Someone on Apple's board suggested a more conventional press event but Jobs quickly wrote an email back saying that they were not going to "hold it that way".

Art for the everyoneJul 09 2010

Scott Snibbe's interactive art projects are available for sale on the iPhone/iPad and he's pretty happy about it.

Over the past few days my first three apps became available on the iTunes store: Gravilux, Bubble Harp, and Antograph. I've been dreaming of this day for twenty years: a day when, for the first time, we can enjoy interactive art as a media commodity no different from books, music, and movies.

I remember the Gravilux Java applet from back in the day and happily bought it for the iPad.

Quiet iPhone wallpaperJun 22 2010

Add my voice to those saying that the default wallpaper choices for iOS 4 are too busy and high contrast. So, I've made an iPhone wallpaper called Tranquil that will hopefully help with this problem.

tranquil iPhone

On the iPhone, just tap and hold on the wallpaper image until the "Save Image" dialog appears. Enjoy!

Toddler mode for the iPadJun 14 2010

Peter Merholz says there should be a toddler mode for the iPad (and probably iPhone as well).

You know how iPhone and iPad have "airplane mode", which turns off all connectivity? Right under that, I want "Toddler Mode". When switched on, you'll get a dialog letting you know you are entering Toddler Mode, and an explanation of how to get out. Unlike Airplane Mode, you can't get out of Toddler Mode through settings, because there's no way Toddler Mode should allow access to the settings panel. I haven't figured out the best way out of Toddler Mode, but I'm thinking a quick triple-click on the home button, followed by a swipe, should work.

The problem with toddler mode is that the capabilities of kids change very quickly at that age. For instance, the home button is only a problem for a short time. My almost-3-yo son Ollie pretty quickly figured out that if he wanted to keep doing what he was doing, he had to lay off the home button. Now he knows exactly what it does: gets him back to the screen where he can pick a new activity. He also has no problem finding his apps...he knows exactly which of those icons mean fun and which do not.

(BTW, if you're an interface/interaction designer and you haven't watched a preschooler using a touchscreen device, you really should. It's fascinating how quickly they learn some things and just can't get the hang of other things. It's a really eye-opening experience.)

Can the human eye see individual pixels on iPhone 4?Jun 10 2010

Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy takes on Steve Jobs' claim that iPhone 4's pixels are too small for the human eye to see individually. I have confidence in Plait's conclusions:

I know a thing or two about resolution as well, having spent a few years calibrating a camera on board Hubble.

He may as well have pulled Marshall McLuhan out from behind a movie poster.

David Foster Wallace on iPhone 4's FaceTimeJun 07 2010

The recently announced iPhone 4 includes a feature called FaceTime; it's wifi videophone functionality. In Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace wrote that within the reality of the book, videophones enjoyed enormous initial popularity but then after a few months, most people gave it up. Why the switch back to voice?

The answer, in a kind of trivalent nutshell, is: (1) emotional stress, (2) physical vanity, and (3) a certain queer kind of self-obliterating logic in the microeconomics of consumer high-tech.

First, the stress:

Good old traditional audio-only phone conversations allowed you to presume that the person on the other end was paying complete attention to you while also permitting you not to have to pay anything even close to complete attention to her. A traditional aural-only conversation [...] let you enter a kind of highway-hypnotic semi-attentive fugue: while conversing, you could look around the room, doodle, fine-groom, peel tiny bits of dead skin away from your cuticles, compose phone-pad haiku, stir things on the stove; you could even carry on a whole separate additional sign-language-and-exaggerated-facial-expression type of conversation with people right there in the room with you, all while seeming to be right there attending closely to the voice on the phone. And yet -- and this was the retrospectively marvelous part -- even as you were dividing your attention between the phone call and all sorts of other idle little fuguelike activities, you were somehow never haunted by the suspicion that the person on the other end's attention might be similarly divided.

[...] Video telephony rendered the fantasy insupportable. Callers now found they had to compose the same sort of earnest, slightly overintense listener's expression they had to compose for in-person exchanges. Those caller who out of unconscious habit succumbed to fuguelike doodling or pants-crease-adjustment now came off looking extra rude, absentminded, or childishly self-absorbed. Callers who even more unconsciously blemish-scanned or nostril explored looked up to find horrified expressions on the video-faces at the other end. All of which resulted in videophonic stress.

And then vanity:

And the videophonic stress was even worse if you were at all vain. I.e. if you worried at all about how you looked. As in to other people. Which all kidding aside who doesn't. Good old aural telephone calls could be fielded without makeup, toupee, surgical prostheses, etc. Even without clothes, if that sort of thing rattled your saber. But for the image-conscious, there was of course no answer-as-you-are informality about visual-video telephone calls, which consumers began to see were less like having the good old phone ring than having the doorbell ring and having to throw on clothes and attach prostheses and do hair-checks in the foyer mirror before answering the door.

Those are only excerpts...you can read more on pp. 144-151 of Infinite Jest. Eventually, in the world of the book, people began wearing "form-fitting polybutylene masks" when talking on the videophone before even that became too much.

Grocery shopping with the iPadMay 28 2010

FreshDirect is an online grocery store that delivers in the NYC area. I needed to do an order this morning, so I downloaded their iPhone app on my iPad and discovered that grocery shopping is one of those things that the iPad is *perfect* for (an it would be more perfect with a native iPad app). You just take the thing into the kitchen with you, rummage through the cabinets & fridge, and add what you need to your FD shopping cart. Then you take the it with you around the rest of the house (the bathroom, the garage, the pantry in the basement) adding needed supplies as you go. It inverts the usual "wander around the grocery store searching for items" shopping practice; instead you wander about the house looking for what you need.

Obviously the iPhone would work for this as well, but a tablet-sized device is generally better at these sorts of tasks: activities where your attention is shifted back and forth between the screen and something else (or shared between two people). The iPhone is a greedy little thing; it's better for tasks that require your full attention on the screen.

The other iPhone networkMay 14 2010

As our devices converge, the infrastructure necessary to support them grows and grows. The iPhone costs $200, fits in a pocket, and relies on "a vast array of infrastructures, data ecologies, and device networks" to function...from the mines where the indium for the touchscreen is mined to the cell towers that allow you to locate that coffee shop in Brooklyn.

Until we see that the iPhone is as thoroughly entangled into a network of landscapes as any more obviously geological infrastructure (the highway, both imposing carefully limited slopes across every topography it encounters and grinding/crushing/re-laying igneous material onto those slopes) or industrial product (the car, fueled by condensed and liquefied geology), we will consistently misunderstand it.

See also I, Pencil and this neat Harry Beckian map of the iPhone's connections and capabilities. (via lone gunman)

The iPhone as a controller for iPad gamesMay 12 2010

Padracer is a racing game for the iPad where you use your iPhone as the steering wheel.

Available at the iTunes Store. Don't forget the free controller app for your phone as well. (via object of my obsession)

Ebooks good for dyslexics?Apr 07 2010

Some anecdotal evidence suggests that reading on small screen devices like the iPhone might be easier for dyslexics.

So why I had found it easier to read from my iPhone? First, an ordinary page of text is split into about four pages. The spacing seems generous and because of this I don't get lost on the page. Second, the handset's brightness makes it easier to take in words. "Many dyslexics have problems with 'crowding', where they're distracted by the words surrounding the word they're trying to read," says John Stein, Professor of Neuroscience at Oxford University and chair of the Dyslexia Research Trust. "When reading text on a small phone, you're reducing the crowding effect."

The iPhone blowsMar 25 2010

Speakers move air to make sound. Some clever developer has used this fact to make a foosball game that uses small puffs of air from the iPhone's speakers to move a tiny real-life Styrofoam ball around. Video (or it didn't happen):

Another app from the same company called the iPhone Blower can blow out birthday candles. (via convo.us)

The new rules for reviewing mediaMar 16 2010

I've noticed an increasing tendency by reviewers on Amazon (and Apple's iTunes and App Stores) to review things based on the packaging or format of the media with little regard shown to the actual content/plot. Here are two recent examples.

Reviews for the theatrically released versions of The Lord of the Rings on Blu-ray are mostly negative -- the aggregate rating is 1.5 out 5. These are award-winning movies but the reviews are dominated by people complaining about New Line's decision to release the theatrical versions before the extended versions that the True Fans love. A representative review:

If I were reviewing the movie itself it would get a five. This review is for the product, as listed -- in other words, I DO NOT RECOMMEND BUYING THIS PRODUCT/DVD. This product is being created FOR NO OTHER REASON than to dupe people into buying this movie twice...again.

Similarly, the early reviews for Michael Lewis' The Big Short are dominated by one-star reviews from Kindle owners who are angry because the book is not available for the device. (thx, jason)

I have always enjoyed Michael Lewis' books and was looking forward to reading The Big Short. With no availability in the US on Kindle, however, I will pass until the publisher/Amazon issue is cleared up. I actually believe that the availability of an item is relavent when giving it a review.

Compare this with traditional reviewers who focus almost exclusively on the content/plot, an approach that ignores much about how people make buying decisions about media today. Packaging is important. We judge books by their covers and even by how much they weigh (heavy books make poor subway/bus reading). Format matters. There's an old adage in photography: the best camera is the one you have with you. Now that our media is available in so many formats, we can say that the best book is the one on your Kindle or the best movie is the one on your iPhone.

Newspaper and magazine reviewers pretty much ignore this stuff. There's little mention of whether a book would be good to read on a Kindle, if you should buy the audiobook version instead of the hardcover because John Hodgman has a delightful voice, if a magazine is good for reading on the toilet, if a movie is watchable on an iPhone or if you need to see it in 1080p on a big TV, if a hardcover is too heavy to read in the bath, whether the trailer is an accurate depiction of what the movie is about, or if the hardcover price is too expensive and you should get the Kindle version or wait for the paperback. Or, as the above reviewers hammer home, if the book is available to read on the Kindle/iPad/Nook or if it's better to wait until the director's cut comes out. In the end, people don't buy content or plots, they buy physical or digital pieces of media for use on specific devices and within certain contexts. That citizen reviewers have keyed into this more quickly than traditional media reviewers is not a surprise.

iPhone games for kidsFeb 18 2010

Matt Haughey recommends some iPhone games for kids.

Since then I've downloaded a lot of games and educational apps for my daughter (who is now four and a half) and I've been meaning to write up the ones I think are worth a few bucks and have stood the test of time, and here they are.

Processing for the iPhoneFeb 11 2010

The Processing Javascript library has been adapted for use on the iPhone.

iProcessing is an open programming framework to help people develop native iPhone applications using the Processing language. It is an integration of the Processing.js library and a Javascript application framework for iPhone.

Meat stylus for the iPhoneFeb 10 2010

Sales of CJ Corporation's snack sausages are on the increase in South Korea because of the cold weather; they are useful as a meat stylus for those who don't want to take off their gloves to use their iPhones.

Sausage stylus

It seems that the sausages, electrostatically speaking, are close approximations of the human finger. Here's the not-entirely-useful English translation of a Korean news article about the soaring sausage sales. (via clusterflock)

Update: More than one person has suggested that this whole thing is a hoax. Video or it didn't happen? Feast thine eyes on someone playing a rhythm game on the iPhone with two of the meat sticks in question:

Modern writing speedsJan 22 2010

Phil Gyford recently compared the speeds of six different writing input devices: the handwriting recognition of the Apple Newton, the graffiti on the Palm V, the small QWERTY keyboard on a Palm Treo, the iPhone's software keyboard, pen & paper, and a full-size QWERTY keyboard. Surprisingly, the iPhone keyboard came in second. (via df)

iPhone app for cooking with ratiosDec 07 2009

Michael Ruhlman is turning his Ratio cookbook into an iPhone app.

The best-selling cookbook [...] is soon to be an iPhone app that will help you calculate amounts of ingredients in all the fundamental culinary preparations. When you know a ratio, you don't know a recipe, you know 1,000. And this application does all the calculating for you.

Nice move...an iPhone app is perhaps a better expression of the subject matter than a book.

Parallel universesDec 07 2009

Playing on a moving subway train adds an extra level of difficulty to accelerometer-based iPhone games. Not only do you have to contend with the in-game physics, you also need to compensate for the real-life accelerations, twists, and turns of the train. The effect pretty much tears your brain in half.

Quick App Store ideaNov 24 2009

Allow two classes of apps in the App Store: those approved by Apple and those not approved by Apple. The unapproved apps would only be accessed through direct searches (they would not appear in top 10 lists or be featured on the front page), would carry cigarette-grade warnings that it might kill your phone and cause cancer, and maybe Apple would take a slightly larger cut to incentivize developers to get apps approved. Non-approved apps could still be pulled from the store by Apple at any point for blatant violations of Apple's guidelines. That way, if developers want to skirt around all the headaches of Apple's approval process and if users want to gamble on an app to run on their own hardware that Apple won't or can't approve in a timely fashion, they can.

Not that Apple would ever do such a thing.

One-handed computing with the iPhoneOct 29 2009

The easy single-handed operation of the iPhone1 is not one of its obvious selling points but is one of those little features that grows on you and becomes nearly indispensable. A portable networked computing and gaming device that can be easily operated with one hand can be used in a surprising variety of situations.

Eating is the most obvious potentially one-handed activity most of us engage in. If you must do something other than just enjoy your food ferchristsake, you can answer emails, read Twitter, or catch up on the latest at nytimes.com while munching on that salad.

People carry things. Coffee, shopping bags, books, bags, babies, small dogs, hot dogs, water bottles, coats, etc. It's nice to be able to not put all that crap down just to quickly Google for the closest public restroom (aka Starbucks).

It is very occasionally necessary to use the iPhone while driving. No, not for checking your stock portfolio, you asshole. For directions. Glance quickly and keep your thoughts on the road ahead.

My wife spends about five hours a day breastfeeding our daughter and has only one hand available for non-feeding activities. That hand is frequently occupied by her iPhone; it helps her keep abreast (hey'o!) of current events, stay connected with pals through Twitter & email, track feeding/sleeping/diaper changing times, keep notes (she plans meals and grocery "shops" at 3am), and alert her layabout husband via SMS to come and get the damned baby already.

Straphangers in NYC and elsewhere know what a great one-handed device the iPhone is. Riding the subway and reading has never been so easy, especially during rush hour when pointy hardcovers become weaponized. (Getting shived by a hardbound Harry Potter on the 6pm 5 train is no joke.)

Tim Carmody, one of the shopkeeps over at Snarkmarket, recently broke his arm but is getting plenty of use out of his iPhone: "They should have an ad -- 'If you've got a broken arm, this is the perfect phone for you!'" Broken arms are uncommon, but plenty of people have more permanent physical conditions necessitating one-handed interaction with the world.

And a list of one-handed computing activities wouldn't be complete without at least quickly mentioning, well, you know. It rhymes with "whacking off". I think I've said enough.

Two areas where the iPhone really shines in its one-handedness are gaming and typing. One-handed gaming is pretty much impossible with the Nintendo DS or Sony PSP, but the App Store is full of games that require only your thumb for input. I've been playing lots of Shake & Spell and Strategery lately. Typing with one hand on the iPhone is almost as easy and fast as with two. You can actually *write* on this thing with one hand; not just SMS messages and tweets but also blog posts, emails, meeting minutes, and the like.

Update: Tim Carmody, he of the broken arm above, makes a couple of key observations about the one-handedness of the iPhone:

I think it's fairly easy to dial and answer any cell phone with one hand. It's the fact that you can almost perfectly use smartphone functions with a single hand that set the iPhone apart. I used to have a Blackberry Bold - it bit the dust around the same time my arm did -- and while I really liked a lot of things about the hardware, you really couldn't use it well with one hand

And:

Your cheerfulness about [being injured or handicapped] varies almost directly with your autonomy -- and the iPhone is GREAT at making you feel autonomous. Innovation in interface design isn't just about creating a cooler experience. It's about giving more and more people a shot at that experience to begin with.

And this is exactly how I use my iPhone 95% of the time (except I am left-handed).

[1] This footnote still applies. (Yes, that was a reference to a footnote within another footnote. (And that was a parenthetical within a footnote. (...)))

Update: One-handed iPhone? That's nothing. Check out this guy using the iPhone with his feet.

I met Keith on the Red line, heading to Cambridge from Boston. We had a nerdy conversation about the new iPhone, which he swears by. He operates his with his feet because a disability limits the dexterity of his hands. He said his kid is nuts for the games on the iPhone, but that he prefers more functional aspects which would be harder for him to use on any other mobile device.

New Chris Ware strip in the New YorkerOct 29 2009

Chris Ware has a two-page spread (+ the cover) in this week's New Yorker.

Chris Ware Halloween

Ware doesn't seem like an iPhone kind of guy to me, but I guess you don't need to be to show how disconnective these seemingly connective technologies can be.

Your company? There's an app for that.Sep 16 2009

Few technology and device-making companies probably realize it, but they are in direct competition with Apple (or soon will be). How did this happen? Well, the iPhone1 does a lot of useful things pretty well, well enough that it is replacing several specialized devices that do one or two things really well. Space in backpacks, pockets, and purses is a finite resource, as is money (obviously). As a result, many are opting to carry only the iPhone with them when they might have toted several devices around. Here is a short list of devices with capabilities duplicated to some degree by the iPhone:

Mobile phone - All the stuff any mobile phone does: phone calls, texting, voicemail.

PDA - The iPhone meets all of the basic PDA needs: address book, calendar, to-dos, notes, and easy data syncing.

iPod - The iPhone is a full-featured music-playing device. And with 32 GB of storage, the 3GS can handle a huge chunk of even the largest music collection.

Point and shoot camera - While not as full-featured as something like a PowerShot, the camera on the iPhone 3GS has a 3-megapxiel lens with both auto and manual focus, shoots in low-light, does macro, and can shoot video. Plus, it's easy to instantly publish your photos online using the iPhone's networking capabilities and automatically tag your photos with your location.

Personal computer - With the increased speed of the iPhone 3GS, the 3G and wifi networking, a real web browser, and the wide array of available apps at the App Store, many people find themselves leaving the laptops at home and using the iPhone as their main computer when they are out and about.

Nintendo DS or PSP - There are thousands of games available at the App Store and if the folks in my office and on the NYC subway are any indication, people are using their iPhones as serious on-the-go gaming machines.

GPS - With geolocation by GPS, wifi, or cell tower, the Google Maps app, and the built-in compass, the iPhone is a powerful wayfinding device. Apps can provide turn by turn directions, current traffic conditions, satellite and photographic street views, transit information, and you can search for addresses and businesses.

Flip video camera - The iPhone 3GS doesn't shoot in HD (yet), but the video capabilities on the phone are quite good, especially the on-phone editing and easy sharing.

Compass - Serious hikers and campers wouldn't want to rely on a battery-powered device as their only compass, but the built-in compass on the iPhone 3GS is perfect for casual wayfinding.

Watch - I use the clock on my iPhone more often than any other function. By far.

Portable DVD player - Widescreen video looks great on the iPhone, you can d/l videos and TV shows from the iTunes Store, and with apps like Handbrake, it's easy to rip DVDs for viewing on the iPhone.

Kindle - Amazon's Kindle app for the iPhone is surprisingly usable. And unlike Amazon's hardware, the iPhone can run many ebook readers that handle several different formats.

With all the apps available at the App Store, the list goes on: pedometer, tape recorder, heart monitor, calculator, remote control, USB key, and on and on. Electronic devices aren't even the whole story. I used to carry a folding map of Manhattan (and the subway) with me wherever I went but not anymore. With Safari, Instapaper, and Amazon's Kindle app, books and magazines aren't necessary to provide on-the-go reading material.

Once someone has an iPhone, it is going to be tough to persuade them that they also need to spend money on and carry around a dedicated GPS device, point-and-shoot camera, or tape recorder unless they have an unusual need. But the real problem for other device manufacturers is that all of these iPhone features -- particularly the always-on internet connectivity; the email, HTTP, and SMS capabilities; and the GPS/location features -- can work in concert with each other to actually make better versions of the devices listed above. Like a GPS that automatically takes photos of where you are and posts them to a Flickr gallery or a video camera that'll email videos to your mom or a portable gaming machine with access to thousands of free games over your mobile's phone network. We tend to forget that the iPhone is still from the future in a way that most of the other devices on the list above aren't. It will take time for device makers to make up that difference.

If these manufacturers don't know they are in competition with the iPhone, Apple sure does. At their Rock & Roll event last week, MacWorld quotes Phil Schiller as saying:

iPod touch is also a great game machine. No multi-touch interface on other devices, games are expensive, there's no app store, and there's no iPod built in. Plus it's easier to buy stuff because of the App Store on the device. Chart of game and entertainment titles available on PSP, Nintendo DS, and iPhone OS. PSP: 607. Nintendo DS: 3680. iPhone: 21,178.

The same applies to the iPhone. At the same event, Steve Jobs commented that with the new iPod nano, you essentially get a $149 Flip video camera thrown in for free:

We're going to start off with an 8GB unit, and we're going to lower the price from $149 to free. This is the new Apple, isn't it? (laughter) How are we going to do that. We're going to build a video camera into the new iPod nano. On the back of each unit is a video camera and a microphone, and there's a speaker inside as well. Built into every iPod nano is now an awesome video camera. And yet we've still retained its incredibly small size.

In discussing the Kindle with David Pogue, Jobs even knocks the idea of specialized devices:

"I'm sure there will always be dedicated devices, and they may have a few advantages in doing just one thing," he said. "But I think the general-purpose devices will win the day. Because I think people just probably aren't willing to pay for a dedicated device."

In terms of this competition, the iPhone at this point in its lifetime2 is analogous to the internet in the late 1990s. The internet was pretty obviously in competition with a few obvious industries at that point -- like meatspace book stores -- but caught (and is still catching) others off guard: cable TV, movie companies, music companies, FedEx/USPS/UPS, movie theaters, desktop software makers, book publishers, magazine publishers, shoe/apparel stores, newspaper publishers, video game console makers, libraries, grocery stores, real estate agents, etc. etc....basically any organization offering entertainment or information. The internet is still the ultimate "there's an app for that" engine; it duplicated some of the capabilities of and drew attention away from so many products and services that these businesses offered. Some of these companies are dying -- slowly or otherwise -- while others were able to adapt and adopt quickly enough to survive and even thrive. It'll be interesting to see which of the iPhone's competitors will be able to do the same.

[1] In this essay, I'm using "the iPhone" as a convenient shorthand for "any of a number of devices and smartphones that offer similar functionality to the iPhone, including but not limited to the Palm Pre, Android phones, Blackberry Storm, and iPod Touch". Similar arguments apply, to varying degrees, to these devices and their manufacturers but are especially relevant to the iPhone and Apple; hence, the shorthand. If you don't read this footnote, adequately absorb its message, and send me email to the effect of "the iPhone sux because Apple and AT&T are monopolistic robber barons", I reserve the right to punch you in the face while yelling I WASN'T JUST TALKING ABOUT THE IPHONE YOU JACKASS.

[2] You've got to wonder when Apple is going to change the name of the iPhone. The phone part of the device increasingly seems like an afterthought, not the main attraction. The main benefit of the device is that it does everything. How do you choose a name for the device that has everything? Hell if I know. But as far as the timing goes, I'd guess that the name change will happen with next year's introduction of the new model. The current progression of names -- iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS -- has nowhere else to go (iPhone 3GS Plus isn't Apple's style).

Update: The console makers are worried about mobile phone gaming platforms.

Among the questions voiced by video game executives: How can Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft keep consumers hooked on game-only consoles, like the Wii or even the PlayStation Portable, when Apple offers games on popular, everyday devices that double as cellphones and music players?

And how can game developers and the makers of big consoles persuade consumers to buy the latest shoot'em-ups for $30 or more, when Apple's App store is full of games, created by developers around the world and approved by Apple, that cost as little as 99 cents -- or even are free?

The Apple upgrade problemSep 02 2009

I recently upgraded to a new MacBook Pro from a two-year-old version of the same model (more or less). It's sturdier, faster, has a more functional trackpad, and has a much larger hard drive than the previous model, making it well worth the ~$2700 purchase price because I use my computer for more hours in a year than I sleep. Three weeks ago, my first-generation iPhone broke and rather than pay for a straight-up replacement, I upgraded to a new iPhone 3G (and promised AT&T my spare kidney in the process). Again, totally worth it...the speed and video camera alone were worth the upgrade. On Monday, I upgraded the OS on my MBP to OS X 10.5 Service Pack 1 Snow Leopard. Not sure whether it was worth it at this point or not, but it was only $29 and promised much.

The upgrade process in each case was painless. To set up the MBP, I just connected it to my Time Machine drive and was up and running about an hour later with all my apps and preferences intact. The iPhone took even less time than that and everything from my old phone was magically there. Snow Leopard took 45 minutes and, aside from a couple of Mail.app and Safari plug-ins I use, everything was just as before.1 Past upgrades of Apple computers and iPods have gone similarly well.

Which is where the potential difficulty for Apple comes in. From a superficial perspective, my old MBP and new MBP felt exactly the same...same OS, same desktop wallpaper, same Dock, all my same files in their same folders, etc. Same deal with the iPhone except moreso...the iPhone is almost entirely software and that was nearly identical. And re: Snow Leopard, I haven't noticed any changes at all aside from the aforementioned absent plug-ins.

So, just having paid thousands of dollars for new hardware and software, I have what feels like my same old stuff.

Deep down, when I stop to think about it, I know (or have otherwise convinced myself) that these purchases were worth it and that Apple's ease of upgrade works almost exactly how it should. But my gut tells me that I've been ripped off. The "newness" cognitive jolt humans get is almost entirely absent. I don't know if Apple is aware of this (I'd guess yes) and don't know if it even matters to them (because, like I said, this is the way that it should work...and look at those sales figures), but it's got to be having some small effect. People want to feel, emotionally speaking, that their money is well-spent and impeccable branding, funny commericals, and the sense of belonging to a hip lifestyle that Apple tries to engender in its customers can only go so far. [Apple Tablet, this is your cue.]

[1] Merlin Mann's upgrade did not go well. Not only did Merlin not get the "newness" cognitive jolt, his new stuff worked worse than his old stuff. Although, Merlin, upgrading five (five!) computers while "writing a book on deadline" probably wasn't the best idea.

Always on camerasAug 14 2009

Adam Lisagor notices that the iPhone 3GS camera might always be buffering images so that when you press that shutter button, you get the photo that you wanted, not the one delayed by slow software or a slow shutter. Adam's observation gives me the opportunity to trot out one of my recent favorite informational factoids about the super high-speed cameras used to capture jumping great white sharks:

In order to get the jaw-dropping slow-motion footage of great white sharks jumping out of the ocean, the filmmakers for Planet Earth used a high-speed camera with continuous buffering...that is, the camera only kept a few seconds of video at a time and dumped the rest. When the shark jumped, the cameraman would push a button to save the buffer.

A phone that makes you breakfastAug 11 2009

Rick Webb on all the recent bitching about the iPhone, Apple, and the App Store.

They made a mobile browser light years better than any previous browser & you promptly took it for granted & bitched about it lacking Flash.

And on cut and paste:

You whined for 2 years about cut and paste. They invented a brand new user interface means to implement it. You never even used it.

There's a bunch more. (thx, david)

Typography reference for the iPhoneJul 14 2009

The Typography Manual looks like a nice little iPhone app for designers.

The Typography Manual has several useful features and resources for designers, including a visual type anatomy glossary, a font size ruler, an em calculator, and a enough content to fill a 60 page book. It has the all the essentials of a desk reference in a regularly updated pocket resource.

(via quips)

NYC subway prewalking aidJul 07 2009

Exit Strategy NYC is an iPhone app that tells you where to get on the subway train so as to be in an optimal position when you get off.

Taking the 1 train uptown to 28th street? Get on right behind the middle conductor. Need to transfer to the L at Union Square from the N downtown? Ride in the 1st car. Detailed diagrams eliminate the guesswork and frustration from your ride, making your subway trip easier and faster.

See also prewalking. (via @dens)

Update: The Times writes 650+ words on an app that calculates prewalking coordinates but doesn't use the word "prewalking".

Update: Exit Strategy NYC has been updated to include every stop in the subway system and subway entry points.

New Yorker iPhone siteJun 29 2009

The New Yorker has an iPhone-specific site up. (thx, @level39)

Find My iPhone worksJun 22 2009

Shortly after activating the Find My iPhone feature on his iPhone, Kevin loses it and then uses the feature to successfully retrieve it.

Then an amazingly lucky thing happened. I refreshed the iPhone location and the circle moved, to the corner of the block, and shrunk in size to maybe 100 feet across. I waited a minute and refreshed again. The small circle had shifted southward down Washtenaw.

"THAT WAY!"

Us three skinny white guys walked at a rapid pace in the direction of the circle. We moved past the birthday party, curious if one of the participants might be culpable, but the circle again shifted farther south. I was ready to break for our car if the phone started moving away faster than we could catch it, but it hovered at the very end of the street, at the corner of Washtenaw and Milwaukee.

I wonder if Apple imagined this sort of amateur (and potentially dangerous) police work would happen when they implemented Find My iPhone.

The demise of "form follows function"Jun 03 2009

Regarding the design of digital products, form doesn't follow function anymore.

Thanks to digital technology, designers can squeeze so many functions into such tiny containers that there is more computing power in a basic cellphone (not a fancy model, like a BlackBerry or iPhone, just a cheap one) than at NASA's headquarters when it began in 1958. That is why the appearance of most digital products bears no relation to what they do.

I've heard this idea expressed before, specifically about the iPhone, but I can't remember where. Maybe it was Rawsthorn herself in Objectified?

Flight ControlMay 15 2009

I've caught the Flight Control bug that's going around. According to the developer, the addictive iPhone game is doing huge business, selling over 700,000 copies (at $0.99 to $2.99 a copy) since its release in early March.

HatchetApr 30 2009

Bummed that I can't use Hatchet with the iPhone Kindle app. AFAIK, you need a Kindle to get the email address that you can use to send attachments to your devices. Perhaps I should just use Instapaper but I've gotten used to page-flipping interface on the Kindle app.

kottke.org for the iPhoneMar 19 2009

I built a stripped down version of kottke.org for mobile devices. It's located at:

http://m.kottke.org

It's optimized for the iPhone but will work with Blackberrys, etc. as well. Here's the icon on the iPhone home screen and what it looks like in MobileSafari:

kottke.org mobile

The mobile site is just the front page for now (the last 30 posts or so). Should make reading the site fast and convenient when you're out and about.

iPhone 3.0Mar 17 2009

Land sakes, with all the hustle and bustle around here lately, I plumb forgot that Apple had an event today to announce the newest version of the operating system for their interactiveTelePhone. Engadget has the details. The iPhone 3.0 highlights so far:

Embeddable Google Maps within applications.
Same apps of two phones can talk to each other (gaming!).
Turn-by-turn directions available.
Push notifications finally coming. (They retooled after hearing all sorts of feedback from App Store developers.)
Streaming audio and video.
CUT AND PASTE.
MMS support.
Better searching, like in email and calendars.

ElissMar 12 2009

People on the internet seem to be enjoying a game for the iPhone called Eliss. Offworld:

It was exactly one week ago last night that I fell in love, and to be quite honest I'm still at a little bit of a loss for words. The new object of my desire? She's Eliss, an iPhone game, and I say that only slightly facetiously, because I'm not entirely exaggerating when I admit to getting goosebumps every time I even just see her in the video above.

And Touch Arcade:

Simply stated, Eliss perfectly demonstrates what iPhone gaming can be. It's a highly challenging game that's near impossible to put down and it could not exist on any other platform.

I just d/led it and have only played it a little. The aesthetic is great...it feels more like art than a game. The game's developer, one Steph Thirion, is up for an award for Innovation in Mobile Game Design for Eliss.

Kindle for the iPhoneMar 04 2009

Now you can go to the iTunes Store to buy the Kindle app from Amazon that lets you read ebooks made for the Kindle device on the iPhone. Yes, it's that confusing! Maybe they shouldn't have called the app the same name as the device...I thought "Kindle" was the device? A noun and a verb form of the same proper name is ok (e.g. "I googled you on Google" or "Please digg my link on Digg") but two nouns seems like a no-no.

Tower defense game for the iPhoneDec 12 2008

If I am to maintain my current levels of productivity and balance in my life, I do not need a tower defense game on my iPhone. But if I *were* to bring such a thing into my life, Fieldrunners looks like a good candidate. I can't wait until playing video games falls under the rubric of parenting. (Just kidding, Meg.)

Also, after a long period with no activity, Desktop Tower Defense is set to be updated soon (hopefully):

Version 1.9 announced! I am working on an updated version DTD which will include multiplayer, extra modes and extra creeps. It will be released in the next few weeks so stay tuned!

But they have a lot of other games under development so I'm not holding my breath.

Update: DTD 1.9 is available here. (thx, christopher & jason)

At 10:10, a watch smilesDec 04 2008

Ten minutes past ten o'clock, which forms a smiley face on a clock and "frames the brand" nicely, is the go-to time for watches in advertising. Timex sets their watches to precisely 10:09:36 while Rolex waits almost a minute until 10:10:31.

The Hamilton Watch Company was among the first to clock in at 10:10; that time is favored in ads dating at least as far back as 1926. Rolex began consistently setting watches in ads at 10:10 in the early 1940s. Timex appears to have begun the transition in 1953, when its Ben Hogan model showed 8:20 while the Marlin model was set to 10:10.

Apple usually uses 9:42 am for the iPhone, which is approximately when it was introduced at MacWorld 2007. Until recently, the icon for Apple's iCal displayed July 17 when not in use; iCal debuted at MacWorld 2002 on that date.

Lemonade Stand for the iPhoneNov 17 2008

Lemonade Stand, a remake of the popular Apple II game of the same title, is now available on the iPhone (@ iTunes Store). Everything I know about business I learned from playing Lemonade Stand.

iTrailOct 29 2008

When we were up in Vermont earlier this month, we rode the single chair to the top of the mountain at Mad River Glen and then hiked down. Before we left, we installed iTrail on Meg's phone. iTrail uses the iPhone's GPS capability to track your progress along a trail, jogging path, etc. The reviews at the iTunes Store aren't glowing but we found that it worked pretty well for us. Here are a couple of graphs generated by iTrail of our hike:

iTrail Graphs

iTrail also allows data export to a Google Docs speadsheet. From there, you can import that data into Google Maps, like so:

iTrail Google Maps

It's not perfect (we weren't doing 8.2 mph at the beginning of the hike) and GPS mapping apps are hardly new, but I've never done this before and it feels like living in the future.

RJDJ, maybe the best iPhone app out there?Oct 28 2008

Here's how to use the RJDJ iPhone app. You install the app, plug your headphones in, launch it, and press "Now Playing". A song plays, the app starts to sample the sounds in your environment, and those sounds are remixed in real time and played back to you. It might be the coolest thing ever. Check out this video and this other video for a quick look at how RJDJ works. The first video shows some songs that use the iPhone's accelerometer to modify and scratch the beat. (via waxy)

PS. It might only be the coolest app in theory...it's also flaky as hell. It was working fine for me and then crapped out...there's no music now, only sound sampling and it's really quiet. Maybe you need to use the Apple headphones with the mic?

Google Earth on iPhoneOct 27 2008

Wow, Google Earth is now available for the iPhone. The early reviews at the iTunes Store are mixed; looks like it's crashing a lot. (via df)

PhotoSwapOct 20 2008

PhotoSwap is a simple iPhone app: you take a photo, the app sends it to another user at random, and you get a random one in return. Check out a review and a bunch of photos people have received through the app. (thx, david)

24-hour trip to NYCSep 03 2008

A lovely and "surprisingly moving" video of a day in NYC, shot entirely on an iPhone. (via lonelysandwich)

Old iPhones still valuableSep 03 2008

Before the iPhone 3G came out in July, I did a quick price survey on the 1st generation iPhones being sold on eBay.

A quick search reveals that used & unlocked 8Gb iPhones are going for ~$400 and 16Gb for upwards of $500, with never-opened phones going for even more.

After the 3G came out, the prices on the old iPhone remained about the same.

I just checked eBay again and those prices are down only slightly. Never-opened unlocked iPhones are still fetching $400-500 and somewhat less for previously used phones.

BusinessWeek recently confirmed that those old phones are still selling well, demonstrating a lot of demand for iPhones that can be easily unlocked for use on networks besides AT&T in the US and elsewhere in the world.

On e-commerce site eBay, where NextWorth peddles many of its wares, a 16-GB version of the first-generation iPhone goes for about $600, and an 8-GB model in good condition commands $500. When it was new, the 16-GB phone sold for $499; the 8-GB model went for $399. Today, AT&T's most expensive iPhone 3G model sells for $300 with a two-year service contract.

LED football game for the iPhoneAug 27 2008

[To be read in a hyperventilating voice.] They're making a version of electronic handheld football for the iPhone. [Ok, now do the busy fingers gesture and hop from foot to foot.] BB Gadgets has the scant details. Next week! [Make "squee" noise.]

iPhone SSH clientsAug 19 2008

There are four SSH clients for the iPhone; here's a review comparing them all. (via waxy)

The $1000 iPhone appAug 06 2008

Yesterday developer Armin Heinrich posted an iPhone app to the App Store called I Am Rich. The program displays a red gem, has no function but to display your wealth to others through ownership, and costs $1000. It has since been removed from the App Store, although no one knows whether Apple or Heinrich pulled it.

I Am Rich isn't the most clever piece of art, but it's not bad either. For some, the iPhone is already an obvious display of wealth and I Am Rich is commenting on that. Plus, buying more than you need as an indication of wealth is practically an American core value for a growing segment of the population. Is paying $5000 for a wristwatch or $50,000 for a car when much cheaper alternatives exist really all that different than paying $1000 for an iPhone app?

When news of the app got out onto the web, the outcry came swiftly. VentureBeat implored Apple to pull it from the App Store, as did several other humorless blogs. Blog commenters were even more harsh in their assessments. What I can't understand is: why should Apple pull I Am Rich from the App Store? They have to approve each app but presumably that's to guard against apps which crash iPhones, misrepresent their function, go against Apple's terms of service, or introduce malicious code to the iPhone.

Excluding I Am Rich would be excluding for taste...because some feel that it costs too much for what it does. (And this isn't the only example. There have been many cries of too many poor quality (but otherwise functional) apps in the store and that Apple should address the problem.) App Store shoppers should get to make the choice of whether or not to buy an iPhone app, not Apple, particularly since the App Store is the only way to legitimately purchase consumer iPhone apps. Imagine if Apple chose which music they stocked in the iTunes store based on the company's taste. No Kanye because Jay-Z is better. No Dylan because it's too whiney. Of course they don't do that; they stock a crapload of different music and let the buyer decide. We should deride Apple for that type of behavior, not cheer them on.

Old iPhone price check on eBayJul 18 2008

Before the iPhone 3G came out last month, I wrote about how valuable the old iPhone still was.

A quick search reveals that used & unlocked 8Gb iPhones are going for ~$400 and 16Gb for upwards of $500, with never-opened phones going for even more.

I just checked eBay again and those prices are down only slightly. Never-opened unlocked iPhones are still fetching $400-500 and somewhat less for previously used phones. If you've purchased an iPhone 3G in the past few days, you still have an excellent shot at getting most of your money back from your first phone (provided you can get it unlocked, which isn't difficult).

I also checked the prices for unlocked iPhone 3Gs...prices are upwards of $1400 for the 16GB model. The unlocked claim is somewhat dubious. AFAIK, there hasn't been a crack released yet although it's been reported that the 3Gs are being sold unlocked in Italy and Hong Kong.

Update: The 3G has been cracked.

Hold-On iPhone appJul 17 2008

The world's most funnest iPhone game productivity app is Hold-On. To play, hold the button on the screen as long as you can. (via andre)

Save images from the web on the iPhoneJul 16 2008

iPhone 2.0 tip. If you tap-then-hold an image in Safari, an option pops up for you to save the image. Nice way to get new wallpaper or photos for your contacts.

Foodie vs. machineJul 16 2008

New York Times food critic Frank Bruni tries out the Urbanspoon restaurant-seeking application on the iPhone (shake the phone to find restaurant options near you) and ends up writing a pretty convincing argument for individual expertise over collective wisdom.

I locked in a price of two dollar signs and shook again. Up came the Morgan Dining Room, and off went an alarm in my head. Isn't the Morgan Dining Room a lunch place that's closed most nights? I called to make sure, and, sure enough, got a recording.

Urbanspoon is more of a beginning than an end, unable to factor in, for example, whether the restaurant it's recommending books up a month in advance (Babbo, for example) or often has long waits (Momofuku Ssam Bar). That's a troublesome shortcoming in New York, where competition for seats in the most popular places is fierce.

iPhone line-cutterJul 15 2008

Lance Arthur deals with an iPhone line-cutter.

"Are you standing in line?"

"Yeah."

"Were you standing in line behind me outside for three and a half hours."

"Yeah, I was." Grin.

He stares at me. I instantly hate him. A lot. I hate everything about his self-congratulatory smart-assed grin and his cheating little heart and his idea of how life should work for him, where he can outsmart us all and get what he wants and get away with it. "No, you weren't."

Fairness matters, even when you've got something to lose.

Cool iPhone appsJul 10 2008

So, what are the cool must-have iPhone Apps? The iTunes Store lists the most popular ones but that's often not a good indicator. Obvious choices thus far: Twitterific (read and post to Twitter), Remote (control iTunes or Apple TV with your iPhone), and AppEngines' individual ebooks (like Pride and Prejudice). Let me know what your favorites are in the comments and I'll compile a list. Bonus points if you actually explain what the app does and why it's worth the effort.

iPhone 2.0 update now availableJul 10 2008

MacRumors has the scoop.

Once again, digging through Apple's XML files has revealed the url to the iPhone 2.0 Firmware that is presently available on Apple's servers.

Here's the direct download link. Be sure to read all the disclaimers at MacRumors...this is not an official Apple release and should be treated with caution. (Basically, don't try this at home, kids.) And once again, here's the link to the App Store so that you can install all the shiny new iPhone apps.

iPhone Apps Store openJul 10 2008

iTunes 7.7 became available last night and with it, the capability to buy applications to put on your iPhone. Well, you can't actually put them on your phone yet, but you can buy/download them. Here's a link to all iPhone Apps and here's a link to just the free ones. I can't seem to get the link for the main store's page, but the easiest way to get there is to click on "Applications" in your iTunes Library and click "Get More Applications".

The new iPhone software will likely be out later today so that you can actually install and use these apps.

Update: Here's the link for the iPhone Apps Store. (thx, carl)

Valuable old iPhonesJun 23 2008

Last week: maybe that old iPhone isn't completely worthless after all.

But a cheaper and easier way to get an iPhone that works on T-Mobile, etc. is to buy an old iPhone from an upgrader for $100, maybe even $150?

This week: you might actually break even or turn a small profit from selling your old iPhone on eBay or craigslist. A quick search reveals that used & unlocked 8Gb iPhones are going for ~$400 and 16Gb for upwards of $500, with never-opened phones going for even more. Here are some recent old iPhone auctions:

- A lot of five never-opened unlocked 16Gb iPhones went for $2,755 ($551 per phone)
- A used unlocked 8Gb iPhone went for $405
- A used unlocked 16Gb iPhone went for $585.

Before the announcement of the iPhone 3G, new 8Gb iPhones retailed for $399, 16Gb for $499. When the iPhone 3G comes out on July 11, the supply of old iPhones in the marketplace will greatly increase (which means that the price will drop) but the auctions above suggest that those old phones might not be shiny paperweights after all. (thx, praveen & carl)

How much is that old iPhone worth?Jun 20 2008

Just after Apple announced the iPhone 3G, Khoi Vinh whipped up a quick graph of the declining value of his iPhone over the past year. He generously estimates that when the iPhone 3G is released in early July, his old iPhone will be worth $100, half of the price for a new iPhone 3G. At the time, I speculated that you'd be hard pressed to find a buyer at $75.

However, the resale market for old iPhones might not be so dismal. AT&T has confirmed to MacWorld that in-store activation of the iPhone 3G will be mandatory:

AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel confirmed for Macworld that activation must be done at the time of purchase, in-store.

For those who want to use their phone on another network, an untethered 8 GB iPhone 3G would cost them at least $374 ($199 + $175 AT&T account cancellation fee). But a cheaper and easier way to get an iPhone that works on T-Mobile, etc. is to buy an old iPhone from an upgrader for $100, maybe even $150?

iPhone 3G hangoverJun 10 2008

After yesterday's iPhone 3G revelry, the inevitable hangover. AT&T is done playing nice with iPhone customers. First off, the data plan for 3G is $10 more than the old plan. Second, in-store activation is required, "which takes 10-12 minutes"...with the old version of the iPhone, you could activate through iTunes and it took 2 minutes. (That means no online ordering of phones either.) Third, Apple and AT&T may be working on a purchase penalty for those who don't activate their phones within 30 days...so no more buying a phone to use on another network. Four: no prepaid plans. Yay?

Mobile phone companies are evil, irritating, and stupid defacto monopoliesMay 14 2008

[I'm sure this is nothing new and has been amply documented elsewhere but I'm in rant mode, not research mode, so here we go.] We're going to London soon so my wife calls up AT&T to make sure our iPhones will work in the UK. We already knew all about the ridiculous prices they charge for international data roaming (viewing a 3-minute video on YouTube would cost about $40!), so turning that feature off for the duration is not going to be a problem. After unlocking the phones for international access, the woman informed Meg of two other tidbits of mobile phone company idiocy:

1. If my iPhone is on in the UK and the phone rings but I don't answer, the call goes to voicemail. As it should. But somehow, I get charged for that call at $1.29/minute *and* perhaps an additional call from my phone to the US, also billed at $1.29/minute. Individual voicemails are limited to 2 minutes, but if I get 10 2-minute voicemails over the course of a couple days, I'm charged $25 for not answering my phone. And then I have to listen to all the voicemails...that's another $25. Insane and inane.

2. But it gets even more unbelievable! Then the woman tells Meg that when the iPhone is hooked up to a computer via USB, you shouldn't download the photos from the phone to the computer because you'll incur international data roaming charges and further that the only way to deal with this is to wait to sync your photos when you get back to the US. W! T! F! How is that even possible? This sounds like complete bullshit to me. The iPhone somehow calls AT&T to ask permission to d/l photos? Verifies the EXIF data? Informs the US government what you've been taking pictures of...some kind of distributed self-surveillance system? Is this really the case or was this woman just really confused about what she was reading off of her script?

iPhone celebsMay 13 2008

From Coolspotters, a new site that tracks celebrity use of brands and fashion, here's a list of celebs that use an iPhone, including Heidi Klum, Karl Rove, Paris Hilton, and, er, Steve Jobs. (via mike davidson)

Parallels on iPhone folliesMay 05 2008

An Australian news channel used my fake Parallels-on-an-iPhone graphic on a recent newscast. Hee. (thx, amos)

The iPhone MegaApr 21 2008

EXCLUSIVE!! From a mole deep inside the company comes word and vision of a new iPhone from Apple, the iPhone Mega:

iPhone Mega

In a rare comment regarding a leaked product, Steve Jobs noted that "the easy portability of the iPhone was an issue for some people; we saw a market opportunity there".

This a bit old but the dudeMar 28 2008

This a bit old but the dude that runs the stylish cameron i/o site (who is coincidentially named Cameron) built a trumpet-like bell for the iPhone out of a used toilet paper tube.

I wanted to listen to my music in the shower but the iPhone's speaker would get lost in the noise from the shower. So I directed the iPhone's audio straight towards me. Worked pretty well. Just ask my neighbors.

A video stream of yesterday's iPhone SDKMar 07 2008

A video stream of yesterday's iPhone SDK presentation.

Update: Jason at SVN speculates on the implications of yesterday's announcements.

Good notes from today's Apple event atMar 06 2008

Good notes from today's Apple event at which they announced the developer's kit for the iPhone. VC John Doerr also announced the iFund, a $100 million fund that will give money to companies wanting to develop applications for the iPhone. (via df)

A video and accompanying text from EdwardJan 24 2008

A video and accompanying text from Edward Tufte on Interface Design and the iPhone.

Update: Christopher Fahey posted a thoughtful critique of Tufte's iPhone thoughts.

Gmail released a new mobile version. ItJan 15 2008

Gmail released a new mobile version. It is bulky, slow to load, and pretty yet irritating on the iPhone. I couldn't be less happy about it, and had a fit in midtown last night trying to get my email. I suppose, like all new things, I will grow accustomed to it.

The JobsNote is going on right now&Jan 15 2008

The JobsNote is going on right now—ooh, shiny new Apple things. So far they've announced a movie rental program for your iPhone but there is still no cut and paste?

Wired has a longish article about howJan 10 2008

Wired has a longish article about how the iPhone came about. I wish this story had more direct quotes and explicit references...it's hard to read it and not take the whole thing with a huge grain of salt.

David Lynch does an iPhone commercial, not really. (via andre)Jan 04 2008

David Lynch does an iPhone commercial, not really. (via andre)

Flickr: Camera Finder: Apple: iPhoneDec 04 2007

At long last, Apple is listed as one of the available brands of camera in the flickr Camera Finder.

This means that you can search for shots taken not only with iPhone, but with the three models of Apple's original camera line, the QuickTake (codenamed Venus, Mars, and Neptune). Currently, there are no viewable uploaded photos taken with the QuickTake 100 or 150, but there are some from the QuickTake 200.

It's also nice to see that Merlin's tree.cx pic made it to the top of the iPhone-taken 'interesting' list. (via highindustrial)

Update: A potential reason for the iPhone's relatively paltry numbers is that when you email photos from the phone, it strips the exif data out which means those photos aren't counted. I imagine many more people email photos to Flickr from the iPhone than upload them from their computers.

The design of the iPhone is suchNov 30 2007

The design of the iPhone is such that all other mobile phones, including those released after the iPhone, look not only old but antiquated and even defective. IMO.

Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution loves hisNov 19 2007

Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution loves his iPhone and "can no longer imagine not having one" but has yet to make a phone call with it.

Tobias Wong has made a slick all-blackNov 14 2007

Tobias Wong has made a slick all-black iPhone called the ccPhone. It comes preloaded with videos, photos, music, and the company address book of Citizen:Citizen, the company selling it. Available as a limited edition of 50, each phone is $2000. Another of Wong's projects that I really like is the Tiffany diamond solitaire engagement ring with the diamond turned upside down so the point sticks out (possibly for slashing attackers). A nice play on the marital security that an engagement ring offers the wearer. (via core77)

1984 all over again?Nov 07 2007

Google recently announced that a bunch of companies (aka the Open Handset Alliance) were getting together to make cell phones that run on an open platform called Android. That was a couple of days ago so maybe someone else has already made the imperfect comparison between this and Mac vs. PC circa 1984, but if not:

1984 2007

Or perhaps Steven Frank has it right:

A 34-company committee couldn't create a successful ham sandwich, much less a mobile application suite.

Eames' Powers of Ten + iPhone = God?Nov 05 2007

Two bits (bites? har har) of AppleOct 17 2007

Two bits (bites? har har) of Apple news:

1. Steve Jobs has announced that an SDK will be available for the iPhone and iPod touch in February. No more hacking your phone to put applications on it.

2. You can now preorder OS X 10.5 (Leopard) at Amazon for $109...that's $20 off the retail price. The offer comes with a pre-order price guarantee; if the price drops before it ships, you get it for the lower price.

A feature I would like on myOct 11 2007

A feature I would like on my iPhone: every single call gets recorded (at a low bitrate to conserve storage space) and stored on the phone for a short period of time. Playback works like the visual voicemail feature.

Update: I've gotten a couple of emails from people saying that this feature is illegal. Which is true in some states (California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington). My feeling is that the recording of voice communication is a legacy thing that should go away. If you write me a letter, send me an email, IM me a note, or send a SMS, I get to keep a copy of your correspondence. Why the different standard for a phone call? I believe this difference will eventually go away...after all, it's trivial to record a Skype call.

I'm loving the new 1.1.1 update to theSep 28 2007

I'm loving the new 1.1.1 update to the iPhone. Best new features for me: the double-tap of the Home button to go to your address book favorites (first suggested by Steven Johnson shortly after the phone's introduction) and more alert ringtone choices for when a new text message comes in. I still wish I could set that alert volume independently from the main ringtone volume, but this is a good start...I'll be able to hear my texts coming in again.

Now you can buy a house modeledSep 11 2007

Now you can buy a house modeled after one of Martha Stewart's three houses. People love these houses so much that sales are bucking the downturn in new home sales. Says a representative for the company building the homes: "It's our version of the iPhone. It illustrates the power of something different with a brand tied to it."

Apple may have announced their ringtone strategySep 06 2007

Apple may have announced their ringtone strategy for the iPhone (30-second ringtones cost $1.98 to make and you must purchase songs through the iTunes Music Store), but Ambrosia Software's iToner utility lets you make ringtones from any mp3 or acc audio file with a simple drag/drop, all for $15 (free 30-day trial). iToner seems like the clear winner here.

Update: The just-released new version of iTunes (7.4) makes iToner ringtones invisible to the iPhone. Ambrosia is working on an iToner update. (thx, jim)

Apple is holding a special event todaySep 05 2007

Apple is holding a special event today at 10am PT to announce a new product. Or something. No one knows exactly what but it seems to have something to do with music. Popular guesses include a 3G iPhone, a different iPod nano, a touchscreen iPod, and the availability of the Beatles entire musical catalog on iTunes. MacWorld, Engadget, MacObserver, and ArsTechnica (among others) will have live coverage.

Update: Jobs announced 99-cent ringtones, new colors for iPod shuffle, new form factor for iPod nano (fat vs. thin), renamed the iPod to iPod classic, introduced new iPod touch (basically the iPhone without the phone), new mobile iTunes Music Store that will work on iPod touch and the iPhone, odd partnership with Starbucks...click to buy currently playing songs in the store and free wifi for iTMS purchases (how about free wifi, period?), and the 8GB iPhone now costs $399. !!!!! I guess Apple's plan on that was 1) gouge all the early adopters, and then 2) reduce the price to sell iPhones like crazy.

Nice video of how a copy andAug 08 2007

Nice video of how a copy and paste feature might work on the iPhone. There was a lengthy discussion about how to implement this on kottke.org last month.

iPhone, Wiimote, or newborn baby: which has the best built-in accelerometer?Jul 30 2007

In the Kottke/Hourihan household, much of the past 4 weeks has been spent determining which has the most sensitive built-in accelerometer: an iPhone, a Nintendo Wiimote, or our newborn son.

iPhone Wii Ollie

The iPhone was eliminated fairly quickly...the portrait-to-landscape flip is easy to circumvent if you do it slow enough or at an odd angle. The Wiimote might be the winner; it registers small, slow movements with ease, as when executing a drop shot in tennis or tapping in a putt in golf.

Newborns, however, are born with something called the Moro reflex. When infants feel themselves fall backwards, they startle and throw their arms out to the sides, as illustrated in this video. Even fast asleep they will do this, often waking up in the process. So while the Wiimote's accelerometer may be more sensitive, the psychological pressure exerted on the parent while lowering a sleeping baby slowly and smoothly enough so as not to wake them with the Moro reflex and thereby squandering 40 minutes of walking-the-baby-to-sleep time is beyond intense and so much greater than any stress one might feel serving for the match in tennis or getting that final strike in bowling.

In the battle of Steve Jobs (CEOJul 02 2007

In the battle of Steve Jobs (CEO of Apple) vs. Steve Jobs (former CEO of Pixar and current Disney Board member), Steve Jobs (Apple) was the clear winner. Apple sold an estimated 500,000 iPhones this weekend -- grossing somewhere between $250 million and $300 million -- while Pixar's Ratatouille grossed $47.2 million.

Update: Some more interesting iPhone statistics, including Apple's stock price increase since the iPhone was announced ($32 billion increase in market cap) and that iPhone was mentioned in 1.25% of all blogs posts over the weekend. (thx, thor)

Update: Apple's stock price went down this morning in heavy trading. I guess Wall Street wasn't so over the moon for the iPhone?

New iPhone featuresJul 01 2007

John Gruber remarked on the lack of a clipboard on the iPhone and I found myself missing that feature this afternoon. Steven Johnson suggested a double-click of the Home button as a shortcut to the phone favorites screen to shorten initiation times for frequent calls. Both of these observations beg the question: how are new capabilities going to get added to the iPhone? A bunch of you are either interaction/interface designers or otherwise clever folks...how would you add a feature like a clipboard to the iPhone?

Here's where interaction on the iPhone stands right now. Pressing, holding, flipping physical buttons (home, power, silent, volume). Tapping buttons on the screen to active them. Tapping the screen to zoom in/out. Tap the screen with two fingers to zoom with Google Maps. Pinch and expand on screen to zoom in/out. Swipe screen to scroll up/down and side to side. Swipe screen to flip album covers in iPod mode. Touch and hold screen to bring up magnifying loupe and drag to move cursor. Flip unit to reorient screen from portrait to landscape and vice versa. Swipe message to delete. Swipe screen to unlock. There are probably more that I'm forgetting.

How do you add to that while keeping the interface intuitive, uncluttered (both the physical device and onscreen), and usable? Add a button to the device? Add buttons onscreen...a menu button perhaps? Double and triple pressing of physical buttons? New touchscreen gestures? Physical gestures like shaking the entire phone to left or right? Voice activated features? A combination of some/all of those?

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