Apps Examined – iPhone Owns Us (Yay?)

Or my Vowel post…whichever way you want to look at it. C’mon…it’s so simple. The first letter in each word of the title…AEIOU (and sometimes Y). Sheesh. So I promised a quick list of apps that are just absolute must haves for me. Some of these are useful, most are geeky to some degree and a couple are just plain pretty. Let’s start with function. And by the way, unless noted these apps are all free because I’m cheap. Free is good, right?

I use a lot of online services. I need a mobile way to keep up with these things. So if you use Evernote, go get their free app. Not only does it allow you to see your notes, but you can add text, snapshot, saved photo and voice notes. It’s the all inclusive way to keep up with all the incidentals. Twitter users can look forward to a host of apps and probably the most popular is Twitterrific since it’s the most popular Mac client for Twitter. I say big whoop-de-doo. Twinkle has been a far more enjoyable app for me. It does the standard reading and posting that you’d expect, but the developers of Twinkle also decided to tap the GPS to show you what people near you are posting. I keep mine set for a 25 mile radius to keep down on what I read through but it’s been a wonderful experience digitally meeting people near me. This gives Twinkle the edge in the Twitter clients in my opinion. Oh, and they’ll be adding a block function for that radius section in the next release. The news just gets better and better. Moving on to IM, well I haven’t found one that I really like but Palringo’s free app seems to be more or less functional. This isn’t so much a knock against their app as it’s a knock against trying to use the iPhone for IM purposes. It’s really frustrating to try and hold an IM conversation on the device.

Fortunately I have the Last.fm app to stream some radio through my phone to calm me down a bit. It works rather nicely as long as you have a good signal and if you can hook the phone to your radio…then you don’t really need XM. For those times that you are actually listening to the radio but can’t place that song, get Shazam. Just hold it up to a speaker for a few seconds and it’ll come back with the song, artist, album, and a series of links to purchase the song and possibly even see the music video on Youtube. Neat, huh? Something funny happen while you were finding that song? Want to blog it and use WordPress? Just hop into the WordPress app and type away.

Just for fun, I say Sol Free or the inexpensive Solebon are great little card game apps. Just want to show off the accelerometer? Grab Labyrinth LE and let the amazement begin. Perhaps you prefer word games? Just go spend the $1.99 and get Wurdle…it’s very much like the old game called Boggle if you are old enough to remember it. It’s also the game I play the most on my phone. I actually don’t have any other games on my iPhone. I do have a couple of “just for fun” apps. I spent the money for Koi Pond. It’s fun and relaxing at the same time. I also picked up the free Lightsaber app. Don’t worry, this one is official (and more limited) so it shouldn’t be pulled.

In my area of random apps I have CheckPlease to help me figure up tips. I also have Dice Bag and D20 Dice which both are pretty neat for those of us that still enjoy pen and paper RPGs. eReader is a way to pass the time when there’s nothing else to do but honestly, I just don’t like reading long text on a backlit screen. Don’t get me wrong, it works really nicely…but I want e-ink. Let’s see…I left out Earthscape. It’s sort of a GoogleEarth for the iPhone. The app is really ambitious but I find that even the iPhone 3G hardware makes it really sluggish and the phone heats up awfully fast. But the app does do amazing things, albeit at a geriatric pace. There’s also WhatTasks as an interesting task list but I really don’t use task lists often so it’s been relegated to the back page where I don’t see it.

Now, someone tell me why there are no decent Magic 8-Ball apps out there? Huh? I’ve tried every free one and they all suck.

iPhone or WinMo?

I have now been with an iPhone for a couple of weeks. This has given me time to toy around with the interface and let the new wear off of the novelty. It has also given me time to delve into a few of the productivity apps that one can get for free from the App Store. Why the free apps and not pay apps? Simple. Many of the pay apps are mobile versions of commercial software. Quality for those is expected to be fairly high. I wanted to see what the really thrifty could use.

First off, I really like my iPhone. If you frequent my site, then you know that I have used the AT&T Tilt since its release last year and I have had almost nothing but praise for it. I still do. It is a wonderful device for those who want to use a Windows Mobile phone. I still suggest changing the ROM on the Tilt to make it truly speedy and functional. What does this have to do with the iPhone? Well I decided to try out the Apple offering to see how it fared against my beloved Tilt. iPhone wins hands down. First off the device isn’t nearly as clunky as the Tilt. This is a big deal to me. I’m not a style hound, but I don’t enjoy walking around holding a small car up to my head to talk to someone.

As of the 2.0.2 Firmware update the battery life and signal reliability have been improved. I would say that it now rivals the stock Tilt for battery life. While it may be playing catch-up with the Tilt in the areas of signal and battery, it far outstrips the device when it comes to the screen. The iPhone display is absolutely beautiful. The touch screen accuracy and sensitivity are generations beyond the Tilt. The system works far more fluidly than I thought it would.

What about the lack of a physical keyboard? As many have said before me, after a little time with the touch screen, I don’t miss the tactile board and actually find I am faster on the iPhone. I used to struggle with the Tilt’s keyboard. It took both hands to use at all. The iPhone screen keyboard can be used one handed once you learn the distance to move your finger to hit the different “keys”. The autocorrect feature rarely makes mistakes unless you happen to be typing in slang. That does confuse it sometimes. Overall, however, autocorrect keeps you from having to backspace because you missed a key by a nanometer.

The GPS on the 2.0.1 firmware was terrible. I won’t even try to make an excuse for it. It downright sucked. Even the Tilt on a radio firmware version that took nearly 3 minutes to boot the GPS chipset beat the iPhone on 2.0.1 firmware. That’s is completely different on 2.0.2. The GPS literally finds you in a matter of seconds. At least that has been my experience. And let me tell you, my GPS completely stopped working the second day I had my iPhone. Firmware FTW!

I suggest buying a case for your iPhone if you want to keep it safe. I rather think the Speck ArmorSkin is great. It’s easy to deal with, gives you simple access to every button and port you need and is thick enough to help protect your expensive device from a small drop. A word of warning on the belt clip: Don’t use it. The plastic is flimsy and it doesn’t hold the phone securely at all. Just put it in a pocket and be happy.

What about the software? This post got long. I’ll write up the review on my software choices next week.

Everything I need to know…

Have you ever seen those posters that start out with “Everything I need to know I learned in <insert school grade/movie/book>…” that list all these wonderful little truths about life that everyone knows but nobody really pays attention to? I have my own version of this poster. Everything I need to know I learned from anime. The difference between American cartoons and anime (or Japanese animated television shows) is a large gap of maturity and true life lessons gleaned from character development. I find more meaning in one episode of, say, Gundam Seed than in the entire run of Scooby Doo.

There is a huge difference in mentality when our respective countries approach animated works. Americans by and large consider the animation medium as something childish and only fit for the most shallow of pursuits. The Japanese approach animated work as a serious art that can convey even the most complex stories with better efficiency and cost than a live-action and special effects ridden behemoth that one would expect from Hollywood. They do not demean the medium because of silly preconceptions. Some great dramas can be conveyed through animation. I speak of stories and characters with real depth and real growth over the course of the story arc. Characters are often flawed and dealing with inner turmoil that can cause what would normally be a minor situation to turn into a major catastrophe. These same characters make human mistakes and suffer consequences for said mistakes.

The writers have a goal to tell a story. This is true regardless of what country a writer hails from. Stories that are written without regard to what kind of budget the studio has to offer are far better than those crammed into cookie cutter sized generic flavored snack batches that Hollywood is so famous for spewing forth onto the masses. Using animation as a medium, suddenly the cost of that planet exploding or those slow motion effects have no monetary difference from that scene of two guys sitting at a table and talking. This gives the writer the ability to truly delve deeply into the tale he or she wishes to weave for the audience so that they might share some of what the writer has put into the work. But I stray from the subject…

Some of the things I have learned from anime:

  • Choices have consequences both good and bad. I must take responsibility for my choices and actions. [Gundam Seed]
  • It may be far easier to do nothing, but it is far more rewarding to stand up and take action. [DBZ, Gundam, most action anime]
  • Stereotypes are misleading. Everyone is different so give everyone a chance. [Witch Hunter Robin, Inuyasha]
  • Never give up on a dream. [Gundam Wing, Outlaw Star]
  • Money is not the most important thing in life. [King of Bandit Jing]
  • Love conquers all. [Chobits, Appleseed]
  • People can change. [Elfen Lied, Rurouni Kenshin]
  • Sometimes life just doesn’t make sense. Just take those times and deal with them the best that you can. [FLCL]
  • True friends will be there for you. [DBZ, Rurouni Kenshin, Outlaw Star, Dual!]
  • Every day is an opportunity to learn to understand myself better. [Noir, .Hack]
  • Everyone needs help sometimes. True friends will be there for you. [Yu Yu Hakusho, all Gundam]

I could continue this but the point is made. Unlike most American animated shows, anime offers something deeper and more meaningful…something that can provoke thought and understanding. So don’t just shrug off Japanese animated shows as “kiddie stuff”. Give them a chance and you may be surprised at how well written the stories and characters actually are. Just avoid things like Colorful and Bo-bo-bo. After all…every genre has a few bad seeds.

Geek Plague – Fanboyism

In the world of geeks we have a problem. A serious epidemic that threatens our peaceful natures. This plague must be stopped before needless violence rips from us the very thing that binds us together: our overwhelming passion for tech/sci-fi/fantasy stuffs. This plague is the mutation of a mild mannered geek into a frothing-at-the-mouth fanboy. Fanboyism really isn’t a new phenomenon. As long as there have been geeks, there have been the radical right-wing zealots that evolved into full blown fanboys. It isn’t restricted to a specific genre of geekdom either. For today’s purposes, though, we will look at the OS Fanboys.

Probably the most famous group of fanboys in current times is the Apple Fanboy. Oh sure, there have been Apple Fanboys since the birth of the computer company in an unsuspecting garage. Since the advent of the iPod, however, the Apple Fanboy has been propelled into the Spotlight (see what I did there?). These are the guys that swear by everything Apple and condemn everything Microsoft. They are touted to have an unwavering belief in Jobs, their “messiah”. But they are not alone.

Microsoft Fanboys are always ready to return a volley of scathing remarks about Apple’s “toy” computers. They all but worship the corporate empire that Gates built and believe that the only reason people resent the object of their near-worship is its unparalleled business success. They resent the idea that any software or hardware offering could dare to think it can compete with their Titan Champion. They stand resolute and declare that all other systems are either just as vulnerable or more vulnerable than theirs. They proudly preach that the only reason their beloved OS is unfairly targeted more than any other is because it is so awesome. It doesn’t stop here, however.

The third leg of this unholy trinity is the Linux Fanboy. He lives by the mantra that all software should be free and open to everyone. He denounces Microsoft and Apple for their evil and secretive ways and blames any faults discovered in their systems on this closed environment. In the eyes of the Linux Fanboy, only the almighty Linus understands the truth in how to get the most out of a computer. Only open-source can save the geek world according to this steaming waste of carbon-based life form. Okay, that was unfair…all fanboys are steaming wastes of carbon-based lifeforms.

I’ve been accused of being each of these over the years. I find that funny. While it’s true that I do not like them all equally, the levels at which I do like them changes with time. I have a tendency to ramble on about one more than the others at any given moment. It has to do with which one I’m learning new things about or spending the most time on. See, I keep saying this in many different places: Each systems has its strengths and weaknesses. Each OS has tasks it performs a bit better than the others. The best thing to do is know them all and use the right system for the job. I really don’t see what is so hard about that idea.

Do I agree with Microsoft’s marketing practices? Not really. Do I believe that open-source is the silver bullet (ugh, I just used a buzzword) for cracking the computer world into an ecosystem that dwarfs what we have now? Not a bit. Do I think that Apple’s idea of totally locking down everything is the solution to the world’s computer problems? Not even close. But each of these groups does have important things to offer. The hard part is navigating the Fanboy Minefield to find real information. I think Dwight Silverman found this out with his article on Mac pricing. I’m guessing he wasn’t expecting a three way war to break out in the comments like it did. Unfortunately, that’s life on the intarwebs.

So to all Fanboys: Until you can stop frothing at the mouth and open your minds a little…shut up. Learn to recognize that other systems…other opinions…can have merit. I’ll be glad to calmly debate the merits of any system over any other. Is that too hard for you?

Supreme Victory!

Back in the 90’s fighting games were all the rage. Everybody had a favorite whether it be Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Virtua Fighter, or any of the other versions that flooded the market. Personally, I like Killer Instinct. I was in love with the combo system that Rare created. I liked that you could break the combos. I like that the combos looked neat and didn’t require inhuman timing and 32 fingers to pull off. And yes, I thought B. Orchid was well rendered. I had KI Gold for my N64. I spent untold hundreds of quarters on the arcade machines. I always used the trick of holding right and all three punch buttons on both controllers at the VS screen on the arcade machines to get the hyper speed. I was addicted.

One of the saddest days of my gaming life was when I found my N64 cartridge had decided to give up this life and never again let me enjoy the world of Orchid and Jago and Kim Wu. I have never managed to get my hands on a replacement. That game and Goldeneye are the only reasons I still have my N64. I mourned the loss and actually still do. That may change before too much longer, however.

Rumors have been around for years that Rare was secretly assembling a third KI game somewhere in the bowels of the company. They have repeatedly denied doing so…with very careful wording. Here’s a denial from about a year ago:

purely out of contractual obligation, no, we’re not working on KI3

Purely out of contractual obligation? So if it wasn’t for that, you would be? See what I mean about the statement. It’s fairly ambiguous. As a matter of fact,EGM’s rumormonger Quartermann is now saying that Rare is now working on the third installment and it will be an Xbox360 exclusive. There are a lot of people our there that I am sure are wondering why this matters at all since there are so many better fighting games already out there. The simple answer is that KI has a reasonably largefanbase that has been ignored for years. I am part of that group. I am happy that we may finally get a new game with our favorite characters because really, are any fighting games unique anymore? Not really. It all boils down to opinion and mine is that KI3 could be a good thing.

Of course, so would KI and KI2 on Live Arcade or KI Gold on the Wii’s Virtual Console. I’m not holding my breath for any of these to happen but I can always dream. I can dream of a world where we get all of the originals to tide us over until Street Fighter IV comes out and that KI3 hits the market just as we get bored with SFIV. That would be totally awesome dude.

I Suppose Reality Computing is Next

I’m browsing the headlines today and the question finally comes to mind: Who comes up with IT industry buzzwords? I mean really…cloud computing? Clouds are nothing more than large swaths of moisture suspended in the atmosphere. That isn’t exactly the most appropriate environment for electronics. Besides, what would clouds want to do on a computer anyway? I suppose playing solitaire is better than floating around the sky all day with nothing to do, but I really don’t think I want laptops hovering at ten thousand feet above my head. What if the cloud gets mad and throws it down…at me?

Then there’s the whole new economy. I know the “old” economy is having a rough time of it right now, but we should be serious. It’s all the same economy. It just has a fancy new parking garage. Don’t try to argue that it’s new because it uses the internet. It’s still just mail order and that’s been around for ages. Don’t try to argue that it’s new because it’s global. We get too many goods from other countries. Heck, I’ve heard it suggested that if Wal-Mart ever folded, China’s economy would collapse because of the amount of business they do. It’s all the same. Quit trying to be special.

Dot-bombs sound more like some kind of IED or spy gadget. It’s bad enough that we get this overload of buzzwords, but do you have to mix them with bad slang as well? They’re just failed businesses. It happens all the time. Why do you people insist on this obnoxious demarcation line between that which is internet and that which is not internet. Haven’t we been trying to converge everything with the internet? It seems like a self defeating purpose. How about trying something different.

And just so you don’t think I’m griping to the tech industry in general, I have one generic buzzword peeve for you. Offline. I do not think it means what you think it means. Offline means not online. It means you are working with some sort of software or device that normally functions with an internet connection but for some reason is not doing so right now. It does not mean that you want to talk to me away from the meeting. Offline and in private are not interchangeable. Ever. Stop it.

I have a few others that kind of grate on my ears when I hear them but I think the point has been made. Buzzwords are silly and unnecessary. It is just a way for the clueless to try and sound like they have a clue. And unfortunately it is contagious enough that those with a clue end up using them, too.

Does Social Media Blend?

Dwight Silverman posted an interesting Tweet on the day of the iPhone release. He said:

I wish we could report more breaking stories the way we did the iPhone today, blending blogs, twitter, reporters, links. Soon, very soon…

…which brings up some interesting ideas. We have news aggregation sites like Digg and Slashdot. We have services like FriendFeed that aggregate information from multiple social media services. We have mashups like iGoogle. But has anyone yet put together a way to blend all of these wonderful things into a useful, intuitive interface for the creation and trafficking of breaking news stories?

Now I replied to that Tweet that we in the social media world are just getting through taking our baby steps. We haven’t quite got up to walking but we are getting there. The next phase is to make it truly mainstream. Many news sources already leverage services like Twitter to post links to new articles that appear on their site. But this is merely a scratch of the surface. Offerings like Twitter could easily be used to create “live” news articles.

Think about this: You have a new website with a system that will take an article’s owner (reporter) and allow this owner to let others expand their article with posts from Twitter/Pownce/Whatever in certain sections of the story. The article becomes a truly interactive experience that gives the reporter’s view and expands his or her words with the observations of others within the article itself. Now obviously you wouldn’t let just anyone put anything in there or you end up with John Gabriel’s GIFT(nsfw).

To avoid this you could have a system like OpenID and then the owner grants what level of access people have. Heck, this could be expanded to allow almost roundtable-like discussions. The point of this being that the next evolution of social media is the blending of more traditional news reporting with blogs and other social media services. The iPhone release could have had a parent article that featured the pic taken of Robert Scoble getting his phone with the side story from a blog about how he was allowed to cut in line (say…sent via Twitter DM to the article account) and the Twitter posts from the first guy stopped as the initial group went in to get their new shiny toys. Additional images from Flickr showcasing lines from stores in different areas could be linked in as well. This goes much further than simple comments at the end of an article. I speak of groups of web connected individuals actually building and expanding breaking news stories as they happen.

This is just one idea of what I’m sure is many that will make their way to the web soon. I’m also certain that there are far more qualified and imaginative people putting together new technologies and ideas. Some will fail but inevitably one or two of these new tools will gain some success in the next phase of the media evolution. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m looking forward to the next stage…so hurry up already and build us some tools to use.

UPDATE: It’s almost like Rule 34. I posted about it and find that STLToday.com already somewhat includes this. An example is this article about he InBev buyout of Anheuser-Busch. The first Related Link is a blog and Twitter feed basically of related stories. Found it because my little post on the deal got in there. Now we just need more articles to include this feature and more news sites to do it.