Foldering the burden on iOS

I was excited when Apple announced support for folders in iOS 4. Folders were the solution to the iPhone’s home screen limit and Apple implemented folder creation in a pretty slick way – dragging one app icon atop another, even suggesting a name in the process .But while I appreciate that Apple has tried to simplified the organization system in iOS when compared to the hierarchies in Mac OS and Windows, folders have become more frustrating than helpful to me.

First, the limit on the number of items (which varies depending on whether you are using an iPhone/iPod or iPad, forces arbitrary organization schemes. I’ve found this to be particularly true for games, the abundance of which on iOS has left me scratching my head as to how to group them. Is Traffic Rush a skill game? A strategy game? A  driving game? I’ve mostly given up and just created sequentially named Games folders that lead me to forget what is where.

But this creates another problem because you can’t search for folder names. If you’ve forgotten which folder you’ve used for an app, about your only alternative aside from opening every potential folder to spot check is to search for the app every time you want to launch it.

Finally, even after you’ve gone through the painstaking process of creating folders – a task not particularly enhanced by the iTunes desktop interface – restoring your folder organization can be a dicey proposition.

Old Mac hands will remember that the Mac’s first filing system, the Macintosh Filing System (MFS), also had folders that were merely cosmetic and not hierarchical. Apple could better balance the needs of those wanting a more robust organization scheme and novices by creating a one level-deep hierarchy as it sort of has in iPhoto. It would also be great to see Apple create a more powerful desktop tool to organize apps, screens and folders, But  I’d happily pass on either of those options if Apple would simply offer the option to keep apps and folders alphabetized as they do on the Mac and as they are in the Windows Phone app list and Android’s stock  launcher. This creates a default way to find things as the number of apps grows.

Google Play and rational digital storefront branding

Google Play may not be the least confusing name for a digital storefornt and the collection of wares that it offers exclusives the Web apps that are offered via its Chrome Web Store. But the rebranding of what was primarily Android Market best represents what an integrated way to purchase the main digital media types – apps, music and video, and books and magazines – should be. While Amazon has subbrands e-books (Kindle Store) and its music and video service (Amazon Instant Video), but these are under the Amazon umbrella brand that is synonymous with retailing..

Apple, though, remains stuck with three different stores for music and video, apps, and books. And two of those storefronts use the iTunes name which, in addition to mixing the function of an organization tool and a storefront, is far out of date with respect to what might be considered relevant to a “tune.” Yes, Apple, can take its time in revealing how a brand makes sense after all, but “iPod” connoted something general. In contrast, iTunes connotes something specific.

Indeed, Microsoft has been on a similar path. It has the Windows (Phone) Marketplace for apps, Zune for music and videos, and its new partnership with Barnes and Noble will result in a Nook-branded e-book store. If iTunes is too broadly associated with the success of one type of digital media, though, Zune of course has the opposite problem, and I’ve never understood why Microsoft would hang on to a brand so strongly associated with a device that failed in the market. The company has decided to move on from its branding of Windows Live, but it also has been known to keep services limping along forever.

in the building but off the radar

A few weeks ago I attended the Telenav Waypoint event. Telenav is the company that produces the navigation service that powers AT&T’s and Sprint’s navigation services and is also the company behind the iPhone navigation app Scout.

An interesting location-based issue, however, surfaced before I even arrived at the event. At the airport, I was supposed to rendezvous with another attendee, but I didn’t know his flight was due in at about the same time as mine, but only a third party had both of our contact info and that party was unreachable.

A little combination of sleuthing and help from the Information Desk revealed that the other guy was in another terminal. I dragged my bags over there and  found the person I was to meet whom I knew by appearance. Could the incident have gone smoother through better planning? Sure. Or perhaps it was just a failure of the social graph and not location-based technologies per se. But there was no real facility for my counterpart to signal where he was, to reveal his location. I couldn’t find him even though he was in the same set of buildings I was in.

The power of one

In a recent Switched On column about the iPad, I talked about how Apple can lavish “a level of favoritism that Google and Microsoft can never have for any given device running its licensed software.” Keeping the software consistent has been one of the hallmark’s of Apple’s iOS device appeal, but there is also something to be said about keeping the industrial design relatively consistent as Apple has done between the iPhone 4 and 4S and now between the iPad 2 and third-generation iPad. I don’t expect that this will be the last form factor revision for either device although Apple has stayed very faithful to the current designs of the iMac and Mac Pro line for years.

Particularly for these mobile products, keeping a consistent form factor amplifies the advantage that Apple has versus competitors in the accessory-rich tablet and smartphone markets. Obviously, every case-maker breathed a sigh of relief when it saw the dimensions of the latest iPhone and iPad did not stray from the previous generation. But there are also a large number of keyboard clamshells, stands, mounts, clips, docks and all manner of other accessories. By preserving continuity across iDevice generations, Apple may forfeit some excitement that comes at the differentiated shape of a new thing, but it gains in preserving the consistency of the platform (in the broadest sense) with a device that hits the ground running in a ready-made accessory ecosystem, one where the hardware may even be optimized ahead of the third-party software.

Telepresence overkill

Whoever said 90 percent of life is showing up will be proven wrong in the next few years. We’re increasingly seeing more affordable technology that can work with Wi-Fi or cellular connections – and usually smartphone apps – to enable us to remotely control and monitor just about anything and video chat is becoming ever more feasible.

But there are certain applications for which the nearly complete removal of distance confines may have questionable utility. Take, for example, Evoz, “the baby monitor with unlimited range.” The idea of remotely monitoring a room with what is essentially a network-enabled microphone and companion app has obvious interest to those who practice espionage. However, I first saw the product on ThinkGeek, where a commenter snarked that the product was a good fit for parents’ “for when you leave your baby at home while you go to the grocery store.”

Then there’s the Viper SmartStart, which lets you unlock and start your car from afar. You won’t find any accusations of bad parenting to go along with this product; the remote range is a neat feature to have when, say, you are leaving an office building on a wintry day. Here, cellular is a real enabler, but the notion of unlimited range is again questionable. I can see the case of remotely unlocking a vehicle in case someone accidentally got locked out, but how often does one really need to be able to start one’s vehicle from across the country?

In defense of the Galaxy Note

Honeycomb, you are deluding yourself. It is the Samsung Galaxy Note that is big. Indeed, last Friday Sam Biddle at Gizmodo recently lambasted Samsung’s 5.3” smartphone, calling It a “distended LED baking sheet.” The self-described rant goes on to decry the Galaaxy Note as an ergonomically poor design and then amplify concerns that the Note will lead to other phones of similar or perhaps even greater size.

The first thing about the Gizmodo piece I find interesting is that it doesn’t weigh in at all on the S-Pen. In this age of blending finger and pen input, I’m certainly not as anti-stylus as I once was, but I’ve noticed that the inclusion of the pointing device hasn’t been nearly as polarizing as the size of the screen. In fact, it’s had so relatively little impact that it’s somewhat surprising Samsung has forged ahead on integrating it into a 10” Galaxy Tab.

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The lighter side of MADularity

Yesterday, on April Fools’ Day and the 36th anniversary of Apple’s founding, MAD Magazine launched its iPad app on Apple’s Newsstand.The launch appears to be an exclusive.  I couldn’t find it on Zinio or the Kindle Store and Barnes & Noble offers only a print subscription. However, wording in the FAQ would indicate that that state of affairs probably won’t last long as it references access that consumers will have so long as their device supports the file format.

The 60-year old MAD’s lateness to the tablet party might have been more excusable if DC Comics had done more to showcase some of the unique qualities of the magazine. For example, the iconic fold-in is not featured among the sparse few pages offered in the preview edition. Moreover, MAD, like The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live, is an eminently modular production filled with many searchworthy features such as the TV show parodies, Spy vs. Spy, The Lighter Side and so on and so on. It would be great to be able to search across these features and, if not purchase them individually, at least be able to buy a past issue that included the content. The app does include a few back-issues, but here’s hoping DC builds out the back catalog to serve as a media-free alternative to more than 50 years’ worth of MAD that was published on DVD-ROM back in 2006 for $49.95 (cheap).

Keyboard input: right from RIM’s playbook

Clearly, a $120 keyboard add-on for RIM’s PlayBook won’t be enough to immediately reverse the fortunes of RIM’s tablet, a product that now bears the burden of carrying RIM from the glory days of the BlackBerry 7 legacy to its future of BlackBerry 10.

Indeed, the peripheral, at best, brings the PlayBook closer to par with integrated keyboard offerings designed for products such as the iPad and ASUS Transformer line. Nonetheless, the PlayBook keyboard in its neat little netbookesque shell, should appeal to RIM’s core; many of these folks are QWERTY junkies. It always struck me as a serious omission that RIM did not provide a keyboard companion for the PlayBook. Of course, its 7” display creates design challenges in terms of making an effective input device that matches the width of the device.

But in case you were hoping that RIM had shifted its marketing focus away from the enterprise, a decision that led to shipping the device with the consumer-unfriendly first version of BlackBerry Bridge, there’s little to report. The video showing off the accessory demonstrates… Citrix client.. It’s not even clear from the video if the keyboard works with the kind of native Playbook apps that RIM is so ardently seeking to woo, much less RIM’s own, recently upgraded Docs to Go suite that is a nice differentiator for the device.

For want of an app…

Earlier this month at CNET, Jay Greene wrote a wonderful two-part story about how Microsoft killed the Courier project. Arguably the most fascinating paragraph describes a meeting in which Bill Gates, judging the device’s prospects, questions its champion J Allard about Courier’s e-mail capabilities:

“At one point during that meeting in early 2010 at Gates’ waterfront offices in Kirkland, Wash., Gates asked Allard how users get e-mail. Allard, Microsoft’s executive hipster charged with keeping tabs on computing trends, told Gates his team wasn’t trying to build another e-mail experience. He reasoned that everyone who had a Courier would also have a smartphone for quick e-mail writing and retrieval and a PC for more detailed exchanges. Courier users could get e-mail from the Web, Allard said, according to sources familiar with the meeting.”

The article then describes how Gates had “an allergic reaction” to the idea that the Courier would not be able to tap into Microsoft’s Exchange franchise. And while linking the death of Courier directly to its inability to handle e-mail (ironic given the product’s name), is likely an oversimplification, it is also a bit difficult to swallow that it could have even been an accessory to the murder.

Now, I somewhat sympathize with the idea that the world does not need another way to get e-mail. But to quote the Seth Meyers Weekend Update catchphrase, “Really?” From the leaked videos of Courier, e-mail did not seem like such an outlandish thing to have in the product. Surely the team could have thought of a way to “Courierize” an e-mail experience, perhaps by filtering messages relating to a specific creative project.

If Courier was killed to provide a clear path for Windows 8 tablets, then it was axed for the wrong reason, but ultimately it was probably best that it was not pursued. As engaging as Courier appeared to be, I always wondered about the size of its addressable market. We may yet get a taste of that, though, and at a much lower price than what Courier would have cost, as the Kickstarter-funded engineers behind Taposé bring their app to the iPad.

Setting a Fire under the Nook’s app selection

The Magic 8 Ball (or its gaudy iOS app) may not be as high-tech as Siri, but if the toy were to respond honestly to the question of whether Barnes & Noble will reveal an upgraded version of the Nook Color tomorrow, it would indicate “Signs point to yes.”

The announcement comes not long after Amazon has created a lot of excitement around the Kindle Fire, which has been anointed this holiday season’s #2 tablet behind the iPad before it has even been released. For all the Kindle Fire enthusiasm, though, there’s little that the e-tailer has created with that product that Barnes & Noble would not be able to answer. The Instant Video that Amazon throws in with a Prime subscription, for example, could be countered by a partnership with again Qwikster-less Netflix.

The main exception, though, is in the app selection; this would be magnified as Barnes & Noble stepped up its tablet branding efforts. Neither bookseller can match the breadth of apps offered by Google’s Android Market. Amazon, however, has chosen to offer standard Android apps via its own store whereas Barnes & Noble has chosen to launch its own developer program, resulting in a small collection of optimized Nook apps..

The Nook, though seems to be traveling down the same path that defined how the iPod developed – from fixed-function media consumption device to limited media platform to broad convergence device with the iPod touch. To best compete with the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble would have to greatly accelerate its developer program, and even then it would be far behind. There are no other viable third-party Android app stores that come close to even Amazon’s limited selection at this point.