Sunday, February 22, 2009

One step closer to Star Trek

Question:  What's more impressive than the iPhone?  
Answer:     The iPhone hacking community.

The video here demonstrates a movement known as "mainstreaming," which, in this case, is all about making the iPhone a true mobile computing platform, by enabling it to connect to an external keyboard.  The magic happens via Bluetooth, so you have a tidy, wireless connection, but it requires a jailbroken iPhone.  Don't ask me if it works; I don't have the cajones to jailbreak my phone.  But thank goodness these guys do.

"What about an external monitor for the iPhone?" I hear you say.  You mean, like your high-def LCD TV?  Already here.

This puts us one step closer to Philip Greenspun's ubiquitous Device, and that much closer to the Star Trek communicator

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Apple one-ups everybody

I just popped for the new iLife '09, specifically to get one feature:  Faces, a new technology in iPhoto.

For many months, I've been using Google's Picassa, both the online photo storage cloud, and the desktop photo editor/organizer.  There is also a Picassa Uploader plug-in for iPhoto, which is pretty cool.  Both Picassa and Flickr are great photo management solutions, but sorta Web 2.0  They are still a pain in the ass (PITA) when compared with working on your client computer.  What is great about them, though, is that they allow anywhere-access via the Web.  But frankly, even basic photo editing and organization with these services (or Facebook, or Shutterfly, or MySpace, or fill-in-the-blank) is cumbersome.


Apple released the new iPhoto '09 with this kick-butt feature called Faces:  you tag a face in a photo, and it remembers that face, and creates a "Polaroid" of that person.  You can build up your Polaroid collection, and then tell iPhoto to churn through your entire photo collection (16 GB, in my case), and tag every single photo with every face that it finds from your Polaroids. Holy crap!   You can then create Smart Albums using the tagged faces, and upload said albums to any Web-based service, including Apple's own Mobile Me.

Mobile Me used to suck.  Lately, it sucks much less.  I did some test uploading of albums to my Mobile Me account (for which I pay $99/year, and get 20 GB of combined storage), and the result was quick, painless, effective.  My albums appeared on MM, were easy to manage from the Web, even easier to manage from iPhoto, and looked a helluva lot prettier than Picassa, and somewhat prettier than Flickr.

Given Yahoo's financial history (Yahoo owns Flickr), I am a little worried that Flickr could go bust at any moment, as have other Yahoo services.  Google's Picassa gets better all the time, but it is still very clunky.

iPhoto's integration with Mobile Me offers a user experience closer to what iTunes users get with their iTunes/iTunes Store integrated experience, and it is probably the main reason that there are 160 million iPods out there, and only 3 million Zunes.  This close marriage of hardware (computers, iPods, iPhones) with client applications, and cloud storage service is what Apple needs to push in order to stay ahead of Google and Facebook. 

"Um, don't you mean Google and Microsoft?"  No, I mean Facebook.  More on that next time.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Google keeps bringing the heat

Google just announced Tasks for mobile devices, including the iPhone.

ToodleDo's otherwise excellent iPhone app and Web service, which replaced my ToDo app, which replaced my OmniFocus app, may have just been replaced.

Yes, I do get tired of spending time and energy to divine the "ultimate" app for my purposes. But some of that is just the cost of doing business, and my feeling is that the effort will pay off in the end with slightly increased productivity, and greatly increased peace of mind. Part of the appeal of these apps to me is the "external brain pack" factor, which allows me to quickly offload my vagrant thoughts onto a more permanent medium. That medium used to be a lined sticky note stuck inside my daily calendar/journal thingy. It was a good, flexible, and simple system, which has been surprisingly hard to beat. But it was also not traceable, and it was hard to track both new, unprocessed thoughts, and sorted "to dos" all in the same space. It became unwieldy after a while. Capturing new to dos electronically, with online sync, is a little more sterile, but a lot more scalable and reassuring.

The new service is still buggy, as you can see in the below photo, so I'd give it a month or two. But after that, look out.

Offline Web mail? Oxymoron?

Gmail is going offline.

OK, not totally. But their new, "offline" service allows you to use Gmail in your Web browser even when you are offline. It behaves just the way it normally would, according to a Google press release (cleverly disguised as a Google Labs blog post), by saving a snapshot of your last Gmail session in your computer's memory ("cache"). You can then do everything you are normally used to doing in Gmail, but your outgoing messages will be stored in the Outbox until you are re-connected to the Internet.

The new service uses Google "Gears", which is a browser plug-in that taps several Google application programming interfaces (APIs), in order to make your Web-based apps function like native desktop applications. So, you must install Gears to make offline Gmail go.

This raises a question for another post: how in the world is Google making any money from all this? Stay tuned...