Apple Faces a Revolution at the Crossroads

It will be interesting to see if the rising number of denunciations and protests over Apple’s banning of Google Voice apps will have any effect.  During last night’s podcast, I said I thought Apple was an extremely arrogant company and asked my podcast mates if they could think of an example where Apple reversed a decision due to popular outcry.  We couldn’t think of any good examples.

Meanwhile, the protests continue.

Today, Mike Arrington quit the iPhone, expressly as a result of the Google Voice debacle.  I applaud Mike for doing that.  I don’t often- or even usually- agree with him, so if he and I are on the same side of an issue, we must be right.  Stated simply, it’s foolish and unnecessary for Apple to side against its customers and Google.  If people are forced to choose between Apple and Google, Apple may be surprised at how many puppies run to the other side of the room.

And there’s more at stake here than meets the eye.  While the App Store/Google Voice thing is important on its own, I believe it is a barometer for Apple’s future.

Do the right thing, and everyone falls immediately back in love with all things Apple.  Stay the inconsistent and illogical course and this issue could be the beginning of the end of Apple’s golden era.  You can’t call yourself a hero and act like a villain.  You can’t be the people’s choice if you don’t choose the people.

One interesting subplot to all this:  Google wins either way.  Think about it.

Harry McCracken believes Apple may come around.  I hope he’s right, but I’m not so sure.  The price cut Harry mentions was a nice, but isolated gesture.  I suspect Apple views the wall it has erected around the App Store as more sacred- and more profitable- than what amounted to a glorified coupon (recall that the credit Apple handed out was good for future, marked up, purchases).  To reverse course now on the Google Voice decision- even though it would be the smart and just move- would set the stage for more second guessing of Apple’s erratic app approval/rejection process.  And we know that the one thing that Apple loves almost as much as money is control.

The most amazing thing about this whole app approval brouhaha is how easy it could be fixed.  All Apple has to do is three simple things:

1. Be at least semi-transparent.  Tell people what is going on.  In life and business, a little explanation goes a long way.

2. Tell the truth.  Don’t speak in riddles or half-truths.  Don’t let ATT take the blame if the blame is not theirs and toss them in the grease if it is.  And don’t hide behind the duplicate functionality canard.  If you simply want to control the experience to the detriment of customers, Google or whomever else, just have the stones to say so.

3. Be consistent.  Inconsistency is the great motivator of unrest.  Apple has been the model of inconsistency as far as the App Store goes.

That’s how to make it better.  But it could also get worse.

Lately we have been seeing more and more signs that Apple is struggling with the jailbreaking thing.  First came the warning that jailbreaking could result in terrorism.  Now we read an official support article warning folks about the risks they assume by choosing the apps they want to install, rather than letting Apple decide for them.  I wonder if the great irony that it is precisely Apple’s iron grip on the app approval process that is driving people to jailbreak their iPhones is lost on Apple?

So for now Apple tries to educate us away from jailbreaking.  What’s next, when that doesn’t work?  Will Apple start disabling jailbroken iPhones?  Or perhaps take a page from the record industry’s book of bad strategy and try to litigate the cat back into the bag?

As you can see, this issue is bigger than just our desire to have Google Voice apps on our iPhones.  Apple and its customers have come to a crossroad, and we need to at least try to point Apple toward the right path.  We need to continue to express our concerns, displeasure, questions, etc.

We have looked out for Apple, now Apple needs to look out for us- by siding with the legitimate desires of the customers who made Apple what it is today.

And who will make it what it will be tomorrow.

How I Read the ATT Comment on Google Voice

Here’s how I read the latest on Apple and/or ATT’s absurd and utterly annoying rejection of Google Voice apps.

The ATT statement doesn’t say that ATT- or the requirements of ATT’s agreement with Apple- is not the reason why Google Voice apps have been banned.  It simply says that ATT does not manage the App Store and is not part of the approval process.  There are four ways to interpret this:

1. That Apple decided on its own to ban the Google Voice apps for some inexplicable Apple reason, which seems to be what ATT would like us to conclude.  This could be accurate, given that other phones on the ATT network have Google Voice apps.  If so, the torchy mob should immediately descend on Apple’s castle and demand a straight forward explanation.  Don’t buy the duplicative feature canard.  All kinds of duplicative apps are allowed.  It’s only the one that would most improve the iPhone experience that is not.

2. That the agreement between Apple and ATT requires, either directly or indirectly, that apps that might take money out of ATT’s pocket be excluded.  This would be consistent with the wi-fi-only Skype limitation.  The rub here is that we’d be talking about SMS charges only, and there are tons of apps- Beejive for example- that already allow you to send free text messages.

3. That Apple decided to ban the Google Voice apps because it knows that ATT’s network is crappy and fears that any significant additional load will grind things to a halt.  This could also explain the Skype limitation, and the crippled SlingPlayer (though nothing can explain Sling’s ridiculous $30 app money-grab).

4. That Apple decided to ban the Google Voice apps because it gets a share of the money that ATT makes, and Apple wants to squeeze an extra dollar out of the faithful.  I would find this the most irritating.

It may just be that ATT sees the writing on the wall as far and the iPhone exclusive gravy train goes and is tired of getting kicked around every time someone has a bad iPhone experience.  Maybe ATT decided to try its hand at posturing by press release, and is feeling out Apple in the first round with these vague and non-inflammatory jabs.

We may never know the real story.

What we do know is that we want our Google Voice app, and our Google Latitude app, and all kinds of other apps that have not and may not see the light of day.  The more we run into these walls of nonsense, the more likely we are to go rogue and jailbreak our iPhones.  I’ve never seriously considered doing that.

Until now.

One Bad Apple Does Spoil the Whole Bunch of Apps

So I write a happy, hopeful post about how Apple is going to save the tablet space and maybe even break Amazon’s stranglehold on the e-book market.  Then I walk all aglow out to the garage for my nightly treadmill run and The Wire watching, certain that the tech world was a wonderful place.

A couple of hours later I come back, all sweaty and tired and sad about the beat down that Bunny Colvin took at the end of Season 3, and read that Apple is removing Google Voice apps from the App Store.

Are you shitting me?  People have made careers out of crapping on Microsoft for making people spend 10 minutes downloading and installing a third party browser.  Where is the outrage here?

Look, I too have worried about Google taking over the world, and all of our data with it.  Shoot, it was just the other day that I finally capitulated to Google, and admitted that eventually it will contain my entire life.  That was after I fell in heavy like with Google Voice, but before I realized how cool and useful Google Latitude (another app that Apple has apparently squashed for no legitimate reason) can be.

Either Apple has lost its collective mind or it is once again doing ATT’s dirty work.  I’m guessing it’s the latter.

Here’s the thing, Apple.  It’s not ATT or any other carrier that put the iPhone where it is.  It’s the loyal, evangelical, tech-loving customers, many of whom really want to use Google Voice, Google Latitude and all kinds of other apps that ATT- the same ATT that can’t get it together enough to accommodate MMS and tethering- might not like.  Oh, and the developers, who write the apps that give Apple such a commanding lead in the apps race.

If ATT’s network can’t handle the demand of the greatest mobile phone ever made, then why in the world did Apple give ATT the exclusive for so long?  And doesn’t that agreement require ATT to have some level of network capacity?  Maybe I’m missing something, but this seems backwards to me.  If ATT can’t (or won’t) play ball, then let the other carriers in the game so there can be network sharing.  And if it’s not ATT, then I hope someone at ATT says so, so the torchy mob can run howling back to Apple’s door.

This is messed up.

I don’t care that Apple and/or ATT nixed the SlingPlayer app.  Sling’s ridiculous $30 app price makes me pull against them, and I have a Slingbox.  I don’t care all that much that I can only use the Skype app via wi-fi.

But Google?  Not only can you not survive on the internet without giving Google its propers, but even Google, who is bent on internet domination, gives almost all of its stuff away.  Google ought to start charging ATT every time an ATT customer uses Google’s network, and see how that works out.

Apple needs to immediately reverse course on this, and accept not only the third party Google Voice apps, but also Google’s own Voice and Latitude apps.

One caveat: I am assuming that Google isn’t going along with this nonsense or suppressing its objections in some harebrained scheme to give Android devices some perceived advantage. Outside of that, I think there should be a general uprising until Apple comes to its senses and, if necessary, tells ATT what’s what.

In sum, this is stupid and needs to be fixed.


Morningstar Launches an Uninspiring iPhone App

Morningstar, the company that, via Bank of America, CarMax and Western Union stock recommendations, recently surpassed Jim Cramer as the single biggest source of my epic stock market losses, has a new iPhone app (iTunes link).  The free app offers investing ideas, real-time quotes, analyst research, financial news, Morningstar ratings, company profiles and more.

imageNotwithstanding all my losses, I am a long-time and more or less satisfied Morningstar subscriber.  Everyone has lost money in the stock market over the last year or two, and at least Morningstar isn’t brokering the stocks it recommends.  I want some sort of stock market analysis, and I still think Morningstar is less bad than just about any other source.

Morningstar’s web site is full of data, analyst reports, portfolio tools and news.  At the moment, I am pretending I never heard of the stock market, but when my head gets above sand level, Morningstar is my primary investing idea and analysis source.

The iPhone app, however, is no great shakes.  The app does not allow access to all of Morningstar’s premium content or the stock portfolios and watch lists you have set up on Morningstar’s web site.  In fact, the app is not even tied to your Morningstar account.  As a result, there’s very little this app does that you can’t get in another, more mature financial app.  There is a dearth of content- and there’s no reason for Morningstar to be so stingy, given the massive amount of resources on its web site.

On the plus side, you can get access to portions of the Morningstar analyst report for stocks and mutual funds, quotes and the Morningstar rating.  If I wasn’t a Morningstar subscriber who is used to having all of the premium content accessible, I would probably feel a little better about this app.

A premium app with “enhanced functionality” is promised for “later this year.”  That’s very close to perfectly vague.  If Morningstar releases a premium app that syncs with your Morningstar paid account and allows access to a lot more Morningstar content in an iPhone-centric design and has the good sense not to charge paying members for it, they’ll have a winner.

Until then, I’d look elsewhere for my iPhone financial information.

Hanging by an iPhone

beach0309 We spent the weekend and today down in Galveston, celebrating the first weekend of the kids’ spring break.  It was my first trip to Galveston since the hurricane, and things looked about like I expected.  There is a lot of damage yet to be fixed, and quite a bit of damage that doesn’t look likely to ever get fixed.  For example, there’s one house nearby that has an entire exterior wall missing.  You can literally see entire rooms, with furniture and all.  It looks like a dollhouse someone left out in the rain.  On the other hand, most of the obvious parts of the city are open and appear to be engaging in business as usual.  Casey’s had a big crowd tonight, and though there was a long wait, there were unused tables in our room.  Maybe this was a Monday night staffing issue, or maybe it was because the people at a nearby table came absurdly close to getting into a fistfight with a waiter.  I was like a little slice of the blogosphere, island style.

Because I was only there for a couple of days and because the local unsecured wi-fi quotient is painfully low post-Ike, I decided to leave my laptop at home and rely on my iPhone to keep me connected to the office and the internet in general.  It worked reasonably well, but a few things were very apparent to me.

One, email, including corporate email, is a lot better via the iPhone that on a Blackberry.  Blackberry lovers will freak out over this, but it’s true.  Email is easier to read and write, and the handling of attachments is better than it was a year ago (when I last had a Blackberry) and at least as good as on a Blackberry today.  I carried Blackberries for years, and the simple fact is that the iPhone is a far superior device, even for business stuff.

But, there is room for improvement.

When I tried to write this post from the island, it again became clear to me that there is no decent blogging software for the iPhone.  I again beach0309a tried to use iBlogger and again I gave up in frustration.  I wish Microsoft would release a Live Writer iPhone app, but I’m not holding my breath.  In the absence of that unlikely event, the space is wide open.  If someone released a reasonably full featured blogging app- that would support photos and maybe a Photobucket integration, they could own the space from day one.  The fact that there is not a single decent blogging application for the Mac, however, does not bode well for the iPhone.  It also became painfully obvious to me that the iPhone really needs the tethering feature, so you can use it as a wireless modem to connect your laptop to the internet.  That was, by far, the most useful feature of my last Blackberry- and a feature I miss dearly.

Some iPhone apps work great and almost circumvent the need for a laptop, but sans wi-fi some of them are pretty spotty.  Tweetie worked the most consistently, though my partially self-imposed Twitter exile did not allow me to take advantage of it (unlike the hand picked music I used to manually post there via, Live Writer automatically Tweets my new blog posts, so for the time being I’ll just use it as a billboard, like everybody else).  On the other hand, neither of my RSS readers (Feeds and Byline) worked worth a crap over the telephone network (about half and half between 3G and Edge in the Beachside area of Galveston).  I got so frustrated trying to read my feeds, I thought about giving up the internet altogether and subscribing to a newspaper for the first time in a decade.  We can huff and puff all we want, but until those who aren’t in the heart of a big, big city can access online content reliably, online content will continue to be a luxury and not a necessity.  Dropbox, which despite being my online storage service of choice, still inexplicably lacks an iPhone app, worked pretty well via Safari.  I was able to access data over both the 3G and Edge network.

The camera, with a little help from Darkroom, also worked reasonably well, though the iPhone desperately needs a flash.

Make no mistake- the iPhone rocks.  But take it or any other mobile device to the edge of the grid, and things get a little dicey.

Essential iPhone Apps Scoreboard

The other day, I summarized what I believe to be the essential iPhone apps.  Since then, I have uninstalled some apps and added some others.  Here are the recent changes.

pboard i.TV (free) has been uninstalled.  As I noted, I think it tries to do too much.  I want something simpler with better Netflix integration.  In its place, I installed Now Playing (free) (iTunes link).  I like the Netflix integration much better.

iTalk Recorder ($4.99, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried) is gone.  As noted, I use Note2Self ($1.99) for all my audio recording needs.

I added Pinboard ($1.99)(iTunes link), largely because I thought it might be useful as an outlining tool in connection with speeches and other public appearances.  It needs three tweaks to be a good tool for that purpose.  The ability to color the note boxes, the ability to change the note box color on the fly (e.g., when you have covered the outlined topic) and the ability to have multi-page pinboards.

The iPhone really needs an easy way to exchange vCards that is not dependant on both parties having an iPhone or the same card sharing app installed.  I have not found a solution yet, but my current best hope is Easycontact ($2.99) (iTunes link).  Apple needs to add this functionality to the OS to ensure universal compatibility.  In the meantime, at least Easycontact makes it easy to email a card.

Finally, I’ve used Byline ($4.99) as my mobile feed reader for a while, but the promise of faster Google Reader synchronization was enough for me to give Feeds ($2.99)(iTunes link) a try.  I won’t keep both apps, but right now they are fighting it out for a place on my screen.

With those changes, here is my current iPhone app lineup, not including games, which I’ll cover in a later post.

American Heritage Dictionary ($29.99, but I wouldn’t pay that much if I could start over)
AOL Radio (free)
AroundMe (free)
Beejive IM ($15.99)
Bloomberg (free)
Box.Net (free)
Byline ($4.99)
CameraBag ($2.99)
Darkroom (99 cents, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried)
Easy Wi-Fi ($1.99)
Easycontact ($2.99)
Evernote (free)
Feeds ($2.99)
Google Mobile (free)
GothPix (99 cents)
iBlogger (99 cents, at least for the moment)
iSports (free)
Juxtaposer ($2.99, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried)
Melodis Voice Dialer (free)
Mobile Fotos ($1.99)
Mobile News (free)
Note2Self ($1.99)
Now Playing (free)
Pandora (free)
Pinboard ($1.99)
Pocket Aid ($1.99)
Remember the Milk (free, but requires a $25/year premium description at Remember the Milk)
Sportacular (free)
Squiggles ($4.99)
TouchType (99 cents, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried)
Tweetie ($2.99)
Urbanspoon (free)

Tech for Grownups: The Essential iPhone Apps

Unlike just about everything else we in the tech blogosphere love to write about, the iPhone has crossed over into mainstream America in a big, big way.  Over half of the adults in my close circle of friends have iPhones and many of the kids are training for future iPhones with iPod Touches.  Everyone I know who has bought an iPhone and tried even a little to understand its many features and benefits has fallen in love with it.

iphoneheld But just having an iPhone is not enough to fully appreciate it.  You have to locate and install the right apps.

As the neighborhood technophile, I get asked all the time by non-facebooking, often technophobic grownups to tell them what iPhone apps they should install and why.  To save time and to give those who don’t live inside the so called social networks a primer on the beauty of iPhone apps, I am going to list the apps I currently have on my iPhone, describe what they do and tell you how often I actually use them.  Lots of iPhone apps are cool, the trick is to indentify those you will use on a regular basis.

I will also note the ones I consider must-have apps, and designate five of them as the top five essential apps.  I’m not going to address the apps that come pre-installed on your iPhone.  If you don’t know what those do, go explore your iPhone some more.  If you still get stuck, leave a question in the Comments and I’ll help you.  I’m also going to defer for later a discussion on games- which are an integral part of the enlightened iPhone experience.

Links are to the app’s iTunes store page, where you can read reviews by other users and, if you are so inclined, buy and immediately receive the app.  You can also buy and download the app via the App Store button on your iPhone.

A few cautionary notes.  Many apps have both a paid and a free version, with the free version supported by in-app ads.  If you’re like me and put at least some premium on ad-avoidance, be cautious with the free versions.  With one extreme exception, all of these apps are inexpensive.  Consider avoiding the ads and supporting hard working developers by buying the paid version of the app.  On the other hand, many apps are completely free, with little or no ads.  The ones only noted as free below only come in free versions.  You can get them for free, either via iTunes or the App Store button on your iPhone.

So, in no particular order, here we go.

Google Mobile (free):  This must-have app puts Google search and other Google apps (calendar, etc.) in an easy to read and use iPhone format.  It also allows you to search Google via voice.  Given that general web surfing via a browser is not the most effective way to find info via the iPhone, this is a must-have app and one of the top 5 essential apps.  I use it all the time.

Box.Net (free):  I’ve used Box.Net as my online storage space since the private beta before it launched.  I don’t need online space much, but when I do Box.Net is my choice, at least until Google’s rumored G-Drive comes out.  The iPhone app is well done and easy to use.  I use it regularly, but it’s not a must have app unless you need online storage.

Melodis Voice Dialer (free):  This was one of the first apps I installed.  When it works, it lets you dial from your iPhone’s Contacts (e.g., address book) by saying the name of the person you want to call.  I’ve had mixed results with it.  I rarely use it and will probably uninstall it at some point.

Note2Self ($1.99):  Every iPhone needs the ability to record notes while on the go.  This app does that and much, much more.  I can record a note and immediately have a voice file emailed to my secretary for dictation or other action.  It’s very handy, and I use it a couple of times a month.  It’s a must-have app.

Remember the Milk (free, but requires a $25/year premium description at Remember the Milk):  Every iPhone also needs a to-do list, and there are many to choose from.  I have used Remember the Milk since before I got an iPhone.  It’s a great web-based application that allows you to have various tasks and due dates, with notifications for the tasks that are due each day.  But at $25 a year, some may choose other options.  I still use it weekly, but if I can find a consolidated note taking and to-do list application, I would be inclined to switch.  Now that I’ve switched from Google Notebook to Evernote (see below), I hope Evernote comes out with to-do list features.

Evernote (free): Even if you don’t know it, you need a central place to keep notes, web clippings, registration numbers and all sorts of other data that you can access from anywhere.  Evernote is that place.  The iPhone app is elegant.  The web-based access needs a lot of work, but the free desktop application is fabulous.  You probably don’t think you need Evernote, but trust me, you do.  Not only a must-have app, but also one of the top 5 essential apps.  The Premium version ($45/year) allows you to add and store image files, PDF files and other files, all of which are accessible anywhere.

Beejive IM ($15.99):  Yes, that’s a lot by iPhone app standards, but if you use text messaging or, like me, have kids you want to stay connected with that do, this is a must-have app.  It lets you text- and send voice messages and photos- to other cell phones and to people on AIM and other instant messaging services.  Because it uses an instant messaging network to transmit data, it avoids the cell provider’s text messaging charges.  Saving those dollars is only the start.  This excellent app does a lot more, including working with iPod Touches to allow the iPhoners-in-training to send and receive text messages.  Clearly one of the top 5 essential apps.

Pandora (free):  If you like music, you want to start with this app, which is an iPhone optimized front end to the wonderful Pandora music service.  There are tons of radio stations to choose from or you can make your own.  If you like alternative country, I offer Newsome.Org radio.  If you like blues, here’s Kent’s Blues Mix.  And if you like an eclectic mix of classic rock, alternative country and blues, there’s my personal favorite, Rancho Radio.

AOL Radio (free):  My other music favorite.  This app, which is populated by CBS radio, offers tons of radio stations to choose from.  To give you an idea of the depth of choice, one of my favorite stations plays only classic rock cover songs!

CameraBag ($2.99): The camera on the iPhone is pretty good, but it’s still a cell phone camera.  CameraBag enhances your iPhone photos with several effects, such as “1962” (dynamic black and white), “Instant” (Polaroid looking, with those familiar borders), and “Helga” (washed out highlights and old-school vignetting).  I don’t use this one as much as I thought I would.  It’s a neat app, but not a must have.

GothPix (99 cents):  I really wish this was an effect in CameraBag (see the picture here for an example of the effect).  I use this one more than CameraBag, even though it’s a one-trick pony.  Not a must-have app, but close- at least for me.

Juxtaposer ($2.99, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried):  If you want to put your mother in law’s head on a monkey or something, this is the app for you.  I think it’s a really cool app, but I don’t use it very much.  It’s one of those “really cool” apps that you may install and rarely use.

Mobile Fotos ($1.99):  If you use Flickr, which is by far the best photo storage and sharing site, you must have this app.  It allows you to flip through your Flickr photos, and to upload additional photos to your Flickr account.  It also supports geotagging.  It is a must-have app, as is a Flickr account if you don’t already have one.

Darkroom (99 cents, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried):  This app, which used to be called SteadyCam, makes it easier to take non-blurry photos with your iPhone by waiting until the iPhone is steady to snap the picture, and by increasing the size of your shutter button- no more feeling around for that little shutter button.  It is a must-have app.

Squiggles ($4.99):  A full featured paint and image manipulation program for the iPhone.  It allows you to draw pictures, add cartoon captions to photos and to write or draw onto photos.  I got this one because my kids have it and were constantly playing with it.  It’s a neat little app, but I rarely use it.

Tweetie ($2.99):  I run hot and cold on Twitter, but a lot of people live on there.  Tweetie is the best app for Twitter, and I actually find myself using Twitter more because of Tweetie.  If you use Twitter, it’s a must-have app.  If you use Twitter, follow me and give me a shout.

Byline ($4.99): Now that you’ve followed my advice and set up a Google Reader account, use this must-have app to read your feeds via your iPhone.  It seems awful slow at times, but Byline is still the best way to read your feeds on the go.  It synchs with your Google Reader account and has an offline reading feature.  It’s one of the top 5 essential apps.

TouchType (99 cents, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried):  TouchType allows you to compose and reply to email in landscape mode, which, along with cute and paste, is one of the main yet-to-be-added native iPhone features.  I thought I would use this app all the time, but I never do.  I will probably uninstall it at some point, but if landscape emailing is important to you, you will find this app handy.

iBlogger (99 cents, at least for the moment):  I looked at a bunch of options before settling on this iPhone blogging application.  If you blog, this is the app to get.  If like the rest of the 99.999999999999999% of the world you don’t, move along to the next app.

Mobile News (free): Now we’re moving into the news and sports apps.  Lot of key apps coming up.  Mobile News is the Associated Press’s iPhone app.  It has news, sports, finance, local news and more.  It’s well designed and easy to use.  A must-have app and clearly one of the top 5 essential apps.

Sportacular (free): This was my first sports app.  It’s great for getting schedules and scores for various sports.  My favorite feature is the ability to set up a favorite teams list and get info about all of the teams you follow from a single page.  It’s not nearly as content-heavy as iSports (see below), but it’s great for quick score checks.  At least one of Sportacular and iSports is a must-have app.

iSports (free): iSports has a lot more content than Sportacular, including daily trivia games and live stats for some events.  If you’re stuck in an airport with some time to kill, iSports is the ticket.  I think iSports and Sportacular do different things, so I use them both regularly.  At least one of Sportacular and iSports is a must-have app.

Bloomberg (free):  For reasons I can’t really explain, I have always avoided the Bloomberg television channel, but the iPhone app is a different story.  It’s the app to get for stock quotes, market and business news.  A must-have app.

American Heritage Dictionary ($29.99):  I can’t believe I paid thirty bucks for a dadgum iPhone dictionary.  Granted, it’s a full featured dictionary, with pronunciations and whatnot, and I keep it by my side during family Scrabble games.  But there are cheaper alternatives out there.  I wouldn’t buy it again.  What was I thinking?  Stupid purchase.

Pocket Aid ($1.99):  A neat little app with first aid guides for insect bites, bruises, burns and other mishaps as well as how-tos for the Heimlich Maneuver, CPR, etc.  I bought it because we go camping a lot, but for a couple of bucks, it would be a good addition to any iPhone.

i.TV (free): I really wanted an app to show me TV and movie listings and to let me manage my Netflix queue.  This app does that and more.  Too much more, in my opinion.  It overwhelms me and I never use it.  I am going to uninstall it, but lots of people love it.

AroundMe (free):  This excellent app uses the iPhone’s build in GPS to locate restaurants, coffee bars, hotels, gas stations and many other points of interest in your immediate vicinity.  I use it frequently- a must-have app.

Urbanspoon (free): Another very popular GPS-based app, Urbanspoon locates restaurants in your vicinity and provides links to menus, editorial reviews and user reviews.  You can filter your results by neighborhood, cuisine or price.  I never (and I mean never) use the “shake for a random restaurant” feature, but I use the “near me” feature frequently.

iTalk Recorder ($4.99, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried):  This was my voice recorder before I discovered Note2Self.  It has a desktop application that will download the audio files to your computer.  It’s a neat app, but I like Note2Self better.

Easy Wi-Fi ($1.99):  One of the many wonderful things about iPhones is that you have free access to ATT wi-fi hotspots.  I have not travelled much since I got my iPhone, but I suspect this app, which automates the sometimes cumbersome process of logging into ATT hotspots, will be a big timesaver.  Based purely on potential a must-have app.

That’s my app list.  I’ll cover games in a subsequent post.

What are your essential iPhone apps?  Add yours to the discussion in the Comments.

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App a Day Blog

Undoubtedly in honor of my recent switch to an iPhone, Dwight Silverman and friends at the Houston Chronicle have started the App a Day Blog, covering smartphone applications.

I think this will be a great blog, until the writers, one by one, install Bejeweled 2 (iTunes link) on their phones and become strung out Bejeweled junkies, unable to post or work.  Like me.

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Making the iPhone Engine Run Smoothly


One of the other reasons I waited so long to get an iPhone is the fact that it cannot, yet, serve as a tethered wireless broadband modem for my laptop.  For an extra $15 a month, my recent Blackberries could link up via Bluetooth with my laptop or Samsung UMPC and serve as a broadband modem.  This was handy in airports and in hotels that offered no or ridiculously expensive internet access.  In fact, as long as my phone was in the room or car, my other devices would link up automatically and have instant reasonably fast access.  For two weeks after Hurricane Ike, I ran my home network off of my Blackberry.  It was slow, but the jump from none to slow is more significant than the one from slow to fast.

The iPhone doesn’t tether, yet.  Apparently, there was a third party app that allowed tethering, but Apple squashed it.  Sure, I could jailbreak my phone and find a way to tether.  But the iPhone is about seamless convenience and constant jailbreaking would be seamful and inconvenient.

But I think it’s OK.

The reality is that there is very little I need to do in airports and on the road generally that I can’t do directly via the iPhone.  Sure, I can’t easily create or materially edit documents, but I don’t do that in airports and in transit anyway.  I do that in my hotel room or between speeches at a conference- in places that almost always have internet access.  Plus, while I haven’t tried it yet, iPhone users can access ATT’s wi-fi hotspots at no additional charge.

And there may be other issues at work here.  I suspect that Apple’s agreement with ATT prohibits tethering.  Both as a way to conserve bandwidth and to force customers to buy ATT’s existing wireless cards or the rumored account add-on that may add the ability to tether- at an additional cost.  Add free tethering without a bigger pipe (or additional money to build one) and the demand on the bandwidth will increase materially, likely lessening the experience for existing- and future- iPhoners.  Keeping the bandwidth-hogging geeks from linking up all their gear to their iPhones is, at least for the moment, the governor that makes the iPhone engine run smoothly.

I’d rather do it this way than end up throttled or charged more for someone’s idea of excessive bandwidth use.  The iPhone has clearly crossed the mainstream into the non-geek population.  Many iPhone users are happy to make calls, text their friends and check the weather every now and then, none of which is bandwidth intensive.  If I can ride along with the herd and do what I need directly via the iPhone, with no limits or additional charges, that’s great.  If it turns out I can’t live without tethering and I have the opportunity to add (and pay for) that feature, that’s good too.

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Dr. iPhone or: How I Learned to Stop Blackberring and Love the App Store

As one of the rats in the great corporate email race dominated by Microsoft Exchange Servers and Blackberry Enterprise Servers, I have used a Blackberry for many years.  From the first little pager-looking 850 to the Pearl 8130, and several points in between.  While thumb-typing away on my Blackberry, I have suffered from recurring bouts of iPhone lust, having seen my wife and many of our friends fall in love with their iPhones.  For a long time, however, my concerns over the handling of corporate email kept me glued to the Blackberry alter.

Until last week.  Here’s how Verizon tried to hose me and led me to the most eloquent device I have ever used.


I am sold on the touch screen concept, and was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the great iPhone slayer- the Blackberry Storm.  I stopped by the local Verizon store just before 9:00 a.m. on November 21- the day the Storm was released.  The store wasn’t open yet, but there were a dozen or so people inside.  A Verizon employee quickly unlocked the door for me.  She asked if I had an appointment, noting that the other people in the store had booked an appointment in advance.  When I told her I didn’t have an appointment, but was a Verizon customer who wanted to upgrade to a Storm, she happily exclaimed that “we can get you in and out of here in no time,” and directed me to the customer service window.  There were two Verizon employees helping customers at the window, and I was second in line.  30 minutes later I was still second in line.  One of the employees at the window told me Verizon’s computers were overwhelmed and it was taking a long time to process the upgrades.  No problem- that was to be expected on the morning of the release.  The first problem occurred a few minutes later when another line dweller told me Verizon was sold out of Storm handsets and that I was waiting in line to order one that would be mailed to me.  A Verizon employee confirmed that and told me I could order the phone faster over the internet.  So I left the store, went to the office and logged into my Verizon account.

Here’s where things started to fall into place.

iphoneMuch to my surprise, my quoted price was not $200, as widely advertised, but $500.  I called customer service and was told that my contract was too recent to permit an upgrade and that I would, in fact, have to pay $500 if I wanted a Storm.  I didn’t like this, but contracts are contracts, so I asked how much it would cost to terminate my contract early (by about a year and a half).  $125 was the answer.  So, I asked, “you’ll sell this phone to a stranger for $200, but an existing customer has to pay $500?”  I was told that was the case.  Again, not good news, but I understand the math so far.  I had one more question: “But if I wanted to, I could pay $125 to terminate my contract today, come back tomorrow and pay $200, thereby achieving an actual price of $325?” I could tell the phone rep was uncomfortable, but ultimately she agreed that I could do that.  “But you won’t sell me the phone for $325 without having to go through all of that?”  She said she couldn’t.  The cost was understandable, even if a little frustrating, but the unnecessary hoops were more than I could handle.  So a wonderful thing happened.

I canceled my Verizon account, drove to the local ATT store, bought a 16G 3G iPhone and had my number ported over.  At the end of the day, I have a much better phone at a lower cost.  $125 is a lot of money, but amortized over the remaining 18 or so months of my Verizon contract, I’m more than happy to pay an extra $7 a month for the iPhone experience.

I am a technophile and somewhat of a gadget freak.  I have used lots of gadgets.  The iPhone is quite simply the most well-designed and useful device I have ever used.  Plus, it’s a load of fun!

The phone comes with just about everything you need, right out of the box.  But the real fun begins when you explore the App Store.  So far, I have added the following apps, which give me a device that does just about anything I might ever need it to do.

AOL Radio: an amazing selection of great sounding music stations.
Pandora Radio: the best music on the net.
AroundMe: uses GPS to find local restaurants and other points of interest.
Mobile Fotos: my favorite app- a must for Flickr users.
Camera Bag: auto-edits iPhone photos
Google Mobile Apps: brings all of Google’s apps to an iPhone interface.
iTalk Recorder: record voice notes.
Note2Self: record voice notes and email them.
Remember the Milk: the best to-do list and reminder service.
Sportacular: quick sports schedules and scores.

(You can search for these great apps and others from within the iTunes store.  Many of them are free and all of them are cheap.)

Those of you who are on corporate email platforms will wonder how I feel about the iPhone/Microsoft Exchange implementation.  I think it works perfectly.  The emails are much easier to read and flicking is much easier than scrolling with that irritating wheel (which was very hard to do with my Pearl).  When I delete an email on my computer or my iPhone, it is automatically deleted on the other device.  I didn’t have my Blackberry configured that way, but after a few days, this approach seems more logical to me.

When I experimented with my wife’s iPhone, I found typing to be difficult, often hitting the wrong letter (particularly P when I was aiming for O).  But after a little practice, you find that your typing improves and you rarely hit the wrong letter.  My friend Marvin says it’s a confidence thing- I think that’s a good description.  I find myself typing faster on the iPhone than I did on the Blackberry.

I wish the camera had a flash, and you do have to recharge the iPhone more often than the Blackberry- because the iPhone is so fun to use, you use it more (and there are solutions to that problem).  But those are minor issues that are more than outweighed by the many additional benefits of the iPhone.

I’m sold.  Thanks Verizon!

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