Tag Archives: iphone

Maps, Mobile and Instant Backchannels

Whoo hoo! Doing OpenStreetMap based stuff in Plone works (thanks to some pointers from Giorgio Borelli). Here’s two offices, mine and Alistair’s in Heslington Hall added to the University of York map. Perfect!

Interestingly ANY Plone object can have coordinates (rather than there being a separate Location object type).

geoinplone

My interest in showing maps within the Collaborative Tools Project isn’t actually rooted in maps as such, although they are lovely things… maps aren’t they? What I’m also interested in is…

Flashmobbing and “Good Enough” User Generated Mapping Data

Parts of the University’s campus are very well defined in the OpenStreetMap map and other buildings such as the recently finished Berrick Saul that I look out on are missing completely. I suspect the trails on the map are the result of a StreetMap Party (but I don’t know) where mapping nuts gather with devices and leave their trail(s).

This is fascinating firstly because it happened in the first place, but also because it’d be great to help make it happen again. Or to put it another way, the University of York is awash with energetic young people with a GPS device in their hand… surely with a little gentle persuasion a little effort from a lot of people, say, adding a room’s geographic location could add up to something bigger, better and more useful… Like for example…

…Accessible Maps

There is a project looking to marry the maps that our Estates dept have, with data about the paths, roads and layout around the University to create something that is helpful to people with disabilities. It’s a lot of  (technical) work but I believe that in the meantime we could have a prototype (maybe an iPhone app) that gave enough information to help shape the design of a better system.

Or to put it another way… I suspect that, in order for map to be genuinely useful, it needs to be mobile (and probably not paper) and allow user contributions “Don’t go this way – there’s a massive puddle of duck poo!” etc.

Which leads on to…

… Instant Backchannels…

Or put it another way… Have you ever been at a presentation where the presenter has announced a hashtag that the audience can use to collect tweets from everyone? It’s quite an interesting experience, for the presenter it can be a challenge receiving instant feedback but it also gives everyone outside the room a flavour of what’s going on inside the room.

“Instant backchannels” can be a mess to invoke … almost as if once everyone is in on the secret it works magically, but if they aren’t it can’t. For example, people in the audience might need a twitter account, and to know about tools that pull hashtags searches together… I might want the backchannel displayed alongside (or over) my slides being presented… I also might want some “background” material available too in say a wiki. I’ve even remotely attended conference sessions where the presenter’s talk is video streamed (I think with uStream) and I even got to ask a question via Twitter.

So I thought how easy would it be to create an Instant Backchannel for every room in the University? The idea being that it was there, all ready to go whether you use it or not. The point being that it probably wouldn’t get used much, but when it was, it would be invaluable.

What’s most interesting (to me) is that in order to work it doesn’t require accurate geographical data, it only needs a list of room names BUT the geographical location can be added later, as an when… as simply as tapping a button on your iPhone. It might look something like this…

instantbackchannel

So there… a very simple idea that might help people find their way around campus, participate remotely in presentations, get in touch with people who aren’t in their office, find information or people based on the discussions that other people had in a room the week before you were in it…

…that involves Crowd-sourcing the geographical location of important places, QR codes to bring the digital into the real world and back again, twitter, mapping, iPhone or mobile apps, accessibility issues and user generated “good enough” content.

Sounds like a plan.

Launched! The Random Activity Generator

The RAG iphone app is now available on the AppStore. It’s an educational-inspiration-onometer that generates lots of, well, random and educational activities. It’s hard to explain.

If you want to watch a movie of the app or  find out more about the RAG you can go here http://theragis.us/ or you might want to follow @raggler on twitter (it gives you a randomly creative challenge every day) but I know that deep down all you  want to do is go get your copy right now…. so go on… help yourself….

100 Reasons Why Not To Buy An iPhone

After my woeful iphone experiences (which apart from still not having any 3G) seem to have fixed themselves after upgrapding iTunes8 (eh?) I wanted to document what apps I’ve installed so that when I have to install them all again I can remind myself what I liked.

Lots of the apps I like are the sort that, although you know you might only need them once, in a very specific situation, unless you have them on your iphone then and there, you won’t be able to use them. An example of this might be an egg timer. You honestly aren’t going to bother going to download an egg timing application when the yolk-lust grabs you BUT if you happen to have already installed it then as you get the egg pan out you may decide to use it.

Another of the sort of application I like are the sort that show off a feature of the iphone. It sort of justifies buying the damn thing. A friend of mine almost fell off his chair when I proudly demo-ed the spirit level application. His chair was wonky.

Bizarrely, whilst walking through Easingwold last night someone pulled over and asked “Where is the nearest petrol station?” … which was doubly bizarre because they’ve just demolished the local garage and I’d just commented along the lines of “Where the hell IS the nearest petrol station for Easingwoldians?”… and so, to my delight I was able to whip out Locly and discover that the answer to the question is Thirsk (which can’t happen often either).

Another of the sorts of apps I like, are ones that when you are on a delayed train and going nowhere you can “entertain” yourself by exploring them. They’re like boredom insurance for a time when you probably don’t have access to the internet.

Yet another of the sorts of apps I like are the free ones. I’m from Yorkshire.

I haven’t JailBroke my iphone yet, partly because I expect to take it back soon…

Air Sharing – turns your iphone into a browsable hard disk over airport, great for dumping a PDF you want to read on the bus etc
Bakelite 1.0 – an old fashioned circular dialer (oh how we laughed)
Band – I paid for this (oh how they laughed)
Banner Free 1.0 (this came in useful ordering a pint across a crowded pub… oh how the entire pub laughed)
Bookmarks 1.0 (Delicious but fairly useless actually)
ClickWheel (don’t bother)
Cross Light (crosswords I can’t do..)
Cube Runner 1.2 (a game that demoes the rock n scroll interface of the iphone well)
Cubes Lite (good god this is addictive and I don’t even like games, just one more go… AND it demos the flicky-flicky interface quite well)
DizzyBeeFree 1.1 (rolly rolly)
DownTime 1.5.3 (A countdown (think egg) timer)
Dual Level (spirit level)
Eventful 1.0.1 (local events…. quite nice)
Evernote 1.3.0 (notes … crashed when taking a picture of Richard Millwood…. can’t really blame it though)
ezimba 2.0 (edit pictures… you’re gonna need this one strange day)
Facebook (has a better interface to contacts that the contacts app)
Google (it’s like God)
GuitarToolkit (I paid for this and used to work out what notes were in a melody I was singing (badly))
iFooty (wonderful football leagues, tables etc)
iPint 1.1 (I thought this was the one where you pretend to drink a beer… it wasn’t)
Labyrinth LE (great rolly rolly demo game)
Last.fm ( genius)
LinkedIn (quite nice)
Locly 2.0 (find petrol stations and more near you — go get this now)
MiGhtyDocs 1.1 1 (view Google Docs on your iphone)
Mobile News 1.2 (?)
Monkey Ball ( essential-ish)
MProfs 1.01 (Marketing news done quite nicely)
MTelnet 1.1 (I really want an SSH client.. but you have to pay for one of those… I’ll wait)
myLite 1.4 (Stupid makes the screen flash)
NeoReader 1.0 (One of those 3D barcode readers… trust me, one day … and only one… you’ll need this, go get it)
NetNewsWire 1.0.9 (Crashed because my reading list is huge)
Portuguese 1.0 (Fantastic if you happen to be Portugal… has audio examples of how to say something)
PuzzloopFree ( a game I haven’t played yet)
Rain Stick 1.1 (stupid, don’t)
Relax (videos of waterfalls etc)
Remote 1.0 (contol your iTunes)
reMovem free 1.0.3 (wonderful game that … just one more try)
Scribble 1.1 (hopeless drawing app)
Shazam 1.0 (sing a tune and it will tell you what it is… if this isn’t an example of an app that you will SO NEED one day then …)
Speed 1.0.4 (no idea, doesn’t seem to have synced)
Stanza 1.3 1 (A free book reader thingy… I started some odd books )
Stitcher 1.1.3231 (radio… I think)
TimeValue (for calculation compound interest…. although maybe not)
TouchClock 1.1 1 (a timer…one day…)
Trailguru 1.0 (A “plot your walk” type GPS app)
TubeStatus (this will come in handy one day)
Twitterrific 1.1 (of course)
Twittervision 1.1 (maybe not)
VoiceNotes 1.2 (record audio notes)
Wikipanion 1.2 (why yes)
WordPress 1.1 (this makes me smile… the ONE thing this app could do really well is moderate comments, because as I’ve ranted earlier, textual input on the iphone is a bit lameroo… and moderating needs only button clicks… and it doesn’t do it, instead focussing on writing blog posts… bonkers!)
へぇボタン 1.1 (eh?)

Here’s a load more iPhone Apps, iPhone Applications. As I write this… my iphone crashed while syncing these applications… oh how we laughed at the irony whilst holding down the power button and the home button for six seconds.

UPDATE: Sigh… you know what… it won’t boot now… it’s stuck at the Apple logo…. I bet when Steve Jobs reads this blog he’ll be furious…

Roll on Friday…

Rick tells me, with more than a chortle in his voice, that Apple are to offer bug-fixing iPhone software update… oh goody… If you follow my pathetic twitterings you’ll know that I’m unlucky when it comes to iPhones. I was planning to take this one (my second) back because it doesn’t work (none of the apps stay open) and doesn’t do 3G (which for a 3G phone is sort of lame).

I think of Jef Raskin every day when I go to the Contacts app on the iPhone. Jef gave us (well me at least) the notion of interface notation which is a means of quantifying whether or not one interface is more efficient than another. And every day… the iPhone’s Contacts app is screaming at me, “IF THE KEYBOARD WAS ALREADY OPEN WHEN ENTER THE CONTACTS APP, I COULD BOTH TYPE AND SCROLLY-SCROLLY TO GET TO MY CHOSEN CONTACT”… Which in Raskin terms, would be a demonstrably better interface, taking fewer clicks in more situations – like a win-win scenario. Part of this whole problem is brought on because the Contacts app seems to freeze when you open it (anyone else get this?).

I must be particularly unlucky with iPhones because someone on the GeekUp list managed to drop theirs in the bath, and following some very precise “what to do when you drop your iphone in the bath” instructions (worth a read for when the innevitable happens), managed to get it going again. Astonishing! … that someone on the GeekUp list bathes.

I wonder if Apple do any real usability testing anymore. Apart from my iPhone glitches, I’m starting to notice (like you do when you notice something, then see it absolutely everywhere) that I do seem to spend a LOT of time working around the interface.

Here’s an example. Whilst downloading some software, I went to the “stacks” icon to go an select it but as my mouse got nearer the stack moved off-screen. It’s quite hard to explain and almost comical to watch, the end result is spending lots of frustrating time doing things like moving windows, closing windows, hiding the desktop just to do something very simple (like open the thing you’ve just downloaded).

These interface avoidance techniques suggest to me that Apple are (conceptually) broke. Or is it just that I need a 6 foot screen.

As an exercise, watch yourself today as you use the computer and notice those things you do that really shouldn’t need doing, that you manage to do almost “in a dream” on the way to “getting things done”… and after a while you’ll be as boring, frustrated and insane as I am.

Mactard

Andy recently called me a Mactard…and sowed seeds of doubt about Apple’s place in the universe.

  • I recently lost a lot of my personal data upgrading my laptop to 10.5. The installer crashed. Yes I’d backed up and I no I won’t bore you with the details of how and why Apple’s idea of backing up doesn’t work (and never has).
  • I lost a lot of someone else’s work upgrading to 10.5 having made a full backup but then had to downgrade back to 10.4 (10.5 doesn’t work on old powerbooks) and then couldn’t access the backup files (oh goody)… The only reason I upgraded this machine was to get automatic-over-wifi-backups in the first place, oh irony of ironies. How we laughed…
  • Now my iphone apps all crash, all the time. I have a phone with dubious reception that would double up as a spirit level but doesn’t. See: iPhone 3G apps crash on startup and … having got all excited about the iPhone, then having become jaded by its underwhelminess, to be made to “just get it to work” is a total joy. And even better… the reason why it’s crashing is probably to do with poorly implemented DRM… something I didn’t want or need implemented so bad that it stops me from using the entire device… Yippee!
  • The difference between iTunes (on my iPhone) which is actually the Apple Music Store and iTunes (on my Mac)… which is actually iSync with iTunes added and with the Apple Music Store… screams to me that Apple need to sit down and all agree what exactly is called what. I mean I have an icon on my iPhone called iPod!
  • OK, so now, what is the difference between your Apple ID, your Mobile me login and your iTunes Music Store/AppStore login? The answer is, “Who knows?” because I have to login into the same account with different details depending on whether I’m on my mac or on my iphone… one uses the username and the other the full email address of my mobile me account.
  • And where will your MobileMe data go/be/be resolved? The big question here is not whether it works or not but are the users expectations set and met? Does the user get a clear picture of what should happen, and what will happen (when)?
  • And now AppStore is moaning about authentication….

You spend long enough riding by the seat of your pants and putting things back together and you start to wonder why you’re even bothering. I guess I should have read Apple’s small print which says something along the lines of “Hey it’s shiny, so shut up and buy something else”.

When Apple sold me the idea of the computer for the rest of us, I didn’t realize that the rest of us were all IT technicians fixing broken computers.

The worst part of all of this is feeling like a moaning minnie. I’m pretty geeky, I can use computers and I haven’t a clue what is going on with Apple or worse, if I did have a clue, if I’d agree with it.

Google, Spam Blogs and Originality

Dear Google,

you can improve the quality of the web for all of us by killing spam blogs. It’s quite easy to do, just search for … “wrote an interesting post today on” and “Here€™s a quick excerpt“.

Here’s almost a million pages you can take out of your database right now..  using Google,

thank you,

tom

p.s On of the things that really astonishes me about dullards who make spam blogs, is how little imagination they show. If I was creating spam blogs I’d at least mix up the words a bit to “let’s rip with a great post“… or “has written an iteresting article over here” or whatever. I’d at least use different a WordPress theme to Kubrick.

I imagine that with even the smallest amount of thinking that went “what are the characteristics of an unoriginal spam blog” would remove at least 10% of the web in a single stroke… (And 10% of Google’s income from Adsense but they don’t need the money do they?).

Because I’ve tagged my post with the iPhone tag, ironically, this post will automatically appear on blog spam sites like BestiPhone2U.info (an iPhone blog spam site)… which uses the Kubrick WordPress theme. You know, killing ALL sites that use the default options for WordPress wouldn’t be a bad idea… if you use Kubrick, you’re dead in the water imaginitively anyway.

Setting the creative bar a little higher would also force spam-bloggers to be more imaginitive, which in itself is a good thing, they need the mental exercise. Whilst being spammy yet creative they might also realise the errors of their ways and do something genuinely creative instead, like solving textual input problems on the iPhone, for example.

You never know.

iPhone and Textual Input

One of my clients humorously lamented the fact that using T9 on a mobile phone for texting was becoming a lost art since they’d got an iPhone and started using the little on-screen keyboard.

I am slightly amazed by the lack of outrageous ideas in the iPhone, especially in the area of typing text. I would have expected Apple to at least re-invent text itself, just so the demos were really, really, really cool… “We call it iNglish!” .

If anyone remembers the Palm Pilot there is, somewhere out there a version of iPhone Graffiti, which I remember with a certain fondness although I’m not sure I’d like to meet up again any time soon. What interests me about text input, is that people, in the past, have tended to use their phones for T9 text entry and yet the iPhone seems to lends itself to two-fingered and two-handed typing, which also sort of means you need to put the thing down in order to type. I’ve tried using my thumb to type and I just can’t see the keys, I need a transparent thumb.

I started thinking about all the other ways you could, if you wanted, enter text onto a device that accepts, tapping, gestures, multi-touch, shakes, rattles and rolls. For example, would it be possible to build a Chord keyboard, something I’ve always liked the sound of, or maybe one that takes the “fits like a glove” approach? What I’d like about this is that at least I could type whilst walking or standing at the bus queue.

The thing that really interested me, was, if a system of text entry could let me type on my iPhone at the speed of thought, it wouldn’t matter how crazy it was, people would learn it. Not everyone would learn this new system, but perhaps writers and reporters would. It would be a text-logging tool, in that you wouldn’t want to edit or craft anything using this method, but it would be great for idea-capturing, or transcribing, or stream-of-consciousness type writing. Despite the clunkiness, I quite like the GKOS demo movie, which seems to be a keyboard with only 2 keys and works a bit like a motor-bike gear-shift… up down, down, down up.

I’m surprised that there isn’t a separate keypad to go with the iPhone, like the Frogpad, but having an additional keypad kind of defeats where I was heading with this because… what would an input method that made the most out of the iPhone’s features be? This is a bit like making a purse from a pig’s ear except that I’m sure that at some point somebody told the inventor of T9 that it’d never work. The Easy Egg Alphabet looks crazy enough a writing system for anyone.

And then I started look at shorthand and discovered there are loads of different shorthand systems, surely one of these would work, especially if you can imagine the iPhone screen area to be slowly scrolling by as you write, or zooming into the distance perhaps. Or how about a tool like Dasher for the iPhone? Although the Mac Beta crashes when I get to the second letter of a word I want to type/dash, I still have a soft spot for the lunacy/genius of this approach to text entry.

And then I had a eureka moment.… To create a fast textual input system, that took advantage of all the iPhone features, why not use Braille? So I started thinking about how you would enter dots on an iPhone (I think it can only take two fingers at a time but would handle strokes very well… ahem).

I then thought, if you added type-ahead scrolling (perhaps like Dasher), and showed people the letters (something that you can only do with a big screen area) then maybe you would have a flicky-tappy-strokey input system that is kind of designed around what you can do with two fingers rather than, like a regular keyboard, do with two hands. So,

I started having a go at making a simple iPhone application to play with some of these ideas. I didn’t get much further than what you see to the right.

I then realised that not all eureka moments are what you’d call “any good”… Ah well.

I still think that we’ll see some beautiful and maybe crazy textual input tools quite soon that do take advantage of what the iPhone or iPhone3.0 has to offer. In the same way as Tetris stormed computer games, but actually was very, very simple… and the same way that the Rubik’s cube was was a few squares of plastic and a heap of genius… I think someone somewhere will have a eureka moment about the way we write text.

Until then, I eagerly await a copy of MessagEase on the iPhone which looks a lot of fun.

iPhone …

There is an unwritten rule that just when you say “Well at least things can’t get an worse” that the really bad shit happens.

I got a call from the lovely Barry at Carphone Warehouse to tell me that I may get my iPhone by the end of the month.. but then he then went on to talk about worst case scenarios… When anyone talks about worst case scenarios it’s code for “I don’t want to have to admit that this is the most likely outcome”.

And besides, this already is a few streets down the road from Worst Case Avenue past Cock-Up Mansions.

The problem is this… head office have a few thousands of the iPhones but they are floating in a cloud of ambiguity. My order is what is technically known as in the aether and has gone all quantum, in that it both is and isn’t at the same time. Both Barry and I are being kept in the dark…matter as Carphone Warehouse spend their time herding Schrodinger’s cats.

As someone who, as you know, doesn’t fall for the whole hype thing, ahem, I’ve managed to join the extremely popular “People who have an iPhone (but don’t and might not ever have one) Club”.

.

Carphone Warehouse iPhone Scum

It gets worse than worse…. (see previous posts)…

So just now I phone the delightful Barry at Carphone Warehouse, who tells me… My iPhone(s) should have been delivered and that Carphone Warehouse have a few thousand on the stock databases, that keep going up and down but that they can’t touch… Mysteriously….

And head office isn’t answering the phone or releasing any information.

The delectable Barry apologizes profusely but can’t help me because head office think that it’s OK in the information age to just hide and hope.

It’d be great to think that heads will roll because of this, but given their track record so far, I’m not sure that heads-a-rolling would make a difference. There’s nothing in there remotely useful. They’re probably all busy shredding the backup of the database that shows who made the biggest arse up ever in what will be called iPhoneGate by the laziest of journos.

The worse part about all this, like all customer service nightmares, is that at the end of the day, you just feel stupid, helpless and more stupid.. Sure I could take this complaint and go looking for some sort of explanation or recompense, but to be honest, I’ve now lost all interest in iPhones and maybe, who knows, lost interest in excitement itself.

If they ever arrive, I’m tempted to just take them back and go shopping for my old friend, the Moleskine notebook, that have only ever disappointed me when I’ve sobered up and read what I wrote the previous night.

iPhone 3G One Week Anniversary Interview

Who’d a thought? Time flies…

I bumped into two fellow iQueue-ers this week, one in York and one on the train from Leeds. Only one of us has an iPhone. Two of us are plotting.

It’s now the one week anniversary ( iPhone 3G One Week Anniversary Interview ) since I bought two iPhone and I still don’t have one which feels like I’ve got my hands on Sgt. Peppers just as Never Mind The Bollocks was released. Thank you Carphone Warehouse … Purveyors of the Zeitgeist.

The Carphone Warehouse iPhone Scam

It gets worse…

I just called Carphone Warehouse and asked where my lovely iPhones were (due to be delivered Monday) and they said that they don’t have the stock to fill the order. The said that someone must have entered the wrong amount in stock control.

So, they’ve taken my money, duped me into buying two iPhones (see earlier post How Not To Buy An iPhone) so that I can get them by last Monday and say they expect to have some by Friday… but when I asked how they knew that they said because other people at Carphone Warehouse said so. Other people at Carphone Warehouse said my iPhone was waiting to be delivered.

Is selling things you don’t have illegal in any way? What if I’d opened a store selling iPhones (I have a million imaginary ones in stock!) and I took orders for delivery the next week.. then simply waited until Apple send the next load over to the UK and delivered them month’s later? People could of course “have their money back”… some would ask, some wouldn’t… some very rich people with short memories might forgot where they made their order or lose their receipt…. and on the remaining idiots (like me) you’d make the commission.

It’s definitely a scam in that they’ve been sitting on my money for a week and I have nothing but a piece of paper, a load of excuses from Carphone Warehouse and a hangover on Saturday to show for it.

So, when the next big consumer hype wave rolls into town, expect me to open a shop and offer to sell it to you (I have millions of them in stock, whatever they are), but remember that my business model is based on The Carphone Warehouse Scam.