Mobile phones as desktop and laptop replacements

It’s high time we were able to come home and place our mobile phones in a dock that’s connected to a display, keyboard and mouse, and have it turn into a full-fledged desktop and laptop replacement. Mobile phones have sufficient computing power for most of our needs, they have the apps most of us use on desktops as well, and there are incredible energy savings to be had. Hardware manufacturers need to start making sincere, concerted efforts toward this end.

You may also want to read through this post of mine, where I tried my best to use a tablet (an iPad) as my main computer, only to be frustrated to no end by the lack of common ammenities and functionalities we’ve come to expect on desktops and laptops, simple things such as the use of a mouse, drag-and-drop functionality between folders, a finder/file explorer and the ability to easily access drives and files on the network.

I realize that people who engage in heavy computing on a daily basis, such as 4K video editing, 3D graphics and 3D video rendering, large-scale CAD projects, serious coding that requires powerful compilers and other such tasks, will still need very powerful desktop computers and even small server farms in order to do their jobs and I am in no way suggesting that they start using mobile phones to do their work.

We simply have to acknowledge that the majority of the population that uses computers can do just fine with the computing power of a mobile phone. I’m talking about the people who mostly check their email, use social networking sites and apps for social networking sites, plus some online banking and take casual photos and videos. What if all those people were able to use their mobiles phones as replacement desktops or replacement laptops? Wouldn’t that be a significant cost savings to them?

Looking at the greater picture, if all those people, or at least a significant portion of them did this, wouldn’t that translate into significant energy savings for cities, counties, states and countries? Aren’t we always talking about reducing our carbon footprint? Well, instead of using a laptop that consumes about 60W when plugged in, or a desktop that eats up about 200W, give or take, why not use a mobile phone that consumes 3-5W when plugged in?

A way to make Shuffle better in iTunes and on iPhones and iPods

iTunes

I don’t know about you but I’ve listened to all of the songs in my iTunes library. Repeatedly. Over and over and over. I keep buying new ones but inevitably, the play counts add up. And the ones I didn’t want to listen to, I skipped over. Repeatedly. Over and over and over. And therein lies the answer to making Shuffle better, both in iTunes and on our iPhones, iPods and iPads.

Apple, please tweak the Shuffle algorithm so that if a song is skipped over more than once, it won’t play it during Shuffle mode at all, at least not for a while. The auto-skip period can be tweaked in the settings (in iTunes and on our portable devices). And we should also be able to decide whether we want these songs to sync to our devices at all, sort of like putting them in hibernation. Maybe even create a special section in the Library where a smart list will display these pariah songs when needed.

Some of the songs I bought have started to annoy me so much that I deleted them altogether. I suppose you can’t help that with music. You like it, then you don’t. You need a break from it. But when your iPod or iPhone keeps shoving it in your face, particularly when you’re driving and you don’t want to be bothered with skipping over songs, then that song begins to annoy you enough so that you get home and delete it from your iTunes library, just so you won’t hear it again.

And Apple, please don’t do this only in iTunes. Make sure you do it for iPhones and iPods as well, and for the older models, too. I still have a 1st gen iPod Touch that I use from time to time, and its software hasn’t been updated in years. It’d be nice to get some extra life out of it once the new Shuffle is brought out.

Thanks in advance!

A couple of suggestions for Waze

Waze

I’ve been using Waze for over a month and I love it. If you haven’t tried it yet, you should. It’s surprisingly accurate, even in a country where you wouldn’t think there’d be a lot of users, like Romania.

The traffic updates can get a little overwhelming in large urban areas like Bucharest and sometimes it doesn’t find an address I need, but overall, it’s a wonderful app and the idea of a user-driven (and updated) map is awesome. Live traffic alerts and automatic calculation of the best route based on current traffic conditions are awesome options (these used to cost a pretty penny with GPS devices and weren’t very good nor up-to-date).

Here’s a way to make Waze better: use the accelerometer in our iPhones to automatically determine if the road is unsafe, based on braking, swerving, stopping and yes, even driving (or falling) through potholes. I love being able to report a road incident but when I’m swerving through potholes and recently dug up roads (like the one between Medias and Sighisoara), I don’t have the time nor the multitasking brain cycles to tap on my phone and report a hole in the road. So doing this automatically and reporting it to the users would be a wonderful new addition to Waze. I’d love to get an alert on my phone as I’m driving through fog or rain, when the visibility isn’t great, telling me there’s a pothole ahead. And by the way, Waze, have you thought about hooking up weather info to the traffic reports?

One thing that always annoyed me with GPS devices is the constant repetition of stuff like “take the 2nd exit” or “turn left”. The new version of Waze seems to be doing the same thing. I’d love an option in the settings where I could specify that I’d like to be reminded about such things a maximum of two times (not 3 or 4 times…)

A big thanks to the Waze team for the awesome work!

Hardware review: CableJive duaLink sync splitter cable

The duaLink sync splitter cable, made by CableJive, allows you to connect two iPods, iPads or iPhones from a single USB port. This is particularly useful for laptop owners, who may not have a lot of ports on their machines.

Here’s a closer look at the cable itself.

And here’s what it looks like with two iPods connected to my MacBook Pro.

Finally, here’s what things look like in iTunes.

It’s a straightforward product that I think many of us could use. It costs $25.95, and you can get it directly from CableJive.

Time of capture metadata bug in iPhone 4 movie clips

Updated 9/12/10: I’m not sure any more if this is an iPhone 4 glitch or an Adobe Lightroom 3.2 bug. A thread has been opened in the Adobe Lightroom Forum, if you’d like to chime in there.

After upgrading the iPhone with iOS 4.1, I recorded a new video clip, imported it and some new photos into Lightroom, and the same wrong date and time appear for it.

According to a comment on my thread in the Apple Support Forums, the correct time of capture is displayed for iPhone 4 video clips elsewhere but Lightroom. And I also noticed that Lightroom displays the very same incorrect date and time of capture for video clips taken with the Nokia N95.

Updated 9/27/10: I’ve been in touch with Adobe, and it turns out this is a “designed” behavior. That is, because movie clips do not have EXIF data (there is no standard for EXIF data when it comes to them), they are assigned a random date and time as they’re imported into Lightroom. HDSLR video files are accompanied by a .THM file which stores the necessary EXIF data, and that’s why they show up properly.

Quoting from Davide M.’s (Adobe) response:

So I then had a look at our bug database and it turns our this is a known issue with mobile phones although somewhat out-with our control. Movie files do not technically have EXIF data or at least the standard has not yet been established. Since the import process can assign a timestamp to a movie file, we ignore this time stamp since it can be inaccurate, as shown by the example of your video file being changed by the simple process of email. Other applications while appearing to work fine, in fact are simply showing you the files creation date. If you were to duplicate the file, you will see that the timestamp in these other applications will change to the time the file duplication took place.

The reason why most DSLRs work is because they create a sidecar file containing that information. Files with no timestamp, such as the ones from the iPhone and the Nokia N95 do not create this and hence default to 1/1/04 when looking at the Loupe information overlay.

In the example you used, the Canon 7D creates a .THM sidecar file with the same name as the video file it generates. This contains all the data associated with the video file.

Still, this is problematic behavior, as it introduces erroneous times of capture in these movie files. So I asked Davide if it would be possible for Lightroom to be updated so that it writes a more accurate time of capture for these movie files. Thankfully, he agreed to log it as a feature request. Time will tell if this will make it into a future LR update. Quoting him below:

That’s certainly something I can log in our feature request list. Because this has been deemed ‘as designed’ by our engineering team (due to the lack of EXIF data in movie files) it is not technically a bug. None the less, I can see that this would be a useful addition to our application. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

Thank you, Davide!

After downloading a few movie clips taken with an iPhone 4 (running iOS 4.0.1) onto my computer, I saw right away that their time of capture was incorrect, even though the iPhone’s time had been set up correctly. I took a few screenshots of the movie clips in Lightroom, which you can see below. Click on each to view them large.

This time metadata error happens when using either the main (back-facing) HD video camera, as shown above, or the front-facing VGA camera, as you can see from the screenshot below.

It looks like iPhone 4 records the same time for all video clips recorded with it, set at 1/1/04 1:44:24 AM.

It goes without saying that any digital video camera worth its salt will record the time of capture properly. The question, naturally, is when Apple will fix this glaring bug?

For comparison purposes, here is a screenshot of a Canon 7D movie clip, also shown in Lightroom. The time of capture was recorded properly, as was to be expected.

Cameras I’ve used so far

Updated 11/16/12 with new cameras. 

I thought it’d be fun to go through the meta-data for my photos in Lightroom and see what cameras and lenses I’ve been using since 2006, when photography became more than an occasional hobby for me — indeed, it became an obsession, and now it’s my daily occupation.

There are 30 cameras listed below, in reverse chronological order. I’ve provided a photo for each camera. If I’ve written reviews for them, they’re linked.

I’m doing this in order to share my experience with you. Perhaps you’ve used some of the same cameras, or are using one of these cameras now, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. I also believe it’s important to use a variety of cameras, because that expands our photographic horizons and improves our craft.

Canon EOS 7D: this is my current field camera. It truly is a beast: fast frame rate, sturdy, rugged, heavy — a camera I can truly rely on. In addition to photographs, I also record video with it. It’s the secondary studio camera for our web shows.

Canon EOS 60D: this is my current studio camera. I use it as the main video camera for our award-winning web shows (Ligia’s Kitchen, Romania Through Their Eyes and Quilling). I also take photos with it, also mainly in the studio. I like it because it’s lightweight, has the same video quality as the 7D, has a flippable display and because it’s not weather-sealed, it doesn’t tend to overheat when shooting video for long periods of time.

Olympus PEN E-PL1: a very portable mirrorless camera from Olympus with a resolution of 12.2 megapixels. I have two lenses for it, the 14-42mm and the 40-150mm. I carry it with me pretty much everywhere I go, because the whole kit (camera plus two lenses) is so light it’s cinch, even on long hikes in the mountains.

iPhone 4: my current phone. Not sure what I could say about it other than what you already know. It’s a great phone, so I take it everywhere and therefore I also use it to take photographs and record video. If you know its strengths, then you can get pretty good photos. And the key thing to remember about video with the iPhone 4 is that it should definitely be stabilized on a tripod and you should avoid panning with it so that you don’t get the “jellocam” effect.

Olympus PEN E-P2: a superb, small DSLR from Olympus with a resolution of 12.2 megapixels, which followed up on the company’s film PEN series of cameras. I loved using it, loved its small size, loved its low light performance. Reviewed it in March 2010. Took over 900 photos with it.

Canon EOS 5D: this used to be my main camera, a wonderful full frame, 12.8 megapixel DSLR, which I purchased in 2007. More than three years later, and after two repairs, it works. Being a full-frame DSLR, the depth of field and picture quality is amazing, but the downside is that the lenses cost a pretty penny. I’ve taken over 50,000 photos with it, and I still enjoy using it.

Minolta Hi-Matic 9: I got this as a gift from a distant relative (without an instruction book) sometime in 1991-92. It’s a classic rangefinder camera from Minolta that uses 35mm film. Sometime after 1998, I found an instruction book for it on the internet, figured out how to use it, and I love it. The photo quality is wonderful, and it’s got a ton of features for a classic camera, including a built-in self-timer.


Image credit: The Camera Site

Canon PowerShot G10: a prosumer digicam. Is resolution is 14 megapixels, picture quality is pretty good, but the lens is slower (f/2.8) than in the G3 and the bokeh isn’t as pretty. The movie quality (SD) is pretty nice though. I’ve taken over 1,200 photos with it.

Canon EOS 30D: this was the first semi-pro DSLR I used. I was blown away by its image quality — I compared it to digicams at the time — and by its low noise at high ISO settings. I reviewed it in April of 2007, and considered buying it instead of the EOS 5D, which was more than double its price, but settled on the 5D in the end. I don’t regret my decision. The 30D was a good DSLR, and were the market expectations the same today, I’d still recommend it to others. I took over 3,500 photos with it.

Nokia N95: my mobile phone for a few good years. I loved it. It had a 5 megapixel camera with flash, and it recorded SD video. It was small, versatile, I took it with me pretty much anywhere, and I depended on it when I didn’t have my main camera with me. The picture quality was pretty good, even in low light, provided you knew how to handle it. You could even do some in-camera photo and video editing. I’ve taken over 1,900 photos with it, and I must have recorded well over 50 hours of video with it.

Olympus C770UZ: even though it was made in 2004, and its resolution is only 4 megapixels, I still use this digicam because it has a 10x optical zoom, a fast lens (f/2.8), in-camera resolution doubling (turns a 4 megapixel photo into an 8 megapixel photo), quality SD video, and a superb macro mode, which allows me to get photos and video of minuscule things. And oh yeah, it has a microphone input, and a hot shoe. I’ve taken almost 2,500 photos with it.

Canon EOS Rebel XTi: a great beginner DSLR, which I reviewed in November of 2007. It had the same 1.6x crop as the 30D, the picture quality was about the same, but the noise at high ISO seemed to be a little higher than on the 30D. I took over 300 photos with it.

Fuji FinePix S6500fd: a 6.1 megapixel, 10x zoom prosumer digicam from Fuji. The “fd” stands for face detection, which was a new technology at the time. The camera would find a face (or faces) in a photo and focus primarily on them, to make sure the people were always in focus. A friend loaned it to me. I took about 30 photos with it.

Canon PowerShot G3: one of the first prosumer digicams from Canon’s PowerShot G line. It was slow, its resolution was somewhere between 3 and 4 megapixels, but it had a really nice, fast lens (f/2.0), which meant you could get really creamy bokeh if you focused just right. And it shot in RAW. I have over 100 photos taken with it in my photo library.

Fuji FinePix S9100: a similar camera to the S6500fd, but with a resolution of 9.1 megapixels and the same 10x zoom. When I tried it, I didn’t like it because of the high noise and poor performance in low light, but it is otherwise a wonderful and versatile camera. It used AA batteries, which was a plus, it had a manual zoom that didn’t eat into the battery life, a super macro mode, and neat physical controls on the camera body. Since then, I’ve found out that the noise would have been brought down significantly if I had used the Fuji software that came with it instead of using Lightroom to process the photos. I took over 50 photos with it.

Olympus SP560UZ: an 18x, 8 megapixel prosumer digicam from Olympus. While the picture quality suffers somewhat from the combination of the extra long zoom and small sensor, the camera is really well designed, the body has a nice, premium feel to it and as a plus, it uses AA batteries. As long as you stay away from the very long end of the focal range, you’ll get nice, usable photos, and low light performance is decent. I reviewed it in February of 2008, and took over 500 photos with it.

Kodak Z1015 IS: a 10 megapixel, 15x zoom prosumer digicam from Kodak which should have had better photo quality, but sadly, I got mostly soft and fuzzy photos and videos from it, particularly toward the long end of its focal range. It also had 720p HD video capabilities, but the video was not only fuzzy but full of compression artifacts. I had to return it to the store after a few days. I took over 300 photos with it.

Olympus EVOLT E-510: the follow-up prosumer DSLR to the E-500, it had a resolution of 10 megapixels, a smaller, lighter body, a nicer interface, better quality at higher ISO but still not clean enough for low light use. I took over 1,100 photos with it.

Kodak v610 Dual Lens: a neat camera from Kodak with 10x zoom, featuring two lenses, one for 1-5x and one for 5-10x, so to speak. The camera switched between them. Interesting, small, light and versatile, but with its limitations, such as poor low light performance and lack of IS, which made it really hard to get good shots at long focal distances. Battery life was also not so good. Still, I used this camera for quite some time and depended on it, though I’d end up deleting a lot of photos I took with it for the reasons mentioned above. I took over 4,200 photos with it.

Exakta EXA Ia: this beautiful analog camera was given to me by a close friend along with a full kit of viewfinders, lens extension tubes and filters. It’s a fully manual camera made in the 1960s. It was a pleasure to use, and there was a certain three dimensional quality to the photos I got with it that made it worthwhile to use. Still, after I got my 5D, the camera sat unused in the closet, so I gave it to someone who would use it more frequently.

Olympus EVOLT E-1: the first flagship DSLR from Olympus, with a resolution of 5 megapixels. A friend loaned it to me. Picture quality was wonderful, as was to be expected from a pro DSLR. I loved the shutter sound. The ruggedized body also felt great in my hand. The grip was nicely made. Good physical controls. I took 30 photos with it.

Olympus EVOLT E-500: a prosumer DSLR from Olympus, with a resolution of 8 megapixels. I reviewed it in February of 2007. Picture quality was wonderful, noise at high ISO not so wonderful, battery life was pretty nice, loved the self-cleaning sensor. I took over 1,500 photos with it.

Nikon CoolPix L12: a little digicam from Nikon with pretty good picture quality for its diminutive size. The in-camera processing renders some pretty nice colors in the photographs. The resolution is 7.1 megapixels. I’ve taken less than 10 photos with this one.

Nikon CoolPix S210: another little digicam from Nikon with pretty good picture quality. Its resolution is 8 megapixels. It has a nice macro mode. I’ve taken less than 10 photos with this one, but I liked using it.

Panasonic DMC-FZ20: a wonderful 5 megapixel digicam from Panasonic with a 12x Leica zoom lens. Picture quality was superb, handling was great, lens was great, battery life not so great, noise at high ISO not so great. I really enjoyed using it, but sadly the zoom mechanism must have either gotten some dust in it or broken, because it stopped working properly, so I gave it up. I took over 1,800 photographs with it.

Gateway DC-M50: a 5 megapixel digicam from Gateway which I ended up returning. Poor interface, slow, poor picture quality. I’ve taken over 40 photographs with it.

Kodak CD33: I used this 3.1 megapixel camera for a short while before returning it to the store. It just didn’t suit my needs. The resolution was too low, the performance and controls too meager. I took over 70 photos with it.

Olympus C3000Z: this was the first quality digital camera I used. Its resolution was 3.3 megapixels, but compare to the stuff I’d used before (1 megapixel or lower) it was heaven. To this day, I’m amazed by the picture quality when I look at photos taken with it. I’ve taken over 2,500 photos with it.

Canon Elura 40MC: this was the first generation Elura camcorder made by Canon. It was diminutive in size, shot better-than-SD (720×540) video on DV cassettes, had a nice optical zoom and also took 1 megapixel stills, but the photo quality was fairly poor. I used it for years, mainly for video, and I loved it. It was incredibly portable and very useful at a time when all the other camcorders were much bigger and heavier. It still works, but I no longer use it, because the cassette mechanism fails sometimes. I’ve have over 200 photos taken with it in my photo library.

Canon Elph APS: the 1st generation APS film Elph camera from Canon, this little baby was my first real, modern camera. I got it sometime in 1996-97. I loved its diminutive size, its ease of use, the great photos I got with it, and its beautiful design. I used it for a good amount of time. I was still taking photos with it in 2003. Over time, the inside of the lens surface somehow got covered in dust, and this became more and more visible in the photos, so I had to stop using it. One of these days, I’ll open it up and clean it. And if I’ll still be able to buy APS film and find a place to develop it, I might just take some more photos with it.


Image credit: Granger Meador

I have no way of telling (short of approximating) how many photos I took with each of my analog cameras, so I’ll just say that I have about 3,300 scanned photos in my library. I’ve used a few other analog cameras, but I’ve forgotten the model names, so I haven’t listed them here.

The photo totals you saw listed next to each camera above don’t represent the total number of photographs taken with each camera, because I delete about 10-20% of the photographs I take.

Feedback, questions?

Hardware review: the duraSync cable for iPad, iPod and iPhone

I’ve been using the duraSync charge and sync cable for the past few months, and I love it. It’s a durable, solidly-made, premium cable that replaces the stock sync cable which ships with your iPad, iPod or iPhone, and it’s made by CableJive, the same company that makes the SoundDock and iStubz cables.

The cable is really sturdy, and it’s made to last. It comes with a Lifetime Warranty, so if anything should ever go wrong with it, you can send it back to CableJive for a replacement.

It has a stiff rubber outer shell and an impact-resistant plastic core. The dock connectors will withstand crushing, banging, dropping and being stepped on, even driven over with a car. The cable itself is made of durable wire, with heavy-duty shielding and a clear coating. It will withstand pulling, jerking and being run over.

Continue reading “Hardware review: the duraSync cable for iPad, iPod and iPhone”

Why can't I use AirTunes from my iPod or iPhone?

For those of us with an AirPort Express, this question comes up at some point: why can’t I play directly to it from my iPod touch or iPhone, using the same AirTunes technology that is available through iTunes?

apple-air-tunes

After all, an iPod touch or iPhone has WiFi, and AirTunes works through WiFi. If I can do it from my Mac, it stands to reason that I should be able to do it from my iPhone, doesn’t it?

Apple iPhone 3G

Instead, we get a hamstrung app like Remote, which is neat, but somewhat pointless. Think about it: you’re using a device which already has your music library stored on it (iPod touch) to play and control the same music, stored on your computer. Why the middleman? Why not go direct?

apple-remote-app

Sure, the Remote app is useful in the living room, if you also have a music library stored on your Apple TV. You can then control the playback of that music or videos without using the Apple Remote, which has a much longer battery life, is smaller, and much easier to use… eh, wait a minute, that doesn’t sound like it’s better, does it?

Given Apple’s commitment to the environment, I have to wonder why they insist on using the laptop or desktop machine when it’s not necessary.

apple-environment

I realize using AirTunes to play music directly from the iPod touch or iPhone will drain the battery much faster than playing the music through headphones or through a dock connected to a speaker, but hey, we should at least have that choice, right?

Hardware review: CableJive's iStubz cable for iPod and iPhone

In May, I mentioned CableJive’s new iStubz sync cable in my review of their SoundDock cable, which I’d purchased last year, and I was contacted by Zack, one of the folks at CableJive, who offered to send me an iStubz cable for review. In the interest of full disclosure, please know that the cable I received was a review sample that I got to keep.

Would I have bought one otherwise? Yes. I think that at $7.95 for the 7cm size or at $8.95 for the 20cm size, these cables are a great deal. They fulfill a real need for those of us with iPods and iPhones — namely the need the declutter our desks. They’re much shorter than the standard sync cable that ships from Apple, they work just as well, they’re made from the same materials — thus, they’re perfect for quickly connecting our Apple peripherals to our laptops.

I got my cable in late May, and have been using it ever since. I opted for the 20cm size. I packed my old sync cable and put it away from the very first day after that. It’s useless to me now. The iStubz cable is much more convenient to use, and in terms of design, it comes closer to Apple’s design philosophy than Apple’s own cable.

The cable I have can be seen the right side of the picture shown above, or in the two photos shown below. The longer cable, the one used to connect the iPhone to the laptop, is the 20cm one, and the shorter cable, the one used to connect the iPod to the laptop, is the 7cm one.

I had some issues with the sturdiness of my 1st gen SoundDock cable, as you can see if you read my review of it, but these iStubz cables are nothing like it. These are mass produced and very likely made to the same quality standards as the Apple sync cables. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re made by the same manufacturer.

I took a couple of photos of my own to show you the difference between the iStubz cables and Apple’s standard sync cable. While I’ll agree that sometimes it’s better to use the standard sync cable, such as when you have a desktop computer with USB ports on the back, in most situations, the iStubz cable is all you need to connect your iPod or iPhone to your laptop.

CableJive's iStubz cable

CableJive's iStubz cable

If you want to buy the iStubz cable, you can get it directly from CableJive.

CableJive SoundDock and iStubz cables

Back in 2008, I bought a SoundDock cable from CableJive, which allowed me to connect my 1st gen Bose SoundDock to my Mac. Since we bought our SoundDock, Bose has come out with a 2nd gen SoundDock, which has a built-in auxiliary input, making the cable unnecessary. Still, we weren’t about to buy a new SoundDock when ours was working perfectly well, and with the addition of a cable, we could make it work with our Mac, allowing us to have nice, premium sound.

cablejive-sounddock-cable1

I remember looking around for months for a cable that could do the trick. I knew it was technically possible, but no company I knew of made such a cable. Finally, I discovered CableJive. Back then, they were just going into business, judging by their website and lack of customer service. After placing my order, I got no confirmation whatsoever. I had no idea whether they received my order or not. The phone number they listed on the website wasn’t working, and nobody answered my emails. Thankfully, the cable arrived in the mail a few days later, and has been working ever since.

The build quality of the SoundDock cable leaves something to be desired though. The sleeve that fits around the cable at the end that has the thick, iPod-style adaptor is loose, and the plastic that contains the circuits that make the connection with the Bose SoundDock isn’t anchored well into the sides of the adaptor, making it flop around in there. Overall, I’d call the cable flimsy, and considering the price we paid for it at the time ($48), overpriced.

I can only hope their build quality has improved since then, and I’m glad to see that at least they’ve lowered the price to $40. It’s still a hefty price to pay for a flimsy little cable, but like I said, no one else makes them, and if you’ve got to have it, you’ll pay the price or go without.

Now I see they make these iStubz cables, which are basically short sync cables for the iPod and iPhone. The ones that ship with the phone are too long for most people’s needs, cluttering up one’s desk. I like the idea, and I also like the price ($8).

cablejive_istubz2

cablejive_istubz

Now here’s my question: why is the iStubz cable, which is more complicated to make (I assume) than the Bose SoundDock cable, only $8, and the SoundDock cable $40?

Images used courtesy of CableJive.

The future is the past is the future

Back in late 2008, I heard of a technology that was touted as new: instant price matches, made available by scanning the barcode of a product in a store, through an iPhone app called Checkout SmartShop. I chuckled. This idea wasn’t new at all.

BarPoint

I worked for a company called BarPoint for a few months in 2000 or 2001, I can’t recall exactly. As you can see if you visit their domain name, it’s up for sale now. Back then, it was working just fine, and they were working hard to put together an online directory of products whose prices could be instantly matched from many stores. They even had gizmos with little barcode scanners you coud buy and carry with you to a store; they were little Palm PDAs outfitted with small add-on barcode scanners. These gizmos would connect back to the BarPoint servers via built-in dial-up modems, and would quote you prices from other stores.

BarPoint Wireless Devices

They had investors lined up, had cleared about two rounds of investing, had bonafide employees, etc. Unfortunately for them, it was the end of the dotcom boom. They were still burning through the cash and not generating any profits, because they didn’t get off the ground fast enough. I left as they started to cut employees. Other co-workers hung on through a company move from nice offices in downtown Ft. Lauderdale to a warehouse in Deerfield Beach (both in South Florida), and many efforts to revive the company. Things didn’t work out for them. You’re welcome to follow the site’s progress and slow death on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

What is obvious now is that they had two things going against them: the idea was ahead of its time, and the market crashed. Back then, this wasn’t so obvious. People thought the idea was cool and wanted to make it work. I thought it was cool and even thought they might somehow pull it together and start making profits, even after I left. I bought some stock in the company, only to watch its price sink to very near $0 over time.

The interesting thing about the iPhone is that it’s truly a game-changer. It penetrated the market quickly, and app development for it is so easy that you don’t need an army of people, like BarPoint did. You also don’t need to sell the devices, or worry that device adoption is reserved for a very small segment of the market. The iPhone is practically everywhere. I don’t even know if Kigi Software, the makers of the Checkout SmartShop, is a real company, or a dba name for one or two smart developers working from home. But that’s what’s cool about these times. The price for bringing an interesting product to the market is no longer prohibitive, like it was for BarPoint. Almost anyone can do it if they want to, nowadays. And the end product is something that kicks BarPoint in the rear quite effectively.

You simply enter the barcode into the iPhone using the numeric keypad, and you get instant price matches. Voila.

Enter UPCGet online price quotes

You can even find out where the product is being sold in other local stores, or read online reviews. It does everything the BarPoint product would have done if it could have gotten off the ground.

Get local storesGet reviews

Very nice indeed.

Mobile version of site now available

If you happen to browse my site via a mobile device like an iPhone or another web-enabled smartphone, you will automatically see an optimized version of the site that downloads and navigates a lot faster than the regular version on your mobile device.

This was made possible by the folks at MobilePress, who’ve put together a wonderful (and free) WP plugin. My thanks go to them, to Digital Inspiration for writing about them, and to Chris Nixon for sharing that post through Google Reader for me. That’s how I found out about it.