Posts Tagged ‘gadgets’

iPad: Not Just Another Flash in the Pan

January 31st, 2010
 

The sheer amount of discussion about who the iPad is aimed at and what they’re meant to do with it should be ringing alarm bells. Have Apple dropped the ball this time? Then again, as some have pointed out, those people asking questions are probably not part of the target market. So while the iPad now seems to be off to a shaky start, in time it will probably turn into a success as more apps, uses and features are introduced.

This is the first thing people are missing; it’s the software, not the hardware, that will make the iPad a success.

So the target market is supposedly people who want a simplified way of surfing the web, sending email and generally consuming various media? Yes, most definitely. It’s for people who want an alternative to a laptop or desktop computer? No, most definitely not.

This is the second thing most people seem to be overlooking; the simple fact is that you need to already have a laptop or desktop computer to sync the iPad with. You need to be familiar with a Mac or PC in order to use an iPad. You also need to have the most up to date OS to sync with an iPad too. This will mean a lot of people lining up for iPads will also need to upgrade their OS or in some cases their hardware. Just as the iPod before it did, the iPad will have a halo effect on other Apple products.

That’s really the key here; Apple don’t want to have another product to compete with their existing products. They want you to buy an iPad in addition to their other products.

So if you’ve already got an up-to-date Mac or PC and probably an iPod or iPhone (as Apple claim “millions and millions of people are already familiar with it” ie the iPhone OS), why then would you want or need an iPad?

It’s simple really. The iPad is aimed at the living space; the places where people relax and entertain. The places where an iPhone is too small, the laptop is too tedious and the desktop is too far away. In terms of a device for multiple people to consume and share media in the living room or kitchen, it’s perfect.

Running the iPhone OS and syncing from another machine makes sense too. It’s best kept simple. Who could really be bothered maintaining a whole other device on top of  their desktop/laptop?

Not running Flash on the other hand does make sense in terms of Apple wanting to maintain a certain level of control over the performance and overall experience on the device. However how can you claim it’s the best way of viewing the web when a decent proportion of it is replaced by little blue blocks?

When the iPhone was first released I thought it was awesome but I couldn’t really justify my need for one. My Nokia and my iPod were just fine. Now that I have an iPhone I couldn’t imagine be getting by without one. Interestingly I have since started using my old iPod in the living room. That’s where it lives and it’s incredibly handy. If only it were just a little bigger…

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RunKeeper iPhone App Review

October 25th, 2009
 
RunKeeper iPhone App Review

Unfortunately exercise has become something of a seasonal activity for me. Try as I might, the running and riding inevitably taper off with the onslaught of Winter. So now as the Southern hemisphere limps back towards Summer the mind games have begun. I know it’s going to hurt using those muscles that have been inactive for so long. Gotta be committed though. Once I start I’ve gotta keep it going. There’s no turning back. Hmmm, but the weather’s still a bit dicey. Yeah, I’ll hold off a bit longer. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Exercise – there’s an app for that

So this weekend the stars were aligned – no work to do, the family were out for the day and the weather was perfect. No excuses. It also presented me with the perfect opportunity to road test some new toys. Months earlier the iPhone I had been holding out for had finally arrived – the 3GS. I was quickly sucked in by the lure of apps. Even though I wasn’t exercising I was keen to find one for keeping track of my progress (when and if I ever got back into exercising). I have a Shimano FlightDeck on my bike that tracks the basics (speed, distance, etc). But I was keen to take advantage of the GPS built into the iPhone.

About the same time I noticed a Twitter friend was posting summary updates of their morning run using RunKeeper. The summary linked back to their profile on the website where you could see a map of their exercise activity, a detailed graph of their speed and elevation over the course of their exercise as well as the calories burned. All of this data was of course captured using the RunKeeper iPhone app which is available in both free and pro versions.

Going Pro

At a cost of $12.99 AUD the Pro version has no advertisements, but it does have audio cues, training workouts delivered via your headphones, geo-tagged photos/status updates and iPod playlist integration. As someone who takes their exercise seriously (even though I wasn’t doing any) I thought it seemed like a reasonable price.

Obviously the name RunKeeper implies it’s specific to running, however the settings allow you to select from a number of activities including cycling, hiking, skiing and walking. You can also change the units. I’m being picky here, but I found it frustrating that while the iPhone seamlessly syncs a mammoth amount of data with the website, you need to set the units on both. Surely if I’ve selected kilometres on the iPhone it’s safe to assume I don’t want miles on the website.

Getting Started

So once you’ve registered with the website and set up the app with the correct activity, units and music playlist (from iTunes) you’re ready to go. From there on all you need to do is hit the “Start” button to begin exercise. The screen gives you continual feedback on your distance, time and speed as you would expect from any exercise equipment with digital display. The beauty of the Pro version is the audio cues that give you this information via your headphones. This is ideal if you’ve got your iPhone tucked away in the back pocket of your jersey and you’re unable to see the screen. The downside is the music you’ve selected to play does not stop or dip in volume. So the audio cues are often muffled by the music. This is particularly annoying and hopefully future updates will address this. A great implementation of this is way the TomTom fades down the music to give you driving instructions before fading the music back up when it’s done.

Public service announcement: I should point out that while I do love to work out to music it’s also potentially quite dangerous if you’re cycling on public roads. As a result I only cycle with the curb-side earbud in place so I have an ear free.

Post Exercise

When you’ve completed your exercise simply hit the Stop button. The app will then ask you if you’d like to save the data. It then reads out a summary of the exercise and sends the data back to the website. There’s also a Pause button should you need to stop for natural breaks and the like while exercising.

Once my legs had recovered from the shock of exercising for the first time in months, I gingerly climbed the stairs and sat down at the computer. I logged into the RunKeeper website and was pleasantly surprised to find all of the data from my exercise already uploaded and waiting for me to examine. I was actually quite surprised by the accuracy of my route plotted against a Google map. Below the map is a graph showing my speed and elevation. Rolling over the graph identifies the corresponding location on the map so you can dissect your performance with incredible accuracy.

From there you can add notes (like weather or any other mitigating factors), export, compare to previous and share the activity on a number of social networks including Facebook and Twitter. I think I’ll hold off on this until I have some data I can be proud of.

Conclusion

Using this app is incredibly simple, just hit a button to start and another to stop. Yet the data it collects is incredibly detailed. The seamless integration from the iPhone to the website makes it a real no-brainer. Something I found really frustrating with my old FlightDeck was the need to manually collect the data from the device and then log it in some useful way. RunKeeper does everything for you and presents the data back to you in a meaningful way. The maps and graphs give it great visual impact. Which is handy if you want to show it off to your friends on Facebook and Twitter. Speaking of handy, the audio cues are great for providing feedback on you progress without needing to look at the screen, however the fact that the app doesn’t mute the music is really frustrating. That aside, this app should prove to be a great motivator this summer as I track and try to improve my fitness.

Transparent trickery

October 25th, 2009
 
Transparent trickery

By now you’ve probably seen the clever use of computer and iPhone wallpaper that replicates what’s behind, thus making the device appear to be transparent. Gizmodo have a new take on this that came about during a recent tear down of the new iMac. These high quality images effectively remove the screen to reveal the intricate guts of an iMac.

TomTom iPhone App Review (v1.1)

October 18th, 2009
 

To be honest I’ve never had any desire or need to have a GPS unit in the car. However, like fire extinguishers and spare keys, they suddenly become incredibly important in a time of need. Although my car is only used on weekends for either long country drives or a quick trip to the shops, I recently found myself in need of directions.

Google Maps: pre-installed and free but it has it’s limitations

I was headed to the the family holiday house down the coast. I set out after work on a Friday and I was travelling alone. As the Geelong by-pass had recently opened I figured it would be a good way of saving time so I could make it in time for dinner. What I hadn’t figured was I had no knowledge of the area where the freeway ended, meaning I would have to find the rest of the way by myself. Luckily I remembered my new iPhone had Google Maps. Once off the freeway I fired up Google Maps and it quickly located my position. Interestingly the freeway wasn’t even on the map – Google fail.

I was soon back on the road with Google pointing the way. However the shortcomings of this solution were soon evident. The iPhone was in cradle between the two front seats so I could only look down when I was stopped at the lights. Not good if you’re already sitting in the wrong lane. Plus there’s no audible instructions. The other thing is the map is presented in aerial view which isn’t entirely helpful. Particularly when travelling at night through an unfamiliar area. After a number of missed turns I finally got to my destination. It’s only after I arrived that I realised tapping the icon in the bottom left of the screen keeps the map centred on your position and pointing in the right direction. Something that wasn’t immediately obvious, yet it’s extremely helpful if you’ve got a iPhone 3Gs.

While I was able to use Google maps on the iPhone to get to my destination, it’s far from ideal for an in-car solution.

Enter TomTom for the iPhone

When TomTom became available for the iPhone I was initially put off purely because of the price. At $99.99 AUD it’s certainly a far cry from what we’ve come to expect in terms of pricing in the App store. Plus the initial reviews weren’t exactly glowing.

Since my earlier experience with Google Maps I have had a few other occasions where proper turn-by-turn navigation would have been helpful. So I began to reconsider the TomTom app and the 2 reasons that stopped my from purchasing it in the first place – the price of the app and a dash mount for the iPhone.

An over-priced app or a cheap GPS alternative?

Compared to the price of other apps, the TomTom app does seem ridiculously expensive. However when you compare it to the price of a dedicated TomTom device (starting at $249 AUD), the app suddenly seems like a cheap alternative. Yes, I know there’s the cost of the iPhone, but really it’s something I already have regardless of a GPS device.

Dash mounting an iPhone

dash-mounted iPhone

TomTom have their own branded iPhone mounting unit which is yet to be locally available. With no idea when it will be released and how much it will cost, I found I was easily able to make my own. I had an old vinyl iPhone sleeve I was no longer using. So I added some double sided adhesive strips (the kind that come with 3M hooks) to the back of the sleeve and attached it to the flat area between the dashboard and the centre console. Hey-presto, you have a dash-mounted iPhone. The great thing is it sits right beside the AUX input on my car stereo so the wiring between iPhone and stereo is minimal (see photo). After all that it seems like I might be removing my DIY cradle given the somewhat confusing laws that are about to come into effect here in Victoria. More on that here.

Journey planning & navigating the TomTom app

The TomTom app’s first task was to find a petrol station. As I had a fuel voucher I was looking for a known brand. Selecting “Navigate to… > Point of Interest > POI Near Me > Petrol Station” brings up a list of petrol stations including their brand names and ordered by distance. So I select one and I’m given a trip overview screen containing a mini map of my destination, the address and a phone number (which I can click to call).

Hitting the “Select” button then returns a second overview screen. This time with the entire trip mapped, the distance and an estimate of the travel time. There’s also an “options” button which gives you the ability to find an alternative, route demo, clear route, turn-by-turn instructions and a map of the route.

Hitting the “done” button takes you straight into the turn-by-turn map and directions. The maps are particularly clear and uncluttered, however the instructions feel a little pokey. Although that doesn’t really matter as a voice reads them out anyway. The other thing is the map and directions work in both landscape and portrait mode. My preference is portrait so I can get a better idea of what’s ahead rather than what’s either side.

Data Inaccuracies

Straight away I was off to a bad start as the second turn was a left turn only corner, yet the device wanted me to turn right. Too busy trying to make a u-turn, I didn’t realise the software had re-routed the directions based on my deviation from the original instructions.

Voice Instructions

One thing I did notice was the audible instructions were almost negating the need to look at the screen. A plus for what is generally a hand held device and a big advantage over Google Maps. Also my location and direction were very accurate thanks to the GPS and magnetic compass in the new iPhone 3Gs.

Once fuelled up I got the TomTom to find me the nearest ATM or “Cash Dispenser” as the app calls it. If they can localise the maps, why can’t they localise the terms used? The TomTom seemed to give confusing directions – maybe due to my proximity and direction in the “Servo” relative to the road?

As soon as I pulled out it was again showing the way. As I could not physically park at the ATM, the software still made it clear that I had arrived when I was in close proximity to it. It didn’t seem to get upset when I actually drove past and finally found a parking spot a little way up the road. For some reason I envisaged the voice would take the tone of a nagging spouse at this point.

Business Name Search

Cashed up I decided I needed a hit of coffee. This time I did a search for the name of my favourite local coffee shop. It appeared within an expected set of search results. Unfortunately there’s no description, user ratings or reviews, business details like operating hours, only an icon to help distinguish it from the other business types listed.

iPod and Address Book Integration

As the coffee shop is further away I decided to play some music on the way there. Not sure if it was going to work, I exited to the home screen and fired up some music. I went back into the TomTom app and it picked up where I had left it. As I drove off I was pleasantly surprised to find that the music and the TomTom app work together. The TomTom screen keeps updating with my position while the music keeps playing. Occasionally the TomTom would mute (or pause?) the music while it would give me audible instructions. This was something I hadn’t thought about before I purchased the TomTom app so I was happy to find the two work together.

Coffee in hand, I was headed back home. While I knew how to get home I was keen to see if the TomTom had a better alternative. It prompted me to “set home” although it was not immediately clear how to do this. After a few attempts I finally found my way into the iPhone address book and selected my home address. As I had parked facing the opposite direction to the TomTom’s instructions it soon re-routed me so I didn’t need to make another u-turn.

Conclusion

I’m generally quite impressed with TomTom app, although with a such brand reputation and the app’s price tag you’d expect it to be somewhat impressive. That said, I was a little disappointed to find data inaccuracies, especially just 2 turns into my first trip with the app. The app quickly made up for this with it’s ability to seamlessly re-route you. The basic functions are easy to use however more advanced settings are not so intuitive. I love the way the app integrates with the contacts and allows you to play music (interrupting it when needed). I presume it does the same with phone calls -? Apparently the app also has the ability to provide information on safety cameras and speed warnings. I’ll save them for the next trip…

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Give your WordPress blog some touchy-feely love

September 16th, 2009
 
Give your WordPress blog some touchy-feely love

I’ll admit it, I’ve become a real WordPress convert. I particularly love the ease with which you can install plugins, not to mention the great value some of them offer. My latest find is WPtouch which basically repackages your WordPress blog for optimised viewing on iPhone, iPod & Android.

From the smart boffins who put it together – “More than just a plugin, WPtouch is an entire theme package for your WordPress website. Modeled after Apple’s app store design specs, WPtouch makes your WordPress website load lightning fast on touch mobile devices, show your content beautifully, all while not interfering with your regular theme.”

I particularly like the way it still allows your visitors to switch between optimised and large screen formats.

Installation may be a snap but customising it will see the time fly out the window. A lot of plugins offer a some level of customisation, however WPtouch has a full-featured and beautifully laid out set of options that allow you to tweak every last detail. I haven’t started with the options yet but I’m sure I won’t stop until I’m satisfied.

UPDATE: Apparently Stephen Fry loves WPtouch so much he had had it “inserted“.

My Digital Scrapbook

 

I no longer keep a blog, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. Instead this is a scrapbook of interesting or useful design articles and artefacts.

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