Pocket Tips

I’ve been working steadily on an iPhone application called Tony’s Tips for iPhone Users Manual. It is available now, for $2.99, in the App Store (online or through iTunes).

Tony’s Tips provides helpful tips for using your iPhone with iTunes and MobileMe. I have tried to make something that is better than a manual in your iPhone — a reference that is always up-to-date, easy to search, and organized for quick reading. For a detailed critical overview, see “Does the iPhone Need Help?” by David Needle in InternetNews.

Robert Chin and I designed Tony’s Tips using wiki software on my server and the iPhone engine inside Wikipanion. It works essentially like a one-way wiki, presenting highly categorized content on the iPhone. The wiki content can be updated at any time without affecting the iPhone client. As a result, I can keep the content fresh and up-to-date without having to update the app itself.

Tony’s Tips is an important first step to establishing a new tips format for handheld devices. Authors can create and host the content, sell the clients directly to readers, establish direct feedback loops with their readers, and continually update the products easily so that the content is never out-of-date.

The price ($2.99) is also significant, less than a typical e-book. Author/publishers can charge a low price for the iPhone client and still make a decent profit — possibly more than royalties from a book. Author/publishers can invest in marketing and promotion rather than spending on paper publishing, distribution, and stocking, and having to re-spend again every time the book needs to be updated.

Developing an iPhone app is a painful process, but I applaud Apple’s strict adherence to guidelines to reinforce quality in the iPhone experience. Look what can happen without strict quality assurance!

Nevertheless, Apple must have different people reviewing the app every time we submit it or update it, as they find different things that do not strictly adhere to the guidelines. We cheerfully fix them, only to find something else. Two steps forward, one step back, but we have made significant progress. We expect this update to stick (version 1.1). If you have already purchased version 1.0 in the App Store, no worries; your free update will pop up automatically in the Updates section of the store.

The bugs we fixed to make version 1.1 are:

  • External links to Safari were not working, but are now fixed.
  • The Bookmark Section feature was not working, but is now fixed.
  • Apple wanted us to add a dialog warning you if you are not connected to the Internet. This applies only to certain functions that take you online — you can still read the pages you saved on your iPhone whether you are connected or not.

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Prediction Time is Here Again

Predictions dominate the blogs and columns this month. My own score for last year’s predictions is dismal. Macworld Expo didn’t change it’s name; it lost it’s star keynote (Steve Jobs). There was no Apple TV with an LCD display, nor any kind of Mac tablet or netbook (so far). Well, at least I was right about cool iPhone apps appearing in droves, and the iPhone with 3G was a no-brainer.

One of my favorites every year has been I, Cringely — The Pulpit/PBS by Robert X. Cringely (a pseudonym). His lastest entry “End Game: Cringely’s predictions for 2009 including the coming showdown between Apple and Microsoft” is worth reading (he is closing down this column and starting another on his own site).

I agree with his assessment that Microsoft has reached its peak of influence, that Google has reached its peak of technical excellence (with Android), and that neither company will be grow much larger than they already are (and Microsoft may in fact shrink). Microsoft will roll downhill for a number of years. Google will maintain its leadership position and will remain a good investment, but I don’t expect anything insanely great from the company until the financial crisis is more manageable and advertising revenues come back to normal.

I also agree that Apple is the big winner. It will continue to grow its Mac market share, and the iPhone will make up for a softening iPod market. Lots of pundits believe the company has a tablet/netbook in the wings, as well as a cheaper iPhone, and that we’ll see both before June. Apple also may go through with Cringely’s prediction of a head-to-head battle against Microsoft Office. And if you are looking for signs of true innovation, you will find it in the iPhone’s App Store. It is simply incredible how easy it is to get streaming radio, locate interesting restaurants, find out about events happening wherever you are, carry books and documents with you, and of course access Web sites and Web services. The iPhone app ecosystem is only six months old, and already Pandora has seen its free app downloaded by 2 million users.

One Netbook Per Old Laptop (ON-POL)

Ian Lamont of The Industry Standard offered a thoughtful analysis in “Netbooks: An opportunity for Windows, and a threat to Linux
as to why the nascent netbooks market give Microsoft the edge. Lamont
theorized that Microsoft learned a thing or two regarding the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, and that Microsoft tipped its hand with the new Windows 7 operating system by demonstrating it on a netbook. “The
attraction of converting an old laptop to Ubuntu or some other Linux
distro fades when the cost of getting a brand-new Windows netbook is so
cheap…. Considering it’s now possible to get a new, Internet-ready
netbook with Windows XP for just $350, it’s safe to say many people
will simply not bother with the hassles associated with putting Linux
on an old laptop.”

Fighting back against spammers

By hijacking a working spam network, researchers have uncovered
some of the economics of being a spammer. While the tiny response rate
(less than 0.00001 percent) still means that a big spam operation can turn
over a few millions in profit every year, it also suggests that
spammers may be susceptible to attacks that make it more costly to send
junk mail. According to the researchers, the profit margin for spam may
be meager enough that spammers must be sensitive to the details of how
their campaigns are run and are economically susceptible to new
defenses. See “Study shows how spammers cash in” for details.



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And Tonight, “Carnival of Light” is Topping the Bill!

The Beatles‘ mystery track “Carnival of Light” may finally see the light of distribution. The BBC reports that Sir Paul McCartney has confirmed that the 14-minute track exists and says he wants the public to hear it (audio interview here). Most likely the track will be made available as part of an online download, as the Beatles’ Apple Records has already announced intentions of putting the entire catalog online.

I have a pretty good collection of Beatles outtakes, though not extensive as those collected by music industry professionals and friends and associates of the Fab Four, and this track is not in the many hours of rare, unreleased gems. Apparently Sir Paul wanted to included it in the Anthology series but was vetoed (backing tracks of “Eleanor Rigby” and “Within You Without You” were used instead).

According to the report, the track was played just once, at an electronic music festival in 1967, and is said to include distorted guitar, organ sounds, gargling and band members shouting phrases such as “Barcelona!” and “Are you all right?” It may turn out to be not so interesting except as a piece of history — that is, if George Harrison’s widow doesn’t block it.

Sir Paul was under the influence of experimental composers John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen at that time, as was John Lennon (via Yoko Ono), and musical dada had begun to creep into other Beatle tracks, such as “Tomorrow Never Knows”, “A Day in the Life”, “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” and “I am the Walrus” (as well as lesser-known tracks like “Revolution 9” and the unreleased “What a Shame Mary Jane”). Lennon and Ono’s collaborations a bit later (The Wedding Album and Two Virgins) also fall into the category of what the people like to call avant-garde — or as George Harrison (who also produced an experimental album at that time, Electronic Sound) used to say, “Havant-garde a clue!”).

The discovery that this track exists leaves only one more mystery track that has appeared only on some bootlegs of outtakes, called “Peace of Mind (Candle Burns).” Ear Candy offers an in-depth analysis of this song that is worth reading. I have a copy of it, and I agree with the analysis that this is probably a Beatles song recorded in 1967 but abandoned (after one overdub session). The fact that Yoko Ono hasn’t claimed copyright over it is also a mystery.

Here are versions of “I am the Walrus” by other bands:

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All I Need is the Air that I Breathe

Just to search on my iPhone — all you’ll need to do is speak. Google has added sophisticated voice recognition technology to the company’s iPhone search software. You can speak into the iPhone rather than type with the iPhone’s keyboard, and Google will search for relevant info.

While much of the time it returns gibberish, researchers are working on making it better at recognizing terms. It works best for finding restaurants nearby (because it also makes use of the iPhone’s location information) and for getting driving directions. It’s also useful for looking up contacts in your address book for quick dialing.



Ironically, talking search on the iPhone would be a better experience than what is depicted in the T-Mobile G1 ad, which uses Google Android. The actors are musing about searching for exotic things, like whether sharks have eyelids, or whether twins have the same fingerprints, and the best thing about the device is its keyboard. Perhaps talking search will appear shortly for the G1 also. Yahoo, Microsoft and even Google — with its 1-800-GOOG411 — already offer voice recognition for mobile search queries, but the feature has not yet appeared for Android.

Innovation occurs on the iPhone first — not only because it occupies the leading innovator’s space in the smart phone market, but also because the entire package works like a platform for new ideas. Part of that package is the control Apple exerts over the ecosystem.

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iPhone Ad Apps — Shaken Not Stirred

Hollywood studios are using free apps on the iPhone to promote movies. One of the first is for the latest James Bond flick, Quantum of Solace. It lets you watch the movie trailers and offers links to the iTunes Store for purchasing theme songs and such. Some are slightly innovative, such as The Dark Knight, lets you add Joker-style graffiti to photos. Bolt, Disney’s forthcoming animated movie, has released a free game patterned after Super Monkey.




Bands are getting in the act, though not in an innovative way (yet). Pink’s app lets you see pictures, hear music, read a discography and bio, and so on. Snow Patrol has gone as far as to create an arty presentation of origami papers that unfold to reveal lyrics to songs on the album.

All this stuff proves that the iPhone has shaken up, not just stirred up, the content industry.

The movie and music apps remind me of the days, over a decade ago, when my colleagues helped Peter Gabriel and David Bowie create arty interactive CD-ROMs (I also did a documentary with music, called “Haight-Ashbury in the Sixties”). None of us knew, really, what we were doing. Shaken by the medium, we were not stirred into anything resembling a profitable business.

But then, we couldn’t afford to give the CD-ROMs away. Today’s free iPhone app is an entirely new medium for advertising. And while we may criticize these first attempts, expect an onslaught to appear in the next month or so.

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The Magical Mystery Chord

You all know it when you hear it: the most famous chord in rock that reverberates on George Harrison’s 12-string Rickenbacker: the opening of “A Hard Day’s Night”.

All this time, no one has known exactly what chord Harrison was playing. I can attest, as a musician in a band that tried to play the song, that the chord is elusive and not properly documented. And so it turns out that a Dalhousie mathematician has figured out the exact formula (see “Mathematician Cracks Mystery Beatles Chord“). What accounts for the problematic frequencies that, when put together, equal a chord not possible on George’s 12-string, John’s 6-string, and Paul’s bass? There was a piano in the mix, played by George Martin. Genius that he is, Martin added a piano chord that included an F note impossible to play with the other notes on the guitar.





Is this cheating? No, this is innovation at its finest: the resulting chord was completely different than anything ever heard before. And it proves that the fifth Beatle — George Martin — was a genius.


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Steve Jobs Only Had a Hangover

Too much of a good thing: iPhone sales are approaching the 10 million mark. Or maybe he got sick trying to digest that $700 billion bailout, a.k.a. the Failure of Modern Capitalism (or How the Chickens have Come Home to Roost). I’m beginning to rethink the definition of “organized crime” as the American public is held hostage by wise guys who turned Wall Street into Heartattack and Vine.

Tom Waits: Tom Waits - Heartattack and Vine - Heartattack and Vine

John Hammond, Jr.: Wicked Grin

In the wake of all those “serious” reports about the health of Apple CEO Steve Jobs over the summer (such as Cramer’s stock manipulation game and Businessweek’s The Real Issue About Steve’s Health), and the mistakenly published pre-written obituary in August, it seemed obvious, not only to me but to everyone I talked to. We all agreed that some bogus report would surface to damage the stock value. It had already happened several times, ostensibly by mistake or simply sensationalist fever in the press. So we knew something like this would happen.

And what we have here is failure to anticipate.

When innovation disrupts something as important as journalism, many of us pay attention (whether we agree or not) with critics who point out the flaws of this innovation. We anticipate some of the dangers, and we act responsibly.

But many don’t. Last week’s stupidity by a professional blogger, as well as CNN, was matched only by the gullibility of traders who acted on the rumor. It’s a problem that many people confine themselves to organizations like Fox News and CNN, or even to mainstream bloggers, for accurate and true reporting. It’s related to the problem that hair-trigger, speculative factors can cause massive stock trades. People don’t anticipate dangers because the press and bloggers are too busy (chasing ambulances in this case) to write thoughtful pieces about the true value of Apple, with or without Steve Jobs.



And here’s my disclaimer: I not only own a pitiful amount of Apple stock, but my two sons are using the proceeds of Apple stock sales last year to go to college. (Way to go, Tony.) And I’m not selling, at least not yet.

I’m pissed at these irresponsible sensation-chasers, and in particular Silicon Alley Insider, a professional news blogger, for suggesting that CNN’s ownership of iReport gave credibility to the false story. Without doing a fact-check, this extremely popular blogger (with his own insider ties) fanned the flames of what is either a prank or worse, a crime. The SEC is investigating, because if the purpose of the person who started the rumor was to benefit financially from a fall in the stock price, then it is a criminal act. You think stock manipulation of this kind doesn’t happen often? Think again.

My problem with this mess is not just the blogger who fanned it, but CNN, the organization that nurtured the flame in the first place with its iReport site. In my mind there is nothing innovative about “citizen journalism” as practiced at iReport. One could argue that CNN has found a way to post breaking news without having to send out reporters and TV crews, saving money at the expense of professional journalists and reporters.

Worse, I think it’s a misuse of citizen feedback. What are posted as “news” items on this site should simply be unverified (or even unverifiable) comments to real news stories and articles. Editors should consider their readers capable of anything, and should insulate the rest of us from the maniacs by consolidating maniacal reports in the comments section. That way readers would not confuse this stuff with news. Readers are a lot less interested in getting the story first as they are in getting an accurate report.

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Google has Mojo in Hand with the Chrome Browser

Some think Google’s Chrome, the company’s new browser, will suffer from lack of interest due to Microsoft Internet Explorer’s huge market share. Others think Chrome has a chance in the mobile market, where Microsoft is weak. One important blogger thinks it is the linchpin of a full onslaught against Microsoft, nothing less than a full on desktop operating system that will compete head on with Windows that will ultimately be successful.

I agree with the second and third opinions: Chrome has a chance in the mobile market, and it will also significantly influence the future of personal computing by challenging the Microsoft model. In the first place, Microsoft’s mobile browsing market share is already undermined by Apple Safari in the iPhone. Secondly, Google is adding the final piece of the puzzle to make its Android mobile operating system more or less the operating system of the Internet itself, essentially bypassing Microsoft’s monopoly on the desktop. It will indeed be the first browser built from the ground up with the idea of running applications rather than displaying pages. As Nicholas Carr put it, “Chrome is the first cloud browser.” The goal of Chrome is to influence the entire industry and upgrade the capabilities of all browsers so that they can better support Web services (applications) and cloud computing.



Google’s stated purpose is to drive innovation on the Web. Market share can be misleading when thinking about the impact of something that is truly innovative. We can remember when Netscape had market share and became the Web’s design standard, and how abruptly it was taken by Microsoft (not by being innovative, but that’s another story) — and as a result, Web designers were, and still are, forced to design their sites to work with Internet Explorer as the design standard. But true innovation can influence a market strongly, no matter how small its share, or even create a new market. The iPod created its own market by being innovative. The iPhone has a tiny percentage of the mobile market; nevertheless, the iPhone is such a phenomenon that it has the power to influence the entire market as a design standard.

That may be ultimately Chrome’s legacy. As the Web serves up applications, Chrome will most likely become the design standard for mobile browsing and may have a serious enough impact on desktop/laptop browsing to free Web designers from the constraints of designing for Internet Explorer. That would be a very good thing. Innovation can occur anywhere, but innovation that sticks requires major marketing mojo, and Google has that mojo.

* * *

People who know a bit about computers know that netfirms are one hosting company that offers dedicated servers without seeing everything as a business opportunity.

* * *

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The iPhone Kill Switch is Innovative

We’ve all heard by now about the iPhone kill switch, a.k.a. the blacklist feature. Apple CEO Steve Jobs confirmed its existence. The intent behind the capability is high-minded, according to Jobs. Apple would need it in case a malicious program inadvertently were to be distributed to iPhones via the App Store. “Hopefully, we never have to pull that lever,” Jobs said, “but we would be irresponsible not to have a lever like that to pull.”

On the one hand, it is refreshing to see an industry titan like Jobs speak of responsibility. On the other, Apple clearly could use this capability to thwart would-be competitors and punish developers who crack the iPhone’s software. Some developers think it’s amazing that the industry seems to forgive Apple for behavior that would draw intense criticism if it were Microsoft.

But there is a huge difference in profit motive between Apple and Microsoft. Apple makes most of its money directly on hardware and doesn’t seem to be competing with its own iPhone applications. Jobs is betting that third-party applications will sell more iPhones and iPod touches, enhancing the appeal of the products in the same way music sold through the iTunes Store has made iPods more desirable. But Apple doesn’t promote a charade of choice with regard to operating systems, cell services, and third-party hardware — there is no choice within Apple’s world, but there are plenty of choices in the outside world because you can choose another phone or computer. By comparison, Microsoft makes money indirectly (through licenses) on hardware, but most of that is paid up front; its business model is to lock you into a software platform that monopolizes the hardware industry to guarantee profits from licenses, and to promote a charade of choices within that platform. As a result, you have a plethora of hardware choices controlled (some would say haphazardly) by Microsoft.

So Apple can claim the ethical high ground in protecting its platform, as its platform is not a monopoly. I would argue that the kill switch is an innovative approach to protecting a platform in this age of criminal conspiracies to steal your personal information. It may even be the first major example of this approach; I’m not sure. But I know I would have loved this capability if Microsoft could have implemented it to kill malicious applications running on Windows — especially ones that turn Windows machines into spam zombies. And as an iPhone user, I feel more comfortable about using the product.

The kill switch makes sense, but it had nothing to do with Apple’s removal of applications from the App Store — for the most part, the removal story circulated because the company recently removed an embarrassing app, priced at $999.99, called “I Am Rich” that did nothing but display a glowing ruby (and presumably confirm that any purchaser would be filthy rich, perhaps even irresponsibly rich). This was a case of Apple making a judgment call about distributing a product, which any distributor has a right to do.

I don’t think Apple has any need to suppress app development, unless that development cracks the tight integration with AT&T’s services. And I think Apple has a right to protect its platform with this innovative approach. You can choose another smart phone, though I bet that as these smart phones (including those running Windows Mobile) grow in market share and diversity of applications, their vendors will also implement kill switches. It may turn out to be the best way to protect our personal information on our smart phones, as well as the best way for manufacturers to improve brand loyalty.

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The Last Post – On Getting Off

If you haven’t already jumped off the Microsoft Windows/Vista platform, you probably have your reasons. But many IT managers are resisting the move to Vista. Microsoft even tried to guilt-trip the Windows XP-only skeptics by pulling Mojave out of its hat, presenting it as a new operating system, and then revealing it was Vista all along. But the skeptics weren’t buying it. Even Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer casts its two major rivals, Apple and Google, in a somewhat positive light, acknowledging that Microsoft faces an uphill battle with both. I say to Ballmer, good luck with that.

And this is all good news! Competition has returned to the industry. Apple has climbed to third place in U.S. market for personal computers. The inexorable trend toward cloud computing puts Linux in the driver’s seat. Bill Gates is gone, but the issue was never about him; it was about the tactic of locking users into their products while maintaining a monopoly. That monopoly is receding faster than Ballmer’s hairline. With software-as-a-service and innovations like iPhone applications, the nature of software is changing radically and providing far more choices than ever before. I predict that, in just a few years, people will look back on the operating system wars, Windows domination, and the Microsoft monopoly with amusement and nostalgia.

So this blog must come to an end, as the topic no longer carries weight. I haven’t used Microsoft software (except for testing purposes) for several years now, and I’ve collaborated with Microsoft users in many different ways without compromising my integrity or Office compatibility. I’m bullish on Apple, the iPod, and the iPhone, and continue to use Macs in my day-to-day work and Apple consumer devices at home. And I will continue to blog, just not on this topic alone. See my personal blog at tonybove.com to continue this thread. And if you’re interested in rock music history, check out Rockument.

I can go on to better topics now. So long, and thanks for all the fish!

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