No Pre-conceived notions in iPhone OS 3.0

image I disagree with the Gizmodo assessment that Kevin Rose was spot on with his iPhone predictions. It was a pretty safe bet to say that copy and paste would be in and multitasking would remain out. Of course, he was wrong on MMS and ignored the new functionality available to developers. But where he really missed the mark was saying that iPhone OS 3.0 would answer the functionality of the forthcoming Palm Pre.

Some of the Pre’s signature software features are (foremost to me) the Synergy integration of Web data, unobtrusive notifications, and a sleek multitasking “card” interface for applications. (The last has already seen a similar implementation for Web pages in Safari for iPhone.) Still, here was no mention of support of anything like those features. iPhone OS 3.0 adds universal search, but the implementation is different than Palm’s. Besides, I see that mostly as more of a blow against RIM, as the BlackBerry’s e-mail search was a distinct advantage that it had over the iPhone. I was surprised (although pleased) to see stereo Bluetooth support added, but this is of course a feature that many phones support.

Indeed, much of the focus yesterday was on the richness of the iPhone’s API that now incorporates even more of the capabilities available in desktop Mac OS as well as a wide range of new device support for the dock connector (although maddeningly no keyboard support via it or Bluetooth). Palm has likely avoided competing head-to-head against Apple’s rich developer infrastructure and dock connector ecosystem because of Apple’s strength.

There may well be more that Apple has up its sleeve before iPhone 3.0 rolls out. For example, given the multitouch conflict between Apple and Palm, I was surprised to see no new multitouch gestures rolled out. (Even MacBook trackpads are evolving their use of multitouch faster than the iPhone.) But for the moment, it appears that Apple and Palm are each playing to their strengths.

iPod shuffle comes closer to iPod pequeno reality

image Its capacity of 4 GB may not approach the multimillion-song capacity promised in the Saturday Night Live sketch featuring Fred Armisen as Steve Jobs. But the new iPod shuffle “paper clip” as it has been called takes the smallest MP3 from the pack of gum that the original iPod shuffle was to something more akin to a stick of gum. Yet Apple says the new shuffle will still get about 10 hours of battery life despite being half the size of previous models and that the former shuffle dock has been replaced with a short cable that has a USB connector on one end and a 3.5 mm jack on the other end.

To address two of the more controversial aspects of the new design, Apple has confirmed that in the very near future (perhaps hours) we will see third-party headphones and adapters that have shuffle controls built in. Second, as to why the English voice sounds more natural when synced from the Mac, that is the result of the text-to-speech capabilities of Leopard. Using any other language or even Tiger on the Mac will result in the more basic text-to-speech.

WhisperSync, a great concept, suffers from iPhone unitasking

imageThere’s been a lot already written about Kindle for iPhone and I’ll have more to say about it soon. The Kindle iPhone app is pretty basic, in line with one might expect for a 1.0 product, but represents an auspicious start for electronic books branching out from dedicated readers, which will be a niche market for the foreseeable future.

One of the best best features of the iPhone Kindle app is support for WhilsperSync, Amazon’s synchronization technology that keeps your library and  multiple instances of a book updated to the latest reading “location”. It’s a great idea that fits in well with how one might use e-books on an iPhone, catching up on a few pages during some downtime. Wouldst that other sellers of rights-managed content were so generous and flexible with product that has been legitimately bought. Unfortunately, due to the iPhone’s multitasking limitation, one must remember to start up the Kindle application to sync book locations prior to going offline in a train or airplane and to keep it connected (or reconnect it) to get the sync back to the on Kindle. I’m sure this could all be resolved through MobileMe, but that doesn’t seem to be the case yet.

Clearly OS X is a its heart a multiasking operating system. I don’t think Apple will capitulate to the increasing competitive pressure of the Pre and other operating systems per se, but if compelling applications appear on rival platforms that require true multitasking, Apple may need to reconsider.

FireWire lives to link another day

image Last October, Christina Warren at TUAW expressed concerns that Apple might be phasing out FireWire while her fellow TUAWer (pronounced “tower”?) Mike Schramm more recently danced on the grave of the 400 Mbps spec, likening it to Polaroid film. I blogged about competition to FireWire 800 in 2007 and more recently commented about it in a TechNewsWorld article regarding the future of PC ports.

FireWire 800 is, of course, backward compatible with FireWire 400 although a physical adapter is required, and the overall standard got a boost last week when Apple announced the continuation of the port on its low-end Mac mini which, small as it is, apparently doesn’t require the kinds of tradeoffs that led to FireWire being axed on the MacBook. So apparently we will have Apple’s sexy name for IEEE 1394 around for some time to come. While I, like Christina, am a fan of FireWire’s target disk mode that USB 3.0 won’t have an equivalent for, I increasingly look at it as more of a legacy standard as Apple somewhat characterized it at the MacBook’s introduction. Apple would do more for video at this point by nailing. AVCHD support in Mac OS than continuing to promote or support FireWire, particularly given the blistering speeds that USB 3.0 promise to support.

Ending the megapixel wars: Beat your swords into tripods

image The mood was quiet but not desperate last week at PMA. Some of the standout cameras included the Sony HX1 with its crowd-pleasing “sweep panorama” mode, the chunky Kodak Z915 compact 10x superzoom, and the Panasonic Lumix GH1 micro-four-thirds system now with video. Samsung seems to be gearing up to go head-to-head against the Lumix G series with its “hybrid” NX series that will pack an APS-C sensor into something that’s more of a point-and-shoot form factor, but there were only very early prototypes on display.

An article on Crave last week noted that Olympus cannot see its consumer DSLRs going past 12 megapixels. Perhaps the industry is finally starting to see the increasing diminishing returns of higher resolution not only for better image quality per se but as a benefit to promote versus other functionality. I thought the camera that demonstrated this best was Fujifilm’s F200 EXR which uses the Super CCD EXR sensor. In short, the camera can be used to take 12 MP photos when there is ample light or 6 MP when there is less light; the other 6 MP can be used for enhancing dynamic range. This could be a small step toward cameras that can produce true HDR photos in the camera. Fujifilm isn’t the only brand to cut down on megapixels for some other aim, such as the Casio Exilim Pro FH20 high-speed cameras that use smaller photos to produce higher frames-per-second, but I like the trend

HP to offer photo key chain with multiple functions (but no fax)

IMG_0079I first wrote about photo key chains back in June 2005 and, since then, Tao and other companies have moved to bigger and in some cases OLED screens that have helped with their poor image quality but mostly they have just come down in price. So, what’s a nice brand like HP doing in a cheesy product like this? Trying to differentiate, of course. Or I suppose after coming down to (but doing a very nice job with) the 3.5” screen size there wasn’t much smaller to go.

First, the keychain has a fold-out USB connector so no more worry about losing the cable. In addition to showing your tiny slice of that which you hold digitally dear, it can display the time and date and read microSD and M2 memory cards, which is its best feature. The most questionable feature is that it can be used to charge certain models of cell phones, but only when it is hooked up to a PC. Still the UI on this thing is one of the best I’ve seen to damn it with faint praise. It should be available later this year at about $25.

Delkin’s Fat Gecko sticks to a car hood (and slower surfaces)

imageHere’s the problem. You’re sitting in an audience and want to shoot basic steady unattended video of the performance. Tripods take up too much room and monopods beg to be held like a newborn. A GorillaPod may be able to get the job done if the seat in front of you is empty, but it often is not.

Perhaps Delkin’s Fat Gecko can come to the rescue. The mounting device is secure enough to stick to a roving ATV or car on a highway, so the back of a stationery auditorium seat should be no problem if it can be set to peek through the gap between the people in front of you. Delkin will provide a choice of parts for the Fat Gecko that allow it to extend different lengths.

Here’s a little in-joke bonus for typography geeks — the font used on the Fat Gecko’s product page is reminiscent of that of a certain car insurance company that also has an association with a gecko (albeit one hat appears quite fit, being a TV star and all). Mounting a Fat Gecko on your ride, though, won’t save you 15 percent or more on your car insurance or give you a cockney accent.

PMA was swimming in waterproof digital cameras

image For quite some time, Pentax and Olympus were the go-to brands for waterproof digital cameras, but that changed in a big way at this PMA with Panasonic, Sakar, Canon, and General Imaging showing off resilient point-and-shoots.The bulbous Canon D10 with its screw-on faceplates seemed to be favorite of most people I spoke with, and I like the sturdy feel of the Panasonic. The one that appealed to me most though, was the Fujifilm Z33WP. As part of the low-end, youth-oriented Z line, it has a fun, colorful look and is among the more affordable new entrants at $199. Fujiflilm also had some nice accessories for its hydrophilic shooter.

The Sakar Caption Cam: Take that, cameraphones!

IMG_0080There were a number of interesting novelty digital cameras being shown at the Sakar booth at PMA for its Digital Concepts brand, including one that could place backgrounds of different cities behind people. My favorite, though, was the Caption Cam. Clearly inspired by the look of the Sidekick, the Caption Cam includes a mobile phone-like keypad. However, you’ll find no T9 embedded into this product. There are simply 150 canned captions from which to choose.

The toy-like product struck me as a bit of turnabout for a category that is seeing each of its tricks, such as high resolution, autofucus, image stabilization and so forth, rapidly integrated into into cameraphones. “If phones can do a terrible job of taking photos, we can do a terrible job of using a keypad for text entry.” Best served cold is this dish of revenge.

Getting a kick out of on-the-go photo exchange

image For a niche category of products targeted toward serious photographers, there sure are a number of companies that have come up with battery-powered hard drives that can suck photos off of your memory card for reloading or backup in the field. Epson’s P-series with their gorgeous Photo Fine displays are the best known, but other companies include Sanho, Jobo, (not to be confused with GorillaPod maker Joby), Wolverine, Digital Foci, and MemoryKick.

One neat feature of the relatively compact, colorful and stylish MemoryKick MediaCenter device is that it can transfer files on the fly from one form of removable media to another (as well as USB host mode) so one could, for example, grab a few photos off of an SD card and put it on a friend’s USB flash drive. At over $200 for a lower-capacity model, they are far too expensive for that simple task, but I’m always happy to see possible solutions for in-the-field sharing of digital photos, long a pet peeve of mine.