Tag Archive | "apple ios"

Samsung Galaxy Nexus: The Closest I’ve Come to Switching to Android

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I’ve been using the iPhone for three generations now — starting with the iPhone 3G, then the iPhone 3GS, and finally the iPhone 4 which is my current companion. I’m finally due for an upgrade and I must say that I’ve come closer than ever before to picking an Android phone (specifically the Galaxy Nexus) over an iPhone, but it just wasn’t meant to be and I’ll explain why. Be sure to note that what’s important to have in a phone for me might not be the same for you; I’m just laying out my thoughts here as to why the Galaxy Nexus has been the phone that has come the closest to tempting me over to Android.

Android 4.0

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich feels like the first truly full package in the history of Android. Finally there’s good hardware acceleration and enough performance for a nearly smooth home screen. This hasn’t quite translated over to all apps just yet. Android finally seems to have all of the vital default apps and has long included a turn-by-turn navigation app that blows Apple’s Maps app out of the water. Google just launched the Chrome Beta browser which offers a rich browsing experience which should have been included in Android long ago. Photos can now be robustly edited right in the gallery without scouring the Android Market for the right app. Home screen folders are extremely fast and a pleasure to use, while resizable widgets further the level of flexibility and customization. There’s better battery and data analysis, and much more. This has all come together in bits and pieces over the last few years as Android has grown, and 4.0 is the first time it feels like a complete package to me.

The saddest part about all of this is how hard it is to get your hands on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Google has crafted this seemingly complete package, but less than 1% of users have access to it right now! I’m actually limited to the Galaxy Nexus if I want a top-end phone that also runs Android 4.0 at the moment.

Camera

The camera app in Android 4.0 is super fast in both launching and taking consecutive photos. Unfortunately, I still find that all Android handsets that I’ve tested have lacked in camera quality (for both stills and video) when compared to the iPhone 4, often despite higher megapixel ratings. For me, camera quality is more important than speed. The new panorama mode in the Android 4.0 camera app is neat, but I find that I can achieve better results by taking individual photos, then stitching them together on the computer. It’s a shame that Nokia never got into the Android ecosystem as they’ve long been heralded as having some of the best optics in the mobile industry.

The iPhone 4S camera is supposed to be even better than the iPhone 4 camera with 8MP instead of 5MP and reworked optics. If I can achieve photos like the following with the iPhone 4, then I’m looking forward to what the iPhone 4S has to offer:

Notification System

I’ve said it before and I think it’s still true today: Android is the best at managing notifications, while iOS is the best at delivering them. Between Android 4.0 and iOS 5.0, Android absolutely wins when it comes to managing notifications — you can toss away individual notifications or dismiss them all at once if you’d like. Tapping on a notification takes you directly to the item you are being notified about. All of this is better than how iOS does it. However, Apple’s push notification system is best in class. I don’t understand why Google doesn’t have push Gmail through the official Gmail app. Side-by-side with the Galaxy Nexus, my iPhone 4 shows changes to my inbox almost instantly, while the Galaxy Nexus doesn’t do anything until significantly later, unless manually refreshed. I can literally receive, respond to, and be done with an email on my iPhone 4 before it even arrives on the Galaxy Nexus. For some people, getting notifications instantly isn’t a big deal, but as someone who works on the web it’s a big advantage and one that I can’t easily give up.

Screen Size

If you follow Carrypad regularly, you’ll know that I’ve got some gripes with 4″+ screens. One-handed usability is important to me because I’m frequently on the go. The 3.5″ screen of the iPhone (all versions of it) is far more comfortable in my hand than anything 4″ and above. The Galaxy Nexus, at 4.65″, is just too big to be used comfortably in one hand for me. Everyone’s hands are different sizes, so everyone has a different limit, but with the massive-screen fad that’s been growing in Android over the years, it’s almost impossible to get a top-end Android phone in a size less than 4″. If the Galaxy Nexus came in any size 4″ or less, I’d be far more inclined to pick it over the iPhone 4S.

Customization

This is one of Android’s greatest strengths, but it always runs the risk of being over-complicated. I’m the kind of person who loves to tinker with their gadgets and get them to work just the way I’d like. On the iPhone, this urge is satisfied with jailbreaking, which enhances the customizations you can make on iOS, but it’s not much compared to what you can do on Android. With Android 4.0 on the Galaxy Nexus, I can fit tons of apps efficiently on one page with folders. On other screens, I’ve got at-a-glance access to my calendar, weather, inbox, and music player. It’s nice to be able to do much of what I need to right from the homescreen instead of jumping through hoops between apps. This category is a major win for the Galaxy Nexus.

Apps

There’s no denying that there are some great apps on Android, but Apple’s iOS App Store still has a greater number of apps than the Android Market. When we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of apps in each store, the aggregate hardly matters. Where iOS has the real advantage is in quality and consistency. Because Apple has strict guidelines, most apps are intuitive and work well without crashing. When it comes to apps from the Android Market, you might have two great apps, but they might have two completely different interface approaches — one app trying to emulate an iOS-like ‘everything on screen’ style and the other trying to do the Android thing by hiding features away in long-presses and hidden menus. Alone, each of these is arguably as good as the other, but when you have to jump between apps that go back in forth in their interface approach, the user interaction aspect of it becomes increasingly convoluted, and this is something I quite dislike.

Availability

If everything above held an advantage for the Galaxy Nexus, there would still be one huge issue for me choosing it over the iPhone 4S — availability. I’m on AT&T, and the Galaxy Nexus is decidedly not available for purchase. AT&T has not one Android 4.0 ICS phone available at the moment, which means the best I could do is buy one of the top-end Android phones then wait and hope that it would receive an ICS upgrade. If Google thinks the Galaxy Nexus and Android 4.0 is such a great pair, they’ve got to do a better job of making it available for people to actually purchase it. The only way for me to actually get my hands on the Galaxy Nexus would be to switch carriers or buy an expensive unlocked version of the phone without a subsidy from my carrier.

So, Google, you almost had me on this one, but unfortunately I’ve made up my mind to continue with the iPhone — for now anyway. Fix the stuff above that needs it; you’ve got two years to work on it before there’s another chance to convert me.

iOS 5 Pro? 12 More Tips/Tricks You Probably Don’t Know

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iOS 5 just launched earlier this month, and based on the popularity of my article the other week, which focused on actual honest-to-goodness iOS 5 tips and tricks beyond the painfully obvious “you can send iMessages!” variety, I’ve created a new list with an additional 12 obscure tips/tricks. Again, a few of these are not iOS 5 exclusive, but most are. If you’re a brand new iPhone 4S user and didn’t know any of these, don’t fret… these are pro tips. My goal here is to have provided experienced iOS users with, at very least, one new thing they didn’t already know about iOS. Did I succeed, or are you some sort of iOS trivia prodigy? Let me know in the comments, and if you’ve got any other off-the-beaten-path iOS 5 tips/tricks, please share them!

12 More iOS 5 Tips/Tricks:
  1. Week Weather View In Notification Center — If you are using the Weather Widget in the iOS 5 notification center, you can swipe it to the right or left to reveal weather for the next 6 days. You’ll be able to see High/Low temps, as well as anticipated conditions (sunny, cloudy, etc). Apple decided not to make it clear that this widget swipes to the side for this additional view, so don’t blame yourself if you missed it, I did initially as well!
  2. Swipe From Camera to Photos — This is a new obscure hidden gesture added in iOS 5; Apple doesn’t make any effort to indicate that it is there (much like #12 on the other iOS 5 tips/tricks post). If you’re in the Camera app, you can swipe to the left to slide the camera away and go to your most recent photo. You can swipe through your photos, and if you swipe back to the front, you can swipe to the camera again to continue snapping photos. This is almost no different from tapping the thumbnail at the bottom left of the app to get to the most recent photo. Oddly enough, you can’t swipe from your most recent photo to the camera if you go through the thumbnail, instead of using the swipe gesture from the camera. Apple, sometimes you are bizarre.
  3. Launch Camera Directly from Lock Screen — Apple touted this during their iOS 5 announcement, but people were confused because Apple initially demonstrated the camera button button as being directly on the lockscreen. However, the button wasn’t directly on the lockscreen when iOS 5 actually reached consumers. Don’t worry though, they didn’t remove it. Just double-tap the home button while on the lockscreen and you’ll find the button to launch straight to the camera. If you never knew of double tapping on the lockscreen before, you’ll also find playback and volume controls which have existed prior to iOS 5. Nifty.
  4. Lock Camera Exposure and Focus — Prior to iOS 5, Apple relied on third-party apps to implement this sort of functionality, but they’ve finally decided to bake it right in. You can now lock the exposure and focus level within the native camera app by doing a long-press on the screen (as opposed to tapping). Hold it for a second or two and you’ll see the focus square do a little dance. Let go and you’ll find that the focus and exposure have been locked as indicated by the “AE/AF Lock” text at the bottom of the viewfinder. Tap again anywhere on the screen to unlock and return to automatic mode.
  5. Use the Volume-up Button to Take Photos — Another Camera app addition as of iOS 5. When using the native app, you can opt to press the volume-up button to snap a photo. There’s no on-screen indication that this should work, so if you didn’t already know about it, or hear it from someone else, you’d probably only discover it by accident. I feel bad for the developers of the Camera+ app: Apple doesn’t allow third-party applications to rebind hardware buttons, but the developers of Camera+ actually sneaked this same ability passed Apple in their Camera+ app. After reports of this Easter egg found their way to Apple, the app was pulled from the store, only to have Apple include the functionality in their own Camera app as of iOS 5! Never let anyone tell you that Apple isn’t a bully.
  6. Custom Keyboard Phrase Shortcuts — Find yourself regularly typing a specific phrase in SMS, Email, IM, or somewhere else on your iOS device? You can turn that long and commonly typed phrase into something much more manageable with a new iOS 5 feature. For instance, you can have the letters “omw” be replaced automatically with “on my way”. To do this, go into the Settings app > General > Keyboard, and look at the “Shortcuts” section. Tap “Add New Shortcut” to define the phrase and the shortcut text. Next time you type the shortcut text, the phrase will automatically be inserted. Now you can finally stop repeatedly typing out, “Honey, I lit the house on fire, again.”
  7. Custom Vibrations for Contacts — Custom ring tones and text tones have been available prior to iOS 5 but they don’t do you much good if you always have your phone on vibrate. With the latest update, you can assign custom vibrations to specific contacts so that you know who is contacting you even before you get your phone out of your pocket. Unfortunately this only works for calls and not other notifications (SMS, email, etc.). There are a few predefined vibration patterns, and Apple has even included an easy way to create your own vibes. You’ll find this option in the accessibility section, as I’m sure you can imagine how it would be useful for someone who is deaf and blind. To enable custom vibrations, go to the Settings app > General > Accessibility > and turn the “Custom Vibrations” switch to on. Now go to your Contacts app, choose a contact, hit the edit button at the top right, and tap the “vibration” option. Here you can select from pre-defined vibration patterns, or scroll to the bottom and press “Create New Vibration” within which you can tap and hold on the screen to create any pattern you want.
  8. Access the Built-in Dictionary From Any App — Apple originally included a handy “define” functionality in their iBooks app, which allowed you to highlight any word in a book and get a definition. In iOS 5, they have expanded this dictionary to be system-wide. In any app that allows you to highlight words, you can hold your finger on a word to highlight it, then tap the “Define” button that pops up from the resulting menu. Now you’ll finally understand why everyone keeps telling you that your epidermis is showing.
  9. Enable Battery Percentage — This is an old one, but still seems to go unchecked by newbies and experience iOS users alike (probably because it’s hidden in a weird place). Despite the high resolution screen on the iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, and iPod Touch (4th gen), it seems like the default battery icon only has 3 states: Full, half, and OMG YOUR PHONE IS ABOUT TO DIE. Instead of relying on these imprecise icon stages, wouldn’t it be much nicer to have a handy % indicator? Go to Settings > General > Usage > and flip the “Battery Percentage” switch to on. Voila! No more freaking out when you actually have a solid 20% battery life left.
  10. See Which Apps are Hogging Your Storage — This is a new feature for iOS 5 and it’s particularly handy for when you are crammed for space and can’t decide what apps are worth deleting. Some apps are dubious because they themselves are only small downloads from the App Store, just a few megabytes or so, but then they may download or accumulate hundreds of megs worth of data during their operation. To find out which apps are taking up the most space, go to Settings > General > Usage and note the “Storage” list. You’ll see your applications tallied based on how large they are, and this figure includes accumulated data. Without including accumulated data, I would have thought that Photosynth was a relatively small app at 7MB; turns out it’s now taking up 147MB total! Now I’ll be much more informed about which apps I should delete when space is low and you will too.
  11. Enable Emoji Icon Keyboard for Free — Emoji icons are a standardized list of hundreds of emoticons which are popular on handsets in Japan, but that won’t stop them from being used elsewhere. I’m very confused as to why Apple allows paid apps in the App Store which claim to “install” Emoji icons when they are built into the phone for free. You can easily enable the emoji keyboard by going to Settings > General > Keyboard > International Keyboard > Add New Keyboard > find and tap “Emoji” in the list. Now when you go into any app that uses the keyboard, you can press the globe icon at the bottom left to switch between your standard keyboard and the emoji keyboard, which has all of the icons sorted neatly into categories. If you get tired of the emoji keyboard, remove it by following the same steps, except use the “Edit” button at the top right of the Keyboard menu.
  12. Invert the Screen Colors as a Prank (or because it looks awesome) — With the proliferation of iOS devices, iOS pranking has become a reality among friends. I usually like to take a screenshot of the homescreen and set it as their background, but this particular tip that I’m about to share with you seems perfect for Halloween. This is another accessibility option, and I’m presuming that it helps provide better contrast to those who have exceedingly poor eyesight. It also looks rather cool and will frighten your friends who may think their device is on its way out the door. Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > flip the “White on Black” switch. Enjoy.

Think You Know Everything About iOS? Test Your Mettle Against These 13 iOS 5 Tips/Tricks

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iOS 5 launched on the 12th, and new iPhone 4S owners will be greeted with Apple latest OS when they receive their phones today. I’ve seen far too many “iOS 5 Tips/Tricks!” articles today that feature nothing but obvious things like “you can tweet stuff!” or “look there’s a notification center!”.  So I’ve compiled a list of some actual iOS 5 tips and tricks, and I’m hoping that at least one of these is brand new to you. Most of these are iOS 5 specific, a few are oldies, but hopefully still new to you. Check it:

    1. Open in background in Safari – though I’m still annoyed that Apple only brought tabbed browsing to iPads running iOS 5, leaving the iPhone and iPod Touch out in the rain, they fixed one of my major browser annoyances by allowing you to open pages behind the one you’re currently viewing. Annoying, you need to enable this through the Settings app, but it’s there none the less. To turn it on, go to Settings > Safari > Open Links > select ‘In Background’. Now when you go into Safari, you can hold down on a link to get a list of options, one of which is ‘Open in Background’. Click it and you’ll see the link jump into the window button, and it’ll open in the background without making you watch that slow window-opening animation!
    2. Private Browsing in Safari — It isn’t hard to theorize why Apple didn’t parade this option around when they unveiled iOS 5, but you can enter into a ‘Private Browsing’ mode in Safari, for whatever your purposes might be. Again, this is annoyingly activated through settings, instead of being easily toggled from within Safari itself. To turn it on, go to Settings > Safari > and flip the ‘Private Browsing Switch’. When you toggle this switch, you’ll be prompted to keep all existing windows or close them.
    3. Use the Flash LED as a Notification Light – I’ve always enjoyed testing Android devices that have notification LEDs because with my iPhone, I’m constantly flicking the screen on to check for new notifications. Of course, Apple will probably never add a flashing notification LED because they probably wouldn’t think it pretty enough for their precious iPhone. If they ever add such an LED, you can bet your bottom dollar that it’ll pulse gently, not flash. It’s an Apple thing. And because Apple is… Apple, I was surprised to find that they added the option in iOS 5 to use the camera’s LED flash as a notification light. It isn’t exactly as it seems though… Apple added this as an ‘Accesibility’ option, an effort to help disabled people use their devices more easily. But hey, that won’t stop you from using this feature. To turn it on go to Settings > General > Accessibility > and turn on the ‘LED Flash for Alerts’ option.
    4. Week View in Calendar — This one is downright confusing, and there’s no one to blame but Apple. By default, across the bottom of the Calendar application, you can see the options to switch between the List, Day, and Month views. As of iOS 5, you can rotate your device and see your schedule in a Weekly view. Pretty neat, but unnecessarily hidden if you ask me.
    5. Hourly View in Weather — Also an iOS 5 addition, you can now get by-the hour weather for the current day from the native Weather app. Go into the weather app and tap anywhere on the current weather card. You’ll see the ‘Hourly’ text under the location name light up, and you’ll get the view of 12 hours of upcoming weather for that location.
    6. See Specific Stock Prices in the Stocks App — If you’re a serious investor, I’m doubting that you’re using the native Stocks app, but if you’re a weekend trader, it might get you by. I’m actually not sure if this is an iOS 5 addition, but it’s handy none the less. Go into the Stocks app, rotate to landscape view to get a larger graph, then run your finger along the grab. You’ll be able to see specific prices for that stock at any point along the graph. The Stocks app also updates live now, so you can watch the price as the trading day progresses. Don’t forget that you can swipe between your stocks while in the large-graph view.
    7. Print Map Directions — Sometimes, having a backup paper map will save you from the dreaded dead battery situation. In iOS 5, you can now print directions from the Maps application which is pretty cool if you’re configured an AirPrint printer. To print directions, go to the Maps app, get yourself some directions (or as Siri to do it) then hit the ‘peel’ button at the bottom right corner of the app. The map will peel away, revealing some additional options, one of which is Print. From there, you can specify how many copies you want, and which printer you want to print to.
    8. Put Newsstand into a Folder – If you have no use for the new Newsstand app that comes along with iOS 5 and are annoyed that you can delete it like other apps, it has been discovered that you can actually trick it into going into a folder. To accomplish this, start with any 2 apps on the home screen (make sure Newsstand is on the same page. Hold down on one of the apps to get them to wiggle. Drag either of the two apps onto the other and drop it. A folder will be created, and right after you drop one app on top of the other, drag Newsstand into the folder. If you time it right, it’ll slide right in, like a good app. Do not click on Newsstand when it’s in a folder, it will cause your Springboard (technical name for the home screen environment) to crash. This isn’t a big deal as it will restart momentarily,  but it’s not something you want to happen if you’re in the middle of something important. The source of this solution appears to be from Coding Massacre, so credit to them! I can only hope Apple doesn’t fix this bug with a later update to iOS 5, because I’m doubting I’ll use Newsstand at all.
    9. Send More Than One Photo at a Time Through SMS or iMessage — This isn’t new to iOS 5, but it’ll be even more handy now that the messages will start flying with iMessage, which did indeed come along with iOS 5 (it also works with SMS and email). If you try to attach a photo to an SMS or iMessage, you have to select them one at a time. If you want to send a bunch at once, launch your Photos app, hit the square/arrow button at the top right after going into an album, select the photos you want, then hit Share, then Message at the bottom. Now you can enter your friends name at the top to send via SMS or iMessage (or hit the email option instead of message to send by email).
    10. Minimize the Keyboard in the Messages App — Apple finally gave us a way to minimize the keyboard in the Messages app as of iOS 5. Prior to the update, you couldn’t minimize the keyboard once you brought it up (this doesn’t apply to iPad users as they have a minimize keyboard button on every app!). Now when you go to scroll up to read previous parts of a conversation, the keyboard will minimize automatically. Thanks Apple… it’s about time.
    11. Create New Calendars and Photo Albums on Your Device — Now that Apple has ‘cut the cord’, allowing iOS 5 (and beyond) devices to run without the need of a computer, they’ve tried to move some of  the computer stuff onto the device. Now you can create calendars directly on the device (which will be synced to iCloud), and you can make your own Photo albums, which was always a pain to have to do through the computer. Photo Albums are a bit iffy as you can’t put a photo in an album then delete it from your camera roll. If you do try to delete it from the camera roll, it’ll be deleted out of the album too. I suppose this will be handy for people who use AirPlay to show slideshows on their TV. To make a new calendar, go into the Calendar app and hit the ‘Calendars’ button at the top left. Then press the ‘Edit’ button, also at the top left. Now you’ll find the ‘Add Calendar…’ option in the iCloud section. If you can’t see this option, you probably don’t have iCloud enabled (you can do this through your Settings app). To create a photo album, go into the Photos app. Go to the Albums view and press the ‘Edit’ button at the top right. On the left, you’ll see an ‘Add’ button and which will prompt you to give your new album a name, then ask you to add photos to it.
    12. Album Art Swipe Gesture – This is one of the least known iOS tips I know of. I came across it completely by accident. It’s existed long before iOS 5. I may have discovered it back when I got the first-gen iPod Touch (yeah, like pre-App Store). It’s really not that useful, and you wouldn’t think it would be used that often, but for some reason I seem to use it all the time when navigating my music library. If you’re in the Music app on the Now Playing screen (you’ll see album art and play/pause controls at the bottom), instead of pressing the little arrow at the top left of the screen to go back to the library view, you can swipe to the left on the album cover and it’ll take you back to library view. Again, this isn’t anything revolutionary, but it’s so strangely hidden that I wonder if Apple even remembers that it’s there. Whatever the case, I use this gesture every time instead of hitting that little arrow button.
    13. Change Font in Notes – I don’t tend to worry too much about fonts, but if you’re a font fiend like my pal Dante Cesa from Engadget, this may be of interest. You can toggle through a whopping three different fonts for use in the native Notes app. With a whole three to choose from, I know you might just lose your mind trying to decide, but hey, you can always flip a coin or something. I think I’ll go with Helvetica.
So there you have it folks, 13 fine iOS tips, many of which are new to iOS 5. So how did I do, did I manage to stump you on a tips you didn’t know about prior? Or do you have some incredibly unknown iOS or iOS 5 tip that you want to share? Drop a line in the comments!

Hey Apple, iOS 5 Needs Newsstand for Podcasts!

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ios 5 podcastiOS 5 was introduced in June, and shortly thereafter, we noted that Apple completely ignored making the much-needed upgrades to their podcast support.

iOS 5 was announced 5 months ago and went through 8 beta releases, and yet podcast support has remained completely untouched. Sure, podcasts are free (which is probably why Apple isn’t paying attention to them), but come on, Apple! You’ve build a perfect model of how podcasts should work, but you did it with digital periodicals instead!

Apple’s new Newsstand application, which is part of iOS 5, allows users to purchase periodicals through the App Store, which will then go to the Newsstand (which is like a little folder on your home screen to hold those purchases). By purchasing such periodicals, you are purchasing a subscription. The function of Newsstand is to automatically download the latest version of your subscriptions, in the background, and without your intervention. This is exactly what podcasts are lacking!

Not only has podcast support not been strengthened in iOS 5, it’s actually been reduced in a way. Previously, you could subscribe to podcasts through iTunes on your computer, and the latest episode would be put on your iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch when you performed a sync. Now that Apple has “cut the cord” with iOS 5, allowing devices to be configured and used sans a computer, there is no longer any native option to subscribe to podcasts for devices configured this way!

Many of you might say “well, just go find an app”, but unfortunately that isn’t an option. As with other apps, Apple sometimes cheats with their own applications — any normal third-party application cannot download such files in the background, or make background checks for new subscriptions. This means that if we are to get reasonable podcast support in iOS 5 or beyond, it is up to Apple to provide the functionality.

While you can see and listen to any podcast available on iTunes through the iTunes app on any iOS 5 or prior version of the software, there is absolutely no way to subscribe or have new episodes downloaded for you (aside from the half-baked sync method which requires a computer and manual syncing). It’s up to to the user to go into the iTunes app, search for their favorite podcast, then check the dates to see if a new episode has arrived.

I find it hard to believe that it would be that difficult for Apple to employ a podcast subscription solution similar to what they’ve done with digital periodicals with Newsstand. Hell, they might even be able to find an extra revenue stream by allowing podcast authors to charge for subcriptions to their shows, or to include iAds in podcasts.

As I said in my prior article on podcasts and iOS 5, “for a company that invented the product that is the namesake of the term, Apple has done a paltry job of handling podcasting on iOS devices.”

Minecraft Pocket Edition Hits the Android Market Along with a Demo, iOS Version in the Works

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Minecraft, the breakout indie game that’s sold more than 3.5 million copies even though it isn’t out of beta, launched a ‘Minecraft Pocket Edition’ version of the game which had an exclusive home on the Sony Xperia Play… until now. Today Minecraft Pocket Edition is available on the Android Market and ready to be installed on the Android 2.2+ phone of your choice so you can get your ‘craft on, mobile style.

Mojang, the company behind Minecraft and Minecraft Pocket Edition, has put together a little trailer to announce the non-exclusive availability of the game. The video features someone playing Minecraft PE while using the toilet which, if we’re being honest, is probably where it’s going to find great application.

The desktop version of Minecraft is still in beta and sees updates on a fairly regular basis. Mojang says that the current release of Minecraft Pocket Edition is focused on the core creative part of the game, and they plan to keep regularly updating the game, just like the desktop version. Presumably the survival portion of the game will be added at some point with such updates. Currently, it’s possible to have other Minecraft Pocket Edition players join your game world for some multiplayer fun, but they must be on the same WiFi network. Unfortunately, the multiplayer functionality of desktop Minecraft and Minecraft Pocket Edition are not compatible.

Mojang also put up a video of Minecraft Pocket Edition being played so you can see how the touch control work. They don’t look half bad, but it makes me wonder if it’d be possible to hook up a bluetooth gaming controller (like a PS3 controller, perhaps) to be able to play the game more easily.

Good news for anyone who either has no idea what Minecraft is all about, or is weary about dropping $6.99 for the game before knowing that the touchscreen controls are decent: there’s a Minecraft Pocket Edition demo that’s available for download right here.

Mojang says that they’ve also got an iOS version of Minecraft Pocket Edition in the works, though they’ve not shown any public demos or announce a launch date at this point.

If you’d rather read your way to enlightenment, I can tell you that Minecraft is a lot like like a world made out of Legos… with zombies and monsters that come out at night and try to kill you. The world is randomly generated which means you’ll never ran out of new land to explore. Minecraft Pocket Edition is currently lacking the monsters and the resource management aspects of the game (the ‘survival’ part I was talking about earlier). At this point in its development cyclce, neither desktop Minecraft of Minecraft Pocket Edition have any particular goal or way to ‘win’ the game. Just like Legos, creativity is key.

Apple iPhone 5 Event Confirmed for October 4th

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Some of the big name tech media have just received invitations from Apple for an iPhone press event to be held on October 4th, at which Apple’s iPhone 5 is expected to be announced. The invitation image shows the brilliance of Apple marketing. Yes, this is marketing. They market extremely well to the press and the press markets to their customers for them; that’s why Apple spends way less in advertising than many other tech companies, and has stock that trades far higher.

A lot of people are betting that Apple will bring the screen size of the iPhone 5 up to at least 4″ or even as large as 4.3″. My money is on the phone keeping a 3.5″ display. If they do change it, I can only hope that they don’t go further than 4″. Other proposed features include NFC and perhaps 4G. The latest version of Apple’s mobile OS, iOS 5, is expected to be launched on the iPhone 5, and we may see it released to existing devices during or shortly after the October 4th event.

A little while ago I speculated that we’d see Apple announce an iPhone 5 for AT&T with HSPA+ and a variant for Verizon with 4G LTE. Interestingly, Sprint is now expected to be joining the aformentioned US carriers in iPhone availability, but I’m doubting we’ll see a WiMax iPhone 5 (Sprint’s current 4G technology, which it is said to soon be replacing with LTE), which leads me to wonder whether or not Sprint will get the iPhone 5 at all. Perhaps that iPhone 4S that’s been rumored over the last few months is actually the CDMA-based iPhone 4 that Verizon currently offers, but with some tweaks and compatibility with Sprint’s 3G network?

The invitation image is quite neat after all. For non-iOS users out there, all of these icons are from core iOS apps, and each of them means something. The calendar icon says that the event is on the 4th, the map icon says that the event will be at Apple’s ‘Infinite Loop’ HQ in Cupertino, and the clock icon says that it will be held at 10AM PST.

But what of the phone icon with a missed call? I think Apple certainly wants people to speculate about this. Typically that little 1 at the top right of the phone icon means that you’ve got a missed call or a voicemail that needs to be listened to. Maybe it means Apple will only be announcing 1 phone instead of an iPhone 4S and an iPhone 5 as rumored? Maybe Apple’s new CEO, Tim Cook, will come on stage and at some point listen to a ‘voicemail’ on the iPhone 5 left by Steve Jobs. At any rate, it will likely tie into the event.

What do you think it means?

Changing Ecosystems From iOS to Android (and how iOS 5 could tempt me back)

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ios to androidRitchie Djamhur is a macchiato-addicted IT Buyer based in Sydney, Australia and also posts his thoughts on technology, music and anything else that keeps him up at night on www.ritchiesroom.com.

The iOS Family

My name’s Ritchie and I am a phoneaholic, of the smart variety. I’ll admit it, on most nights I have my smartphone safely tucked under my pillow, in case I stir restlessly out of sleep and feel compelled to check Facebook updates, Twitter messages and lists, LinkedIn news, or my WordPress stats. Sound familiar to any readers?

Up until recently, I had not strayed far from the iOS family. I have owned a few iterations of the iPhone, and have seen its evolution in hardware along with the massive growth of the app store. And for the most part, the iPhone has fulfilled my needs, and indeed surprised me with functions that I didn’t realise I could do with.

iTunes makes upgrading your phone terribly easy. When the next version of an iPhone is released, you simply back up your old phone, connect and register your new iPhone, and everything, including settings, email, photos, and messages will be loaded onto your fresh iPhone. That upgrade path makes it hard to break the cycle and look beyond the iPhone at alternatives that may in fact be better suited to your needs.

The iPhone 4 is a great smartphone, and it’s always been a reliable partner in my business and leisure life. The ability to print wirelessly, read books, take casual photos, use social networking apps with ease, play some great games during downtime and use Facetime to see my extended family at a moment’s notice have all made the iPhone highly regarded in my household.

There are a few things that have made my eyes wander of late, and I realised that unless I wanted to jailbreak my phone, there were a few things that I couldn’t do efficiently. For example, turning WiFi and bluetooth on/off, changing brightness or orientation settings take a fair few steps within the settings panel.

On the other hand, widgets are a standard feature on Android phones, so I could see a good reason to move across just because of that – instant access to functions I wanted regularly. But could an Android phone match or exceed what the iPhone and its associated ecosystem has delivered to me over the years?

Google Maps for Android Update Adds Offline Access and Transit Directions, Is Still Lightyears Beyond Maps for iOS

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mapsOn Wednesday Google updated their awesome Maps for Android application to include the ability to download portions of the map for offline access, and full-featured transit directions. With these updates and other features that Maps for Android has had for a long time, the Android version of the application is lightyears ahead of Maps for iOS, read on to find out why.

Google Maps is now running version 5.7 on Android devices, and users now have global access to transit directions. Just pick an address and Google will tell you how to best get there through a combination of public transit options – trains, busses, subways, etc. Here’s how it works:

In addition to transit directions, which are immensely useful when you’re within city limits, Google has added a new feature to the Labs section of Google Maps for Android: Download Map Area.

Download Map Area allows you to download the map in a 10 mile radius around any location that you choose.

To enable the ‘Download Map Area’ feature, launch Maps 5.7 on your Android device. Press the menu button while you’re looking at the map view then press the more button then press Labs. Scroll to the bottom of Labs to find the ‘Download Map Area’ item and click on it to enable it. You will see a green check mark next to the item letting you know that you’ve enabled it.

To use the feature, go to any Places page (places pages are the informational pages about a location that you find when you search through Google Maps. At the bottom of the Places page, you’ll find the ‘Download Map Area’ button which. when pressed, will initiate a download of the entire area within 10 miles.

You can also download the area around any location, even if you can’t pull it up through search. Just press-and-hold any location on the map to bring up a location marker, then press the arrow button on the right of the marker. You’ll find the same download option at the bottom of the list.

map download areaThanks to vector tiles which were implemented with Google Maps for Android 5.0 back in December, a brief download gives you all the data you need to see street-level detail within the downloaded area, even if your phone is in airplane mode. The map will show an outline of the area that is available for offline access.

Google Maps for Android Dominates Google Maps for iOS

I’ve been an iPhone user since the iPhone 3G. Through the iPhone 3G, 3GS, and 4, Google Maps has been one of my most consistently used applications. Still, I’ve always been jealous of Google Maps on Android. These recent updates to Maps for Android just put it that much further beyond Maps for iOS.

One Reason Why Maps for iOS is Behind

Maps on iOS works very well, but is seriously lacking in the features department and lacks a crucial component that Maps for Android has: updatability.

Back in the early days of Android, core applications like Maps could only be updated through firmware releases, which were relatively far between. Later changes to Android allowed core applications to be updated through the Android Market just like any third-party application. This meant that the Maps for Android team could push updates through to Maps for Android whenever they wanted, rather than waiting for entire firmware updates. This has been key in keeping Maps for Android lightyears ahead of Maps for iOS.

It’s unclear whether or not Maps for iOS can be updated through the App Store like third-party apps, but what is clear is that Apple has never pushed a single update to Maps in this manner. They appear to be stuck updating Maps whenever major firmware updates are released, which are few and far between (perhaps once per year).

No Turn-by-turn Directions, Co-pilot Mandatory

Google’s completely free Navigation app for Android provides best in class turn-by-turn navigation to any Android device that has GPS. It’s arguably even better than most dedicated GPS road units.

Maps for iOS will obligingly give you great walking, driving, or transit directions, but there is no turn-by-turn navigation. When finding a route on Maps for iOS you also have no option to view alternate routes, no option to avoid toll roads, and no way to automatically route around traffic.

The best you get is a visual map of your route, or a list of directions. Trying to following directions on Maps for iOS while driving by yourself is dangerous because of the total lack of turn-by-turn guidance. In these situations, having a co-pilot to track your progress on the route, tell you which turns to take, and when you should be turning, is a must. For me, this is the biggest weakness of Maps for iOS.

Missing Features

Simply put, Maps for Android does a whole lot more than its iOS counterpart. Here’s just a short list of the things that Maps for iOS is lacking.

Vector tiles: Maps 5.0 for Android introduced vector tiles which have a number of advantages. Here’s what we wrote about Maps 5.0 from our review of the first device that got that update, the Nexus S

The latest version of Google Maps looks quite similar to the old, but the underlying system is vastly different. Instead of using static image tiles at varying zoom levels, Maps is now using vector tiles which boast a number of advantages. Vector graphics can be dynamically scaled to any resolution and still retain their sharpness. Now, instead of downloading one tile for each zoom level, you may only have to download one tile for a particular area and then it is scaled to any level of zoom. This means less downloading (less data usage) and easier caching (storing for use later/offline)

Vector graphics also allow the map text to stay right side up even as you rotate the map. Additionally, you can now use two-fingers to tilt the map to get a different angle (again, thanks to vector graphics). And you’ll be able to see 3D buildings in places where it’s supported.

Latitude Built-in: Maps for Android puts your Latitude friends right there on the map, and allows you to ping other Android phones for quick location updates. Maps on iOS lacks Latitude entirely. Latitude does exist as a separate app, but using the two interchangeably (ie: getting directions to a friend’s location) means switching back and forth between the apps, and the Latitude app on iOS doesn’t support quick location updates between you and your Latitude friends.

Topographic Maps: Maps for Android will give you terrain maps of pretty much anywhere. Not only can they be interesting to look at, but they are also useful for planning hikes and other trips.

Biking Directions: Maps for iOS provided public transit directions a long time before Maps for Android, but now that Maps for Android support transit directions, it can give you directions in every way that Maps for iOS can, and in one way that Maps for iOS can’t – biking directions. When finding biking directions, Google specifically looks to use bike trails or lanes on your route, and uses terrain data to avoid big hills whenever possible.

No Google Account Integration: When you launch Maps for Android, everything is in sync with your Google Account. I can pull up custom maps and routes that I’ve made on the computer, all of my latitude friends are there, and I can see the places that I’ve starred. Maps for iOS doesn’t even consider your Google account, and in fact may not even know that such a thing exists.

Offline Access: And now, as we’ve seen, Maps for Android has offline access, allowing you to choose precisely where you want to download the maps for offline use. Offline map access in Maps for iOS is fickle and unpredictable. Despite the iPhone 3G and beyond having built-in GPS, the phones often act as though they don’t have no idea that they posses GPS chips when they lack a data connection. This is really bothersome when you’re in and out of data coverage, especially when hiking.

And that’s just a few of the big items! Here’s a list Google cooked up comparing Maps for Android to Maps for iOS:

ios maps vs android maps

All these things combined put Maps for Android lightyears ahead of Maps for iOS in my book (even though it works well for what it does), and is definitely the #1 thing I’m jealous of as an iPhone user.

Apple Finally Takes My Suggestion and Adds a Split Keyboard to the iPad

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dial keys ipadOk… it’s rather unlikely that they even saw my old story, but back in June of 2010, I wrote an article titled ‘I’m dying for Dial Keys on the iPad’, the gist of which was that Apple should add a split-keyboard to the iPad to make it thumb-typeable. I used Dial Keys, an old UMPC program, to make a mockup of a split keyboard on the iPad, but it won’t be until nearly a year later, with the coming iOS 5 update, that Apple will add such a keyboard to the iPad.

I remember prior to the announcement of the first-generation iPad, back when it was just rumors and speculation, I was hoping that if Apple released a Slate, they’d do something that would improve the typing experience on such a large device.

Apple totally revolutionized touchscreen typing with the original iPhone by equipping it with a much more responsive capacitive touchscreen, and programming a very smart on-screen keyboard (OSK). I wanted Apple to revolutionize large touchscreen typing in the same way that they did on the smartphone, but unfortunately that didn’t happen at launch and we were stuck with a sub-par typing experience on the device (I think I can type faster on my iPhone than on the iPad).

Once I got the iPad in my hands, I was still wishing for a form of split-keyboard because thumb-typing in portrait required an annoying stretch, and thumb-typing in landscape was near impossible (which meant you couldn’t effectively type without setting the iPad on some surface)

Apple is finally adding a split keyboard to the iPad with the iOS 5 update (coming this fall).

ipad split keyboardApple’s implementation is smart because it allows you to place the keyboard anywhere along the screen, which means you place it toward the center to balance the weight of the device.

One of my complaints with the Xoom is that typing in portrait is annoying because the keyboard is at the bottom of the screen, then you’ve got the weight of the rest of the device working as leverage against your hands (this is exacerbated by the 16:9 ratio of the device). Needless to say, holding all that weight while typing with your thumbs is not an ideal experience. Placing the keyboard toward the center of the screen, I thought as I used the Xoom, would make the weight a non-issue.

The split keyboard on the iPad will work in both landscape and portrait modes, and can be split or recombined on-the-fly without having to dig through the Settings app.

iOS 5 Still Lacks Basic Podcast Handling

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rssFor a company that invented the product that is the namesake of the term, Apple has done a paltry job of handling podcasting on iOS devices.

While iOS 5 undoubtedly added a lot of features that people have been wanting for a long time, I’m sorry to say that podcasting management appears to be as awful as ever in Apple’s latest version of the mobile OS.

For the uninitiated, podcasts are essentially internet radio shows. They are recorded, then offered up for download, generally on a scheduled basis. Apple’s very own iTunes is home to a huge number of podcasts that you can ‘subscribe’ to, but that doesn’t mean much.

The whole idea of a podcast is that you can subscribe to it, then get the episodes as they are released, rather than having to search around to find out if there’s a new episode.

You can actually access any of the podcasts that iTunes offers directly through the iTunes application on any iOS device, but it’s up to you to check back to find out when a new episode has been appeared, and you have to download each episode manually.

If you want to get your podcasts in a semi-automated way, you’ll have to subscribe to the podcast through iTunes on the desktop, then keep checking back to find out when a new episode has been found, then sync your iOS device to iTunes to get the latest episode. This doesn’t really solve any of the problems though (and might even be less useful then checking manually on the device itself).

Is it so much to ask that Apple allow me to subscribe to a podcast directly on my iPhone, then allow my iPhone to not only check automatically for new episodes, but download them without my intervention?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to wake up and see a notification on your homescreen: “A new episode of your favorite podcast is ready for listening”, then with a simple tap you could begin the podcast along with your morning routine? This sort of functionality is long overdue.

It seems really simple, but Apple has not taken podcasting very seriously (probably because Apple doesn’t make any money from podcasts).

iOS 5 is removing the need for a PC or Mac to set up and manage an iOS device. However, this means that people who choose to operate their devices in that way will lose out on the only (limited) podcast subscription support that Apple offers. They won’t even be able to sync the latest episodes from their computer, so their only option will be manually digging around, or using a third-party application (which can’t download new episodes in the background).

Perhaps with a little push, we can get Apple to get serious about podcasts with iOS 5. I’m talking: automatic checking/downloading, on-device subscriptions, the whole bit. A bonus would be if the place where you left off while listening would be synced to all of your devices through iCloud so you could pick up where you left off on any one of them.

With serious podcast functionality, I’d finally be able to easily keep up with Chippy and the guys making the great Meet:Mobility podcast!

iOS 5 and iCloud Overview

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ios 5Yesterday at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), Steve Jobs took the stage to talk about iOS 5 and iCloud. Going against tradition since the first iPhone was announced, WWDC didn’t see the announcement of the latest iPhone hardware. We did, however, see the latest changes coming in iOS 5 and see the announcement of Apple’s new iCloud service. Before we get into it, you should know that consumers will see iOS 5 released to existing devices this Fall. iOS 5 will support the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPod Touch (3rd and 4th generation), iPad, and iPad 2. Or you can jump in on some beta action early if you download the latest version of iTunes and are running the very latest version of iOS (4.3.3).

As a long-time iPhone user and current iPhone 4 user, Apple’s announcements fell into two categories for me: 1) Useful new stuff, 2) It’s about time. And I think this is exactly how I’ll present them:

Useful New Stuff:


imessage logo

imessageThis is a new app from Apple which everyone is equating to the BBM service on BlackBerrys. Simply put, iMessage is a messaging application for any iOS device. It’ll run on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, and allow those devices to communicate by sending text, photos, or video messages (Apple TV runs iOS, but there’s no mention of it being compatible with iMessage).

Apple is only going to strengthen it’s hold on this area of the market with this new app as people are encouraged to pick an iOS device over the competition because it means that they’ll be able to communicate quite seamlessly with friends that already have iOS devices.

Unlike SMS, you’ll be able to see delivery and read notifications as your recipients receive and read the messages that you’ve sent. You’ll also be able to see when friends are in the midst of composing replies to your messages if you happen to have the conversation open as they are typing. Conversations will also be synced between all of your iOS devices which is definitely handy.

newstand logo

newsstandNewsstand is two things. First, it’s an icon on the homescreen that will open a custom folder view to show any magazines or newspapers that you’ve subscribed to. The latest issues will be downloaded automatically in the background and updated on the bookshelf-style interface.

Second, Newsstand is a place where all newspaper and magazine apps can be found in one place so that customers can easily browse and subscribe; just hit the Store button right on the open Newsstand.

reminders logo

remindersReminders is a new application that that allows the user to create ToDo lists. This would be boring if not for some nifty options surrounding individual items on the list.

You can associate tasks with dates as you’d expect, but more interestingly you can also associate them with locations. You could, for instance, set a reminder to pick up some groceries on the way home from work. You do this by specifying a location along with the task, then you can ask it to remind you when you are entering that location or leaving that location (in this case you’d obviously select leaving).

Reminders will be synced across all of your iOS devices.

multitasking lgoo

multitasking on ipad

New four-finger gestures that Apple has had in the works for some time are now going to be available on the iPad in the consumer release of iOS 5. You can now pinch with four fingers to get back to the Home Screen, swipe up with four fingers to reveal the app switcher, or swipe left/right to switch quickly between apps. This will certainly increase the speed of app navigation as you will be able to leave your hand right on the screen rather than having to reach over to tap or double-tap the Home button.

airplay logo

ipad 2 display mirroringApple introduced display mirroring to an HDTV with the iPad 2 but it required a $40 wired dongle to make it happen. If you’ve got an Apple TV, you can now mirror the iPad 2’s display to your HDTV wirelessly. Display mirroring is exactly as it sounds… you’ll see exactly what’s shown on the iPad 2 while using this feature (including support for both orientations).

This will no doubt be excellent for sharing photos from the device rather than having everyone crowd around the computer.

Apple says it’ll work great for games too, but after seeing some videos of wireless display mirroring in action, it doesn’t look like it’ll respond fast enough to use the HDTV as the primary display for gaming (ie: it’ll have no problem showing the image, but the lag will mean that you’ll want look at the iPad 2’s display while playing, rather than the HDTV).

It’s About Time:


notification center logo

notification centerJust about a year ago, I tweeted, “Apple, you better not make us wait until iOS 5.0 for a decent notification system. It is NOT fun playing Sherlock when your phone vibrates.”

Unfortunately this came true.

Ever since notifications existed in iOS, they’ve been annoying and difficult to handle. Notifications would always pop-up right in the middle of whatever you were currently working on, and you had to deal with them (by either dismissing or acting upon them) until you could get back to work. The irony is that iOS has been the best mobile OS when it comes to receiving notifications, thanks to a great push system, but when it came to actually organizing those notifications, iOS failed pretty hard.

Apple is finally fixing this, and they’ve stolen a page directly from Android and perhaps at least one jailbreak developer.

The new notification center is accessed by pulling the menu down from the menu bar, just like on Android. It’ll organize all of your notifications and give you access to them on the lock-screen as well.

Notifications will no longer pop-up in your face, but rather they will have a mostly non-intrusive animation from the top of the screen that alerts you to their presence. You can click on the notification to go straight to the app that sent it, or you can leave it alone and it’ll go away shortly without bothering you.

From the lock-screen, you’ll be able to go straight to the applications that sent the notifications by swiping the icon to the left, similar to the unlock slider.

It would appear as though some visual flair has been lifted quite directly from the great jailbreak app, LockInfo, which I’ve been using for at least a year now to supplement Apple’s awful notification management:lockinfo ~ cydia

To be fair, Apple did file some lock-screen related patents as far back as 2008 that look quite similar to their current implementation, so whether or not it’s right to call them out for stealing the LockInfo aesthetic all together is still up in the air. Regardless, properly managed notifications in iOS is going to be beneficial to a huge number of people.

Apple hasn’t said whether or not notifications will be synced through iCloud (more on that below), which is concerning because there’s nothing more annoying than sitting on the couch at the end of the day with an iPad that’s filled with notifications that you’ve already read on your iPhone.

twitter logo

twitterApple has finally decided to get onboard with native Twitter integration. You’ll sign in to Twitter just once within the OS, then third-party applications will be able to ask you for permission to use your Twitter account (similar to how they can ask to use your location data).

Apple will let you Tweet directly from Safari, Camera, YouTube, and Maps, but I’ve got a feeling that people will be quick to say “not enough!” and be begging for a gesture that let’s them compose a tweet from anywhere in the OS (expect this to be quickly added by jailbreak developers, if Apple doesn’t already add it by the time iOS 5 launches in the Fall).

In addition to auto-suggesting users that you are mentioning, you’ll be able to sync your Twitter contacts to your Address Book, which will append Twitter usernames and pictures to your contacts if you choose. You can also attach a location to any one of your tweets. It also appears as though multiple Twitter accounts will be supported.

Looks like we’ll have to wait until iOS 6 for Facebook integration. I guess Apple can only handle one social network per update.

camera logo

cameraApple quickly pulled the Camera+ app from the App Store last year when it included a hidden feature that would allow users to use the volume button on their iPhone as a shutter button for the camera. Apple never allows third-party developers to alter hardware button usage, but naturally, Apple isn’t bound by it’s own App Store rules.

Camera enhancements in iOS 5 include the aforementioned ability to snap photos using the volume-up button while you’re in the Camera app and the ability to access the camera from a single button on the lockscreen.

Unlike the sliding gestures used to access notifications and unlock the device from the lockscreen, the camera access button appears to only require one tap. This is somewhat odd as the sliding gesture is used to prevent accidental unlocks while the phone is in your pocket. Accidentally tapping the camera button on the lockscreen would put the phone into the camera app and possibly even start snapping photos which would be a huge waste of battery. I’m surprised Apple isn’t using a slide gesture for quick camera access.

You’ll also be able to use a much more intuitive pinch-zoom gesture to zoom while shooting photos, rather than having to tap on the screen (initiating a refocus) in order to bring up the zoom bar. There’s also grid-lines to help with photo composition and the ability to lock focus and exposure which is actually the reason I purchased the Camera+ app a few months back.

photos logo

photos

Apple is finally adding basic photo editing to iOS. While you once had to find a third-party application to modify your photos in any way, now you can crop, fix red-eye, use one-touch photo enhance, and hopefully you’ll be able to rotate as well.

safari logo

safari

Along with performance improvements, Apple is finally adding tabbed browsing to the iPad. Prior to iOS 5, you had to hit a button in menu bar, then select your site from a list of thumbnails, and watch as it animated back up to your screen. This was way too slow. I’ve been using Atomic Web for more than a year now, primarily because of it’s quick tab switching through gestures and tabs.

I can’t believe it’s taken Apple this long to catch on and realize that the old way of switching was painfully slow. Now you’ll be able to tap on tabs to quickly switch your page and drag to reorganize tabs.

Sadly, it doesn’t look as though tabbed browsing will come to non-iPad versions of Safari, which means I’ll definitely still be using (and recommending that others use) Atomic Web on my iPhone.

They’ve also added Reader and Reading List.

Reader will take text and photos from a website and reformat them to be easier to read. This’ll also cut out all of the extraneous stuff like ads and irrelevant graphics. Additionally, Reader will combine multi-page articles into one continuous page for easy reading without interruptions.

Reading List is a short-term bookmark list which will sync across devices. You’ll be able to add/remove items to the Reading List on any device that supports Safari, including on PC or Mac. Syncing means that you’ll easily be able to queue up items on your PC that you may want to read later on your iPhone.

pc free logo

pc free

Since the beginning of iOS history, you’ve had to plug your new device into a PC or Mac to set it up. Apple is finally moving the setup process to the device itself.

This has much larger implications than it might seem. This change is paving the way for iOS devices to become the only devices that a user might own.

For people like you and me, it’s unlikely that we’ll be rocking out an iOS device as our only computing device. For people like my 84 year old great-aunt, who recently bought and iPad 2, this feature would be perfect. While my aunt doesn’t really understand how to use a traditional Mac or PC, she’s grasping the iPad 2 surprisingly well, and using it for things like email and FaceTime. She doesn’t own a computer, so her son had to set it up for her. Once iOS 5 hits the streets, iOS devices will be able to setup and update directly on the device, making them completely free of any computer dependency.

Older folks aren’t the only people that this change will benefit. Apple is also looking at other parts of the world where the majority of households don’t own a PC or Mac. This change will now allow such households to purchase an iOS device and set it up as their only computing device. Very cool, and certainly beneficial to the sales of iOS devices and customers alike.

wifi sync

People have been asking, nay, begging for this one since the iPhone was released. You’ll finally be able to sync your iDevice to your computer over WiFi instead of having to plug in.

Apple also says that they’ll automatically sync and backup your device over WiFi once per day which will be undoubtedly useful.

mail logo

mail

Somewhat hilariously, Apple is finally allowing some simple text formatting within their mail application (though I suppose most other mobile OSs are doing this yet). You’ll be able to bold, underline, and italicize text through the pop-up highlight menu. Additionally, you’ll be able to adjust indents and drag email addresses between the To:, Cc:, and Bcc: fields.

More useful is the ability to create and delete inbox folders directly on the device. There’s also now a flagging capability to mark/star important messages that you want to come back to.

Apple is also finally adding the ability to search the body of email messages whereas they used to only let you search by sender/recipient/subject which was a serious joke (I use Gmail as my provider and I’d always load up the web client if I needed to search).

iCloud

icloud

I’m not putting iCloud in either of the above categories. On one hand, I think the type of functionality that it aims to provide has been desired for a long time, but it wasn’t necessarily practical or expected.

Apple has made some major investments in data centers over the last few years and they believe that they have the capability to scale iCloud to the more than 200 million iOS devices that have been sold so far.

iCloud aims to automatically keep all of your devices in sync with one another. Apple is putting a big emphasis on seamlessness and autonomy. Jobs pulled out the phrase “it just works” more than once during his WWDC keynote.

The first thing you should know about iCloud is that it is free. iCloud is supplanting the MobileMe service that Apple used to charge a yearly subscription for.

iCloud functionality is built into a number of apps and ties your devices together with your Apple ID. iCloud generally serves the same purpose for all the apps we’ll talk about: keeping everything in sync.

icloud beamingFor instance, Apple is touting a feature called Photo Stream for the photos app. Photo stream is a rolling list of 1000 of your most recent photos. Take a photo on your iPhone and it will be sent up to iCloud then sent down to all of your iOS devices (including iPhoto on the Mac, or the Pictures folder on Windows). This will only happen over WiFi. On Mac or PC, all of your photos will be stored, rather than just the last 1000.

On your other devices (including Apple TV), you can open the Photos app and you’ll find an album called Photo Stream where your last 1000 photos taken with any of your devices will be stored. You can add the photos that you want to keep for good into permanent albums on the device which will sent sync across all of your devices.

iCloud itself will store any photos that you’ve taken in the last 30 days, which Apple says will be more than enough time for your iDevices to connect to iCloud and download them.

Once you understand this model, it’s easy to see how most of the other apps will work with iCloud.

iTunes, for instance, will work with iCloud to distribute any songs that you purchase to all of your devices. If you buy a song through iTunes on your PC or Mac, you’re iPad and iPhone will automatically download it without requiring any bothersome iTunes syncing.

You’ll also be able to look at your history of previously purchased music and download anything that you’ve previously purchased to any of your devices.

Other apps that support iCloud are:

  • App Store
  • iBooks
  • Documents (iWork apps)
  • Contacts
  • Calendar
  • Mail

And they all work very similarly… make a change on one device, it’ll travel through the cloud and find it’s way to your other devices.

If iCloud works the way that Apple says it will, it’s going strengthen the desire to purchase more than one iOS device. I’m almost wishing that I still had my iPad hearing about all of the iCloud functionality.

iCloud also backs up the following daily:

  • Purchased music, apps, books
  • Photos and video in the camera roll
  • Device settings
  • App data
  • Home screen and app organization
  • SMS and MSS
  • Ringtones

Apple says that restoring a backup to a device is as easy as plugging in your Apple ID (and presumably waiting quite a while as everything downloads).

Apple is also offering app developers APIs that will allow them to send data through iCloud. For instance, it could be possible for game-saves to be uploaded to iCloud and sent to other devices to allow you to continue your game of Plants vs. Zombies where you left off.

iTunes Match

Apple also introduced a new service called iTunes Match. For an annual fee of $25, Apple will scan your library for music that hasn’t been purchased through iTunes and afford that music all of the benefits of iTunes-purchased music (which means making all of that music available to any of your devices, and backing it up).

Any songs that they can’t scan and match will be uploaded to iCloud and become available to any of your devices.

Apple is also offering to upgrade any lower quality music to decent quality 256Kbps AAC for no extra fee.

iOS 5 is bringing adding a lot of features that should have been there for a long time, and iCloud is adding a lot of features that are going to seriously automate the content management of their iDevices. This is certainly impressive considering that Apple is offering iCloud for free, and Android and other mobile operating systems are going to have a harder time convincing the average consumer to pick up devices that aren’t iOS based thanks to these new features.

Photosynth App for iOS Impresses with Quick and Intuitive Panoramic Image Creation (free)

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photosynth logoThe recently released Photosynth app for iOS is an impressive and effective (and free!) tool for making high-quality interactive panoramic photos directly on your mobile device.

The Photosynth project is the brainchild of Microsoft Live Labs. It started as a neat service that was capable of combining hundreds of photographs from similar areas and allowing the user to virtually fly around to each photo. Later, support for uploading traditional panoramic photos and creating interactive ones from your desktop came online. Now they’ve unleashed an awesome new app for creating mobile interactive “fishbowl” panoramic images.

The free app is available from Apple’s App Store for the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad 2, and fourth generation iPod Touch, and it’s a joy to use.

Yes, you read right. While Microsoft is indeed the company behind Windows Phone 7, they’ve actually opted to make this app for iOS instead of their own mobile OS. This is similar to what we saw when they released Seadragon (now Zoom.it), another interesting photo-related app from Live Labs, for iOS several years ago.

Image 4Fire up Photosynth and the app will guide you in creating your first panoramic image. When you being making the image, you’ll see the world through the lens of your iPhone or iPod Touch’s camera, and as you move the camera the app will track the scene and automatically take images as they are needed. You are essentially building a virtual sphere around you by capturing images. The goal is to move the green circle in the center of the screen until it is on one of the dashed lines (which represents the boundary of images that you’ve already captured). This will cause a new photo to be snapped. Rinse and repeat as much as you’d like, then render the scene. If the algorithms used for scene tracking temporarily have some trouble, you’ll see the frame turn red. Just turn back to facing an area that you’ve already snapped, and it’ll pick things back up in no time.

I could write 10 pages of text about how it works and you still probably wouldn’t understand it as well as if you just saw it. Fortunately, we’ve got this wonderful new technology called “video” which actually allows you to watch a series of photos that gives the illusion of movement, and thus we can share with you what it’s like to use this app! Check it out:

Once you capture a synth, you can upload it to the Photosynth website to share with the world (or you can leave it unlisted so that only those with the link can find it). What’s more, you can view fishbowl panoramics that are on your device, or load and view those that you have already created and are on your Photosynth account. Support for viewing (but not creation of) traditional panoramic photos (‘flat’ single-file images like jpg, png, bmp, etc.). Here’s what you can expect to see as output:

http://photosynth.net/view.aspx?cid=4f67232d-6821-44c1-8caa-089eb4e5f54c

Photosynth has brought some incredible ease of use to the world of panoramic creation, and they’ve packed a lot of good functionality into this app in the incredible price of free.

My critiques of the app are few. In accordance with Apple’s App Store rating system, my current rating would be a 4/5 (it would be a 5/5 if I wasn’t so picky). From my use so far, it doesn’t seem as though the app is stitching full-resolution photos. It is likely using lower resolution shots which means less quality when you zoom in. This is probably a technical limitation (the phone only has so much RAM to hold photos before the pano is rendered and saved), but it could also potentially be a bug that was inherited from a limitation on the iPhone 3GS’s lower resolution camera (I’m using an iPhone 4 in this case).

My other complaint is that there is no indication as to which panoramic you’ve already shared to Facebook. If I have a group of them that I’d like to upload, I have to go through and upload each individually. Sometimes I’ll forget my place and then I have to wonder if I’ve already posted one of the panos or not. There’s also no twitter integration which would be nice!

Still, very well done, team Live Labs!

Hidden Multitasking Gestures Uncovered in iOS 4.3

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iosFor a platform that regularly takes flak for not being able to multitask, it looks like iOS is way ahead of the game when it comes to quick switching between apps.

As of iOS 4.3, four and five finger gestures are being added to the software. Using them, you can easily slide back and forth between running apps, pull up the quick-switch menu, and jump back to the home screen.

Oddly they are currently locked for developer use only, but that hasn’t stopped non-developers from enabling them.

Our friends over at GottaBeMobile.com have a guide that shows you how to unlock the gestures on any iPad (original, or the new one) running iOS 4.3. Unfortunately you’ll need a Mac, and it’ll run you $5.99, but it almost looks worth it; check out the video of the gorgeously animated gestures in action:

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The gestures are certainly more quick and natural than having to double tap the home button, then tap and on-screen element to switch apps. And while they may be natural in terms of execution, they lack initial intuitiveness. Until they are taught the first time, it isn’t straight forward to try four or five finger gestures.

There’s also the question of  whether or not implementing these gestures will limit developers. In multiplayer games like Harbor Master, you can have multiple people docking ships at once. In MultiPong, four player mode requires that each player have a finger on the screen at once. It’s possible that iOS might interpret the movement of four individuals’ fingers as a single four-finger gesture, and that would really wreak havoc on the game experience if you’re defending your goal with a paddle then suddenly switching to another app!

If I had to guess, I’d say that this is why Apple hasn’t yet enabled the gesture for all. They probably need to give developers time to specifically disable such gestures in apps that would be ruined in some way if an improper four or five-finger gesture was detected.

Everything You Need to Know About the iPad 2: Thinner, Lighter, Faster, Available March 11th, 3G on Verizon and AT&T

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ipad 2 frontThe iPad 2 is here! Are you surprised? Probably not. Apple is quite consistent with it’s product iterations. There’s nothing mind-blowing about the iPad 2, but it’s definitely set the new bar for tablets. Here’s the low-down:

Specs:

  • iOS 4.3
  • 9.7” capacitive glass screen with oleophobic (fingerprint resistant) coating @ 1024 x 768
  • Dual-core Apple A5 CPU @ 1GHz
  • Enhanced GPU that Apple claims is 9x faster
  • 16/32/64GB memory options
  • Forward-facing camera (with FaceTime support, naturally) @ 640×480 resolution
  • Rear camera for up to 720p (1280×720) video recording
  • Sensors: Gyroscope, accelerometer, light sensor, digital compass
  • WiFi a/b/g/n & Bluetooth 2.1
  • 3G & GPS (optional)
  • 25 watt-hour battery
  • White or black bezel options

Dimensions & Weight (and size comparisons):

ipad original ipad size compThe iPad 2 is 9.5 x 7.31 x 0.34 inches or 241.2 x 185.7 x 8.8 mm. That’s right, the iPad 2 is ridiculously thin, probably the thinnest tablet on the market. It’s even more thin than the iPhone 4 (9.3 mm).

Here is the iPad 2’s size visualized against two other 10” tablets, and the original iPad:

ipad 2 comp iso

ipad 2 comp side

ipad comp top

The iPad 2 is also a bit lighter than the original iPad: 1.33 pounds (601g) vs. 1.5 pounds (680g). Here’s how its weight stacks up to the competition:

Weight was one of my major complaints in my iPad review, so it’s nice to see that they’ve been able to bring it down somewhat. Still, as Chippy noted on twitter earlier, they fell short of the important 1 pound mark.

Design

Image 51The design of the iPad 2 isn’t far off from the original, though they’ve reshaped it to make it much more like the latest generation of iPod Touch.

Specifically, they’ve flattened the dome shape on the back of the iPad, but still let the edges taper up to the sides of the device. This eliminates one of the surfaces, so now you’ve essentially got just a front and back with a smooth transition between, rather than individual sides. Keeping the sides rounded means you’ll be able to get your fingers under the device to pick it up, but the overall width of the iPad 2 has been reduced over the original.

Thanks to Apple’s iPad 2 video, we got to see some cool shots of the device’s insides. Check it out below:

Image 49

Image 50

Continue reading on page 2 (Cameras, CPU, GPU, & Battery Life, Display Mirroring & AirPlay, iOS 4.3)…

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