Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

Variation on a Meme

In General, Personal, Tech on October 29, 2008 at 9:02:44 pm


Windows 7

In Apple, Interesting, News, Tech on October 28, 2008 at 1:02:58 pm

I know this post is going to come off all Mac-fanboy-ish, but it must be said.

Jump lists:

OS X’s dock menus:

Window peeking:


New system tray, which users are in control of:

OS X’s menu bar (which I am in control of):

Note: if you’re wondering why there are some funny characters in these screenshots (like the O’s above), I’m mucking around with a system font with an incomplete character set.

OS X is handling these features simpler, more elegantly, and better.


Images from Ars Technica.

Facebook’s New Look

In Interesting, News, Tech on July 19, 2008 at 5:47:26 pm

Facebook has been busy over the last several months working on a new look for the site. While it hasn’t been implemented for users yet, developers have been able to take a test drive of it in the past few months. Click on any of the pictures to view them full-size.

This is what the new profile page looks like. The first obvious thing is that they’ve removed the sidebar, and moved that functionality to the top bar.

Also evident are the new inline editing features. You can now write notes, upload images and videos, and edit posted items right from your profile page, without having to visit the individual application pages. This is a nice touch, and I think it adds some function without appearing cluttered. The rest of the page, however, does look cluttered. They’re trying to present far too much information on a single page. The biggest clutter is of course the mini feed, especially in combination with posted items. They’re far too large, and there are far too many of them. The mini feed should be just that – mini. It should be limited to a maximum of the 10 most recent articles of activity. It’s hopeless.

The functionality that used to be present in the sidebar has now been moved to the top in the form of an Applications menu. It’s handy, but it shows applications I didn’t even know I had. I don’t know what that’s about. The best part about the redesign, however, is the moving of all non-Facebook-created applications to their own dedicated page. At the moment, it’s called “Boxes”, and I could not possibly tell you why. This is a wise move, because all too many of my friends have 100+ applications installed, making the load times for their pages agonizing, and attempts to find their wall prove fruitless. This is a much better solution, save for the wording. If they call it “Applications” everywhere else and “Boxes” in the tabs, it’s confusing. Anyone with a first level of UI design knowledge will say the same.

Other little tweaks include a new video player, and the moving of the search box to the top bar. Check out screenshots in the gallery at the bottom.

All-in-all, I think that this redesign is well-deserved and looks fantastic. I can’t wait until some of the bugs are squashed and it’s finally released.

iPod Touch 2.0 – It’s Here

In Apple, Interesting, News, Tech on July 12, 2008 at 3:48:04 pm

When the iPhone was launched, plenty of people praised how revolutionary the device was (and still is), but most lamented the lack of an official SDK, or provision to install apps. Users and developers were instead told that the best apps for this new, revolutionary device were going to be found on the internet. Most people took this news surprisingly well, but a small group of users decided to work on something better.

What they did was work out a way to install native applications onto the iPhone (and later, iPod touch). This did have a few drawbacks, however. Firstly, it was not, in any way, condoned by Apple, so it voided your warranty if they ever found out. Secondly, it wasn’t exactly easy. Since it was a backdoor way into the iPhone’s OS, there were plenty of hoops one had to jump through to create and successfully run an app on the device. And finally, the apps that did end up being created were often buggy and unstable. Happily, Apple recognized this, and had their own plans.

On October 17, 2007, Steve Jobs published an open letter on Apple’s website, announcing that an official SDK would be made available to developers in February of 2008. In actual fact the SDK was released at the beginning of March, but we’ll gloss over that. This SDK would allow developers to create official apps that would run natively on the iPhone OS. This was fantastic news for users and developers alike. The months passed, several updates to the SDK were released, and then it was July 11. Yesterday.

Yesterday, the iPhone 3G was released, and a whole bunch of people were really happy and lined up at ungodly hours of the morning to be the first to get their hands on its shiny surface. I, however, was more interested in what would be made available for my iPod touch. See, no matter how awesome the iPhone is, the amount of time I spend talking on the phone in a month can barely be measured. So I woke up at 7 AM (it’s summer – that’s early) to try to be the first to get my hands on 5A347 – iPod touch 2.0. It promised official apps, push notifications, Exchange support (not that I need that), and much more. I patiently waited for the link on Apple’s website to become active. But because of millions of iPhone 3Gs all needing to be activated at the same time, the server that powers the download of the software update was getting hammered, and nobody could download it. Hours upon hours passed without the download becoming active, but then, shortly before midnight, it did for me. I paid my $9.95, I waited the 12 minutes it took to download the (massive) update, and I waited the 15 additional minutes it took to install it. I synced my apps and then, I got to testing.

I have to say that one of my favourite features, no matter how mundane it actually is, is the ability to save images from emails and from Safari (shown at left). Just tap and hold on an image and a panel will slide up from the bottom. The image will then be saved to the (appropriately named) Saved Images album in the Photo app. The screenshot feature is also really helpful, seeing as I couldn’t write this post without it.

Another fantastic, and subtle, addition is the bulk editing now available in Mail. I’m an “inbox zero” sort of person, so it comes in handy for deleting all of the “You received a message from [name] on Facebook” emails as quickly as I can.

You can’t talk about the 2.0 update, however, without delving into that great expanse that are the native applications. This is the App Store, as seen on my iPod. I won’t go into detail, because I’m sure you’ve heard enough about it already. It’s pretty simple to get apps – even I can do it. Just tap on the app you want, tap the “Buy Now” button (or whatever it says), type in your password, and it will download and install the app. Simple. I’m going to give you a brief review of a few of the apps I downloaded. They’re all free, because I’m cheap. The title of each app in the reviews is a link to the app on the iTunes store.

My friends aren\'t actually pixellated in real life.

My friends aren't actually pixellated in real life.

The first app review is, of course, Facebook. To be honest, this isn’t a brilliant start. When you first launch the app, you’re greeted by your news feed, to tell you what your friends are doing. The irritating thing is that it only really displays status updates and photo posts. As you can see in the screenshot, over the span of 2 hours, all my friends apparently did was update their status. You can tap your own profile button, but really, what’s the point? You’re really just going to be seeing your 5 most recent status updates, which is rather boring. The Friends button is actually rather handy, because it mimics the regular Contacts application, but it’s all of your Facebook friends. It even has the search-as-you-type feature at the top, and the quick scrolling alphabet on the right side. The best part of the Facebook app, however, is the Chat portion. It is extremely well implemented, and feels native. The message inbox is also fairly decent. But there is just so much missing from this application.

Take a look at the screenshot to the left. It’s basically the entirety of the information you’ll see on any given friend’s profile. Yes, it has contact information, and their mini-feed. Oh, and their relationship status, and you can poke them. Handy, when you’re on the go. But it doesn’t have anything else, really. You can’t see photos of your friends (something you can do in the Facebook for iPhone web app), and you can’t see their wall (another thing that’s on the web app), much less write on it. It’s surprising that these rather rudimentary features were omitted from the native application, because it could be fantastic. As it is, it’s merely mediocre.

The next app is also from a big name organization: it’s the New York Times application. It’s one of the most highly regarded newspapers in the world, for free, anywhere. It sounds great, but it has to be one of my least favourite applications I’ve used, not just on my iPod, or on a mobile device, but anywhere, ever. For starters, it takes ages to load the main screen, even on the fast internet I have at home. Once you give up on waiting for it and just tap on a story (to end the misery), you’ll be even more shocked. One of the world’s biggest newspapers has ads in its application!

I happen to have an account with the New York Times website, so you’d think that there would be somewhere for me to login to eliminate the ads. But you thought wrong – there is nowhere at all to log in. So apparently, they expect you to grin and bear it. Actually, I won’t, and will just use the website itself. In addition, the app itself is buggy, slow to do anything, and has a poor user experience overall. Apparently, the developers of the application weren’t too happy with it either, and an hour after I installed the app, an update was already available. But it still isn’t any better.

Given my experiences so far, I was certain that this update was a flop. The update wasn’t available to download when it was promised, and when it finally was available and I started using it, the apps were pretty awful. I thought all hope was lost. Leave it to Newsgator to pick up the slack though, with their slick app NetNewsWire for iPhone. I use NNW for OS X as my RSS reader on my desktop, and I love it. The brilliant thing about Newsgator’s line of RSS readers is that they keep your feeds and read/unread status synced with the server. It means that I can start reading my feeds on my computer, then go to a coffee shop and pull out my iPod and start reading where I left off. NNW isn’t a revolutionary app. It doesn’t have any shiny buttons, use the accelerometer for cool effects, or use the multi-touch display to control the weather (for example). It’s a simple application, but it does what it sets out to do very well. I highly recommend installing this application, especially if you already use NNW for OS X, or whatever Newsgator’s RSS application for Windows is.

Not one to be outdone, Apple has also stepped into the application ring with their remote control application, uhm, Remote. I must say, this is a very, very cool application in a sort of nerdy way. Basically, if your iPhone or iPod touch is connected to the same WiFi network as your iTunes-running computer or Apple TV, you can control it remotely. There’s an immense nerd-like satisfaction of being able to control your iTunes library from across the house, without looking at the display. Sadly however, this app is so good that it leaves something to be desired when you’re in the normal music/iPod application. The Remote app has support for playlist folders, differentiating between smart playlists, regular playlists and store playlists, and a feature I requested a while back, searching your library. The regular music app has none of these features, and you have to wonder why. Apple should really implement these features in the 2.1 update, or whatever it will be called. There is no reason that they can’t.

What would applications for a device be without games? I found 2 excellent free games that I highly recommend. The first is called Cube Runner. It’s an accelerometer based game which has ridiculously simplified graphics. You’re the arrow, and you’re flying through a field of cubes. Simply tilt your device to steer around the cubes and stay alive for as long as possible. If you’re not ready to spend the $10 for Super Monkey Ball (et. al.), this is a good way to start. My only reservation about this game is that it has a giant bug in it. If you run this app after running other applications (like you would), it restarts your device. If the developer can get that bug fixed, this is a fantastically addictive game, and pretty decent, especially since it’s free.

I’ve saved the best for last. It’s a game from Tapulous called Tap Tap Revenge, and it’s mind-blowingly good. I want to make plain that I wasn’t playing, by the way – I just needed a screenshot. Anyway, it’s a rhythm game like Guitar Hero or Dance Dance Revolution, except you play with your fingers. There’s a single player mode (shown), or a two player mode. They’re going to add the ability to download more songs to play (there are 3 bundled songs, I think, at the moment). Anyway, it’s very, very good, and it’s also free. But, if you like it, do consider donating via Paypal (to I don’t mean to plug, but it is seriously good, and they should really charge for it. Maybe they’re preparing a premium version?

That’s a quick review of some of the applications that have been released. I did download a bunch more, but to be honest, they’re not as interesting as these ones are. Purchase the 2.0 update (if you’re on an iPod – if you have an iPhone, it’s free), and try some of these apps for yourself. You might be pleasantly surprised.

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Why I Won’t Be Buying an iPhone 3G

In Apple, Gadgets, iPhone, News, Observations, Tech on June 12, 2008 at 11:07:01 pm

On June 9th, 2008, at precisely 10:00 AM PST, the world of the bleeding edge technology enthusiasts tuned into their favourite gadget blog to watch the live updates from Steve Jobs’ keynote speech. In the months leading up to this day, these same people speculated on what new and revolutionary product would be unveiled on that very day. Those months were like Christmas Eve. Right up until the very last hour, rumours poured in as to what was being shown by Jobs. Most speculated that an all new iPhone would be revealed. It would be a revolution all over again. Then, after an hour of developers showing off their applications, it finally was shown for the very first time.

Have you ever had one of those Christmases where you scamper down the stairs filled with hope that you got a Playstation, a new iPod, or a new camera — then you do open up all the boxes and are disappointed that you got none of those things? That’s a bit what the unveiling of the new iPhone 3G was like.

Oh, sure, there have been numerous improvements over the old iPhone. Firstly, it’s now being sold where I live, which has to be the most important factor (obviously). Secondly, it now uses 3G cell technology, for high-speed data transfers on the cell network. They also offer a choice of colours on the 16 GB model, include GPS and have dropped the price tag of the device significantly. But there has to be a catch somewhere. Indeed, like everything else, there is.

The new iPhone is cheaper, and it feels that way. The back is now plastic, instead of aluminum. While that means that cell reception is better, it also makes the phone look far less like a luxury product. Interestingly, even though they offer a choice of colours, only the back gets painted, not the face. Which is dumb. Furthermore, the new iPhone 3G doesn’t come with a dock any more, still only comes in 8 GB and 16 GB sizes (there is no 32 GB size, even though there is a 32 GB iPod Touch) and the camera is still only 2 megapixels. Understandably, this phone isn’t designed to be a replacement for a Canon 40D. But for a company like Apple – which always tries to be on the cutting edge – 2 megapixels is hardly satisfactory. Currently, there are several phones with 4 and 5 megapixel sensors. In Japan, Samsung has a camera phone packing a whopping 10 megapixels.

The biggest insult, by far however, is the price. Yes, the iPhone 3G starts at $199 (for 8 GB), and a 16 GB model is available for $299. The pricing for the plans, however, is obscene.

Full disclosure, before I begin: pricing for Canadian plans hasn’t been released yet. Rogers is trying to build up suspense, or something.

The US plan pricing has been released just yesterday. It is apparently about $70 per month for the base plan, which includes 450 minutes, unlimited data, no texts, and 5000 evening/weekend minutes. Here in Canada, it’s safe to assume we’re going to be gypped. If we use the same method as the US idea (add $30 to any voice plan for unlimited data), we find that the same plan will only include 250 minutes, unlimited evenings and weekends, no texts and unlimited data. So, that $70 per month doesn’t go too far. Oh, you get unlimited evenings and weekends, but who will use more than 5000 of those minutes in a month anyway? And you get 200 less of the minutes people actually use.

The worst problem by far is the feel of it. The original iPhone was surrounded by a “wow” factor. You got the feeling that when Apple made it, it wasn’t just for the profits, but rather it was because it was something they genuinely wanted to make. It was unlike anything the world had seen before. It was alien, but that only added to the anticipation. It was one of the most hyped products in modern times, and for good reason. Every time I see someone carrying an iPhone here (unlocked, obviously), it has an immediate jealousy vibe. The new one doesn’t exude this to anywhere near the same degree. The iPhone 3G gives the immediate effect of profit over personality. It doesn’t tug at you the same way the original did.

To summarize (for the “tl;dr” crowd): the new iPhone allows for faster internet access in many municipal areas and has a cheaper initial price tag. It is now cheaper looking, more expensive in the long run, doesn’t have a better camera, doesn’t have a size above 16 GB, and most of all has lost all the original wow factor. Me? I’m going to be saving a little harder and will be buying a Canon Digital Rebel XTi. And maybe a Flip Miro video camera.

I really would like to post to Flickr immediately after taking a photo, however…

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