Monday, June 29, 2009

Tangled Technology

In one our kitchen drawers, where most people would have cooking utensils, we have a tangled mess of power chords. For three different types of cell phones, two laptops (PC and MAC) and a couple of MP3 players of different sorts, we literally use the entire drawer to keep the chargers organized. The location is also walking distance to enough plugs to charge these devices that get used on a regular basis. In the hall cupboard we keep chargers for items we only use on a semi-regular basis: cameras, digital video recorder, walkie-talkies and that sort of thing. Sometimes it is difficult to find a place to plug in a charger as the kids might be charging something like a Nintendo DS. It is unlikely that one charger will charge more than one item, unless made by the same company, like Apple.

Although this might be good from the manufacturing company’s viewpoint, from a household, environmental, and common sense viewpoint it is quite ridiculous! Well, this is about to change – at least in Europe it will. A deal has been struck by the world’s top ten mobile phone makers and the EU Industry Commission for companies to make a universal charger. The idea being that one charger can be plugged in anywhere and charge any mobile phone. If Apple, Research in Motion, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola and Palm extended this to their entire product line I could empty my kitchen drawer and fill it with… well kitchen stuff!

The real future of charging our gadgets will be with wireless chargers. The charger will be plugged in and our mobile devices will charge when placed on the charger pad. This isn’t anything new but it is getting better and will continue to do so. For example, Wildcharge has just released a new wire-free charging system designed to charge the iPhone and iPod touch, which they have already done for some Blackberry products. My only complaint being that the iDevice must be placed in a protective-like case that transmits the power when placed on the pad. But I would prefer to have a few of these around instead of the tangle of chords I currently have.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Developed to entertain!

Just because an application is popular doesn’t automatically mean it is anything special or particularly clever in any respects. Even the Fart game was one of the most downloaded games for a while, until everyone realized it was just a digital whoopee cushion. What makes a game or application great is one that keeps people returning to it, to beat a previous score or because of its usefulness.

Paper Toss, a free iPhone app, appears to be a simple game of throwing a crumpled up piece of paper into a trash bucket. There is a fan placed on either side blowing at different speeds. The greater the wind from the fan, the more the piece of paper will drift to one side. Sometimes the piece of paper has to be aimed well to the side, towards the fan, for it to curve in the air and land in the bucket. The goal is to see how many you can get in a row. For the first while I was averaging about 1. Then I somehow got 3 in a row. It took a while to beat that but one day I played a game where I, Magic Johnson, got an amazing score of 14. The fact was, the game kept me going back. I was hooked!

Flight control is currently one of the most popular paid iPhone applications. The goal of this game is to land as many large and small aircraft and helicopters as possible, without letting any of them hit each other. Using a finger, you draw the route the airplanes should follow to the runway. The game gets more difficult as you play until eventually two of them bang into each other. As with most games, there is a steep learning curve where you quickly improve your score. Again, this keeps people returning to the game and actually makes the time spent downloading, and the $0.99, worth it.

As simple as these games may appear, the programming required to make them work is actually quite complex. How do the programmers make an object turn, change speed, appear to go further away and even rotate about its axis? A combination of Physics and Math! A programmer with ActionScript 3.0 experience, and a healthy dose of trigonometry and physics knowledge, can design a program to do just about anything. They can manipulate digital speed variables, x and y, and change the size of an object to make a 2 dimensional image do anything in a 3 dimensional fashion.

Time for me to practice throwing a crumpled up piece of paper in a garbage bucket!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cockpit GPS for iPhone 3G

Do you like cars that have lots of gauges and switches so it looks a bit like the cockpit of a jet? If you answered anything other than no, then this is an application you might just enjoy. V-Cockpit GPS shows a realistic cockpit style layout of the instruments a pilot would see when flying. Using the accelerometers built into the iPhone (made exclusively for the 3G or newer) the application shows speed, altitude, heading, pitch and bank. It even measures your vertical speed (how quickly you climb or descend) and your rate of acceleration or deceleration. There is a built-in compass, not much unlike some we’ve already seen, and the application even makes jet engine noises and warning sounds.

This is what you get in the free Lite version. The full nerd version gives you a HUD (head-up display), background radio talk, instrument zoom and a few other things. The maker of this game, Alexander Gross, also has a few other applications. The Madshells game (new and improved shell game), the iQualizer (turns noises around you into abstract imagery) and my favorite, the Ski-o-meter. This records your speed as you ski and you can check the history after you finish a run. You can see your average speed, top speed, distance and time. Combining a sport and technology – it definitely kicks butt!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Weather to go!

There are so many great applications out there to choose from for any mobile device, whether you use a Blackberry, iPhone, Android or the new Palm Pre. If your device is new to hit the market there might not be as many options to choose from yet, but that will change quickly! One thing I love being able to check on mobile devices is the weather. There are plenty of weather applications geared for sailing, flying and other specific activities, but I like to know what is going to happen in my city for the next few days, and also other parts of the world.

One of the best weather applications I’ve seen so far has been Weatherbug. Improved since its days as a desktop application, Weatherbug is now offered on the iPhone, Google Android and the Blackberry Storm. The basic Weatherbug is an ad-sponsored free application that has plenty enough features to keep me happy. I get an unlimited number of locations showing 7-day forecasts, in-depth current conditions and weather superimposed on a map that I can adjust. There is also a paid version called Weatherbug Elite for those that need more sophistication and data.

Easier than free is the basic Weather application that comes with the iPhone. Adding and deleting cities is simple. I enjoy how quickly I can scroll left or right and see if a location is light or dark, rainy or sunny and the current temperature. If I look down the screen I get the forecast for the next 5 days also. It has become part of my daily routine to quickly check the forecast and what the weather is in other parts of the world. As much as I might be envious of Boca Raton or Sydney, I smile when I see that my friends on the east coast are buried in snow!

Mobile for the Mobile

I’m not sure how long a novelty usually lasts but one that keeps going like the Energizer Bunny is the Map feature on the iPhone. There are people out there driving down the same road they’ve driven for years, who now confirm their known location with the GPS feature in the iPhone. “Yes, I am exactly where I already knew I was, and I can confirm it!” If the GPS gave the wrong location, I’m concerned that my kid’s generation might one day question whether the house they’ve lived in for so long might actually be where they live! “It sure looks like my house, but the GPS says…”

We are on family vacation right now and this one is a bit different. For the first time, we are traveling in an RV. At 30 feet long, it drives like a 12,000 lb marshmallow. It’s a bit old and the turning radius is not as good as a Boeing 737, but I’m optimistic it will get us to some great places of nature. Unlike the family van, it doesn’t have a GPS. We are navigating with a paper map - very old school. This is fine with me, as I’ve been looking forward to an old fashioned family trip. I was rather pleased that our older RV didn’t include a Satellite TV as I really wanted some good quality family time.

Of course there were a few items we brought for “comfort” that included the Satellite Radio, my laptop, an iPhone (actually two), a Blackberry (I’m still transferring contact info), digital cameras and the kids brought their Nintendo DS’s, which we didn’t realize until we checked to see why it was so quiet in the back of the RV. I really had no intention to use the iPhone, except to check for messages at the beginning and end of each day. The maps we had didn’t give much detail so I did end up using the Map on the iPhone to find the way to the first RV site we had pre-booked, which I also did on the iPhone or the Blackerry… I don’t remember which. I was surprised when we arrived at the site and they asked us which hook-up package we wanted. Water, sewer, 30 amp power, cable and Wi-Fi were some of the options. The site had a small restaurant, showers, laundry and a pool. While the kids were asking “are we there yet” I was wondering “have we even left yet?”

Finding our second RV site became somewhat problematic because it was the start of a weekend. Most places were full and some had offices that were closed Saturdays and Sundays. While we traveled, I entered about half a dozen locations in the Weather option on the iPhone and we choose our next area based on the weather forecasts. I was able to find an RV site on the web and I called and made a reservation. I entered the location on the iPhone and got a route and ETA for when we would arrive. Thanks to some traffic cams, we were able to avoid an accident on a bridge in one city. That saved us some time. Most importantly, I desperately needed a Latte at one point while driving. A simple search for Starbucks in the Map Application and I drove to the nearest red pin. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the iPhone a necessity on a trip like this but it helped us enjoy our time a little more with fewer hassles.

My idea of a long family road trip, like Clark Griswold and his family did in the 1983 movie National Lampoon’s Vacation, without any of the new techno gadgets was a bit unrealistic. So far we haven’t let technology interfere with quality time, but we have found a way to let it supplement our experience in a positive way. At one point while driving on a long straight section of highway, the song Holiday Road (them song for Vacation) started playing on the radio. I looked to my left wondering if I might see Christie Brinkley driving past me in a red Ferrari…. “CLARK!!!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

iPhone book that makes sense!

For some reason, I thought it was a good idea to start learning about iPhone code before actually knowing how to work the iPhone itself. I was deeply submerged in the iPhone SDK (software development kit) that Apple provided me, learning about Cocoa Touch, SQ Lite, nib files and Open GL, when I realized I still didn't know how to access email on the iPhone 3G.

I was behind the 8-ball, the football, the medicine ball and any other type of ball you could possibly imagine. The cart was WELL ahead of the horse... me being the horse and the cart being the rest of society. I needed a crash course (I never cared for the that saying) on how to work the basics of the iPhone and get the most out of the iPhone stock and add-on applications. Being too embarrassed to be caught reading anything that included "...for dummies!" I searched for the best iPhone book available. I finally came across a book called My iPhone (Second Edition), written by Brad Miser. The book is easy to read, unlike most manuals, and has plenty of pictures that helps you follow along. Having an iPhone beside you helps too.

My iPhone starts by giving a tour of the iPhone and it's many features. Following the book you set up your iTunes, Contacts, Email, Bluetooth, Web, Calendar and everything else you might need. The book does a great job of explaining how to use your iPhone and make the most out of what it does so well. My iPhone also points out what the iPhone doesn't do well at by displaying in a red block the title It's Not All Good.

Being just one evolutionary step ahead of the ...for dummies level, and with the knowledge of how to access my email, I must now gallop ahead in search of my cart!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New iPhone OS 3.0 Software

Apple released the latest iPhone software package today called 3.0. We’ve been hearing about the details from Beta users since Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) finished in San Jose last week. Before applauding or complaining about the following new features that 3.0 gives you, keep in mind the price is right. The Apple iPhone OS 3.0 is free!

Cut, Copy and Paste: A great improvement is now being able to Cut, Copy and Paste, even between different applications. You can even use this feature for Internet images. A simple double-tap places two pins around a bubble that you can adjust. Careful when you only want to edit that you don’t open the Cut, Copy and Paste feature accidentally.

Landscape Keyboard: By rotating the iPhone 90°, sideways, you now have landscape view for Mail, Texting, Notes, Safari and SMS. This is basically a mathematical change called rotational transformation, or autorotation, calculated to display horizontally instead of vertically. This is my favorite feature of all, unless I’m trying to type laying down in bed… think about it!

Tethering: Tethering is the ability to use your iPhone as a wireless modem device to connect your computer to the web. Simply attach a USB cable or use Bluetooth. The one caveat being that you must be on at least a 1GB/month plan. Tethering is free until at least December 31st, 2009. Apple will likely introduce a price plan that includes Tethering sometime before 2010. Until then, this is an option instead of purchasing a mobile Internet stick. This is of course, based on carrier availability.

Spotlight Search: No, this isn’t like the flashlight application. Spotlight lets you search your iPhone content and displays the findings in a neat list that is easy to interact with. A swipe in the right direction, literally, brings up Spotlight Search that will peruse your Mail, Music, Calendar, Contacts, Notes and Applications to help you find what you are looking for faster than ever before. This is slick!

Some other improvements you will enjoy on your iPhone thanks to the OS 3.0 software are:

Multimedia Messaging Service, better access to pictures taken with camera, Voice Memos, Shake to Shuffle, an improved Calendar and a peer-to-peer ability for Next Generation iPhone Applications. Apple has even improved the Stock Application, but it won’t improve the stocks performances.

Application Icon Control

For starters, an ever-increasing number of applications, as games or tools, are becoming available for an ever-increasing number of mobile devices. Whether downloaded to a PC, iPhone, iTouch, Blackberry, Android or whatever becomes the flavor of the week, there will always be more applications available than any one person could possibly use. But is your current mobile device capable of holding enough applications that you might access on a regular basis?

As an example, the current iPhone 3G can show 9 pages of icons with 16 on each page. That is 144 applications, plus the 4 in the static bar or dock on the bottom of the iPhone. I say “show” because it is possible to load more, but the iPhone will not show the new applications until one of the previous 144 has been deleted. Of course you must have enough memory left to load these applications in the first place, which shouldn’t be difficult with 8 or 16 GB of memory.

How often do we load an application, use it a few times and then forget about it? Even a light user who loads 2 to 3 applications a week on their iPhone would run out of icon space in the first year. The hottest application to hit the download market will likely be somewhere near page 9 as it is the most recent application that we would have downloaded. For these reasons, it is prudent to keep our application icons tidy. Think of it like email. Your mobile device needs a good cleansing once in a while. Remove the unused applications and shuffle the icons around into a system that works for you!

How do we move and remove the iPhone icons you might ask? Since iPhone software 1.1.3, simply tap an icon and hold it until the icons start shaking. While they are shaking you can swap them with other icons and even move them to a different page. Click the small x at the top of the icon to remove the application. A couple of minutes playing with it and you will be an expert.

It might just be time for an application that manages all my applications!