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Filtering by Category: Innovation

We've Reached "Peak Messaging"

John Federico

As the quintessential early adopter and a propoent of creative disruption, I never thought I’d find myself saying this: when it comes to messaging, I’m old school.

Sure, email has it’s problems, but it works. The same goes for SMS. Both are ubiquitous - it doesn’t matter what mail client you have or what phone you use, it just works. For everyone.

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A few weeks with Coin

John Federico

As one of the original backers of Coin, I had completely given up on it. 

I figured it was an experiment in crowdfunding, one where I was the butt of the joke.

Imagine my surprise when, after almost two years, I received an email asking me to confirm the shipping address for my Coin. ("Wow. Is it *really* going to ship this time?")

A week later, I was finally holding the impressively engineered device in my hand.

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Double-Duty Dongles

John Federico

Chances are that if you have a MacBook Air, you have dongles.

You know, things like USB sticks, ethernet adapters, video cables for external displays and, thanks to it's two lonely USB ports, probably a USB hub. Or two.

I got fed up with carrying my Bag O'Dongles and in the process of looking for yet-another-dongle, stumbled onto a whole category of products to help with this first world problem.

The saga continues.

This past weekend I was prepping for a big pitch and was going through my gear bag to make sure I had everything I needed, which typically includes no less than three video display adapters: HDMI, DVI and (believe it or not), VGA. You'd be surprised how many times I show up to give a presentation and the only available input is VGA.

Again, I was fed up with carrying all this crap, so I jumped on Amazon. Behold, my newest find: a combination Thunderbolt to HDMI, DVI and Display Port adapter. For less than $20 bucks, too. ($17.99 at the time of this post.)

Sure, I still have to carry a VGA adapter, but now I can leave my DVI and HDMI dongles at home and simply carry this one replacement.

I'm a happy geek.

It's time to bring back the .Beat

John Federico

In 1998, my wife bought me a Swatch Beat watch. I think she heard me mention it after reading about it in Wired magazine and she got it for me as a gift.

WTF is a .Beat?

Swatch, along with the endorsement of Nicholas Negroponte, who was then the Director of the MIT Media Lab, proposed a Universal Internet Time known as the .Beat.

It works like this: A day is divided into 1000 ".beats". So, one Swatch ".beat" is equivalent to 1 Minute 26.4 Seconds.

You set your watch according to Biel Meantime (BMT). (In a classic marketing move, Biel, Switzerland is the corporate headquarters of Swatch.)

So, when you want to schedule a phone call with someone across the world, you don't have to figure out time zones - you simply indicate that the meeting should take place @xxx .beats.

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Wingstand Portable Tablet and Smartphone Stand

John Federico

If you're like me, you use a variety of gear to remain productive.

The mainstay of my workflow is my MacBook Air, with my iPhone being second in line, followed by my iPad.

In my opinion, any real work on an iPad requres a keyboard. Perhaps, if you grow up using an on-screen software keyboard, you might feel differently, but I get frustrated by the lack of tactile feedback that a real keyboard provides.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I frequently live-tweet some of the professional events that I attend. I don't always have a net connection for my MacBook or iPad, so the iPhone is my fallback device. It's these times that I wish my iPhone also had a full-size keyboard.

While this has been possible as of iOS 4, using Bluetooth, the remaining problem is about placement and orientation: what do you do with the iPhone while you're using an external keyboard?

This is where the Wingstand comes in.

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An iPhone SLR Mount is here - and it's no joke

John Federico

I've often said that the best camera I own is my iPhone 4 except for the fact that it lacks an optical zoom lens. But I don't want an SLR. The size, weight and cost make this class of camera an unattractive option for me.

Now, it looks like I can have the best of both worlds. Sort of.

Photojojo has released their iPhone SLR Mount for use with Nikon or Canon EOS lenses allowing you to add not only a simple optical zoom, but enabling you to take your photos to an entirely new level.

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QR Codes Provide Quick and Easy Access to Facebook Likes On-The-Go

John Federico

Recently, Optify shared some research inferring that social signals (Facebook "Likes") correlate with search engine results. Given this fact, it's a no wonder that so many web sites and businesses are asking you to hit the Like button.

I advised a client that he could use a number of incentives to get people to Like his Facebook page, including using a Like as an entry in a drawing. He took the advice and decided to giveaway an iPad to people who like his page.

What he didn't tell me was that he wanted people to Like his page and perform the giveaway at a professional conference made up of less-than-tech-savvy attendees.

This was a bit of challenge. Access to social networks are, by design, very personal. Most people engage with them on their computers or smartphones - neither of which would be on-hand by many folks at this event.

The fallback method I suggested for acquiring Likes and entering people into the drawing was SMS. Simply send a text to

32665

with the text 

like yourpagenamehere

The only problem with this approach was the name of the page. Instead of being something quick and easy to type like facebook.com/YPN he had chosen a long, search engine-friendly version such as facebook.com/thisismyreallygreatsuperduperpage

It's enough of a challenge to get someone to opt-in so the last thing you want is for him to feel foolish when he can't type the long name on his flip phone or his touchscreen smartphone.

The solution - which I didn't deduce until after the fact - is a QR code. Yes, there still aren't too many people who have QR code scanners installed on their phones either, but it does solve the text-entry challenge.

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Satarii Star: Like having a camera operator in your pocket

John Federico

So, you're one of those people who likes to shoot video of yourself and post it to YouTube or maybe your blog. Or, you might be producing video interviews with clients of your company. Or, maybe you're a journalist without a camera man. Or, maybe you want to use FaceTime on your iPhone 4 while you're moving about the kitchen.

Ok. Maybe you don't fit into any of these profiles but like many of us, you've probably grown tired of having a camera with a fixed location and the confinement it requires in order to get a good shot on your pocket video camera.

If you own an iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, Flip, Kodak Zi8, Android phone or (insert video recording gadget here) then you'll love this product from startup Satarii. (Keep reading to see it in action)

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Trunk.ly: Delicious for the Twitter Era

John Federico

I'm as nostalgic about the "sunsetting" of Delicious as anyone. Delicious was a staple for me back in the early 00's when I used it as a way to share links with my friends, post the links I found to my blog and even do show prep for my digital media podcast.

So what happened?

Twitter.

Sharing links via Twitter  is just so much more natural for me and with social syndication services like FriendFeed, Ping.fm, etc. links were easily shareable everywhere - except Delicious. As a result, I simply just stopped using Delicious. That said, there's one aspect of Delicious that I miss: a searchable database of all the links that I share.

But no longer, thanks to Trunk.ly.

Connect Trunk.ly to Twitter or Facebook and it will automatically grab those tweets or status updates that you share that contain links and save them for you on in your Trunk.ly account. For those of you who are packign up and leaving Delicious for greener pastures, there's even a way to import your delicious bookmarks.

From there, finding something you've shared is as easy as typing it into the search box.

Search is a bit slow right now, but it works. This is most likely due to the number of new accounts and link indexing that Trunk.ly is performing at the moment. My guess is that it will improve over time.

[Trunk.ly]

What does HDR video look like?

John Federico

High Dynamic Range (HDR) is a process typically used in still photography by snapping one overexposed photo and one underexposed photo and merging the two. This is obviously difficult to do using a single video camera but by using two of them, you can achieve the same effect in video.

This video was shot using two Canon 5D Mark II cameras.

HDR Video Demonstration Using Two Canon 5D mark II's from Soviet Montage on Vimeo.

Adobe is Running Scared from Evolving Standards

John Federico

Buy this from SpreadshirtLike the iPhone and iPod Touch that came before it, the iPad runs the same slimmed-down version of Mac OS X complete with it's multi-touch controls, icons and menu bar.

The iPad also shares with its forebears a lack of support for Adobe's Flash. Flash is an application runtime environment (a nerdy way of saying "software that lets other software work") that competes with the native applications on the iPhone, so it would make business sense that Apple might exclude it from the native capabilities of the "iPlatform".

More likely however, is the fact that Flash is buggy, crashes often and can suck up CPU cycles like crazy.

Case in point: now that I'm running Google Chrome on my MacBook, I can see how often Flash crashes as the browser will remain functioning but indicate that the plug-in has crashed. These are crashes I used to blame on my browser - Safari, Firefox, Opera, Camino - all of them. Shame on me.

Given how maniacal Apple is about the user experience and stability of the iPlatform, it's a no-brainer for them to exclude Flash - competitive issues aside.

And now, with the triumvirate of the iPhone, iPod Touch and soon iPad, Adobe is getting a little uncomfortable. If there's one company that can utilize its momentum and marketing prowess to shift an industry from de facto standards to web standards, it's Apple - and in this case, that web standard is HTML5.

Apple did this for the Webkit rendering engine that now powers Safari and Mobile Safari, but also Google Chrome, Android and soon a variety of other Webkit-based browsers for mobile devices like BlackBerry. They did it for video with H.264 and soon, they'll do it for HTML5.

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[Review] Vook: Books and Videos come together - but is that a good thing?

John Federico

I've been following Vook (the company) for awhile and was excited to see that they've wasted no time releasing their first Vook (the product). For a customer and reviewer, the nomenclature and lack of distinction between the company and the product can be a real PITA.

As for the product, here's a description from Vook.com:

A vook is a new innovation in reading that blends a well-written book, high-quality video and the power of the Internet into a single, complete story.

Given current trends - the challenges of the book publishing industry, the adoption of ebooks, the use of the iPhone and other portable devices becoming more pervasive, near ubiquitous wireless broadband - I found the concept of Vook (the product) intriguing. This review is based on a thriller entitled The Embassy by Robert Doetsch.

There are two types of Vooks:

  1. Those that are sold as iPhone apps
  2. Those that are browser based

Each share the same basic premise - mixing text with complementary video - but with slightly different approaches. Here I review both types.

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Does Amazon want to be in the Hardware Business?

John Federico

I found this post at iReaderReview about the need for the next generation of the Kindle (what the author calls the "Kindle 3") to have "Killer Features" in order to compete with the new threats to the Kindle's market success.

While it's an interesting analysis, there are some key points that the author fails to address - and others that probably don't need addressing at all.

Some of the "Killer Features" cited in the post include things like a Touchscreen, support for the ePub standard and better support for PDF's. Some of the more outlandish features include Speech-to-Text Transcription for note-taking, GPS and Google Maps and Social Networking.

Whoa! Slow down, cowboy!

The Kindle is an eBook Reader - it's not a computer, an iPod, an "iTablet" or transcription device. It does its job well - better than any other device that's been brought to market before.

Sure, social networking features might be a valuable benefit for readers (and Amazon, as it reduces friction in recommending books) but these services only add to the complexity of the device and the user experience.

That said, the reason for Kindle's groundbreaking success is not specifically about the hardware. The Kindle is a success thanks to: 

  • Great hardware at a reasonable price point with all the promised benefits of an eBook reader (lots of portable content, etc.)
  • Demand fulfillment from anywhere there's a Sprint wireless connection (Sprint powers Whispernet)
  • The backing of major publishers, small publishers and even self-publishers

With all that said, why does Amazon necessarily have to or want to be in the hardware business?

Let's look at Audible.com (now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Amazon) as an analog to the Kindle eBook business.

When Audible launched, to consumers it promised a large selection of audiobooks and lower prices thanks to digital delivery. To publishers it promised to grow the market for audiobooks and protect the publishers' intellectual property using Audible's proprietary file format (".aa") and DRM .

Customers were supposed to purchase the audiobooks, download the files, then listen to them on their computer or burn them to a CD for portable use. Neither of these consumption options was very practical. Listening on your computer require that you remain in close proximity to your computer and even with a laptop, wasn't practical for the car where most audiobooks are consumed.

Burning CD's in the late 90's still took an inordinate amount of time due to write speeds of most CD-R drives and the general speed of computers.

To improve on this relatively poor consumption experience, Audible produced a great (for its time) little MP3 player called the Otis that played both MP3 and Audible's proprietary file format. (I still have mine, somewhere. It still works.)

The debut of this device coincided with the AudibleListener subscription program. In exchange for committing to a year of the program, you received a free Otis player.

Over time, Audible licensed its software to other device manufacturers so that they could enable playback of .aa files on their portable media devices. The first was the Diamond Rio. Hundreds of others followed, including the big Kahuna, Apple, whose iPods and iPhones all play the .aa format.

Where's the Otis today? In the Smithsonian. (Literally. They have one as a part of their collection.) That's to say that Audible no longer makes the Otis.

Once portable media players took off as a product category, Audible no longer needed to expend its resources on producing its own - that was one part of the ecosystem that the market assumed on its own.

Let's return to the Kindle and Amazon's eBook business.

What's to stop Amazon from giving you a free Kindle in exchange for your commitment to a one or two year subscription plan? That would be a game changer even before Barnes & Noble/Plastic Logic got a toehold in the market.

For that matter, if you're Amazon, why manufacturer the Kindle at all? Amazon wants any manufacturer to play in their eBook ecosystem. The release of the Kindle source code and the Kindle App for the iPhone both support this theory completely.

As the market for eBooks gets bigger, Amazon benefits whether or not they continue to produce a reader. I hope they continue as I love my Kindle and expect the company to innovate for years to come, but when Amazon is satisfied that another manufacturer can produce an experience as good or better than they can themselves, I could envision them divesting themselves of their hardware business altogether and focus on content and services.

Buying Software for Jailbroken Hardware

John Federico

So, yeah. I jailbroke my iPhone. I did it primarily so I could use Qik and uStream and so I could add Search functionality.

A funny thing happened after I did that: I found some software that I can't live without. But therein lies a dilemma.

You: Wait - how is finding something you love a bad thing?

Well, that software requires that I purchase a software license.

You: Okaaaaay. So, just buy it!

Not so fast. Think about the premise for a moment: a developer wants me to purchase his software for a phone whose manufacturer may block me from using that software at some point in the future. It's kind of like buying a car and wondering if gas stations will continue to sell the kind of gas you need to run it.

I'm supportive of software developers, especially small, innovative shops that deliver valuable tools. I think it's great that they've found a market and can make some money for their creativity and hard work but as a buyer, it can be hard to reconcile that kind of risk.

OK, so it's not a huge risk. The software only costs $9.99. (That's like, my espresso budget for a couple of days.) But it did make me think.

The software is called IntelliScreen and it's made by a company called Rock Your Phone.

From their site:

Need to know where your next meeting is? Do you have any new email? What about a quick glimpse at your SMS/Text messages or weather? Want to catch the latest news, but Safari is too slow? IntelliScreen allows you to glimpse at your critical data on your iPhone "Slide to Unlock" screen!

Features:

  • View Calendar, Email, Text Messages, News, Sports, and Weather from your iPhone "Slide To Unlock" screen
  • Taskbar Icons for Missed Email, SMS, and Phone calls
  • QuickView
  • View/Mark Read/Mark Unread/Delete your Emails and SMS from the Lock Screen
  • 2 IntelliScreens
  • Double Tap the Clock Area to goto Page 2
  • Hide IntelliScreen with a Swipe to the left on the Clock Area
  • Swipe Right to get it back
  • Customizable Alert Reminders
  • Don't forget about a missed call, unread email, unread SMS, or repeating Calendar Alerts

 

Quite simply, it rocks. It's become an indispensible tool for me. (And no, I have no ties to the company whatsoever, financial or otherwise.)

Consequently, I downloaded another one of their apps called "MyProfiles" and yes, I will buy it, too once the trial is over. It costs $4.99.

From their site:

Find yourself constantly changing the settings on your iPhone depending on what you're doing or where you are? How about getting alerted when a critical email comes in from your boss? What about being able to sleep at night without being disturbed, unless it's a call from a loved one? Wish you didn't have to keep changing the auto-lock function when you're charging at your desk? Do all of this and more with MyProfiles!

Profile your iPhone!

Adjust how your iPhone behaves based on time, location, connected devices, low battery, and more.

Features:

  • Custom alerting of email based on Subject, Sender, Sent Only to You, and Mail Accounts.
  • Custom alerting of SMS messages and missed calls based on caller phone #.
  • Modify the Vibrate Pattern so you can be quietly alerted to a specific email.
  • Repeating Alerts for Email, SMS, and Missed Calls.
  • Silence Calls via WhiteList or BlackList
  • Escalating Rings and Vibrate 1st then Ring
  • Adjust WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, Push Email, Auto Lock, and 3G based on Location, Time of Day, and more.
  • Automatic rules engine to enable profiles
  • Vibrate, Sound, or Flash Alerting with Alert Quiet Time
  • Manual Override Profile by holding down the home button and pressing up and down on the Volume buttons.

When do I really have to stop and think about buying software for a jailbroken iPhone? Probably when the price hits almost $30.

pdaNet is a software application that's been around for awhile for Palm Treos, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry and is now available for jailbroken iPhones. Created by a company called JuneFabrics, it enables you to connect to the AT&T 3G network using your iPhone and a Wifi enabled computer that supports the creation of "ad hoc networks." The Mac does this easily - I'm unsure about Windows and Linux.

From their site:

pdaNet has been one of the most popular software for Windows Mobile phones and Palm OS phones. It is now ported to the iPhone! The latest version turns your iPhone into a true WiFi router for your computer (MAC or PC), and allows your laptop to go online wirelessly through the 3G network on the iPhone. It also supports USB tethering for Windows users.

While there has been quite a few other third party software (iPhoneModem, NetShare etc. and also the built-in OpenSSH) that tether your iPhone through a junky SOCKS proxy solution. PdaNet, on the other hand, is miles ahead! Here is a list of what PdaNet can do:

  • You will get FULL Internet access on the computer! (Instead of only applications that support Socks proxy.) In technical terms, all applications make direct TCP/IP connections to the server. Since there is no proxy involved, that also means less problems and less delays.
  • VPN connections are supported on the computer.
  • You don't need to configure anything on the computer end whenever you connect PdaNet. No proxy settings, no extra software installation, no messing with static IP assignment, no switching settings back and forth when going back to your home's WiFi router.
  • Yes it will connect at 3G speed if your phone has the coverage. Feedback from our users shows pretty fast speed even for the 2G version.
  • WiFi Router Mode supports PC, MAC, Linux or anything devices that supports ad-hoc WiFi connection. See WiFi setup instructions.
  • USB Tether Mode makes things even simpler. It allows you to with one click from the computer end. See USB setup instructions. USB mode even allows your computer to go online using the iPhone's WiFi Internet connection.
  • PdaNet runs in the background so you can still use other iPhone features when PdaNet is connected.
  • PdaNet has a built-in "insomnia" feature so you can turn off the phone when PdaNet is in the foreground and it won't drop your active connection. This will conserve battery.
  • When PdaNet is connected, you can SSH/SCP to your phone using domain "my.iPhone".

However, once again, a software update for the iPhone could render the application useless. Additionally, it's really meant for the person who occassionally wants to connect their laptop to the interwebs. If you're going to connect often, get yourself dedicated hardware and a service plan or suffer the rath of AT&T who will most certainly suspend your account for a "Terms of Service" violation.

Would you buy software for your jailbroken iPhone? Have you already? Why? Tell me in the comments.

The Whispersync That Will Be

John Federico

With the introduction of the Kindle 2 and the Kindle for iPhone application came Whispersync: the ability to sync the current place in your book between devices. Amazon also introduced text-to-speech capability, allowing you to listen to your books aloud while still maintaining said place within your book. This, gentle reader, is but a temporary method to integrate text and audio.

Remember Amazon's acquisition of Audible.com?

Once Audible is fully-integrated with the Amazon Digital Services platform, I'll bet that Kindlers will be given the ability to read and listen to the same book and never have to fumble for the place where they left off.

Of course, publishers are not going to just give away two copies of the same work for which they normally charge full-price, but I envision some sort of bundle where the combined cost of the Kindle text and the Audible audio will be sold at a 25% - 50% discount vs. purchasing each of them separately.

Of course, device support will likely be limited to those that are networked and allow third-party applications. At the moment, that means the iPhone/iPod Touch, BlackBerry, Android, Palm Treo, Palm Pre, Windows Mobile, etc. although it's certainly possible to accomplish this feat with a desktop application acting as an intermediary. Audible has done this for years - when you sync your portable media device to your desktop, it notes your playback position, allowing you to listen where you left off using your desktop media player.

When might we see this?

That's unclear, but it will begin the day Audible customers receive an email that says something like, "Dear Audible Customer, you'll now be getting your audiobooks through Amazon.com..."

I'd say, look for it within a year to eighteen months.

But how do you Google them?

John Federico

Merlin Mann commented (via Jason Kottke) about a designer who integrated notebooks into his workflow - 85 notebooks throughout 26 years of work.

I save all of my notebooks, too. Since I began integrating journals into my workflow (probably about 10 years ago) I have a library of about 20 of them. My biggest complaint is about indexing and finding stuff in them.

Now that I have a Livescribe Pulse Smartpen, finding stuff is no longer a problem. My journals are completely searchable. (Even with my child-like penmanship...)

Here's a screen capture of one of my Livescribe journal pages from the Livescribe Desktop software. I searched for the name of my congressman (Donald Payne) whose staff was enormously helpful in expediting the renewal of my passport for an international business trip. Note the highlight of the word "Congressman" which was my search term.

I wish I could do the same with all of my old Moleskine notebooks. Perhaps I'll have them professionally scanned and imported into Evernote? Doubtful, but it could be an interesting solution to searching old notebooks. Evernote is great at recognizing characters within handwritten notes.

Gadgets for Christmas

John Federico

Once again, Santa was good to me. I'm grateful that my family is so thoughtful and generous.

So, what gadgetry was under the tree for me this year? 

iHome iP9BR Clock Radio & Audio System for iPhone & iPod, Black

This is the one that works with the iPhone and allows for incoming calls. Previous models did not. I set it up so that I wake to an episode of The Bigg Success Show each morning.

 

 

 

Livescribe Pulse Smartpen, 2 GB

The day that my Mom asked me what I wanted for Christmas was the day that LiveScribe released the beta of the Mac desktop software for their Pulse Smartpen, so I added it to the list. (My Mom picks one or two things off my lengthy gadget list each year, as her budget allows...)

I'm looking forward to putting it through its paces. If you haven't seen it in action, be sure to check out these videos:

The Pulse comes with a single-subject spiral-bound notebook which is better suited for students than business use. I ordered a set of Moleskine-like journals that should be here in a couple of days. 

Of course, in a pinch, you can also print your own LiveScribe Pulse-compatible paper.

Freehands Fleece Gloves for the iPhone

 

Before you judge the geekiness of these gloves, try using an iPhone in the dead of winter. Not practical.

The thumbs and pointer fingers flip open (and stay open thanks to the magnets that are sewn-in) so that you can use the touch screen on the iPhone. They are perfectly suited to the task at hand. (Pun intended)

  

Mini Espresso Maker

Those of you who follow me on twitter know about my addiction obsession affection for espresso. It's tough to find the elixir of life when you travel to, say, the boonies of western Pennsylvania. To help with my search for the perfect shot on-the-go, my wife gave me a Mini Espresso Maker from Restoration Hardware which should work just great. I haven't tested it yet but will give it a try over the holidays, just to make sure I know how to use it properly when traveling.