Monday, June 14, 2010

From TV and Newspapers to RSS feeds on my iPad

About 15 years ago (give or take a few years), if you wanted to catch up with the latest headlines, you had to tune into one of the free-to-air TV news programs at a specified time in the morning, afternoon and night. Or you could buy a newspaper on your way to work or delivered to your doorstep to peruse while you sip your morning coffee. You didn't have much choice in what news you would be exposed to since the media controlled all of that. If you wanted to read articles you would buy or subscribe to magazines to catch up on the latest fashion trends or the latest and greatest gaming rig around.

It seemed that if you weren't content with what the media showed you on TV, you had to go out of your way (and pay money as well), to get the news or information that you were interested in.

15 years ago, you had to find the news. In 2010, the news finds you.

This paradigm shift of information delivery has slowly but surely changed the way that we read about news in the 21st Century, in many different ways. Here is one such way:

RSS Feeds

An RSS feed is a standardised way for a website to show updated posts whenever they are made. It is the 21st Century "subscription." Many websites these days have an RSS feed associated with them and when you subscribe, you will be notified whenever that website posts up something new. It almost makes you feel silly for constantly checking the sites you visit frequently for new posts when all this time, RSS could do it for you.

The beauty of RSS (apart from being totally free) is that it's standardisation can be abstracted and presented to you in your own personal "reader" (magazine, newspaper) where you have not only one source, but many sources of information from all over the internet. Google reader is one such web app.

Great web app for searching up new RSS feeds with content that you like, but what if you wanted to take it mobile?

But how can I make this information mobile and available at my fingertips in a nice and easy form factor, like a traditional newspaper or magazine? (laptops don't count!)

Enter, the iPad.

The iPad has recently gained a plethora of RSS feed apps which have amazed me and inspired me to write up this huge blog post as it really made me think about how the Internet has personally changed my news-seeking habits. "The Early Edition" was an interesting take in which RSS feeds of your choice were arranged into a newspaper-like format. While you're at home you can load up the latest feeds and read it later offline on the go. It was more of a novel way of reading the news, if anything.

Organising RSS Feeds into a digital newspaper was fun for awhile, but didn't truly show off the elegance and ease of use of what an iPad app could be.

Then a few days ago, "Reeder for iPad" came out. This app is by far the most elegant implementation of RSS Feeds on any device, be it a full fledged PC or mobile.

This app turns your iPad into a news portal, but it is filled with information that you WANT to read!

The screenshot here does the app no justice. It's one of those things you just have to interact with!

It's not a newspaper or a TV program of which a majority of it is content you aren't interested in. It's articles that you want to read, with pictures that you want to see, and videos that you want to watch, because YOU picked it!

In one fell swoop, the iPad is now my newspaper; is my magazine; is my TV. All in one app.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

myPhoneDesktop - Send links to your iPhone or iPad!

myPhoneDesktop App Review

Ever wanted to get a URL or funny picture straight from your computer onto your iPhone or iPad? Ever wanted to type a huge SMS or long string of text on your desktop keyboard with an easy way of sending it to your iOS device? Well you can now, with this crazy little app called myPhoneDesktop.

It eliminates a few steps from the traditional method of perhaps sending an email to yourself and opening it up on your iOS device.

Now, once you've gone through the simple set up of registering an account on the iPhone app and the signing in on the desktop client, (free on OS X, Windows and Linux), then all you have to do is copy a URL or picture or even type up some text, and paste it into the myPhoneDesktop program and it will pop up as a notification on your iOS device!

Upon viewing the notification, you will be taken either to:

>Safari if it was a URL,

>Messages if you composed an SMS with the desktop client

>Phone if you typed in a number and wanted to call some one

>the MyPhoneDesktop app for pictures and text for copying to the clipboard or saving into

I think I find this app exciting because it's making it way easier to communicate and send files between your desktop computer and your mobile device without having to plug anything in. It's one of the problems Apple needs to address natively without the need for such apps, but for now, this app does a great job!

This is a really nifty little app which is a universal binary app for both iPhone and iPad. I advise using different accounts for iPhone and iPad because it seems to not send out broadcasts to all devices logged into the same account, but rather only to the first device which logged into that account.

See the little "iPad" in the top right corner in the screenshots above? The desktop client lets you switch between accounts instantly so you can choose to send to your iPhone or iPad or any other iOS device!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Why Apple calls everything "Revolutionary"

When the original iPhone came out, it "changed everything" about what people thought a phone could be. No one wanted a smart phone, there was no such thing as an "app" and input was for the most part, analog (with physical keys). But feature-wise, it was a a little bit more than lacking compared to the average ubiquitous phone in the pre-iPhone days.

How then, did the iPhone become such a successful phenomenon? It's because of the few things that it chose to do, and those things it did well...And then it kept improving on it and improving some more.

Let's start with a brief history of the iPhone. The original iPhone had revolutionised the mobile industry and was a kick in the face to other very well established mobile phone vendors as it rose up the ranks in market share.

And yet, each iteration of the iPhone always had very basic features which were lacking! How is it that a phone can be so revolutionary and yet lack features which other phone vendors have been putting in their phones for so many years now? This is what I dub the "iPhone Time Paradox". It has surely crossed the minds of people when Apple announces a new feature of the iPhone which as been around for ages, but Apple calls it "new and revolutionary!"

Let's see what some of the basic features that were missing in each generation of iPhone which were added in later iterations (off the top of my head)

iPhone 2G (2007)-

Wonderful and revolutionary new iPhone OS with multi-touch input!

Basic Missing features:
>No 3G speeds
>No camera
>No bluetooth

If you looked at the spec sheet of the iPhone 2G without ever having used one, you would have been scratching your head wondering why so many people wanted one! The original allure of the iPhone was the beauty of the iPhone OS, and how the functionality and "revolutionary" multi-touch interface of the phone (however limited it was) was so amazing to use. Keep in mind there was no app store yet, but the app store idea was pioneered later.

iPhone 3G (2008) -

>3G speeds
>Photo camera
>Introduction of App Store

Basic Missing Features:
>No video recording
>No cut and paste

This new model was a vast improvement to the original, and competitors were still playing catch up. The introduction of the app store is what really gave the iPhone and later the iPod Touch, the juice it had to soar to the great market share that it has today. At the time, the iPhone 3G hardware was not up to scratch to perform video recording at a level of quality that Apple was happy with, so they left it out.

iPhone 3GS

>Video recording
>voice control
>improved headset remote
>cut and paste implemented in iPhone OS 3

>No multitasking
>No camera flash
>3 MP camera (considered average)
>No front facing camera
>No video calling
>Standard resolution screen
>Bad battery life
>Call drop out complaints

By the third iteration, Apple had produced a very polished and solid phone which was by far the most popular iPhone of all time. However, at the same time, competing smart phone platforms such as Android, have started to catch up and nowadays people have started to draw more comparisons between the platforms.

As a result, there is a more extensive list of features considered 'missing' compared to the typical features of modern smart phones that the iPhone itself revolutonised 3 years ago. In 2010, there are a handful of phones with much beefier raw specs than the iPhone 3GS such as the Google Nexus One and the HTC Evo 4G, but that was until the iPhone 4 was announced on June 7th at the WWDC 2010...

iPhone 4

>Slim new design (0.93mm thick!)
>4x denser pixels per inch IPS display
>Improved camera to 5 MP without sacrificing pixel size
>New front facing camera
>LED Camera Flash
>Smart Multi-tasking with iOS 4
>Improved battery life
>Improved antenna design (for hopefully better reception)
>HD Video recording
>Face Time Video Calling
>Improved overall interface due to iOS 4

Yet to be discovered...

What a list! It seems everything that a previous iPhone gets criticised for missing out in a previous generation, Apple steps up to the plate and fills that feature right in! The iPhone 4, it seems, is really set to tip the playing field back into Apple's favour when it comes out this July.

Back to the topic at hand: the reason Apple was able to succeed despite a lack of certain feature-sets.

The funny thing in my head when Steve Jobs proclaimed to Jonathan Ives in a Face time demo was "Wow, we can finally have a mobile video chat! It's finally here! It's a revolution!"

Video calling has been around for years...surely Apple knows about that. How can they call that a revolution?

It all comes down to how they implement these features. Apple would rather hold off on implementing a feature until they figure out how to get it right with ease of use and maximum effectiveness. This applies for:

>The camera and it's eventual extensive features
>Cut and paste
>Video Calling

These features all arrived late to the party, but I'm sure you'll agree that Apple have implemented these features in arguably the most elegant way compared to any other mobile vendor.

Does your phone take pictures or record videos as nicely as on the iPhone ?
Have you ever been excited about video calling or multi tasking before you saw Face Time and iOS 4?

In this sense, the iPhone is re-inventing the simplicity and elegance of using a mobile device, which is why we see them always calling this old feature that has been around for years, "revolutionary" or "absolutely amazing". In reality, they're just doing it - the Apple way.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Some Cool Audio Recognition Apps

Now we've all heard of Shazam and tried out Apple's Voice Control feature, but these 2 nifty apps take voice recognition to the next level!


This is Shazam on steroids! Now I replaced Shazam long ago with MusicID since it also gave me lyrics, and videos and whatnot, but SoundHound still has all of those features, as well as the killer feature of being able to recognise humming and singing!

It's great fun to try and I'm imagining many kinds of games you could play with friends to see who can make SoundHound identify the song they're singing! Or if you just have the tune stuck in your head and you want to find out what it is without actually having the song playing, you could just hum it out and SoundHound will hopefully tell you what the name of the song is!

I've tried singing, humming new and old songs alike, and I was amazed everytime with the accurate results! This is one exciting app to have!

Dragon Dictation

This app basically translates speech to text, like the google app, except it gives you the option of texting, emailing or copying to the clipboard. You'd think a speech-to-text app would never work and would just be a gimmick, but it actually works really well! I was equally amazed by this app as I was by SoundHound! My jaw dropped as every word I dictated appeared before my eyes on my iPhone's screen. I'm really impressed by the advancements developers have made in audio recognition!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

First impressions of the iPad

When I first laid eyes on the iPad when I opened it's box, i thought -'s so gorgeous! Typical of any Apple product unboxing. The first thing I did on it was post a status update on Facebook as my friend and I were on a race to see who could get their iPad's up and running first!

While I was doing this, I was completely blown away by the beautiful screen. The IPS screen that they put into this thing is crystal clear. It makes doing anything on the iPad such a pleasure. Coupled with a quantum leap in speed from the iPhone 3GS with it's new Apple A4 system on a chip, the hardware of the iPad is already enough to make it a winner from the first generation.

Typing on the iPad
Admittedly, I was scared of what typing would be like on the iPad. In portrait mode, you're usually typing with your thumbs while holding it with your hands much like an iPhone. If you're in landscape mode, then you definitely need a case to elevate it slightly to get the right ergonomic angle to type on it like a normal keyboard, otherwise you'll be doing a lot of one handed typing. There's a slight learning curve no doubt, but like on the iPhone, it is responsive and once you get used to it, it's great! in fact, I'm typing this whole post with my iPad. Below is a comparison of the iphone keyboard and ipad keyboards in portrait and landscape modes.

Everything is bigger and better!

Web browsing
Like i said before, web browsing is simply amazing with fully rendered web pages that look fantastic on the IPS screen. The smoothness and fluidity when scrolling and zooming with your fingers is an absolute delight. I've yet to experience any problems with the lack of flash.

Photos also look wonderful and the iPad makes for the perfect digital photo frame to show off your photos. With a Mac it syncs with iPhotos so you'll need to sort out everything (my iPhotos gallery is still a bit of a mess!)

The mobile video experience is also enhanced as I can stream videos from my iMac to my iPad and watch it (using AirVideo) you could do this with an iphone but the screen is simply too small. The iPad's screen is large enough to enjoy watching any kind of movie on, and the speakers are pretty loud as well.

There's a native iPad app just for videos called "Videos" and it is no longer combined in the iPod app like on an iPhone. So far i've only transcoded some Tutorial videos but as always they still look great! Even videos that have been transcoded for the iPhone resolution look good.

I must say, all the HD iPad apps look amazing. Granted, I'm a bit disappointed that developers have just done straight out ports and have not revamped much else apart from the graphics, but I'm positive we'll see some really great iPad only games coming out soon.

Firemint has done a wonderful job with Flight Control HD as it let's more than 1 person redirect the planes. This adds a whole new dimension to the game as you have to work with a buddy to land the planes. Thats a great example of iPad gameplay that I would like to see other developers doing.

iPhone apps also render pretty nicely on the iPad although some apps still look a bit pixellated when you blow it up to the 2x screen resolution. Just knowing that it is backwards compatible is nice, unlike other recent mobile gaming devices (PSP Go and DSi)

I've already filled up my iPad with a bunch of note taking apps but I have yet to try them out at uni for real until next semester. I've been playing around with a bunch of them and some of them look very very promising.

iBooks is definitely the best app for reading ebooks. You can convert any pdf to a .epub using free software for both Mac and PC to put onto iBooks, but any document which is graphics heavy (pictures, tables, etc)like a textbook will not convert very well.

To solve this, I use GoodReader, which is one of the best PDF readers out there. I used to actually put a textbook pdf on my iPhone and read it on that but it soon became unbearable to read. Now with 10 inches of screen size, I can now read that textbook with ease.

This has been more of a fly-by review and I hope you've gained more of an insight to what an iPad can do. It's definitely more than just a giant iPod touch and once you play around with it for awhile and go back to using your iPhone, you feel like its a totally different beast. The iPad is here, and it is great!