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AT&T leaks iPad user e-mails

June 9th, 2010 Comments off

Today hackers revealed that AT&T left iPad users’ emails publicly available to anyone willing to make a guess. AT&T assures everyone that the only information that was lost was email, but how much can you believe a company that made this big of a mistake in the first place. AT&T claims to have taken care of the problem and this is probably true since the breach was more about poor judgement than technical incompetence.

What’s even more surprising than the AT&T security breach is Valleywag blaming Apple for it ( I can’t follow the logic here. The breach was on AT&T’s servers, using code written and maintained by AT&T, for the purpose of servicing AT&T customers. Apple has nothing to do with this problem, it is 100% AT&T.

Valleywag’s bizarre claim that this is an Apple security breach because Apple partnered with AT&T is like blaming Coca Cola for a customer getting mugged outside of a 7-Eleven because you can buy Coke there. It seems like Gawker Media has a bone to pick with Apple over the aftermath iPhone 4G leak more than any real point here.

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Iron Man 2: Fun for the Geek in All of Us

June 8th, 2010 Comments off

I went to the local theater (yes people still go, don’t believe everything that you read on the web) to catch a diaper date night showing of Iron Man 2 with the wife and kiddo. Despite what you may think, not all geeks have a massive surround sound 90″ big screen hone theater in their homes, some of us have wives that don’t allow that sort of thing.

The movie was exactly the kind of summer thrill ride that anyone can enjoy. Explosions, flashy cars, Kung Fu action, a little something for everyone. The speck effects were really solid, Iron Man looked real enough to touch. Marvel’s movie franchise is really doing a solid job delivering the goods for us geeks.

The Stark technology in this film wasn’t spectacular, like the first one. Jarvis, the automated home system, is not only old news in the movie but a clever geek has been whipping up his own version (Project Jarvis) which, while not quite as smooth and slick as the movie version is still pretty awesome. The rest of the movie really doesn’t feature much tech, a little high speed hacking and not much else.

The best geekery, in my opinion, is the threads that Marvel is weaving in to build up to a movie crossover event like no other: The Avengers. I am not aware of any other movie crossover event like this, this is a play straight out of the comics. We have a series of mostly independent films and now they are being tied together bit by bit to create a colossal movie event. Of course, this is Hollywood so we aren’t gig to see the fruits if this until 2012 (if the world survives of course) or later if the film hits any snags. In the meantime we’ll be treated to Thor and Captain America. I don’t now about you dear reader, but I can’t wait.

WWDC: New-ish iPhone and a little more

June 7th, 2010 Comments off

WWDC, or World Wide Developer’s Conference, is one of the big events for Apple fans the world over. Steve Jobs, as he usually does, made the Keynote address and announced some new products and technologies as well as gave an update on the state of Apple. This event is also becoming the yearly introduction event for the next generation iPhone. This year was no exception.

The new iPhone is technologically superior to its predecessors and it certainly is a premium handset that any geek can be proud to own. Unfortunately, the design and most of the features were leaked months before the official introduction, deflating a lot of the enthusiasm for the product. To make matters worse, as we previously reported, AT&T’s new data plans put a big damper on the party.

So what does the new iPhone bring to the table? Quite a bit, including an incredibly high density screen, an improved antennae design, an upgraded back camera with flash, and a front facing camera for video conferencing, all in a newly designed package. Of course it is faster and has a bigger battery, but those changes would only be noteworthy if they were slower and smaller. The phone hardware just keeps getting better, which brings us to the software.

As part of WWDC Apple has rebranded the iPhone OS as the iOS. This makes a lot of sense since the OS powers the iPhone, the iPod Touch and the iPad. If you’re keeping score at home that’s 1 device that is a phone and two that aren’t. There have been rumors of an Apple TV powered by iOS, so a rebranding would make even more sense if those rumors are true. The new OS will ship on the new iPhones, but current iPhone owners will get a taste of the new OS a few days before those new handsets hit the shelves. This is a smart move on Apples part as it will reduce the amount of traffic hitting the servers as new iPhones need to be registered.

There was an announcement that Netflix would be coming to the iPhone in short order and while initially it seems like a great idea, with the new capped data plans from AT&T, we just can’t get excited about it. That beautiful high resolution screen pushes almost as many pixels as the iPad, which means an hour of video content could easily eat almost a quarter of the monthly pittance that AT&T is dolling out to its serfs. Without bandwidth to burn, any new software that consumes a lot of megabytes is going to be low on everyone’s wish list.

Which brings us to the double disappointment that is Facetime, Apple’s new <q>mobile</q> video conferencing application for the iPhone. The concept is great, you can video chat with people as easily as making a phone call and hitting a button, but the reality is not nearly as nice. Facetime will initially only be available when the iPhone is connected to a WiFi hotspot. This means you can video conference if you and your chat partner both happen to be near an access point, but otherwise you are out of luck. There are so many applications where Facetime could change how we interact, but if we have to be near WiFi, then it just doesn’t work.

Imagine being able to send back live video from a remote job site to get trouble shooting assistance. Imagine, because without 3G being an option, that’s all you’ll be able to do. No one will cheer too much even if Facetime is opened up to 3G since the minuscule bandwidth allotments or AT&T customers will render any sort of video chatting two expensive. While not as bad as the $21/minute original video phone from AT&T, the per gigabyte usage charges will add up fast enough to keep demand for video chatting at a trickle.

All in all the WWDC announcements from Apple were good, but we just can’t get excited over any of them. Will we be upgrading our phone, of course, we still get to our unlimited data plans.

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Apple’s HTML 5 Showcase

June 6th, 2010 Comments off

In its ongoing battle with Adobe over Flash and open web standards Apple has launched a new offensive. Recently Apple developed an HTML 5 showcase on that demonstrates the interactive capabilities and digital media power of web standards HTML, CSS and JavaScript. The showcase has demonstrations and links to sample code for a number of types of interactive experiences that might currently be done in Flash but could easily be done in HTML 5 instead. Among the demos are a photo gallery, a video player, a magazine layout and a transition sampler.

Each of the demos is focused on one aspect or another of the interactive web, but each is powerful in its simplicity. The video player let’s you scale and rotate the video as it plays which, while not terribly useful is a lot of fun. One can imagine a future where with a good server you could upload raw footage to YouTube and do some light weight editing to create your next social video sensation.

The photo gallery allows you to scroll through pictures horizontally or vertically in an attractive curved arrangement. If you’d rather see them in a less 3d arrangement, that’s available with the click of a drop down list. The transition browser shows several possibilities for future enhancements one could add to the photo gallery.

The two most visually impressive demos are the virtual 5th Avenue Apple Cube and and iPhone product explored. Both of these demos show how a designer can use these technologies to create truly immersive experiences without any proprietary plugins. The glass cube is fun to twirl around inside and giving the stack of iPhones a spin is a real treat.

Unfortunately, all is not well in these demos. For starters, the demos only work in Safari not because of any technical limitation, Apple just chose to prevent other browsers from working. If your browser supports user agent spoofing you can check these demos out for yourself in other browsers. This hearkens back to the bad old days where websites only worked in Internet Explorer and other browsers were locked out, even if they could properly display the sites. This is exactly the opposite of what open Web Standards are about and Apple really missed the target in this one.

Compounding the problem is the fact that these demos don’t just use Web Standards but they also use Apple proprietary extensions, sometimes even when there is an approved standard extension that could be used. That utterly defeats the fundamental argument this site was built to make, that Web Standards are preferable to proprietary add ons. At the end of the day it is this major oversight that renders the demos too hypocritical to take seriously. Hopefully this demo site will be revised over time to actually demo Web Standards, we’ll just have to wait and see.

You can find the demos online at

Orb: Your Media Wherever You Want It

June 5th, 2010 Comments off

Have you ever been stuck somewhere and wished you had something to watch to pass the time? Or maybe you just want to share the latest picture you took of your children but haven’t gotten around to uploading to Flickr yet? Orb can help by giving you instant streaming access to all of your media stored at home from anywhere you have an internet connection.

Orb requires the installation of a server application on the computer with your media library and a free account from the website. Once the server is setup and running, which is very straight forward, Orb will index all of your media and create an online library you can access through any browser with the Flash plugin. Login to your Orb account and you can begin streaming your media in seconds. If you have a TV tuner installed in your PC you can even stream Live TV. Mac users don’t get too excited, this option isn’t available for you yet.

So what’s not to love about Orb? Unfortunately, a couple of things. First is the use of the Flash plugin. It works great on a laptop but leaves something to be desired on iPhones and iPads. Orb has created an iPhone app to allow streaming to your iPhone, but unlike the rest of the system it isn’t free. So far Orb hasn’t updated the application for the iPad but Expect that to happen sometime in the future. The second problem is the server application isn’t stable enough to be relied upon, it works most of the time, but you may find yourself without entertainment if it goes down.

You can check out Orb at:

Calibre eBook Management Software Updated

June 4th, 2010 Comments off

Today the newest version of the Calibre eBook management tool was released. You can go here to read about the new features. Calibre is a solid eBook management tool that works on many platforms. Besides making it easy to manage your eBook collection it also helps to get those eBooks from your computer and onto your reading device.

Recent updates have improved the performance of the application and added support for new readers, including Apple’s iPad tablet. The iPad export includes color support to take full advantage of the iPad’s high resolution display.

Calibre is also a great tool for converting various forms of eBooks from one format to another. Calibre can read and create many of the most popular eBook formats including Pocket Mobi, and formats for Nook, Kindle and Sony’s line of eReaders. Calibre won’t help you convert DRM protected files, but for everything else it should do the trick.

Finally, if you’ve read through all of your eBooks, Calibre can help bring current news content into your eReader for offline viewing.

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AT&T Data Plan Changes Are Bad News for Apple

June 2nd, 2010 Comments off

Today AT&T announced new smartphone data plans ( that are bad news for Apple and its line of iPhone smartphones and the recently released iPad. The new plans eliminate the unlimited data previously enjoyed by iPhone and iPad customers and replaces them with limited data plans of 200 MB on the low end and 2 GB on the high end.

AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega, in one of the most oblivious statements to date, said “AT&T helps mobilize everything on the Internet – your favorite web sites, TV shows, music, games and social networks. Virtually everything previously done while sitting at a computer can now be done on the go.” With the unlimited plan everything you previously did on the computer could be done on the phone, but the new data limits take several of the items in his list off the table entirely and raises doubts about the rest.

According to AT&T’s press release the 200 MB plan will let you watch about 20 minutes of video. That might sound good, but that’s not even the length of an average American sitcom. So if by “TV shows” de la Vega means almost a whole show, then sure, but that’s not going to work for most. The 2 GB plan will only let you watch 200 minutes, or just about 1 weekly hour long drama. Television might be possible, but these new plans make it utterly impractical.

Streaming music isn’t going to fare much better, even at highly compressed rates the 200 MB plan won’t give you but a few hours of listening pleasure and the larger plan, while 10 times larger, isn’t going to give you more than a few work days of musical bliss. I don’t think games, email, social networking (Flickr and Facebook photos will eat your cap in no time) are going to fare any better.

“To give more people the opportunity to experience these benefits, we’re breaking free from the traditional ‘one-size-fits-all’ pricing model and making the mobile Internet more affordable to a greater number of people.” said Ralph de la Vega. This would be good news for many people, but the problem is that they are making it affordable by raising the rates on the people who already enjoy these benefits. Heavy data users (that’s us iPhone owners, and if you have an iPad you’re even worse) will end up spending more money because of the extra $10 per GB fee AT&T has cooked up.

In the last 24 hours I consumed about 105 MB of data on AT&T’s network with my iPhone (WiFi only iPad for now, and now, probably forever). That didn’t include a single photo upload or watching even 1 second of video. On a weekday when I am not out killing time and have to do work. Multiply that out over 30 days and I will exceed the 2 GB limit, in fact I will probably exceed 1 extra GB bucket, so I’d be charged for two. Total price? $25+$10+$10=$45. That’s $15 more (plus tax) than I spend right now. Where exactly are my savings again?

From the press release: “The new AT&T plans provide large amounts of data to enable people to enjoy their favorite online activities”. I don’t know about you but 200 MB of data doesn’t even come close to my definition of large, though it is nearly identical to my definition of paltry. The original iPod Shuffle holds half of the data AT&T will so begrudgingly allow me. My cable company caps me at 250 GB and with streaming video content that can get tight. I believe the PR folks over at AT&T could use a dictionary to look up the meaning of “large”.

So, how does this all translate into bad news for Apple?

A portion of Apple’s revenue stream comes from selling content over AT&T’s network. If you’ve ever purchased an App while standing in line or bought a song you just heard on the radio while around town, you’ve given Apple money through AT&T’s network. Recently there was a big change to the App Store allowing the download of apps up to 20 MB in size over the 3G network (for those doing the math at home, that’s a whole 10 apps on the 200 MB plan). Apple is going to lose a lot of impulse buyers when the purchase comes with saddled with a data surcharge. The app store isn’t set up to handle find now, buy later transactions. The bottom line is this is going to hurt Apple’s bottom line.

The newly announced iAds advertising network presents a similar problem for Apple (as does the entire ad supported app economy). Will anyone want to use apps that eat their precious bandwidth to bombard them with products while lining someone’s pocket? In-App purchases fall into this category as well. If everything I want to put on my phone might cost me a data surcharge, I am going to be very careful with what I buy and when. If that 99 cent app is going to push me over my limit, it might become $10.99 or even $15.99. The last thing Apple needs is consumers weighing the pros and cons of each and every app purchase. The App Store flourished with the impulse buy and this new data pricing puts a serious damper on the party.

Beyond the direct hits to revenue the new data plans will also push down the enthusiasm for the iPad. One of the best examples of the iPad’s promise is in the Netflix app. Well, I should say it was one of the best examples, now, it comes at too high a price. Who is going to stream movies over 3G when the bandwidth cap is so low that you’ll run out before finishing the first chapter of The Lord of the Rings. MLB at Bat, Slingbox, Orb Live, the list goes on and on of apps that won’t be useful on the go.

The iPhone isn’t going to get out unscathed either. One of the strengths (some would say weaknesses, but they aren’t taking to consumer view) of the iPhone has been its relative stability and reliability. The original iPhone had no App Store because Apple was worried that loading up the device with a bunch of apps would create an unstable (I’m looking at you Treo 650) platform and terrible user experience. Eventually they relented and through the vetting of apps via the App Store, the iPhone performs well and is pretty reliable. One of the ways to keep a platform stable and reliable is to push updates out to the end user as often as you can, making sure any bugs that pop up are quickly gone. In the few cases where I have had an app go haywire it was an easy fix. Either I downloaded an update or deleted the app and redownloaded a fresh copy from the App Store over the 3G network. Easy, simple. No more. Now I will have to wait until I can find a WiFi access point to get things back to normal because the data charges aren’t worth it.

Hopefully, Apple won’t see droves of customers demanding refunds on the 3G iPad but I wouldn’t blame those customers for asking for their money back. The iPad 3G was touted with an unlimited data plan that you could add and drop at will, as needed. Now, a few weeks after launch, that’s all out the window. Sure, there was no guarantee, but even in the fast paced world of technology, weeks is a little but too fast for the carpet to disappear from under your feet.

At the end of the day, this is just a little bump under the grinding treads of the Apple juggernaut, but let’s hope that somewhere along the way Apple figures out how to drop AT&T and get on board with additional US carriers so that competition can reign in the customer hating beast that we’re currently stuck with.

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