Tag Archives: iPhone

My Favorite Gadgets: The Top Five

3 Mar

With the iPad 2’s arrival next week, the temptation to buy another gadget rears its expensive head once more. This time I’ll pass. At least until the the device gets handwriting recognition, then I’ll exercise my American Express card.

Forgive me, environmentalists, but I am a gadget addict. Have been for years. I have forgotten boxes of gear stuffed with everything from original iPods and Sony Walkmen to handheld printers and portable scanners. My office is littered with defunct digital cameras and outmoded laptops. I own multiple boom boxes and bicycles as well as telephones and tape recorders. I’ve got…well, you get the idea. If you stripped and sold the copper from the cables, cords, and connectors that came with all my gadgets, you’d probably drive down that commodity’s price by a substantial margin.

At various points in my life, I felt it necessary to have each and every gadget in my home. So, I understand all-too-well the impulse to buy these damn things. But what if I had to pare them down to, say, a mere five items? What would make the cut?

I gave this notion some deep thought recently and whittled my list to these:

5. iMac: I enjoy working on my iMac. It’s fast. The 20-inch display is clear and crisp. It’s everything I want in a desktop computer.

4. Bianchi mountain bike: I can’t always ride in dry weather (This is Oregon, after all.), nor do I always want to pedal on pavement. Going offroad is fun and terrific exercise; something I can only experience cycling with a mountain bike.

3. iPhone: Everyone these days needs a cellphone. Although not a perfect device, Apple’s smartphone is good enough to make my list.

2. MacBook Air: The best computer I’ve ever used. No contest. Lightning fast. Feather light. Decent battery life. A perfect computer for our times.

1. Torelli road bike: I’ve owned this bike for nine years. I have ridden tens of thousands of miles on it. It’s great for 100 mile long, slow trips as well as ten-mile, all-out quick rides. Fact is, if I could only keep one gadget, it would be this machine.

If you had to choose among the gadgets you own, what would make your top five list?


Cyclemeter: A Back to the Future App

20 Jan

Since the 1970s until a few years ago someone always gave me a weekly desk planner for Christmas. They had laid flat on my work area; on one side of the plastic spiral binding was a lovely photo paired opposite with a page for the days of the week, each day having ample room to note the social and work events of my life.

I recently unearthed my 2005 calendar, the last I had used, featuring Heidelberg and published by Braus im Vachter Verlag in the same town. It included some exceptional photographs of the German city by Andrew Cowin. It was a gift from a friend who lives there. My copy was festooned with entries in my scrawl about most of my bike rides for that year. At a glance I could see the weeks when I was active or which ones I was sitting on my butt.

Sometimes in my notations I’d jot down where I went and how many miles. Seeing those entries again made me wish I was more diligent today about keeping track of my rides. Since 2005, however, I have not had a weekly calendar to immortalize my comings and goings. I have migrated my business and personal appointments to software calendars all synchronized on my desktops, laptops, and smartphones. But I no longer make daily notations of my bike rides. As a numbers-obsessed guy, I miss having that information about my bicycle workouts, though I am too lazy to log my rides day-to-day.

Now, with an iPhone app, I’m able to go back to those good ol’ days as I pedal into the future.

Cyclemeter 4.0, an iPhone app from Abvio LLC of San Francisco, collects the data of my rides and automatically tucks it away in my iCal app and syncs it with my iPhone, MacBook Air, and iMac calendars as well as my online calendar at me.com. And it keeps tabs on my rides by the week and month, which is a nice little touch. This feature alone makes the $4.99 price of the app worth every penny.

Cyclemeter is, as with almost every iPhone app I own, effortless to use. There’s no need for a manual or instructions to get going. You tap on the app, it opens to the Stopwatch screen with blank fields and big red “Start” button. Once you click the obvious, you’re on your way and the app is gathering volumes of data for your entire ride.

In addition to the Stopwatch and Calendar soft buttons, Cyclemeter has a Google Maps view of your ride as well as one that lets you see a list of the rides you’ve taken and saved. The More… button gives you another handful of options such as Remote Control, which lets you stop and start the app if your earphone has a remote control feature. You also can send mail and update your Facebook and Twitter accounts with a simple tap of the screen.

While the app launches in Cycle mode, the versatile app also tracks eight other activities, everything from Drive in your car to Walk, Swim, Skate, and more. It is a good general-purpose GPS tool. Because you can organize and track these activities, you can measure how you’re improving in them over time.

Although you can use Cyclemeter while listening to your On the Go music selection with the iPod app, using both is not as straightforward as it is in my MotionX GPS app. And if your earphones do not have a remote control button, getting to and from the music or answering phone calls involves a lot of back and forth between apps.

But for versatility of the device and its unique Calendar feature, Cyclemeter is an exceptional app for people who want to keep records of their active lives. As with the best of tools, it doesn’t just keep tabs of what you do, it motivates you to do them.

Apple’s iTunes 10: An Off-Key Upgrade

8 Sep

Unless you’re a big fan of Ping or have fancy AirPlay speakers, iTunes 10 is a flop. It’s not faster. It does not automatically include existing settings in different albums from previous 9.x versions. And it is much, much less attractive.

Also, at least for me, it introduced a glitch. Since I upgraded my Mac to iTunes 10, every time I connect my iPhone to my computer, for some inexplicable reason, the ImageCapture application launches and stops the syncing process until I close app. There does not appear to be a straightforward way to stop it from happening. (Any help here is appreciated. Image Capture 6.0.1 does not have a Preferences file to fix and the one in iTunes does not offer any help.)

My biggest complaint, though, is the new look and feel of iTunes. Is BORING the new cool at Apple? Have color highlights that help navigate through software been banned by aesthetics idiots at the company? Is making an application more difficult to use considered hip and cutting edge? By comparing version 9 on my wife’s machine and version 10 on mine I’d say Apple responded with a resounding “yes” to all those questions.

Sometimes app developers, particularly on the user-interface side, feel compelled to change things just to rationalize their existence on a payroll. They eschew the famous expression “If it’s ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Instead, they just rush ahead and break things.

I wish I had never upgraded to iTunes 10. My advice to others is to skip it as well.

Mac Users: Stop Being Smug About Security

4 Aug

Apple’s software, especially Safari, QuickTime, and its OS X have all exposed major security flaws to hackers over the years; the most recent being a major problem with its browser that was revealed last month. Still, Macintosh users worry less about security than Windows users do.

But for those Mac fans who also use iPhones, they should start worrying. A lot.

Part of Mac users’ sanguine attitude about security stems from the dearth of malware directed against the platform. Many take comfort in the “security through obscurity” argument, which contends Macs are safer because of a low market share, making them a less popular target for criminal hackers. Why send out your malware to attack 5% of the market when you can release it for the other 95%?

That happy situation for Mac users could be changing because of the iPhone. As recently reported, iPhone (and Android) apps contain malware that steals information on your handheld device. With literally hundreds of millions of these devices shipping annually, they make for a potential windfall for criminals. That’s because instead of stealing your contact list, which may just add to spam problems, these new apps will be ripping off your bank accounts.

The current Consumers & Convergence study released last month by KPMG shows a huge jump by consumers in their use of mobile devices to conduct financial transactions. That means they store bank and brokerage account and, likely, password information on their handhelds, making them ideal playgrounds for illegal exploits.

Further, Apple’s smartphone is becoming more deeply integrated into the OS X core. The company even delivers a single development toolset for both OS X and the iPhone, meaning a security flaw is more likely to affect both your Mac and your Apple cellphone.

This new and more dangerous security landscape makes it imperative for Mac users to let the scales fall from their eyes and see that their online world is just as scary as those who use Windows machines. They need to vet apps more critically before downloading them. They need to keep their software up to date. They need to invest in anti-virus tools. And they need to stop being smug when it comes to computer security.

User Error

6 Jul

My biggest complaint about my iPhone has been its lousy battery life, particularly when using its GPS processor while on three-hour or longer bike rides. I’ve scoured the Internet looking for a practical battery charger that could turn my pedaling into electricity, then I could attach it to my Torelli road bike and connect my Apple smartphone and ride as long as I wanted. No luck.

I was bemoaning my problem to Cathie, my wife, and she suggested I get an extra battery. I answered that, while small, light, and easy to use, the batteries only added a couple of hours of life to my iPhone. I wanted something that could last for those extra long, 100-mile rides that I take occasionally.

She said, “Get two.”

Now my wife has always been a smart gal. She graduated summa cum laude from college, reads more books in a month than most people read in a year, and was running big IBM systems before I ever touched a keyboard. But these might have been the most brilliant, insightful two words she’s ever spoken to me. While I was over-thinking my dilemma, seeking a perfect solution with over-priced and unproven technology, Cathie was solving the problem.

So I went to Best Buy and picked up two Kennsington batteries. They work simply and effectively.

Yesterday I planned a 50-60 mile ride. I launched my iPhone’s Motion-X GPS app, put the batteries in my pocket, and took off.

As happens a lot while I ride, my mind began to wander, distracted by the sights and sounds around me as well as ideas and observations as I pedaled around the fertile farmland of the Willamette Valley. As hour three of the ride drew near, I realized that I needed to add a battery to the iPhone. Too late. It was dead. I should have attached the battery before I left for my ride. Dumb me.

It reminded me (once again) of a comment made back in the 1980s by a UNIX system administrator at Sun Microsystems who was fixing my workstation after I had screwed it up somehow.

“If it weren’t for users, this network would run perfectly,” he muttered.

Indeed, if it weren’t user errors, my toying with technology would be a near-perfect experience.

iPhone 4.0 Upgrade: No Big Deal

28 Jun

There has been no shortage of well-reasoned criticism of Apple’s response to its well-designed/poorly-designed antenna in the latest release of its smartphone. “Just hold it differently” just didn’t work as a fix for those who claimed to be victims of the iPhone 4 maker’s predilection for form over function.

I won’t join that dogpile because Apple’s latest device is not even on my horizon until my iPhone 3G contract and personal budget permit. But I did upgrade my current hardware to the 4.0 software. Took five hours to complete. Net result after five tedious hours?

(Yawn! Huh? You talkin’ to me?)

The big 4.0 upgrade turns out to be no big deal, or even a big 4.fail for anyone other than latest hardware owners. The biggest change to my 3G handset was a somewhat revised view of my multiple e-mail accounts, and it now takes an extra step to launch Location Services from Settings than it once did. So, these inconveniences aside, I don’t see any reason for Apple to inflict 4.anything on its past users. Why steal so many hours of our little lives? What did we do to deserve the company’s ill will?

Maybe because we’re on the wrong side of history. PC history, that is.

In the PC-centric world backward compatibility is a core belief. What Apple is acknowledging with its iPhone 4 software release is a gesture not to abandon the old gear. Give existing customers a limited glimpse into the future with some muted features and enhancements in a upgrade, while buyers of the new hardware get all the bells and whistles. It’s a strategy perfected by Microsoft for MS-DOS, then Windows upgrades.

The problem for Apple, of course, is that the smartphone market is not the PC market. PCs are about commitment to an operating system; mobile devices are about contracts to a service provider. PCs are big and desk-bound; smartphones small and mobile. PCs with their operating systems, software, and data are near-permanent; smartphones are ephemeral, practically stamped with expiration dates.

When I get my next smartphone, whatever make or model, I’ll get my data moved to my new phone, get new apps for it, and start making calls. I may marvel at the device’s cleverness for a while, but my dependency on it compared with my PC is trivial. Despite having the latest and greatest iPhone operating system on my 3G handset, I am not locked-in. It’s not, as they say in the tech business, a mission-critical platform. It’s just a mobile phone no matter how I hold it.

So, why Apple foisted its latest iPhone 4 software on existing users mystifies me. It adds nothing to my iPhone experience. In fact, it was an irritating experience. Instead, to keep me (and others) as a mobile phone customer Apple needs to focus on choice and price, neither of which seem to be at the top of the company’s to-do list.

Location-based Marketing? Get Lost.

13 Jun

Given the state of GPS tools consumers use today, privacy advocates have little to fear from marketing geniuses who want to sell us stuff based on where we happen to be at any given moment. That’s because GPS devices don’t know anything about our position worth a marketer’s time, let alone money.

Take my bike ride yesterday. According to my MotionX-GPS app on my iPhone I hit a high speed of 27.4 mph. However, my Garmin 205 GPS clocked me at a maximum 28.6 mph on the same downhill segment. When I crested the highest part of my ride, the Garmin registered the elevation as 944 feet, while the MotionX product had me 43 feet higher at 987. Once I plotted my ride into Google Earth, the GPS software had me starting my ride from inside my neighbor’s living room not my driveway more than 150 feet away.

Until 2000, the military used technology to render commercial GPS units intentionally inaccurate up to 100 meters. But business interests prevailed and the Pentagon stopped screwing with the data so GPS devices today are said to accurate up to a couple of meters.

Fat chance. That’s not been my experience, nor that of users of Android, Tom-Tom, and other navigational electronics. Maybe the military just said they stopped messing up the GPS info and kept up its interference.

Although I am disappointed that these digital toys are so lame, I am slightly mollified by the fact that marketers salivating over the potential to pinpoint their pitches to where I happen to be standing are doomed. The likelihood that the lure of their longitudinal and latitudinal come-ons will be relevant is laughable today.