Clear for iPhone

Last week a came across an announcement for a new product: Clear for iPhone. From the video it appears that Clear is essentially a to-do list, but it has a very clean, minimalist interface that makes very clever use of gesture-based navigation. It caught my interest immediately, and I’m looking forward to the release of this app.

It’s already getting some buzz around the ‘net:

Ars Technica

Cult of Mac

MobileBurn

TUAW

However, as much as I’d like to take this app for a test drive, something on the company’s website really took me off guard:

It’s that whole “like” on Facebook thing. I understand that Facebook is a cheap and easy way to get some advertising. It’s a good way to do some grass roots marketing. It’s also a good way to communicate with potential customers.

The thing I don’t get is why they want me to “like” it already. There’s really nothing to like except a product announcement and a promo video. The product itself isn’t actually available yet. I WANT to like their product, and I hope I do, but I find this request for “likes” a little premature – it’s akin to asking me if I like . . . well . . . pretty much anything before you’ve let me try it. How do I know?

From watching the video, the UI is going to be pretty cool. But let me at least try it before you ask me to like it.

Living with the iPad Part 1: Changing Habits

 

After I finally convinced myself that I wanted an iPad, I vaguely expected that I would use it primarily as a larger form factor of my older, smaller handheld devices. I figured I would download a lot of the classics and enjoy them on a more book-sized screen. I’ve been playing with my iPad for just under a week now, and I’ve already noticed several changes in my reading – or perhaps more accurately – book acquisition habits.

 

First, and perhaps most significantly, I finally bought an e-book. Heretofore all of my e-book reading has been of out-of-copyright material that I could find on any of a number of e-book websites. However, I finally purchased one with the advent of the iPad. Actually I decided to make the purchase in the week leading up to product delivery, and I settled on Terry Pratchett’s The Colour of Magic.

 

(Here’s an interesting tidbit about this one. I’ve been wanting to read the Discworld series for quite awhile, but every time I check in a bookstore, they never have the first novel. Well of course I could just order it, but who wants to wait? Instead I usually just pick something else. So I went to purchase this title through iBooks, and I was surprised that it wasn’t there. Well that certainly threw a wrench in my gears, so I went for another series only to find that it wasn’t there either. I came back to Terry Prachett the next day, and I found that the book really was there: It was listed as The Color of Magic instead of The Colour of Magic. Interesting little “gotcha” there.

 

Next, I’ve been poking around a bit in an area that I haven’t visited in a long, long, time: comic books. Both Marvel and DC have very nice apps, and the iPad is a great platform for viewing comics. The rich, vivid colors and crisp screen make even old comics seem fresh and vibrant. (And of course a good story is always a good story.) So far I’ve just read a few free comics. I haven’t actually bought any comics yet, and I may not in the future. But that’s not the point. I walk past comic books all the time and never pick one up or give it more than a passing glance. Because of the iPad though, I’ve read a couple of titles in a genre I haven’t explored in years.

 

When I was in the airport yesterday heading for ALA, I walked past the bookstore. Walked past it. Didn’t stop. That’s unusual for me. I actually buy quite a number of books from airport bookstores during waits and layovers. At the very least I spend a lot of time browsing. This time I did neither. I just walked on by with the knowledge that I can grab a lot of titles over the air whenever I like. I’ve done this for out-of-copyright books for years, but now that I’ve made the leap into more recent titles, the world – as they say – is my oyster.

 

Finally, I have to say something about iBooks. I’ve read books on PDAs and smartphones for years. The screen is small, but it works, and I’ve read hundreds of books this way. iBooks is changing that though – not by completely replacing the handheld – but by enhancing it. iBooks provides the option for syncing bookmarks, highlighting, and notes between the book on my iPad and the iBooks application on my phone. In the short term, this has meant that when I wrap up a reading session on the iPad, I can pick up in exactly the same place in my book even if I don’t have the iPad with me.

 

It will be interesting to see how things play out with the iPad over the next couple of months. These are pretty minor changes admittedly, but I’m still at less than a week on the platform. I wonder what the future will bring?

 

Open Up the Platform!

News is now spreading across blogs that Apple has finally approved Opera Mini for the iPhone. (Need it? Get it for free in the iTunes store.)

So what does this hold for the future? In the short term, I hope this means Firefox for the iPhone. I like Firefox, and I’ve been hoping to see an iPhone version for some time. For the long term, does this mean that Apple is changing its stance on apps?

For those who don’t know, Apple has officially been opposed to apps that duplicate core iPhone functionality. That has been interpreted to mean that since the iPhone has a built-in e-mail client, you can’t make another one for it. Since the iPhone has a built-in telephone application, you can’t make another one for it. Since the iPhone has a built-in web browser . . . well . . . you get the picture.

Given all that history, the fact that the Opera Mini web browser is now available for the iPhone, could be huge. Or it could be nothing. At the very least, it could be a sign of Apple opening the door for some changes. However, as many developers have experienced, Apple can slam doors just as quickly as it opens them.

I’ve played around with Opera Mini, and I’m not impressed yet even though I like the tabs. Opera Mini actually seems a little slower than Safari on my phone, although others are experiencing better results. Faster or slower though, I hope that Opera’s approval by the App Store reviewers bodes well for things to come.

Why I didn’t want an iPad, and why I think I want one now

When I saw the iPad preview information, I was struck with a lot of the same impressions that others had: it’s a big iPod Touch. To a great extent, that’s still my opinion. However, several days ago I read a review that (somewhat) changed the way I think about the iPad.

David Pogue, writing in the New York Times, did a two-part review that looks at the iPad from both a techie perspective and an “everyone else” perspective. In his closing, Pogue wrote, “ . . . the iPad is not a laptop. It’s not nearly as good for creating stuff. On the other hand, it’s infinitely more convenient for consuming it — books, music, video, photos, Web, e-mail and so on.” Strangely enough, these few lines made the difference for me.

When I look at a product – computer, camera bag, kayak, whatever – I take a “be all that you can be” approach. I expect the item to have loads of functionality. In short, I expect it to be the be-all-end-all device. That’s unrealistic of course, but I still expect it! So whatever the device, I look at all potential uses to which I might put it, and then I evaluate it based on how well I think it will meet my expectations.

This was the test that the iPad failed when I initially considered it. In my mind the iPad was the PERFECT form factor for a true tablet PC. However, it lacked the one-two punch I consider essential for a tablet: a stylus and good handwriting recognition software. In spite of what Steve Jobs has to say, I can see the value of a stylus, and I wish the iPad had one. I have previously used Microsoft OneNote under Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. The handwriting recognition software was really very good for either print or cursive writing, and I saw a lot of possibilities there. Unfortunately, the PC itself was just too heavy. That’s why I thought the iPad would have been perfect, but alas, no stylus.

But David Pogue’s review made me rethink the iPad. Once I resigned myself to the fact that it’s not a great device for creating stuff, the idea became a lot more palatable. When I think of it as a device for consuming stuff, it makes a lot more sense. Since my first portable device, I’ve read a lot of e-books. The iPad should be fine for that. The browser and add-on apps should make it a good device for consuming lot of other content as well.

This seems to make all the difference to me. In trying to accept the iPad for what it is, I have (somewhat) rejected what I think it could be. And it truly looks like a great device for consuming content.

So . . . maybe I do need one after all.

Palm Pre Advertisement on My iPhone

A lot of the “free” apps available for the iPhone are ad-supported, so as you tap away on the device you are confronted by a host of ads with various levels of intrusiveness (depending upon how nice the developer is). I recently downloaded an app called Dots Free. The ads in this one are small text bars that display at the bottom of the screen. Not very intrusive at all really, so it was just kind of happenstance that I noticed one of the ads invited me to check out the new Palm Pre. Right there . . . embedded in my iPhone app . . . a Palm Pre ad. Too funny. Now of course Apple isn’t running this ad, but given the animosity between the two companies, I found this decidedly amusing.

palm_pre_ad

Sometimes you need a little chuckle. And I still think the Pre is a pretty cool device. 😉

A “new” type of privacy problem?

We hear about a lot of different types of computer-related security issues these days – hacking attempts, virus infections, phishing scams and the like. At the recent American Library Association annual conference, I noticed a couple of behaviors that reminded me that not all security breaches are high-tech escapades.

On a couple of different occasions during the conference, I was typing notes into my laptop during a session when the person next to me leaned over, stared at my screen for a few seconds to see what I was typing, and then went back to his/her own notes. I was a little shocked, but probably not as offended as I should have been. I realize that these people were probably just trying to catch a few words that they might have missed during the presentation. I didn’t have any sensitive data on the screen so it shouldn’t have been a big deal . . . but it still feels wrong. Maybe it’s because I was taught that it’s impolite to come up behind someone and read over their shoulder without being invited to do so. Or perhaps it’s because a complete stranger very pointedly read my screen. Whatever.

My next example falls along those lines as well. Think about all of those nice, glossy iPhone screens we’ve all gotten so used to seeing. One thing about them – they’re big – at least compared to a regular cell phone screen, and their size makes them pretty easy to see. A couple of times during the conference I noticed people leaning forward in their seats and staring fixedly at an iPhone in the row in front of them. Now maybe they were just trying to figure out what that cool app was so that they could download it later. Or maybe they just had to know what that person was tweeting or texting. But again, it just feels like a no-no.

It kind of reminds me of those social engineering horror stories in which someone was duped into typing in a password while another person just stood behind them and watched their keystrokes. The big difference though is that there is no duping here. In some cases perhaps people are just being rude while others are being careless. In a lot of meetings it just doesn’t really matter because everyone is busy trying to get the same notes, and their isn’t a security issue at all. But increasingly I see people absolutely buried in their laptops and cell phones, logging into e-mail, Twitter accounts, and all manner of other services without being aware of their surroundings. Let’s just hope none of them are sysadmins with the keys to the kingdom, eh?

Oh, the Irony: eBooks, the iPhone, and mE

<begin rant> Okay there was no reason for writing it as "mE" except that I’m fed up with companies that use funky capitalization to try to make themselves and their products stand out. </end rant>

I’m currently at ALA for the annual conference, and I realized something shocking today. I brought a book with me. A paper book.

Does that sound counter-intuitive – being shocked at the idea of someone taking a book to a library conference of all places? Well it shouldn’t, but for me it is. I’ve owned PDAs and/or smartphones for around 10 years, and one of my very first and very favorite applications was iSilo, a book reader. I’ve upgraded each time iSilo had an upgrade, and it was easily my most heavily-used application. Since I had this great book reader I really liked, when I traveled I just took several eBooks along on my handheld. Less to pack, a variety of books, easy, convenient. I liked it so much and it worked so well for me that I stopped taking books along. Sometimes I would buy a buy while traveling, but I had basically reached the point where I didn’t take them with me anymore.

Enter the iPhone. For various reasons, I just couldn’t stay with the Palm OS any longer. After switching to the iPhone, iSilo was one of the first apps I downloaded. (Incidentally, I was right in the middle of a book when I made the switch.) Unfortunately, I really dislike the iPhone implementation of iSilo’s autoscroll feature. I used it all the time on the Palm. Loved it. iPhone implementation? Not so much. The iPhone’s limited battery life and iSilo’s autoscroll problem have conspired to make me really go easy on actually using the phone. Yeah, that’s right. I’m afraid to use my iPhone too much, because I’m afraid the battery will run down leaving me unable to receive a call or send a text at the end of the day.

So . . . as I was heading out the door for ALA I picked up a paper book I bought in the airport on the way home from my last trip. Totally weird. I bought a new device that I thought would help me enjoy eBooks even more. But the limitations of the device and the program have actually pushed me back to paper. Who would have guessed?

My Love-Hate Relationship with the iPhone

 

So it’s my third week into the iPhone saga, and I’m still wrangling with mixed feelings about it.

 

First the good.

 

The interface is nice.

 

There are a lot of apps. Everyone knows this. Cool apps, useful apps, fun apps, dumb apps. There are a lot of all of them. I’ve installed a number of free and paid apps, and they’re fun to play and experiment with. Take Shazam for example. I really appreciate the fact that people would make such a ridiculously useful application available FOR FREE. SplashID is a particularly good paid app. My old standby, iSilo, is here, but I don’t find the implementation to be quite as useful as it was on the Palm Treo.

 

Now let’s talk bad. I’ve talked about a lot of these before. I was kind of dreading some of these before making the jump to iPhone, so I knew they were there. They weren’t all surprises. I’m going to spend a little time writing about specific things I have encountered as a user.

 

I have to start with battery life. Have. To. I use my phone a lot, and I use it even more at conferences. During times when I can’t get a WiFi connection, I can still check e-mail on my phone. And I do. Regularly. I check my voice mail. I read books. I look up things on the web. I use text messaging a lot. The iPhone’s battery life leave a lot to be desired.

 

I’m currently three days into my first conference with the iPhone, and I find that I’m seriously modifying my behavior to work around the limitations of the device. I’m trying not to make as many calls. I’m definitely looking up far fewer things online. E-mail use is about the same as on my old device, but text messaging is down quite a bit. Seems that such a cool device would compel you to use it MORE, NOT LESS, but the reality is that I have to use it less than my old phone just to make it through the day. On my old phone, if the battery ran low, I just . . . you know . . . swapped it out with another one.

 

How ’bout that GPS? While I’ve been working my way through Chicago for this conference, I’ve turned the GPS on a few times, to check for restaurants, distance to conference hotels, etc. If you’re going to have a GPS, it needs to be least be, oh . . . how ’bout . . . accurate? In my experience, the GPS on the iPhone 3GS is anything but accurate. As I was riding to a conference hotel on the shuttle today, I check my location to see how close I was. My location on the map jumped by several blocks not once, not twice, but repeatedly throughout the trip. Oh, and that GPS really eats the battery.

 

Now let’s talk about syncing the device. I knew it was going to be bad. I didn’t know it was going to be THIS bad. I have a very basic need: I need to be able to sync calendar and contact data across the phone and multiple computers. I did a lot of advance reading, and it sounded like MobileMe was the way to go. I fought with MobileMe for days. I repeatedly wound up with duplicate contacts. As I moved through my circle of computers, by the time I made my way back to the starting point, I was repeatedly cleaning up duplicates. I tried merge, delete, replace . . . nothing seemed to do the trick. MobileMe failing me, I next turned to Google. I tried the calendar sync with some success. I tried the contacts sync and eventually wound up with 4 total contacts for each entry I had started with. Too much cleanup, so I’m back to just calendar sync. Beyond the duplicate data, these sync attempts also randomly deleted data. Sometimes part of a company name would be missing from the contacts list. Sometimes characters were be missing from calendar entries. This experience fails on so many levels that my frustration level has been through the roof. Staying up all night to achieve the most basic of functions isn’t really much fun.

 

Even the data that I can move between computers is at best clunky. I can (somewhat) sync calendars, contacts, and notes by connecting a cable and clicking a button. SplashID data sync requires a convoluted process whereby I have to set up an ad-hoc connection from the host PC and connect to that. iSilo? I have to turn on an internal FTP server to push data across since the hard drive in my iPhone doesn’t really want to act like a hard drive.

 

It’s frustrating that such an elegant and useful device has these shortcomings. I like the iPhone, but I don’t really feel that I’ve made a major leap forward. I feel that it has been primarily a trade-off of one set of shortcomings for another.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of iPhone things.”

Yes, at long last, I’m finally going to bite. I put in my order for an iPhone 3GS, so I should have a new gadget sometime in the next couple of weeks. I’ve arrived at this decision with somewhat mixed emotions. I’ve written before about some of my concerns concerning the iPhone. Apple has addressed some of these, but I still have some concerns:

1) No user-replaceable battery
2) No native sync with Microsoft Outlook Notes
3) No direct sync with multiple computers without paying for Apple’s MobileMe service
4) No currently available version of ListPro for iPhone (one of my most heavily-used applications)

Each of these is a very real and very serious concern for me, but it’s time for a change. For the past couple of years, I’ve been using a Palm Treo 680. I’ve owned a few Palm devices over the years, and I’ve enjoyed a lot of functionality with them. In the rapidly changing network-oriented world though, the 680 is showing its age. The web browser has limitations. The device itself is subject to increasing crashes and random reboots. I’ve started experiencing some data loss. And finally, there just aren’t a lot of cool new applications hitting the Palm OS market.

I’ve watched the news of the new Palm Pre and WebOS very carefully, and it looks promising. However, the device is currently only available on Sprint, and there are no Sprint retailers in my area. There are rumors that AT&T and Verizon will carry it next year, but nothing has been confirmed. I’ve played with a couple of iPhones, and there are a lot of nice features to the device, so I finally decided to give it a try.

However, the number of workarounds I’ll have to employ to achieve my current level of Treo functionality is a little daunting, so I’m starting to compile a sort of checklist to work through once the thing finally arrives.

1) First there is the infamous MobileMe. Why should I have to pay $99 per year just to be able to sync my data with my various computers? Answer: I SHOULDN’T. I’ve been able to do this with every single Palm I’ve ever owned. Every one. all of my data. I frequently find myself in areas where there is no network connection for my computer, so an over-the-air sync just isn’t an option. Besides that, I still don’t want my data to live in the cloud. Apparently though, that’s the Apple way, so I’ll have to sign up for a MobileMe account.

2) Then there is the Chapura sync. For some inexplicable reason, Apple has decided that the iPhone’s notes application shouldn’t sync with Microsoft Outlook’s note, so I’m stuck with another yearly subscription: $9.

3) ListPro. I’ll admit to being pretty stumped with this one. ListPro is a great product, and I’ve used it on my Treo and desktop computer for years. Unfortunately, Ilium Software still hasn’t managed to bring an iPhone version to market even though one is perpetually in the works. I’ve seen a couple of alternatives, but they don’t seem to be as full-featured. I would really hate to think that I have to go back to carrying two devices just so I can have the full PDA functionality that I need.

4) Documents To Go. I use Documents to Go occasionally – not extensively – but often enough that I don’t want to give it up. Strangely enough, the iPhone version just showed up in the App Store a couple of days ago. Strange. Stranger still that you can only edit Word documents. Excel editing will be introduced in some future version. And unfortunately, reviews for the first version are pretty bad.

5) iSilo. iSilo is pretty far down on my list, but it’s actually one of my most-used applications on the Treo. At least that’s ready to go, right? But it’s not without its headaches as well. If you need to transfer several files to the iPhone all at once, you’ll have to activate the program’s internal server! Twelve pages of instructions on how to do this! And this ain’t iSilo’s fault. Come on Apple, can’t you make things just a little easier?

6) SplashId is another heavily-used app in my arsenal. I’m very attached to the Palm version and the associated desktop application. From the documentation I’ve seen online, this looks like it will be the easiest to get up and running, but time will tell.

Switching to a new device always takes some time, and there are always some bumps in the road. Even thought I’m ready to enjoy some new technology, I’m not not looking forward to dealing with quite so many bumps.

Thinking ’bout that cloud thingy

Seems like every couple of days we’re hearing more about data in the cloud. I’ve thought about this one in considering the iPhone, and I’m still thinking about it as I read more about the Palm Pre. One of my biggest gripes about the iPhone has to do with synching data across multiple computers. I do this all the time with my old Palm Treo. I drop it in a cradle attached to my desktop computer, I drop it into a cradle attached to my home desktop, and I connect it to a cable attached to my laptop. The frequency varies, but the long and short of it is that if I’m in a network dead zone and I need to get something from a computer onto my handheld (or vice versa), I can connect a cable, push a button, and I’m done. Not so with the iPhone. If I need to sync data across multiple computers with the iPhone, I have to subscribe to Apple’s $99 per year MobileMe service. Even after subscribing to that service I wouldn’t be able to sync the way I want to: I can’t simply connect the two devices with a cable and push a button. MobileMe depends upon having a network connection so that my data can copy itself to Apple’s server in the cloud. Eventually the updates trickle across the network to the other computers. As I read more about the Palm Pre and Palm’s new WebOS, it seems that this device will follow the same path, and that disappoints me.

As I’ve previously mentioned, I simply may not want some of my data to live in the cloud. Yet I still need to synchronize with multiple computers. What’s a person to do then? But ignoring the fact that I don’t want all of my data to live in the cloud, there are other considerations. I live in an area with MANY network dead zones, so it simply isn’t always even possible to sync data. Let’s think about travelers. Do you really want to pay for an hour’s worth of network time in every airport you pass through just to keep all your data synchronized? Probably not.

I’m trying to keep an open mind about cloud data and apps. Some people love it, and it works well for them. That’s great for those people, but it shouldn’t come at a cost in functionality. If data synchronization with the cloud is just another option, then that’s a good way to go. Nothing wrong with giving people options. But why take away functionality that already works? Don’t do it, Palm!