Sunday, January 31, 2010

Hand-Held Cell Phones Bans Alone Don't Reduce Accidents: Study

A new study notes that hands-free cell phone bans will not significantly reduce auto accidents. Rather, what the study says is that distracted driving is the problem. However, before wireless carriers and cell phone manufacturers start (or continue) lobbying against such bans, they need to remember that cell phones are one of those distractions.

The study was conducted by the Highway Loss Data Institute, an insurance industry group. It examined accident rates before and after hand-held cell phone bans went into effect in New York, the District of Columbia, Connecticut and California.
"The laws aren't reducing crashes, even though we know that such laws have reduced hand-held phone use, and several studies have established that phoning while driving increases crash risk," says Adrian Lund, president of both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and HLDI. For example, an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study that relies on driver phone records found a 4-fold increase in the risk of injury crashes. A study in Canada found a 4-fold increase in the risk of crashes involving property damage. Separate surveys of driver behavior before and after hand-held phone use bans show reductions in the use of such phones while driving.
So why aren't the results better? The HLDI is gathering further data to try to make that determination. The answer, however, may be simply common sense: it's not the use of hand-held phones that is the issue; it's the use of cell phones will driving, period. In fact, some studies have already posited that cell phone conversation while driving alone is a distraction that needs banning. This isn't the first such study to note that hands-free setups don't reduce accidents, either.

Let's not forget, also, that even before starting to talk on a cell phone, and even with a Bluetooth headset, a driver must dial a number (unless it's one he can redial from the headset). That's a major distraction, as well.

There's also a conundrum, as well, with car manufacturers beginning to stuff more and more technology into cars, which simply add to the distraction. It was bad enough before the advent of cell phones, with complex stereo systems and eating, but now manufacturers are adding wi-fi hotspots to cars. While common-sense would say that drivers should be smart enough to know better than to turn to the laptop sitting on their passenger seat to Google something, it seems pretty obvious that there will be some who do.

Those who rail against legislation need to recall what good seat-belt laws did. They also need to remember, that we wouldn't need to legislate such matters, if people were smart enough or had enough common sense on their own.
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Google To Drop IE6 Support

Google is about to show Internet Explorer 6 the door, which is probably what end users should have done long ago. The Internet giant announced on Friday that as of March 1st, it will no longer support IE6 on its Google Docs or Google Sites services.

At the same time, in a blog post, Google outlined minimum browser requirements for other browsers as well. These requirements will all go into effect on March 1st. The requirements, in total, are:
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer 7.0+
  • Mozilla Firefox 3.0+
  • Google Chrome 4.0+
  • Safari 3.0+
It is indeed time to retire IE6.  It's ridiculous to expect not just Google, but anyone to continue to support such archaic software.  Besides, how can you IE6 users survive without tabs?
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Google Voice Adds SMS To Multiple Recipients

Google Voice has added a feature, at least online, which has been widely asked for. The new feature is the ability to send SMS or text messages to multiple recipients.

As you can see from the image above, when you login to your Google Voice account on the web, you can now enter multiple numbers or contacts to send an SMS to. The only better feature than that might be the ability to send to a group.

Unfortunately, I checked my iPhone and the new Google Voice web app does not appear to support this function, at least yet. I also checked the GV Mobile+ application for jailbroken devices; that also does not support the function (I didn't expect it to as it would require a new release).

Google Voice, for those who don't know, is Google's service that allows you to call and SMS using a different number than your actual cell phone number. Calls to that number are routed to different phones depending on your settings (including landlines), and text messages are free. Google also has an international calling service tied to Google Voice.

There's not much more to the new feature than that, but it's still cool.
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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Amazon.com Pulls Macmillan Books From Its Site

In the wake of Apple's announcement of the iPad, comes the first salvo in what is probably going to be a drawn out battle. Amazon.com has pulled books published by Macmillan, electronic or not, from its site.

Search for authors available from Macmillan, and with the exception, it seems, of library-bound or "bargain books," you won't find Amazon.com pricing for them. You'll find them at "other sellers," but not Amazon.com. Click the above image for Robert Jordan's "Knife of Dreams" to enlarge.

Why would Amazon.com do this? It would seem this is hardly in the best interest of customers, and definitely not in the best interest of the site. Well, according to the New York Times, it's all about e-book pricing.

According to their report, Macmillan, like other publishers wants Amazon.com to raise its price for e-books from $9.99 to about $15.
Macmillan offered Amazon the opportunity to buy Kindle editions on the same “agency” model as it will sell e-books to Apple for the iPad. Under this model, the publisher sets the consumer book price and takes 70 percent of each sale, leaving 30 percent to the retailer. Macmillan said Amazon could continue to buy e-books under its current wholesale model, paying the publisher 50 percent of the hardcover list price while pricing the e-book at any level Amazon chooses, but that Macmillan would delay those e-book editions by seven months after hardcover release. Amazon’s removal of Macmillan titles on Friday appears to be a direct reaction to that.
It appears the iPad has already made waves in the e-book market, without even being released. Currently Amazon.com is the big player in e-book sellers, but it's clear that analysts as well as publishers feel that might change once the iPad arrives. This was obviously an attempt by Macmillan to leverage the iPad's and iBooks' upcoming arrivals.

Since Amazon.com currently owns the lion's share of e-books, this just feels like an iTunes-like battle, similar to when music and other content providers tried to get Apple to change its pricing as well.

It the source is correct, Macmillan and other publishers want Amazon.com to raise the price on its e-books from $9.99 to $15. With Apple's iBook store coming, Amazon.com will have some solid competition. However, $15 for an electronic version seems, to be honest, highway robbery. How much, after all, does it cost to print an e-book?

On the other hand, since Apple announced that one of the price points for iBooks would be $15, one can see how much nicer it would be for Apple if Amazon.com's price advantage vanished. Although Amazon MP3 had a price advantage for a while over iTunes, as well as DRM-free music, $5 resonates much more with consumers.

This isn't over, by a long shot.


AT&T To Spend $2 Billion On Upgrades This Year; Still Short $3 Billion

AT&T, during its Thursday earnings call after it released its Q4 2009 results, basically said that it knows it needs to add more blue dots to its 3G coverage map (see above, from one of the Verizon commercials mocking AT&T's coverage), and that it was planning to spend $2 billion on that, this year. Problem is, an analyst recently evaluated AT&T's network, and said the carrier needed to spend $5 billion to catch up to Verizon.

Townhall Investment Research said this in a research paper released earlier this month (.PDF). The paper, released Jan. 19th and titled "AT&T Wireless:
Competition, Capital, and Cure$," said that Verizon's 3G coverage is about 5x AT&T's when measuring by landmass, and that "We estimate AT&T needs to spend about $5.0B on its mobile network to catch Verizon."

So, AT&T, that $2 billion is nice, but you're still short $3 billion.

Verizon's "There's a Map For That" ad campaign has done a great job of pointing out the negatives in AT&T's wireless network. Of course, that's been pretty obvious to AT&T's iPhone users.

The iPhone's exclusivity has been great for AT&T's bottom line, but as it ends, as it will, most likely later this year, there are some who look to jumping ship to whatever network gets the device (Verizon, T-Mobile). Those who don't plan on moving, will probably get relief simply from the jumpers leaving the network.

However, as more app phones appear, such as Android and Palm webOS phones, the respite may be short-lived.
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Dell Sneaks The Adamo In Below $1,000

The magic price point for many seems to be $1,000, and thus, following an earlier price cut to the sleek and sexy Dell Adamo, Dell has lowered the price still further, at least for an "entry-level" model. The Dell Adamo Aspire sneaks in under $1,000 for a $999 starting price.

Of course, that's the starting price. The Dell Adamo Desire comes in at $1,799 to start. What do you get for those prices?

Admire:
  • 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processor with Centrino technology
  • Genuine Windows® 7 Home Premium 64-Bit
  • 2GB 800MHz DDR3 dual-channel memory
  • 128GB3 solid state drive
Desire:
  • 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processor with Centrino technology
  • Genuine Windows® 7 Home Premium 64-Bit
  • 4GB 800MHz DDR3 dual-channel memory
  • 256GB3 solid state drive
  • Mobile Broadband
Shared:
  • Super-thin 13.4-inch 16:9 (High Definition; 720p) WLED display
  • Full-size keyboard with back-lighting and scalloped, metallic key cap design
  • Integrated 1.3 megapixel camera and integrated digital microphone
  • IO: Display Port, USBx3 (1 eSATA combination), Audio Out and integrated RJ-45 port
  • Communications: Gigabit LOM, Bluetooth 2.1, 802.11n (3x3)
  • 5+ hr battery life using Li-Polymer cells; 40 Whr
To be clear, none of those prices include the Dell Adamo external DVD-RW drive.

Unlike many of their models, the Adamo isn't all that customizable in its various forms. Usually you can up the RAM, or the CPU, or whatever on a Dell laptop pretty easily. There's no way to start with an Admire and add just RAM, and keep the CPU, or vice versa. Want more RAM added to your order, and you have to go to the Admire, instead.
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Friday, January 29, 2010

Fring, iCall Support VOIP Over 3G On iPhone; Where Is Skype?

While AT&T long ago announced it was removing any restrictions on iPhone VOIP application on their network, Apple didn't follow suit. With the release of the latest, iPhone / iPad / iPod touch SDK, that restriction has been removed, and VOIP companies are jumping into the 3G pool.

iCall was the first VOIP company to announce 3G support with their VOIP app. In fact, iCall announced its 3G capability the same day as the iPad announcement, which also released the new SDK.

On Thursday, Fring announced the same functionality was now available via its app. In fact, it sounds like all they had was a server-side block on the functionality, as their blog post announcing 3G support notes no new Fring app is required. Fring works with Skype, and allows MSN Messenger, Google Talk, ICQ, SIP, Twitter, Yahoo! and AIM messaging.

Speaking of Skype, in December they said they had a 3G-enabled version ready, but because of Apple's restrictions, they never submitted it. Now users are (rightfully) dinging the company in its forums as Fring and iCall have beaten it out the gate. One would have expected Skype to be first, or at least fast, honestly.


Where The iPad iFails

While my original piece on the iPad's introduction was for the most part positive, I did point out a few negatives. In the 24 hours since then, I've had a chance to think of a few more. While I think the iPad will sell like hotcakes, there are some disappointments in its design.

In no particularly order, after mulling the device over for a while, here are some things that are pretty disappointing:

No background processing, AKA no multitasking. This is supposed to be better than a netbook, but I cannot listen to Pandora at the same time as, say, playing a game? That's not my idea of a modern computer, which is what Apple is trying to sell this as.

No Flash. Much as with the iPhone, there's no Adobe Flash support. While that's already bad enough on the iPhone, since many other smartphones are going to be getting it. And this is supposed to be better than a netbook?

The App Store. The App Store is great because it has over 100,000 applications that run /on the iPhone, and according to Apple, they will all run on the iPad, as well. The App Store is bad because of Apple's draconian approval process. Even without that process, Apple simply won't let certain applications in the App Store. Anyone who's ever gone to RockYourPhone or Cydia knows just how many useful applications are only available to jailbroken iPhones. And we don't mean just Google Voice.

How would you like to be able to answer SMS directly from any app, without having to leave the app you are in? There's a (jailbroken) app for that (more than one).

How would you like to be able to see email, calendar and more on your iPHone lock screen? There's a (jailbroken) app for that.

Virtual Keyboard. Perhaps we were all expecting too much from Apple. We had expected them to come up with a tablet with some remarkable virtual keyboard. Sorry, it's just as awkward as on any other tablet. That, of course, explains the fact that Apple already has an external keyboard ready for the iPad.

Unlocked? The 3G version of the iPad is unlocked. However, what good is that in the U.S. when the device's hardware won't support 3G on the T-Mobile network? Reminds me of the Nexus One. That app phone is unlocked as well, for a price, anyway, but it won't support 3G on the AT&T network.

Gaming. The claim by some was made that the iPad would redefine mobile gaming, but face it: with the iPhone OS on the thing, you're not going to be playing top-of-the-line first person shooters on it.

Price. The price seemed good to me at first ($499, $599, $699 for 16, 32, 64GB or $130 more for each storage size to include 3G). However, thinking of all the limitations of the device, I'm not so sure any more.

Name. What's in a name? Well, some think that iPad is too reminiscent of an Apple version of feminine hygiene products. I'm not kidding, and in reality, this is hardly that big a deal, but it's certainly a snarky way to end this list.

Apple's idea is that this device fits between a PC and a app phone. However, it's limited to the point where it won't replace a notebook, and most of what it does I can do on an iPhone, within limits.

In fact, why not just run Mac OS on the darn thing? My theory is that Apple feels that iPhone and iPod touch users would have no issues moving to the iPad, because it uses the same OS. That will be true, but Mac OS would be much more powerful. Ah, but then Apple couldn't wall off the applications as it can with the iPhone OS.

Sorry, the more I think about it, the more I don't like it, at least "as advertised."
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Facebook, Drunk Driving Cost Teen Jail Time


A teenage driver was sentenced to six months of jail and five years probation after crashing her car while drunk and killing her boyfriend, Alex Rozicki, 20, on May 30, 2009 in North Tonawanda, NY (which is located halfway between Buffalo and Niagara Falls).

Ashley Sullivan was 17 at the time and thus underage. She had a BAC of .13, with the legal limit for adults of .08. What's worse, and what probably cost her jail time, is that a month after the incident, she went on a trip to Florida, and posted a photo to her Facebook page titled "Drunk in Florida."

County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III told Sullivan:
"I'm troubled by your conduct since the crash, and that's the reason for the jail sentence."
He also denied her youthful offender status for the same reason, saying, "I don't believe the defendant has earned it." However, he could have sentenced her to four years in jail.

Judge Murphy also made it very clear that she had best not drink while on probation, adding, "You're 17 years old. You're not old enough to drink." Meanwhile, when Sullivan's defense attorney Glenn Murray said in court, "This young woman is remorseful," a laugh arose from the audience, which drew a reprimand from Judge Murphy.

Furthermore, Murphy revoked Sullivan's driver's license, and ordered that after her release, she be under electronic monitoring for a year. The Rozicki family plans a wrongful death lawsuit against Sullivan.
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Thursday, January 28, 2010

McGraw-Hill's Big Mouth Axes It From iPad Introduction

This is what happens when you are "in on" some secret Apple information, and you reveal it, even less than a day before the announcement. Tipsters tell VentureBeat that after Terry McGraw, McGraw-Hill's CEO drooled over the iPad during a CNBC interview on Tuesday, Apple cut the company from their iBook publishing slide (above, via Gizmodo).

Yes, it's somewhat vindictive, but it's not surprising and it serves as a warning to others who might want to work with Apple. If it's something that Apple has under wraps, don't talk about it until after Steve Jobs has finished his spiel.

Update: McGraw-Hill has responded by saying that it was never part of the iPad announcement anyway, and that it didn't have any inside information, either. While it's true that it doesn't seem Terry McGraw really revealed anything all that sensitive, it's hard to believe they wouldn't have been included as part of that slide or as part of the publishers ready to go on the iPad.
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Kindle E-books To Be Readable On iPad

Those who may be in the midst of their Amazon.com stock after the introduction of the iPad, may want to pause and think for a second. While many forecast the Kindle's demise, more important than a Kindle sale for Amazon.com are sales of its e-books.

After all, as with printers, it's all about the consumables. You may only sell one Kindle, but you could sell tens of e-books to one consumer. In response to the iPad's introduction, Amazon.com said the following:
Customers can read and sync their Kindle books on the iPhone, iPod Touch, PCs, and soon BlackBerry, Mac, and iPad. Kindle is purpose-built for reading. Weighing in at less than 0.64 pounds, Kindle fits comfortably in one hand for hours, has an E Ink display that is easy on the eyes even in bright daylight, two weeks of battery life, and 3G wireless with no monthly fees-all at a $259 price. Kindle editions of New York Times bestsellers and most new releases are only $9.99.
Amazon.com's lower price for e-books may give it an advantage over iBooks. Reports that Apple is planning to let publishers set higher prices ($12.99 and $14.99) for iBooks. But, of course, that's what we said when Amazon MP3 was selling MP3 songs for less than iTunes, and without DRM, as well.

Despite the Apple iPad announcement, Amazon stock didn't sink Wednesday. Amazon shares were up 2.74 percent, with the company reporting Q4 earnings on Thursday.
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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Apple's iPad Tablet To Redefine The Market?

Consumers and industry analysts have been waiting for the Jan. 27th Apple event, which occurred today. As expected, Apple indeed unveiled a tablet PC, which many believe will redefine the market segment, and could be a boon to the publishing industry.

Interestingly, just prior to the announcement, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published a series of 13 newly granted patents for Apple. One of the patents that was unveiled was, significantly, one that relates to Apple's tablet. The patent is focused on the tablet's proximity detection capabilities.

As far as the event itself, it was, of course, hosted by CEO Steve Jobs. The initial parts of the event were focused on what Apple recently released, its earnings. Then, however, came the expected announcement, with the expected name: iPad.

Apple's tablet PC will be called iPad, and the delivery of the device, as well as Jobs comments on netbooks (past and today) give the reason for its existence. There is a market segment that fits between PCs and app phones, and there needs to be a device there that handles the job better than the other two device types. Netbooks are clearly unsatisfactory performance-wise for many, and though they fit into a middle category between full-fledged PCs and app phones, they don't fit it well, and as Jobs said, "The problem is Netbooks aren't better at anything." Enter, the iPad.

As many believed, it looks a lot like an oversized iPod touch. In fact, look at that, a home button! Spec-wise, the iPad is 0.5" thick, has a 9.7" IPS display (same type as in the latest-gen iMac), and weighs 1.5 pounds. It has a capacitive multi-touch screen, 1 Ghz custom Apple processor, the A4, which includes, actually, processor, graphics, I/O memory controller on one chip. The iPad will come with 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB of SSD storage.

Additionally, it will have 802.11n wi-fi, Bluetooth, accelerometer, compass, and 10-hours of battery life (we'll see). It reportedly can survive up to one month sans charging in standby mode, truly amazing.

Also as expected, the iPad will run any iPhone app, unmodified. The app can be zoomed to fit the entire iPad screen. Of course, if you want the app to look better, natively, with the new SDK that is to be released today, developers can also modify the apps themselves to fit the screen.

Of course, the iPad has web browsing, media playback (including what they called a "built-in iPod"). It can even be used for gaming. That is correct, it can be used for gaming. Electronic Arts, for example, showed off "Need For Speed." This could remake mobile gaming, or at least, gaming at LAN parties.

Of course, as expected, one major focus of the iPad is e-books. While Amazon.com's Kindle device has owned the lion's share of the market, the iPad and e-books are BFFs. Apple, in its i-centric way, calls them iBooks, and they use the ePub format, which is an open standard, as opposed to a proprietary standard.

As the Apple tablet announcement droned on, the question popping into many minds was: what about the price of the device? That could be a killer, as many expected the device to run about $1,000. Surprise, the device is not cheap, but it's cheaper than expected. For wi-fi only versions, it's $499 for 16GB, $599 for 32GB, $699 for 64GB. Add 3G, and you also add $130 per device. You add a monthly charge of $15 for 250GB of data or $30 for unlimited, with AT&T the provider. No contract is required.

All of the iPad 3G models are unlocked, and they use the new GSM microSIMs. International plans will be announced in the June / July timeframe, Apple hopes. As far as availability goes, 60 days for the iPad non-wifi version, and 90 days for the iPad wi-fi version.

What's interesting about the Apple tablet announcement is that since, as expected, the iPad uses the iPhone OS, iPhone and iPod touch users will be able to move from their current devices to the iPad without any pain, except in their wallets. That is, of course, in general, as there will be differences, but it won't be like moving from Windows to Mac OS.

What's bad about today's announcement: since the iPad is built with the iPhone OS, what does that mean to you users who think about such things? Yes, that means that the iPad will only be able to get apps through the App Store, which means users are relegated to the vagaries of the App Store's rather draconian approval process. It's yet another device that will be best when jailbroken.

There's another thing that's missing that would require a jailbroken iPad: background processing. While many might think, hey this is a computer, it's using the iPhone OS, and there is no background processing. Of course, those with jailbroken iPhones use the Backgrounder app, and if everything runs instantly the way Apple says ...

Oh, and no announcement of AT&T losing its iPhone exclusivity to Verizon. As I previously said, while I believe that will happen this year, a) I figure it will happen during the next iPhone refresh in June (or thereabouts), b) it wouldn't be Verizon at this point, anyway, as CDMA is going to die soon, with LTE coming. My guess: T-Mobile, despite the fact that it's No. 4 in the U.S.

At the time of this writing, while Amazon.com stock has dropped since the announcement, it's still positive, up $1.33, at $120.81. Watch a video report below:

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Release of PS3 Exploit Code Excites The Hacking Community

George Hotz, AKA "geohot" and also known as the person who jailbroke version 3.1.2 of the iPhone OS with "blackra1n" as well as being the first to jailbreak the original iPhone, has released exploit code for the PS3. Hotz claims to have hacked the PS3, reputedly the most secure console so far, in just five weeks.

Given his track record, there's little reason to doubt him.

Hotz announced the exploit last week, and released the code on Tuesday. Here's what he says on his blog:
This is the coveted PS3 exploit, gives full memory space access and therefore ring 0 access from OtherOS. Enjoy your hypervisor dumps. This is known to work with version 2.4.2 only, but I imagine it works on all current versions. Maybe later I'll write up how it works.

This is a good article for what it means for the less technical.
Now, what the Eurogamer post which Hotz linked as explanatory text notes is that while this exploit has been published, there's no code that uses it ... yet.

It's probably just a matter in both directions: changes from Sony and a hacker to fully use Hotz's exploit.

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McGraw-Hill CEO Confirms Apple Tablet During Interview

While many expect tomorrow's Apple event to result in CEO Steve Jobs unveiling an Apple table, we now have confirmation. Considering how much Apple values secrecy, you have to expect they are not pleased about this.

While being interviewed on CNBC today, addressing his company's latest earnings, which showed its first boost in earnings in two years, Terry McGraw, chairman and CEO of McGraw-Hill said:
"Yeah, Very exciting. Yes, they'll make their announcement tomorrow on this one. We have worked with Apple for quite a while. And the Tablet is going to be based on the iPhone operating system and so it will be transferable. So what you are going to be able to do now -- we have a consortium of e-books. And we have 95% of all our materials that are in e-book format on that one. So now with the tablet you're going to open up the higher education market, the professional market. The tablet is going to be just really terrific."
So there. We have confirmation on some of the details. iPhone OS on the tablet, which makes it transferable to the iPhone, as he said. Nice. Tomorrow can't come fast enough.

Watch the video, and watch the slip about 2:50 in.

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Nexus One 3G Problems Due To Network Coverage Issues, Bugs

Good news and bad news with regards to the 3G connectivity issues found on the HTC Nexus One, popularly called by some the "Google Phone." The good news is they've completed their investigation and have figured out the issue. The bad news is it appears to be 3G network coverage issues, at least in part.

In other words, because T-Mobile's 3G footprint in the U.S. is the smallest of all the major carriers, many users are SOL. However, on a Nexus One forum, a Google employee said the following (emphasis mine):
Our engineers have uncovered specific cases for which a software fix should improve connectivity to 3G for some users. We are testing this fix now, initial results are positive, and if everything progresses as planned, we will provide an over-the-air software update to your phone in the next week or so. It may be, however, that users are experiencing problems as a result of being on the edge or outside of 3G coverage, which a product fix cannot address.
Verizon has seen fit to ping AT&T on its 3G coverage, but T-Mobile hadn't had something that it particularly wanted to defend itself against. Could T-Mobile be a new target?

It should be noted that Google sells the Nexus One unsubsidized and untied to a T-Mobile contract as well; it does not work on the AT&T network in 3G, however.
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Parking Ticket? There's An App For That

On Monday, Frolicware announced the availability of a new app, that for people who are in cities without much free parking, could be worth the $4.99 price. It's called AutoPark, and it aims to help you not just avoid parking tickets, but also to avoid forgetting where you parked.

Leveraging, quite obviously, the iPhone's GPS capabilities and Push Notifications, AutoPark will not only keep track of the time left on your parking meter, it will let you know when you're approaching its "limits." It will also help you find your car via GPS, if you parked on the street. Parked in a multi-story parking garage, instead? You can enter various information about the location, such as level, slot number, color code, or section into the app.

The app also includes a list of nearby services. Of course, this is frequently duplicated by free apps such as Mango. For now, AutoPark is a little limited in its nearby service list, with just Banks, Gas Stations, and Public Bathrooms. However, they say they will add more services in coming updates.

You can also email your car's location to a friend. Still better, you can include an optional photo with landmarks if you desire.

A lot of these tasks could be filled with built-in apps on the iPhone, like setting a timer, or emailing friends manually with a photo, or even taking notes of your location. This, however, is what the App Store and the iPhone have done to smartphones: these sorts of simple-to-use, very useful small apps are what attract the average consumers to these now-called "app phones."
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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Official Google Voice Web App Reaches The iPhone

Earlier this month, Google said Google Voice (still invitation only) would return to the iPhone. As of today, it has, but only as a web app.

In the middle of last year, not only was the official Google Voice standalone app prevented from reaching the App Store, all the other Google-Voice enabled apps were booted out of the store at the same time. For months, iPhone users have either had to rely on the free GV Mobile app for jailbroken devices, or used the rather unfriendly web interface. GV Mobile's developer, Sean Kovacs, has recently released a new version, GV Mobile+, which is much more advanced than the prior version, but is no longer free.

Users who go to m.google.com/voice on their iPhones will see a whole new interface available (assuming they are logged in, above). The beauty of Google Voice is that it allows you to call from your phone and have the caller ID as your Google Voice number. You can also send text messages as well, and those are free. SMSes, too, will show as coming from your Google Voice number. It also allows you to have incoming calls either go straight to voicemail, or ring your phone, or even multiple phones.

What might confuse some people (if you don't watch Google's video below), is that when it starts to dial it will ask you if you want to connect to some number you've never seen before. That is the Google Voice access number, and it gets around the way you might call using Google Voice otherwise: where both you and the person you are calling are called via the service.

Nicer than before? Sure, but there are things that would be available on a full-fledged app that simply are not available on a web app, which can't integrated with the iPhone natively. For example, you can't access your iPhone's native contacts. If you have all your contacts in Google, via services like Gmail, that might be OK, but it's still annoying.

Since Google is using HTML 5 on this web app, guess what? If they wanted to they could make it work on Palm's webOS on both the Pre and Pixi. In fact, they did, surprisingly.

It's a great move forward, and possibly the only way to move past the App Store's contentious approval process, at least, for users who do not have jailbroken devices. However, those on Android and BlackBerry phones have Google Voice apps that are better-integrated and native apps. There's just so much you can do on the web.

Watch a video demo of the web app below:

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No, Virginia, It's Not A Real iPad Ad

A video has emerged on a French tech website (translation), and quite a few, including VentureBeat, seem to have not taken the simple step of translating the text on the site.

These sites have been trumpeting that this video (below) was an ad for the upcoming Apple tablet PC. However, the problem with that, is that translating the text on the site shows that it's just a concept video for a possible ad. Here's what the last sentence of text in their post translates to (emphasis mine):
In the meantime here's what advertising might look like the shelf if it was finally called iPad ...
While obviously the translation itself needs some work, it's also pretty clear they said "might" and "if."

Here's the video, in case you are interested:

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Monday, January 25, 2010

doubleTwist To Team With T-Mobile On Android Devices

doubleTwist, which Amazon MP3 pegged as their iTunes substitute late last year, has forged a relationship with T-Mobile, as well. T-Mobile, in fact, is now putting the software on all its Android app phones.

doubleTwist was co-founded by DVD Jon, he of iTunes hacking fame. The software understands the various devices it syncs with, which ones takes which format, and converts as necessary. And yes, their web site does say it works with the iPhone, but strangely, only the 3.1.1 firmware, not the current 3.1.2.

doubleSync could, in fact, be useful, but one thing it lacks that could be really great is if it synced, like iTunes does, to the appropriate App Store for a device. Thus, if this were able to run on various devices like and interface with their app stores, like Nokia (OVI), Palm webOS (App Catalog) and more, we would really be talking iTunes replacement.

Still, the fact that doubleTwist is starting to make more of these OEM deals is a good sign, and perhaps will lead to that sort of integration in the future.
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Jobs: Tablet PC To Be "Most Important Thing I've Ever Done"

It's nearly a done deal that the Apple Jan. 27th event will be to introduce a tablet PC, whether it's named iPad, iTablet, iGuide, iSlate, or maybe something completely different. What's come out today, however, is that Steve Jobs, who has already done so much (no matter what you might think of Apple), has said that the tablet is the "most important thing I've ever done."

This hasn't been heard firsthand, but secondhand from several people, so it sounds like the real deal. For someone who's been credited with the ideas / development of the iPod and iPhone, and turned Apple into less of a cult favorite and more of a company that every follows, that's high praise.

Tablet PCs have not taken off, to this point. If Apple can re-define (or just plain define) tablets, it would be another notch in Jobs' belt.

While typical of Apple events, there are only leaks to go on, it appears the Apple tablet PC will have a 10" screen, 3G connectivity (with Verizon or AT&T, or both, the rumors state), a probable front-facing camera, and focus on media such as e-books and viewing multimedia.

Price? Who knows, rumors have been all over the map, but that is likely to be a critical point in the minds of buyers. With an unsubsidized iPhone costing about $600, it's unlikely we would see that price point for the tablet PC. How high will Apple go?
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AT&T To Lose iPhone Exclusivity On Jan. 27th?

Most continue to expect the Wednesday Apple event to center around a new Apple tablet PC. As the invite talks about their "latest creation," it would seem to be about a new device, and not an update. However, is it possible "one more thing" would be the loss of iPhone exclusivity by AT&T?

It's been widely believed, although neither side has ever made it clear, that AT&T's iPhone exclusivity expires this year. Most thought that the exclusivity would extend until mid-2010, as the typical release dates for new iPhone models have always been the middle of a calendar year. A new report, however, seems to indicate that AT&T might lose that exclusivity as early as Wednesday.

The report is unclear as to who any new carriers might be. It also quotes one of those "unnamed sources familiar with the matter" that are usually right about half the time. If indeed AT&T were to lose the iPhone's exclusivity, you would expect AT&T's stock price to plummet right after the words leave Steve Jobs' mouth.

As far as who any other carriers might be, the phone probably wouldn't be offered unlocked, unless you paid in the $500 or higher range. It would seem, also, that since the current iPhone is GSM-only, that the easiest transition would be to allow the phone to run on T-Mobile in the U.S., which would probably only require a minor firmware change.

A version of the iPhone for Verizon, although that's what everybody would love to see, would be a much more difficult task, as Verizon's CDMA network is completely different technology than AT&T and T-Mobile's GSM networks. In fact, as I've said before, if Apple wanted to move to Verizon, it would be better to wait for the bext-gen LTE rollout planned on Verizon (in limited areas, of course). Why? LTE will be across all the carriers, so that will be a much easier way for Apple to extend its iPhone to other carriers.

Also, as CDMA will be a dying technology, I personally wouldn't recommend anyone get a CDMA iPhone, if one were offered, but wait for LTE. Meanwhile, let's also not forget the old adage about the first "model year" of any new item, as a CDMA version of the iPhone would be.

At any rate, it's only a few more days, until we find out what Apple really has hidden up its sleeve.
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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Astronaut Tweets From Space, For Real This Time

On Friday, NASA flight engineer T.J. Creamer, of NASA Expedition 22 aboard the International Space Station (ISS), posted a Tweet at approximately 3:13 AM EST Friday. It was the first ever to be posted directly to Twitter from somewhere other than planet Earth.

It's the word "directly" that is the key. Past astronauts have sent Tweets from space, but they've always been relayed from the astronaut to NASA Mission Control, and then posted to Twitter.

The new system is called Crew Support LAN. It relies on existing communication links to give astronauts full Web connectivity. The crew also has access to e-mail, VoIP, and videoconferencing tools. Of course, you'd have to assume there's a ton of lag, so they'll be no "Counter-Strike" playing from space.

Creamer had a Twitter account from long ago, so there are a number of posts, not just from Friday. Creamers first space post read as follows:
Hello Twitterverse! We r now LIVE tweeting from the International Space Station -- the 1st live tweet from Space! :) More soon, send your ?s
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Mobile Tetris Passes 100 Million Paid Downloads

Tetris, which last year celebrated 25 years of falling bricks, has hit, and passed, 100 million downloads to various mobile devices. -Blue Planet Software, Inc., the company that manages the exclusive licensing rights to the game, and EA Mobile, a division of Electronic Arts Inc., announced the milestone at a press conference on Thursday.

Tetris is, for those not in the know, a simplistic game that involves a player rotating falling geometric shapes made up of bricks to complete and cause rows to vanish. The simplicity makes it an ideal game for mobile devices. It also makes it addicting, as well.

Henk Rogers, CEO of Blue Planet Software, said:
“Tetris on mobile will never go away. As mobile devices get into the hands of more people, so does Tetris. People are always looking for ways to fill their time — be it in waiting rooms or on the bus — and with the advent of touch screens and improved platforms, our eyes are opened to a whole new way to develop games. After Tetris’ success with the Game Boy in 1989, we always hoped that potential would carry over into today’s mobile devices. It’s a testament to the game’s staying power that it remains popular on today’s most modern technology.”
For those wondering, yes, there is an iPhone app for that. There is a $4.99 official version of Tetris in the App Store.

While you're celebrating along with EA Mobile and Blue Planet Software, play a round of two of Internet-based Tetris, on us.


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Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Nexus One Censors Voice Input, @#$ It


One of the cool features of the Nexus One, AKA the Google Phone, is built-in voice recognition. We're not talking about Voice Commands, like "call so-and-so," we're talking about being able to use voice input for virtually anything (like SMS). Of course, while Google may no longer be willing to censor search results in China, voice input on the Nexus One is a different matter.

Reuters discovered that if, for example, you wanted to SMS the sentence "Where the f*ck are you?" to your late friend, the word "f*ck" (which I'm obviously censoring myself) will be instead replaced by #### (the correct number of #s for the word, assuming the Nexus One recognized the word properly). So why, free speech advocates might ask, should the device do this?

Well, the answer is related to my comment above about "assuming the Nexus One recognized the word properly." It's about the device recognizing non-profanity as profanity, not the cursing itself. Google said:
“We filter potentially offensive or inappropriate results because we want to avoid situations whereby we might misrecognize a spoken query and return profanity when, in fact, the user said something completely innocent.

“Ultimately our goal is to return results that show exactly what you said, and we’re constantly working to improve the technology to better fit our users’ needs.”
Anyone who's ever experienced the vagaries of "Call so-and-so" with the response from your phone of "Say a command" will understand where that comes from.

In an attempt to plug a comedy I love, there was a great episode of the new series "Modern Family" this week where Mitchell, speaking about where his father should go and prompted by his car's GPS with "Enter destination," replied "Hell," to which the car replied "Mexican food."

That's a little over 4 minutes into this Hulu video:
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YouTube Video Rentals Go Live, As Google Negotiates With Major Studios

On Wednesday, Google's YouTube announced it was starting to rent videos. The video rental service, for now limited to five films from the Sundance Film Festival (three world premieres at this year’s festival and two audience favorites from last year’s), went live on Friday.

You’ll also be able to find the video, rentable for $3.99, throughout the next ten days by visiting YouTube Movies or by searching. The available films are:
Children of Invention" explores the American Dream as seen through the eyes of a Chinese American family living in suburban Boston.

In "Homewrecker," a prisoner on work release and a live-wire kook take a day-long ride in a seemingly stolen vehicle that neither of them will soon forget.

In "The Cove" an elite team of activists, filmmakers and freedivers embark on a covert mission to penetrate a remote and hidden cove in Japan, and shine a light on a dark and deadly secret.

When humble Linas, kicked off of his friends couch and spurned by his lover, finds a forgotten van on a llama farm outside Seattle, he begins lurching east with nothing to lose in "Bass Ackwards."

In "One Too Many Mornings," Fisher and Pete are two dudes with dude problems -- one drinks too much and one just got cheated on by his girlfriend -- and few prospects of helping each other out.
How do you rent a video? Click on the thumbnail, after which you will taken to a regular YouTube watch page where you’ll find a YouTube Rentals window over the video player. If you’re already logged in to YouTube, and you already have a Google Checkout account associated with that userid / PW, you'll be prompted to buy the movie. Otherwise, you'll need to login and setup Google Checkout. Once rented, you can watch the video for 48 hours.

Meanwhile, Business Week reported that (though it's really no surprise), YouTube is talking with major studios to move the nascent service past the Sundance-only limitation. It's obvious that Sundance is just a trial, and that this is what Google had in mind all along.

After all, while YouTube is the most popular online video site, the Google division has struggled to figure out how to monetize itself. This move toward video rentals is an obvious one. Success is not a foregone conclusion, however, even for YouTube and Google.

Still confused? Here's a video demo:
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