All posts by fogview

Did Apple Blink?

Corona Debugger on iPhoneToday, surprising everyone, Apple sent out a press release saying they have changed their developer’s license agreement and now allow third-party development tools for creating iOS apps. This is big news because it clears the uncertainty for third party dev tool manufacturers. Back when Apple first announced the restrictions (in section 3.3.1), it seemed to be aimed directly at Adobe and Flash, but other companies were indirectly affected: Appcelerator, Corona SDK, and GameSalad, to name a few. Ansca Mobile, which makes the Corona SDK, supports both iPhone/iPad and Android apps so they had a fall-back plan if Apple enforced their ban. Today’s press release shows that Apple has listened to the community (and maybe the competition) and is now allowing apps developed by a larger range of tools.  (I think the “we win” photo in the Ansca Mobile’s blog sums up the industry’s reaction to the news.)

From Apple’s press release:

In particular, we are relaxing all restrictions on the development tools used to create iOS apps, as long as the resulting apps do not download any code. This should give developers the flexibility they want, while preserving the security we need.

In addition, for the first time we are publishing the App Store Review Guidelines to help developers understand how we review submitted apps. We hope it will make us more transparent and help our developers create even more successful apps for the App Store

In the past, creating apps using Apple’s development platform (Objective-C) has not been an easy task for developers who had an idea for a great game or iPhone app. Many were Flash developers and wanted an easy way to port over their Flash games to the iPhone (and iPad). Adobe had a solution until Apple announced that apps created with third-party tools would not be allowed because they would be slow and only support a limited set of features on the device. This seemed to be a direct aim at Flash but the wording also affected other tools that used the Lua scripting language for creating apps. Lua is very popular in game developement because it’s very powerful and easy to learn (compared to Objective-C). Lua has been used to create a large number of best selling iPhone apps so it was unclear if Apple would remove them from the Apps Store. There was also no indication that any Lua-based app had been denied/rejected from the App store because it was written in Lua.

Today’s announcement seems to indicate that Apple was struggling with the issue of existing “best selling” apps that may be violating the terms of their agreement. They also may be worried about competition from Android devices that don’t have any app restrictions. Time will tell, but in the mean time I think this is great news for the consumer who will benefit from getting more great apps from developers who felt they were locked out of the iOS App store.

The other item mentioned in the press release is an App Store Review Guidelines to help developers understand how apps are reviewed. In the past this seemed to be “black magic” so hopefully we will get a clear picture on Apple’s review process going forward.


10 Things That Surprised Me About the iPad

iPad on a stand

I know what you’re saying when you read this, “just another iPad review article.” You can find a ton of articles on the web reviewing the iPad, so I thought I would tell you the 10 things that surprised me about the iPad.

I received my iPad by special UPS Saturday delievery and had about 24 hours to play with it. Here are my initial thoughts.

10. It’s heavier than I expected.
Having used the Kindle and the iPhone, I was surprised by the weight of the iPad. It’s feels very solid to hold but feels naked at the same time. It’s almost the same feeling I had with the iPhone. I was very careful handling the iPhone and very careful where I sat it down until I purchased a silicone case to protect the back and sides. The case also provided the added assurance that it wouldn’t slip out of my hand. This will be my first accessory for the iPad

9. You can’t charge it with your computer.
When you plug the iPad into your computer to sync it up the first time, it displays “Not Charging” next to the battery indicator. I know that USB connectors are limited to 2.5 watts (5 volts at 0.5 amps) and the iPad requires 10 watts so they disable charging when plugged into a computer. It would have been nice to allow charging but at a reduced rate instead of disabling it completely.

Update: It turns out that the iPad will charge when connected directly to my iMac or Macbook but does not charge if connected to a USB hub (connected to the iMac) or to a Windows notebook.

8. How well my iPhone apps work on the iPad.
I have a number of apps that I use on my iPod Touch and iPhone and they all works on the iPad. It’s nice to know that my previous investment is safe and I know I will have the option in the future to upgrade to an iPad version of the ones I really want on the iPad.

I did download some free iPad apps and purchased a few apps designed for the iPad and I was very impressed with the quality and how they displayed on the device. It’s amazing what can be done with the additional screen size.

7. How bad my iPhone apps look on the iPad.
Even though my iPhone apps work on my iPad, some don’t look that great. When you launch an app made for the iPhone (480 x 320) it shows up in the middle of a 1024-by-768 screen. This is called 1x mode. You can select the 2x mode which doubles the pixels to nearly fill the screen. Text and some images don’t show up well using pixel doubling. It’s okay but you do notice the difference. If you use an app a lot, I think most users would pay to purchase the iPad version. Some vendors are even offering updated versions of their apps for free that support both the iPad and iPhone/Touch devices. The iPad does remember the settings of each program so if you were using a app in 2x mode, it will start in 2x mode the next time it’s launched.

6. Need for a stylus.
There are a number of design/drawing/sketching apps for the iPad and I found that my fingers doesn’t work well as a stylus. Because of the larger display size, doing  mock-ups or design sketches on the device is going to be big. I find my fingers don’t give me the control I need in creating and moving small objects on the screen. After leaving my Palm Treo and Window Mobile PDAs, I never thought I would be wanting a stylus for my iPad/iPhone device. One example of an iPad/iPhone stylus is the Pogo Stylus.

5. Built in Microphone and Digital Compass.
I guess these items were burried in the fine technical print so I was surprised to find them on the device. I have a few iPhone recording apps that work well with the built-in mic (located at the top left next to the headphone jack) and the sound quality is pretty good.

I was more surprised about the compass since there is no Compass app like on the iPhone. I happen to find it when I ran V-Cockpit GPS which I downloaded for my iPhone. This is a dashboard app that simulates the cockpit of an airplane. It uses the GPS and the compass and I was surprised that the compass heading actually worked (there is no GPS on the iPad). There is a free version that I would recommend to just try it out for the compass and sound effects. This program looks pretty good at 2x.

4. Picture Frame mode.
One of the things mentioned about the iPad is how great it would be as a photo viewer. It has the standard Photo app that has a slideshow mode (just like on the iPhone). What surprised me was the little icon next to the Slide to Unlock when you wake up the iPad. Pressing this icon starts a slideshow of your photo gallery. I can see having this in your iPad dock (a $29 optional accessory) and displaying the slideshow while it’s charging.

3. Need for an iPad stand.
I downloaded the Netflix app and watched a few movies from my Instant Que. It was nice to be able to move from room to room and keep watching the movie but couldn’t find a good way to prop the iPad at the right angle to watch the screen without having to hold it.

The description of the Apple iPad case talks about it folding at the right places to angle the iPad for landscape viewing. It does need something if you plan to watch videos on the device. I did find a pretty good solutions in the housewares department that is used to display single dish plates. I purchased one for around $8 and works great for holding the iPad at a angle in both the landscape and portrait positions. You can see it in the iPad photo.

2. How many smudges it gets.
The display is shinny and bright but after a few hours of use I was surprised how many smudges were on the screen.  The screen is large and when it off it really does show your finger smudges. I also noticed if you use it outdoors in bright sunlight the display is hard to read and the finger smudges show up even when the device is on.  This makes the Kindle a much better book reader if you like to read at the beach.

1. Missing built-in Apps.
The iPad comes with: Mail, Safari, Photos, iPod, iTunes, Calendar, Contacts, Notes, Maps, Videos, YouTube, App Store, and Settings. What’s missing is: Stocks, Clock, Calculator, Compass, and Weather. I realize that these functions can be had with third-party apps for free or a small price but I was surprised when I went to check the weather and “couldn’t find the (built-in) App for that.”

The bottom line (here comes the mini-review): I was very impressed with the iPad and I do think it’s a game changer for comsuming media. I have more to say about the media aspects of the iPad, but I’ll save that for another time.

If you have a iPad let me know how you like and what surprised you.


HP Mini 110 Netbook – Mini Review

HP Mini 110 NetbookNetbooks seems to be one of the biggest “old” technologies for 2009. I say old technology because it doesn’t seem to really offer anything that hasn’t been offered before, except in a smaller size. Under-powered machines have been around since PCs came on the scene back in 1981 (and before).

With that said, I been using one for a couple weeks and find I really enjoy it. So what’s changed? I think it comes down to having the right product at the right time. The right time being the ability to take advantage of the Internet with built-in wi-fi and internet browser.

I think another reason for the popularity of netbooks is that they are not trying to position themselves as your main machine. They are really intended as a secondary machine that you would use around the house or office or to take when you travel.

I’ve been using the HP Mini 110 netbook with Windows 7 Starter edition. I’ve been using Windows 7 on my other machines and decided if I was to get a netbook, it should have Windows 7 and not XP that is offered on some machines. (The HP Mini 110 does come with XP and you can add Windows 7 for about $30 extra).

Here are the main features of my Mini 110:

  • 1.6 GHz Intel Atom N270 Processor
  • 1 GB DRAM
  • 10.1″ WVGA display
  • 160 GB Hard Drive
  • Wi-Fi and RJ-45 Ethernet
  • Webcam with built-in mic
  • 5-in-1 Digital Media Reader
  • 3 USB Ports
  • External VGA Port

I have both Mac and Windows machines (desktops and notebooks) that I use on a daily basis so why do I need “another” computer? There is something wonderful when you get a new computer. It’s so fresh and new and fast. (Fast is not something I would associate with my netbook, but its not that slow). The key is managing its use and the programs I don’t put on it. From my experience machines slow down from “program bloat” — installing too many programs on a machine. These programs take up disk space, desktop space (icon shortcuts), and each one wants to hack away at your registry. All the things that cause the machine to slow down over time. I know there are things you can do to clean up your system, but it’s never the same as a new machine (or reformatted hard drive).

I plan to take a “less is better” attitude to what goes on my netbook. I use it for Internet browsing, Skype and general note taking. I have installed a few utility programs that I can use to remotely manage my client’s websites but I don’t plan to burden it with Photoshop (Elements), Word, or anything else that will bring it to its knees.

So far I’ve enjoyed the experience. From time to time I check in on a number of live video sites, TWIT and Geek News Central, and find the netbook is perfect for that. I can open a session and take the netbook with me as I go to different parts of the house and not miss a beat. If I keep it in the kitchen, it’s there if I need to do a quick Google search and doesn’t take up much counter space. (I don’t need a memory, I have Google :) )

After a few weeks, here are my pros and cons of the netbook:

– Lots of built-in features: 3 USB ports, VGA port, SD card reader, RJ-45 jack, wi-fi, web cam.
– Long battery life: about 6 hours
– Nice keyboard
– Small size

– Speaker sounds tinny. (I use a small portable speaker system when I need better sound.)
– Display is only  1024 x 576 pixels. The 1024 width is fine but the 576 height is a little short for some programs that assume a taller display. I have some programs that don’t resize and I can’t access buttons at the bottom of the screen.

I don’t think the netbook is for everyone and I wouldn’t recommend it as your only computer, but I think it does have it place.  So far this netbook will stay a part of my toolkit and I’ll keep you informed as I use it more.

Happy New Years to all!


Attention: Malware On Your Computer?

“Security center has detected malware on your computer.” Have you ever seen that message pop up on your computer? Have you ever seen it happen over Skype? Well, I’ve received that message three times in the last month as a Skype message. It tells me that my Windows software is infected and I need to install a patch. It even gave me a website (link) to go to to help me install the patch.

Skype Malware Message

I may have fallen for the trick but I don’t know how a Windows patch would fix my iMac running OSX. I don’t run Bootcamp, or Windows in a virtual machine, nor does my iMac know what an .EXE or ActiveX file is. I’m sure if I clicked on this link and installed the patch on my Windows machine, my machine WOULD have been infected with malware! (For now Mac machines may be safer from malware infections but it’s wise to still be careful.)

I’ve written before about being safe on the Internet and not going to sites you don’t know or clicking on links in emails, but this is the first I heard of a message over Skype. If you look at the message box (on my iMac), it doesn’t even say it’s from Skype and the window title says. “Software Updates.”

What concerns me is that many people may fall for this trick. I know most readers of GNC and listener’s to Todd’s podcast are tech savvy enough that they wouldn’t fall for something like this, but what about mom (or dad) or your grand parents who get a web cam for Christmas and install Skype so they can talk to the grand kids? Would they click on this link and install the “patch” if this message box appeared?

Google is trying to find sites that install spyware and root-kit software on your computer, but you can’t depend on this for every “bad” website. Recently there was a SQL-injection virus that infected a large number of websites. The virus takes advantage of PCs running Windows that have not been patched with the latest updates. You don’t have to click on any links to get infected — just visit a site taken over by this malware software. It does this by linking to the site 318x dot com (please don’t go to this site). If you search for 318x dot com using google, the first search listing says “This site may harm your computer.” That because this site has been around for a while and has given enough time for Google’s security bots to find the site and determine that it’s up to no good. Here is the link for the Google Safe Browsing page for the 318X site:

Now back to my Skype message. I mentioned that this is the third time I’ve received this message in the past month. Each time I did a Whois search of the linked website and found that the website was created within one day of when I received the message. The website mentioned in the most recent warning message was created the same day I received the message. This tells me that the author of this warning message is changing the website URL to keep it from being flagged by Google and the security monitoring sites. If you do a Google search for this site it comes up clean. Oh, did I mention that the owner of this site (and the previous two sites) is from Prague, Czech Republic (outside US laws)?

As you visit relatives and friends over the holidays make sure everyone knows about safe surfing on the Internet. Don’t click on links in emails (or Skype message boxes) and make sure to keep your computer’s OS patched and up to date.

Happy Holidays.

73’s, Tom

My iPod Touch Wish List

itouch-imgI was one of the first to get a Zune when it was announced. I also was one of the first to get an iPod Touch. Being first is great but like most “version 1.0” products, you’re left wanting more.

There are rumors that Apple will refresh it’s its iPod line next week and I’m hoping that includes the iPod Touch. I’ve enjoyed my first generation Touch but I wish it did more. In fact I wish it was just like the third generation iPhone, without the phone (and the monthly bill).

Apple, if you’re listening, here is my wish list for a new and improved iPod Touch:
1. Camera. There are rumors this will be included and it would be a killer product if it had the iPhone camera that could do stills and video.

2. GPS and Compass. I realize that the iPhone uses GPS and google maps to show you where you are and you need an internet connection to update the maps, but there are a few turn-by-turn GPS programs that store the maps in the iPhone and don’t rely on a Internet connection. This would be perfect for the Touch. Also, wifi is showing up almost everywhere so I think it still makes sense.

3. Built-in mic and speaker. Yes, I know the 2nd generation Touch has a speaker but I want to make sure it stays in for the 3rd gen (my 1st gen Touch doesn’t have it). A built-in mic means you could use the Touch as a recording device (for voice memos and video), as well as for services like Skype.

4. Music subscription service. I know this isn’t specific to the iPod Touch, but since you are rumored to be coming out with big announcements, why not shock everyone and offer a monthly fee for a service that gives you unlimited (DRM-encoded) music (similar to what Microsoft offers for the Zune). That would really take the thunder out of the pending Microsoft Zune HD release.

5. Approve Google Voice application to run on the iPhone/Touch. Oh sorry, this is for a different blog post.

So, 09/09/2009, is the big day and I can’t wait to see what Apple announces. What is on your wish list for Apple announcements?

73’s, Tom

An Unusual Fish Finder

CIMG1748 I was out running on the levee this morning and a small fishing boat zoomed by with a man and a small  dog. I watched as the dog ran to the front of the boat, started barking and then turning in circles. The man immediately stopped the boat and dropped his fishing line into the water. The dog was still barking and watching the water. A minute later the man pulled out one fish and then another. This went on for a few minutes and then the man and dog took off for another site unknown.

So what does this have to do with tech? It just goes to show that some times the best solution is not always the latest high tech gadget, and can be something as simple as man’s best friend.

73’s, Tom

Camtasia for Mac

Techsmith released version 1.0 of the long awaited Camtasia for Mac last week. Camtasia is a program that allows you to capture screen videos on your computer. If you ever watched a software product demonstration video, you’ve most likely seen a screencast made by Camtasia if it was for a Windows product.

I’ve used Camtasia for Windows for years but haven’t made the switch to a screencast program for the Mac. There a few Mac programs that do screencast like ScreenFlow and iShowU, etc., but I never got around to trying them.

Over the weekend I decided to downloaded the 30 day trial version of Camtasia. My conclusion is that it’s a very good 1.0 program. There were a few glitches but overall I was able to create a demonstration screencast and add the special effects in post production.

If you have ever worked with video editing software you will be comfortable with Camtasia for Mac. The program doesn’t have all the bells and whistles as Camtasia for Windows, but it has enough to allow you to create a decent screencast video. It has transitions for movement between video clips and actions to allow you to focus in on specific areas of the screen. It uses a familiar timeline that allows you to place and rearrange your clips and even drag in other videos or images.

The one thing I noticed that was different from other screencast software I used is you record your entire screen and crop and position what you want your viewers to see (or not see) in post production. I thought it was a good feature but also a frustrating one when I tried to wrap my head around cropping portions of the screen and trying to fit the remaining image into my canvas size. (You need to set the canvas size before you start recording because that determines the output size.) If you enable the Mac’s internal (or an external camera), it captures that as well as your screen. You can then move and position (or hide) the camera video as needed in post production.

I did find a few problems with the program. First, some of the tool-tips were not correct. The tip for Fly In/Out transition said that it flies in from the left and out to the right, when it really flies in from the top. The text alignment (left, center, right, justify) didn’t seem to work at all.

The major problem was when I tried to split the camera video. In my test video I had myself speaking before showing the desktop with the firefox brower page. The default recording has the video camera in the lower right hand corner of the screen. For the first part of the video I wanted myself centered in the screen and bigger. I split the video where I wanted the transistion and move the clips around so the camera video was visible and the browser video wasn’t. I centered the camera video and enlarged it. When I played back the video, my camera video clip was showing a portion of the desktop instead of me. If I separated the video clip from the following desktop clip, everything worked correctly (except for a gap between clips). My work-around was inserting a static frame between the two clips. I’m sure this will be something they will fix in version 1.01.

Camtasia for Mac sells for $99 and will go up to $149 after the introduction period is over. My recommendation is to download a 30 day trial of Camtasia if you have a Mac, and try it for yourself. I would also recommend checking out the great tutorial videos on the website.

Check out my first Camtasia screencast where I go through a demo of the Blubrry website and show off some of the effects you can do in post production.

73’s, Tom