Great Iphone apps

Wednesday 17th December, 2008

Okay, so yesterday I had a bit of a rant about the Iphone’s wooden syncing policies amongst other things. It’s not all bad though, far from it.

Here are some of the great apps I’ve come across so far:

Seadragon

This the Iphone version of Microsoft’s Seadreagon engine, a mechanism for navigating very large images, including nested images to an infinite (or at least unstated) depth. It’s ultimately pointless but geekily fun.

TubeStatus

This shows you the current status of the tube lines in London. Fatalists might suggest that this is pointless, but I’m an optimist, which means that I hope one day this will enable me to stay in the pub rather than waiting on a jammed platform on a line with severe delays.

MyRail Lite

This shows you the status of the overground train lines in the UK. It also hooks in to Google Maps to show you where stations are, find your closest ones, and give you directions to them.

Chess With Friends

Does as it says on the tin. Play by mail chess for the touch-screen generation.

TouchPhysics

The Iphone version of the lo-fi classic Crayon Physics. I’m still waiting for Crayon Physics Deluxe.


So close, yet so far

Tuesday 16th December, 2008

At the weekend I got myself a shiny new Iphone 3G. It was so close to living up to the hype, but has sadly fallen short. Below is a quick list of reasons why I’m disappointed by my Iphone.

Music playback FAIL

Sometimes playing a track does nothing. No sound. No visible activity. When I press the button that takes you back to the previous screen it registers the action but freezes for a while before actually doing as requested. It’s intermittent but it’s happened to me at least five or six times since the weekend.

That’s not really what you want from the second generation of what’s alleged to be an MP3 player.

Itunes FAIL

To start with I’m not a fan of being forced to hook my phone into Itunes in order to get it to work, but I’ve already had an annoying experience because of it. My girlfriend logged me out of my Itunes account and logged into hers, and when I synced my phone with it Itunes silently transferred my phone over onto her Itunes account. When I later tried to install an app on it I was challenged for her password… unable to do anything about it until I got home.

Apple, if you’re going to enforce a strict one to one policy between a computer and a phone then you have to explain more clearly and simply what the rules are, and warn people when they go near the boundary of your proscribed behaviour.

Syncing FAIL

I keep my music library at work, because that’s where I listen to music. I put a few tracks on the Iphone at home to try it out, but other than that I’ve mostly been installing apps.

Now I’ve brought my cable into work, fully expecting Apple to play their annoying little permissions game and wipe those tracks off when I synced with my work computer… but no. Apparently it also wipes the apps I’ve downloaded. I don’t know whether I’m more shocked that it wipes the free apps, or that it wipes the apps that I’ve actually paid for.

When I go to re-install the wiped apps, the app store tells me I can re-download them for free, so why didn’t it check I had permission to use them before it wiped them? Thanks Apple. Very thoughtful of you.

Apple, you’ve managed to make an amazing product and then snatch mediocrity from the jaws of victory with your disappointingly wooden approach to synchronisation and multiple devices. Nicely done!


The next step for Third Sector services

Friday 12th December, 2008

My old firm Justgiving has been pushing its way into the nation’s charitable subconscious since 2001.

Every breakthrough company like Justgiving fills a previously empty niche, or cuts open an entirely new market. The hole Justgiving filled with its hero product, sponsorship pages, was previously occupied by paper-based sponsorship forms… something that was dragging down the process of fundraising rather than lifting it up. Justgiving’s sponsorship product smashed the previous contender on speed, ease, tax efficiency, fun, and sheer style.

Nicely done.

They can’t sit on that model forever though. Any product can be copied, and Justgiving’s product has been, many times. Over time it will probably become a commodity service, and companies will compete on features, ease of use, fees, and event tie-ins. Big players muscle in. Margins shrink.

Looking at it from the perspective of the charitable sector, this new type of service has drastically improved that aspect of their fundraising work. Fundraisers are happier, charities get more data, more money is raised.

Again, nicely done. What now?

Thinking in cold, hard, cynical currency, Justgiving sells warm fuzzy feelings. I know that may sound bizarre but a company in the charitable sector is a bizarre thing. I think the only way to rationalise it is to treat the fuzzies people get from charitable transactions as being something of value. Those feelings come from two sources; the fuzzies from giving money to a ‘good cause’, and the fuzzies from supporting a friend. Then there’s the less fuzzy commodity that Justgiving sells, which is the avoidance of the guilt you might feel when not sponsoring yet another friend who’s running a 10k (be honest, we’ve all been there).

Justgiving currently supports the second and third aspects very well already, as does the rest of the industry, but what about where the money is going? Surely we should be able to see more of what’s happening with our money.

Charities already understand this to an extent. Donors get mass-produced bulk mailings with pictures of happy children, but this is the YouTube generation. We live in the information age. I don’t want the exact same glossy brochureware that every other donor in the country received. I don’t want a giving experience that’s throttled at birth by the carefully designed words of a PR company.

People give Christmas presents because they can see the happy faces of the people they give them to. When I can see the face of the person that’s benefiting from my donation, hear them talk, read the charity worker’s personal blog, I will give ten times what I currently do, and I doubt I’m alone.

If you can open a connection between donors and the actual recipients of the funds, then you’ve accomplished two things. Firstly, by letting people see what’s happening they’ll be more inclined to give more. Secondly, by broadening information about causes you create choice; the mechanism through which donors decide which causes are important and which charities are acting effectively.

All the technology exists already; blogs, video hosting, and the ability to get funds from A to B. All it takes is for someone to plug it together.


Blu ray dead, alive, dead, alive, dead again

Saturday 6th December, 2008

I’m with Robin Harris on this one. Despite some final death throes and some confusion over exactly what constitutes death there doesn’t seem any hope for Blu Ray as a mainstream video medium.

  • DVD is much cheaper (roughly half the price in the UK)
  • A year after Blu Ray beat HD-DVD there’s still a painfully limited choice of content
  • DVD to HD step in user experience is not as significant as the step from VHS to DVD
  • Hardware is getting cheaper, but we’re now in a recession so uptake will be hindered

So my money is on Blu Ray being consigned ‘video format valhalla’ and seated down the unfashionable end of the feast hall, nestled between Betamax and Laserdisc.

As for what replaces it… I’m guessing a segmented market comprising of

  • Incompatible DRM-laden download services provided by the big distributors
  • A few rental by-mail services for people who can’t be bothered relying on fluctuating bandwidth and technical glitches (these guys might have some Blu Ray uptake if it’s not priced too high)
  • A black market of illegal downloads for people who won’t accept distributors restrictions or don’t want to pay

I’m hoping I’m wrong and we get a more elegant solution.


Moreover blog

Friday 5th December, 2008

It seems my old firm Moreover have started a new blog on their shiny new website. Good work guys. I love the new look. When are you going to launch a consumer version of Newsdesk? :o)


Microsoft Live Search image comparison

Thursday 4th December, 2008

As I’m sure a lot of people suspected, the guys over at Microsoft’s multimedia search team have been working on image comparison, i.e. using an image to find other images. I can’t seem to get it to appear though. Has anybody seen it in action?


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