Thoughts

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?

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Reviews

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.

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Reviews

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.

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Thoughts

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.

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Thoughts

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.

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Reviews

Meet the replacement for .Mac: MobileMe

I mentioned in yesterday’s iPhone 3G announcement that Apple had secretly purchased the domain me.com for an undisclosed sum of money (in the neighborhood of 11 million). It came as no surprise to Apple fans when we found out that MobileMe was the replacement for .Mac. Users had griped for years about .Mac’s lackluster performance and puny space available (1GB for $99/year last I used it).

So, other than the new domain name (personally, I liked the .Mac domain), how’s the new service different?

  • More space: 20GB for the same price ($99/year for individuals and $149/year for a family pack). Additional space is $49/year for another 20GB or $99/year for another 40GB.
  • Push… everything: Apple has upgraded their .Mac email service and calendar and contact syncing to “push” technology. I don’t really see what’s different here when I compare it to .Mac, except the syncing is seamless and faster. And oh, now it works with PCs/Exchange as well.
  • Great web interface: Apple outdid itself here. .Mac had a web interface as well, but it was slow and kludgy. The new web interface behaves like desktop applications and looks really, really nice. Not sure how fast it loads on regular broadband connections, but we’ll find out soon, won’t we?

That’s about it, really. The bulk of the effort went into the better, cross-platform syncing and the innovative, beautifully-designed web interface. The additional space was long overdue.

Existing .Mac members will be upgraded automatically to MobileMe, and their existing subscriptions will be transferred over to the new service when it becomes available on July 11.

What’s the draw to MobileMe? For me, it’s the Back to My Mac service, which was introduced alongside iChat Screen Sharing in Leopard. It wasn’t enough to get me back when .Mac was overpriced and underfeatured, but it may be enough now that MobileMe has more space and is better designed. For iPhone users, it’s the obvious integration and contact/calendar syncing between the phone and the computer(s).

In terms of web storage space, the 20GB isn’t really that big of a deal for me. There are PLENTY of companies out there that offer more space. ADrive, for example, offers 50GB for free, and they’ve worked reliably for the past several months that I’ve used them. Dropbox, although it offers less space for free, has incredibly nice integration between Macs and PCs, and lets me share files seamlessly from computer to computer, or with my friends.

What I have to wonder about is Gmail. Given the partnership between Apple and Google, I’d have hoped that Google products would be better integrated into MobileMe somehow. It seems they’ve still been left by the wayside. They work, but not quite. I still can’t sync my calendar appointments properly from Gmail to iCal, and still can’t sync my contacts properly from Addressbook to Gmail (unless I have an iPhone or iPod Touch). Even Gmail’s IMAP interface in Mail leaves a lot to be desired. After using it for a few months, I switched back to POP3.

That’s annoying. I suppose it may have had something to do with Apple’s desire to keep building on their existing products and to develop an Apple-designed web interface (which is quite different from the spartan design of Google’s products).

Images used courtesy of Apple, Inc. More information about MobileMe can be found in Apple’s original press release, or on the MobileMe website.

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Reviews

The skinny on the new iPhone 3G

At the 2008 WWDC keynote, Steve Jobs introduced the new iPhone 3G. As it turned out, most of the rumors about it were true. Here’s the rundown on the things that made it into the new phone:

  • 3G: YES. This was by far the biggest rumor, and it made sense for Apple to bring it to life. What’s nice is that it continues to support EDGE in addition to WiFi, so now users have three networks they can use.
  • Skinnier, hence the title of this post: YES, at the edges, which are tapered.
  • Less expensive: YES. $199 for 8GB or $299 for 16GB, BUT only with a 2-year contract with AT&T.
  • Built-in GPS for real-time mapping and tracking AND photo geotagging: YES.
  • iPhone 2.0 software, which includes support for third party apps, making it super easy to add functionality to your phone through the App Store: YES.
  • Enterprise features: YES. But we knew these were coming, because Steve Jobs and Phill Schiller had demoed them months ago. This includes support for Microsoft Exchange through ActiveSync, over-the-air push email, contact and calendar syncing, remote wipe and Cisco IPsec VPN.
  • Seamless integration with MobileMe, the replacement for .Mac: YES. We suspected this would happen when word got out last week that Apple had secretly purchased me.com for approximately 11 million dollars.

Now here’s what didn’t make it:

  • Unlocked phone: NO. I knew that sounded too good when people announced it. You can’t drop the iPhone to $199 and ALSO unlock it. It has too many features, it’s too advanced. When you have half-baked unlocked phones that cost $300 to $400, you’re not going to get an unlocked iPhone 3G for less. So, we’re stuck with AT&T, and with 2-year contracts.
  • Video chats through iChat/Skype: NOT SPECIFIED. This was my #1 feature request for the new iPhone. I’d really hoped they’d let us do video chats on the phone. After all, it has a camera, and it can record video. No official guidance yet on this. Does anyone have any specifics?
  • 5 megapixel camera: NO. That’s annoying. Still stuck with an underpowered 2 megapixel camera. Perhaps the photos it takes are better this time around.
  • Cut and paste: NO. I know of several people that were eagerly awaiting this feature. Apparently, it didn’t make it to the iPhone yet. But thankfully it’s a software, not a hardware issue, so it can be implemented later.

New features introduced without rumors:

  • 3G dock: YES. Apparently, faster, and will let you do speakerphone calls.
  • Compact USB power adapter: YES. It’s significantly smaller.
  • Bluetooth headset: YES. It’s made specifically for iPhone.

I was one of the people who held out for iPhone 2.0 –namely, this one — when the first version came out last year. Will I now purchase one? Not sure. I really wanted to be able to do video chats on the iPhone, and if it turns out that I still can’t, it may be a deal breaker for me. Plus, being hobbled with a 2-year AT&T contract is not the kind of commitment I enter into lightly. I don’t know, I’ll have to think about this. At any rate, I’ve got until July 11th to make up my mind.

Photos courtesy of Apple, Inc. More info can be found in Apple’s original press release and on the iPhone website.

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