SAN FRANCISCO — In the month since two men violently shoved him to the ground and stole his iPhone 5, Dalton Huckaby has almost completely stopped calling his mother. It usually takes him a full day to text his friends back. Nothing personal, but Mr. Huckaby is just too frightened to take his replacement iPhone out in public.
“I never thought this would happen to me,” said Mr. Huckaby, 39, a personal trainer, who since the robbery, which he called an iCrime, has become the kind of person who patrols his neighborhood streets in San Francisco warning strangers about the dangers of using their smartphones out in the open.
Phone theft, especially of Apple’s coveted iPhones, has increased sharply in recent years. Last year, nearly half of all robberies in San Francisco involved a smartphone.
So, how do people like Mr. Huckaby deal with the stress after a phone theft? How do you dodge robbers in the first place? And what should you do if your phone is stolen?
Here are some suggestions:
BE LIKE A DOLPHIN Dolphins sleep with one eye open, to stay semi-alert to lurking predators and unexpected danger. If you need to use your phone in the wilds of the subway or sidewalk, do so discreetly, reserving at least a portion of your cognitive capacity for minding what is happening around you. Avoid leaving your phone on the table at restaurants, bars and coffee shops where it can easily be snatched. Thieves have perfected robbery tactics based on patterns of typical nonchalant public smartphone behavior, the police say. Consider the sidewalk texter, casually holding the phone in front while walking, or more likely weaving, down the street. “A popular move is to slap the victim in the back of the head,” said Edward Santos Jr., a San Francisco police lieutenant. “The phone goes flying up in the air and many of these guys have gotten so good they’ll catch the phone in midair.” So long, phone.
LOCK IT UP Most thieves erase all identifying information from a phone within hours, sometimes minutes, after stealing it. Still, passwords on your phone’s home screen can help protect your personal information in case it isn’t wiped clean. A San Francisco woman whose iPhone was stolen from a San Francisco bar in January got a call a week later from Peru from a man threatening to publicly post nude photos he found on her password-free phone if she did not pay him, the police said. Avoid such unpleasantries by using a simple password, which can easily be enabled on both iPhone and Android devices.
KNOW YOUR NUMERALS Write down your phone’s model number, serial number and unique device identification number. If your phone is stolen you’ll want to report these numbers to the police and to your carrier. There are several ways to find your phone’s International Mobile Equipment Identifier or IMEI number. On most phones, you can dial *#06# and the number will pop up on your screen. Alternatively, turn the phone off, take the battery out and find the IMEI and serial number on the label under the battery. On an iPhone, go into Settings, click General and then click About and you will find a page listing your phone’s model and serial number and IMEI code. Save these numbers where you can retrieve them easily.
USE LOCATION TRACKING APPS When a phone is stolen, one of the first questions the police will ask is whether you have a tracking app. The police have recovered stolen phones by tracking the GPS signal trail straight to a robber’s pocket or backpack. But for the apps to work, the phone has to stay on. Increasingly, the police say, practiced thieves know to turn the phone off and wrap it in aluminum foil before turning it back on, which thwarts the tracking technology. Still, it is worth installing an application to monitor your phone’s whereabouts. Apple makes a free app, Find My iPhone, which can be turned on in Apple’s iCloud or downloaded from iTunes. Android users have several options for free third-party tracking apps including Where’s My Droid and Lookout. In addition to broadcasting a phone’s location, many antitheft apps allow you to remotely lock your phone, wipe it clean of sensitive information and even remotely set off a screaming phone alarm.
BRICK IT If your phone is stolen, immediately report the theft to the police and your carrier. Start with the police. Give them your IMEI and serial number and the password to remotely log in to your tracking app. Once you’ve finished dealing with the police, call your carrier. Tell your carrier to disable, or brick, your device, which will lock it and prohibit anyone else from activating it, even with a new SIM card. The carrier should add your IMEI number to a national database of blacklisted phones. The database keeps track of the phone’s IMEI number to prevent it from being activated. But the police say the database is largely ineffective because many stolen phones end up overseas, out of the carrier’s reach, and because thieves are able to modify the IMEI number. Still, it’s better to have the phone entered in the database than not.
The Federal Communications Commission’s guide to stolen and lost phones recommends that you ask your carrier for written confirmation that your phone has been reported stolen and that they have disabled it. If you are an A.T.&T. customer, call 1-800-331-0500; Verizon, call 1-800-922-0204; Sprint, call 1-888-211-4727; and T-Mobile, call 1-800-937-8997. The F.C.C. maintains a full list of carrier contacts for reporting stolen phones.
CHANGE YOUR PASSWORDS Even if your carrier bricks your stolen phone, you should change your passwords for any social networking sites, e-mail, banks and health care sites you may have visited from your phone.
BECOME A LATE ADOPTER Less than a week after the iPhone 5 was released on Sept. 21, 2012, barely used phones turned up for sale at makeshift kiosks at flea markets in Oakland, Calif., known hot spots for peddling stolen merchandise, according to the police.
Last month a woman was held up for her iPhone by two men, one with a gun, in El Cerrito, Calif., just east of San Francisco. After she handed it over, the robbers took one look at her older model iPhone and gave it back to her, the police said. Just like the Apple fanatics camping out in front of Apple stores before a new iPhone is released, thieves want the latest model, too. Having one can make you a target.
Python is only one of many important open-source programs that are more than 20-years old.
Today, open-source software is everywhere but many peple still think of it as being relatively new. It’s not. Open-source software actually goes back decades.
Before beginning our journey in the way-back machine though we should go over our terminology. “Open source,” the phrase, only goes back to February 3, 1998. The phrase was deliberately chosen to separate the more pragmatic open-source supporters from the more idealistic “free software” community members. Gallons of ink and gigabytes of pixels has been spilled on debating the differences between these two, but for my purposes I’m talking about programs that qualify by either definition.
Both concepts were actually used long before proprietary software showed up. As Richard M. Stallman, (rms) free software’s founder noted, “When I started working at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab in 1971, I became part of a software-sharing community that had existed for many years. Sharing of software was not limited to our particular community; it is as old as computers, just as sharing of recipes is as old as cooking.”
That said, C remains a vital language in open-source circles and to do much with C you need a good, general purpose library. Over the decades the most important of these libraries has beenglibc. Most of the credit for glibc’s early success goes to Roland McGrath. By early 1988, McGrath had given what would become glibc, “a nearly complete set of ANSI C library functions.” From this work would spring innumerable programs including Linux.
If glibc is important then gcc is vital. At its start, gcc only supported C. Today, it supports, to name but a few, C, C++, Objective C, Fortran, and Java. Almost every free software software project owes a debt of gratitude, and a lot of its foundation programming, to gcc.
6) GNU Emacs: 1984
Before there was gcc, the first major GNU program was the GNU Emacs programming editor. While I was never crazy about it—I’m a vi guy—I couldn’t begin to count how many programs were written in GNU Emacs. Indeed some people assume that GNU Emacs was the first version of the editor. That isn’t so. Emacs actually dates all the way back to 1972.
You could argue that these early versions were also free software, and I wouldn’t fight with you about it. There’s no question that such early versions as Multic Emacs and Gosling Emacs shared both ideas and code. GNU Emacs, though, became the version that would change the development world.
7) X Window System: 1983
At the same time that Emacs and gcc were starting to roll, others at MIT were working on the X Window System, a TCP/IP-based networking windowing system. No one knew it at the time but X Window would eventually become the basis for all important Linux and Unix interfaces, and the foundation for the Mac OS X interface.
9) First Berkeley Software Distribution (1BSD) Unix: March 9, 1978
The first open-source operating system wasn’t Linux. That honor goes to, as Peter H. Salus wrote in A Quarter Century of UNIX, Bill Joy’s first version of BSD Unix. When Unix first showed up in 1969, it was open source. Later it was closed, but BSD, the first fork, kept the free software flag flying. While BSD Unix never grabbed the headlines that Linux has, it’s actually very important as well. Besides the BSD “distributions,” such as FreeBSD, OpenBSD, and NetBSD, both Solaris and Mac OS X got their start from BSD Unix.
So, as you can see, open-source programs not only has a long history, it’s also important in far more places than in software development. Since it’s very start, free software has helped us in ways we didn’t even know about.
So, the next time, someone says open-source software isn’t good or trustworthy, just remind them that not only is it great, it has a better and longer track record than almost any proprietary software.
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, aka sjvn, has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was the cutting edge PC operating system. SJVN covers networking, Linux, open source, and operating systems.
4 Free Things Google Drive Will Now Do For You. By Kevin Purdy
Google’s immense servers and deeply experienced algorithms take a load off your heavy lifting.
Most productive people with a mind for the web know what Google Docs are about. Then Google Docs became Google Drive, with all kinds of storage space and collaboration folders and connected webapps. Most people just noted the new icon and kept on writing meeting agendas and filling small spreadsheets.
Now, however, would be a good time to pay Drive some mind. Google has done impressive work making it easier to keep your files organized, share any file with anyone, and keep everything in your work life one search away. Very specifically, these are the things Drive can do for you at no cost, and requiring just enough effort to remember Drive can do that.
Send Gigantic Attachments That Are Always Up To Date
Your email attachments are only as useful as the lamest inbox to which you send. Some antiquated mail systems can’t accept files larger than a megabyte or two, and some are limited to sending even less. And in any inbox, it’s often easy to lose track of which attachment is the most recent, working version of a file.
Google Drive and Gmail really, truly want to fix this. So now you can insert Drive “attachments” into a Gmail message, up to 10 GB in size. Gmail also checks that the file you attached is open for access to everybody in the message. If you jump into Drive and change the document, spreadsheet, presentation or whatever, no matter—that one email with the Drive link is still current.
One caveat: You need to be using Gmail’s “New Compose Experience” to insert Drive attachments. So if you haven’t already done so, click “Compose” in Gmail, then click the link to “Try out the new compose experience.”
Do More With Drive On Mobile, Including Spreadsheet Editing
Google makes a Drive app for iOS devices, a Drive app for Android, and a kind of “app” for Chrome browsers. Installing these apps gives you the ability to create and edit documents while you’re connected to the web, and on a Chrome browser, you can also edit text-based “Docs” while you are offline. And on mobile devices, you can view documents online or offline, and even edit spreadsheets that others are working on at the same time.
In other words: stash stuff inside Drive that you might need to look at later, when you really need to pull it up. It’s free, and it works quite well.
Upload And Search-Index Your Paper Documents
Google has spent years learning the most precise way to turn images of text into edit-ready computer text. Those odd little word puzzles you have to decipher to log into certain sites? Google acquired that technology in 2009, and uses it to digitize old books and newspaper text. And, if you want, Drive will read your own paper scans and otherwise non-copy-ready PDF files and index every word in them, along with your other documents.
With the Drive app installed on your phone or tablet, you can snap a picture of handwriting and, faster than you think, pull up a converted text document from the app. If your stuff is already scanned or written out, you can simply drag and drop an entire folder from your system into Drive and wait for it to convert over for you. Drive wants to be the stenographer you rudely ignore while piling paperwork on their desk.
Host Simple Or Test Websites For Free
If you ever need to make a single-serve website, or test out some new web stuff you’re fiddling with, Google Drive has some spare server space they’re willing to donate to your cause. You just have to upload your files and grab the right link.
You know how you get a free CD or some sample to try out with a purchase of many printed magazines. That’s cool, but check this out – today’s Entertainment Weekly edition comes with a real smartphone. You got that right, it’s an Android-based device which is kinda “rough of the edges” but it can connect you to the Internet and allow you to fire-up few apps.
One page of the magazine shows digital ads with video and latest tweets from the CW Network. Mashable decided to investigate this and found out it’s actually an Android phone that makes this possible. This device comes with a partially built QWERTY keyboard, camera, USB port and a T-Mobile SIM that communicates with the carrier’s 3G network (to show the ads and tweets).
Of course, it’s a low-end phone which seems made for the Chinese market (menu and options are in Chinese), and although it doesn’t come in the real phone box, you do get something to play with.
Entertainment Weekly is only producing 1,000 of these digital advertising-enhanced issues, so if you want a nearly free smartphone you better run to your nearest newsstand.
Biohackers And DIY Cyborgs Clone Silicon Valley Innovation. By Neal Ungerleider
A new breed of hobbyists, scientists, and entrepreneurs are working on echolocation implants, brain-controlled software programs, and even cybernetic rats. Their experiments will change the future of tech.
In basements, garages, startup spaces, and university laboratories, DIY researchers, scientists, programmers, and neurologists are collaborating on brain interfaces that can control video games with human thoughts. They’re growing flesh that’s augmented with transistors and implanting Bluetooth sensors under their own living skin to send vital signs to mobile phones. They’re growing in vitro edible “steaks” and leather without using living beings. They’re even helping severely disabled individuals “speak” using only their brainwaves. And most of them still consider this a hobby.
The grinders (DIY cybernetics enthusiasts) and their comrades in arms—biohackers working on improving human source code, quantified self enthusiasts who arm themselves with constant bodily data feeds, and independent DIY biotechnology enthusiasts—are moonlighting for now in basements, shared spaces, and makeshift labs. But they’re ultimately aiming to change the world. Think of how bionic legs like those belonging to Oscar Pistorius and cochlear implants that let the deaf hear have changed everyday life for so many people. Then multiply that by a million. A million people. And millions of dollars.
Not only has the new wave of do-it-yourself (DIY) cybernetics moved well beyond science fiction, it’s going to cause a business boom in the not-too-distant future.
West Coast biohackers and grinders were the pioneers of this tech-driven, California brand of utopianism. They’ve taken a big-tent approach to their goal of hacking humanity: Paleo diets and meditation are just as likely to figure into things as cybernetic finger implants or controlling computer apps with brainwaves. For biohackers everywhere, augmentation of humanity itself—whether through technology or more traditional methods—is the primary goal. Common conversation points include DIY cyborgs, the quantified self, and diet- and meditation-based improvement movements like Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Executive or crowdsourced health projects like CureTogether.
But a growing community on the East Coast—in greater New York, Boston, and Pittsburgh—is synthesizing Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial DNA for its unique innovation model. Experimentation and science here is not only an exercise in advancing humanity through tech but is often is applied toward creating viable cybernetic products for the market.
In New York City, biohackers are united by the extremely active Biohackers NYC Meetup group and several startups, incubators, and workspaces scattered across the outer boroughs.
When the Biohackers NYC group was founded in early 2012, “It was because most biohacker movements started on West Coast, and the East Coast was lagging behind. I lamented the lack of this on the East Coast,” group founder and psychiatrist Lydia Fazzio tells Fast Company. “Our intent was to cover the spectrum of biohacking from manipulating non-human genomes to also the body and the mind. It’s a holistic approach to the meaning of biohacking, whether technology or nutrition. However you get there, we all have the innate potential to be an optimal functioning human in society. Our question is: How do we get there?”
In Brooklyn, a small “community biolab” called Genspace is home to approximately a dozen DIY biology experimenters whose work often involves the fusion of the living and the electronic. Classes are offered to the public in synthetic biology, which engineers living organisms as if they were biological machines.
A workshop recently held at Genspace, Crude Control, showed how in-vitro meat and leather could be created via tissue engineering, and it explored the possibility of creating semi-living “products” from them. Although the Genspace workshop was for educational purposes, similar technologies are already being monetized elsewhere—Peter Thiel recently sank six figures into a startup that will make 3-D printed in vitro meat commercially available. The teacher at the Crude Control workshop, Oron Catts, walked participants through “basic tissue culture and tissue engineering protocols, including developing some DIY tools and isolating cells from a bone we got from a local butcher.” Some of Catts’ previous projects include bioengineering a steak from pre-natal sheep cells (in his words, “steak grown from an animal that was not yet born”) and victimless leather grown from cell lines.
Just a few hours up I-95 at Harvard University, researchers have created the world’s first “cyborg flesh.” The university’s Lieber Research Group, led by Charles Lieber, has successfully created rat flesh that is seamlessly melded with a network of wires and transistors that monitor the individual behavior of each cell.
Lieber’s groundbreaking research integrated electrically active scaffolds into rat cardiomyocytes, or heart muscle cells. Incredibly small wires and transistors were embedded in scaffolding made with collagen and wires; using the cybernetic tissue, researchers could keep track of the minute behavior of cells during drug reactions. Harvard’s experiment is far more than just the weird science of creating cybernetic rats, though. In the future, projects built on this technology could be used to do away with animal or human testing for drugs, and to create cybernetic implants to repair damaged hearts.
Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, Grindhouse Wetwares is an Internet-based collective of programmers, engineers, and scientists dedicated to “augmenting humanity using safe, affordable, open-source technology.” Many of Grindhouse’s members are currently based in Pittsburgh, which has become an impromptu nexus for DIY cybernetics enthusiasts. The organization’s current project is a literal —a cap with attached electrodes that stimulates the brain with electricity. Users are zapped with direct current via the electrodes, which allegedly engage certain brain states depending on placement.
Grindhouse has a business model that recalls that of early Silicon Valley companies like the original Apple of Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. The collective intentionally makes project plans available via Creative Commons licenses; customers can either pay Grindhouse to build their devices or they can make it at home for free.
Other projects from Grindhouse take the merger of human and machine even further. The Bottlenose is a device which transforms sonar, UV, Wi-Fi, or thermal information into a magnetic field that the user can then feel. End users can either receive an impromptu cybernetic implant in their finger or wear a haptic version of the device. Both the implanted version and the worn-on-body version physically stimulate the user when they walk past, say, a microwave or a wireless router. Much like the Thinking Cap, a Bottlenose can be constructed at home using the organization’s free schematics, or implants/wearable field detectors can be purchased online.
Another project, the Heleed, is a cybernetic medical tracking device. Users implant the Bic lighter-sized device in their body, which then automatically sends biomedical information to the Internet via a Bluetooth interface. The strictly experimental Heleed can also be programmed to display health warnings—sent to the recipient via an Android app—on the user’s skin with LED lights.
Heleed is expected to be released to the public in time for the holiday season. Grindhouse’s Lucas Dimoveo told Fast Company that the device currently records body temperature, heart rate, and time. Future versions will have additional sensors added; “the goal is to have your implant text your phone with health factoids like ‘Did you know that when you are on Jamaica Avenue between Van Wyck and Francis Lewis your blood pressure increases ___ mmHg?’” This end goal is not very dissimilar from several non-cybernetic products now making it to market, such as GPS-integrated asthma inhalers.
These implants have substantial real-life effects. Dimoveo described a few: “In the lab one of our older laptops stopped working—sometimes it would recharge and other times it wouldn’t. It took [Grindhouse experimenters] Tim Cannon and Shawn Sarver all of five seconds to figure out what was going on just by running their hands from the extension cord up the power brick to the computer itself. The wire was giving off a field, but not the battery (which sadly meant I needed to get a new computer). There is no way I would have figured out the problem that fast.
“Our artist, Mike Seeler, has larger than average magnet implants in both hands. Traveling through New York City is a very different experience for the both of us. He is constantly discovering magnetic fields pouring out of the street, the subway, the bus, and buildings. He has even had a few dreams including his magnetic sense.”
“The only drawback to the magnet implant is that interacting with mundane machinery can cause people to recoil in shock at how much power is running through a wire or machine. I’ve seen a few people on the team walk by a live soldering station and recoil in surprise. An audible response to the effect of ‘whoa’ is usually uttered, along with a concerned look. Real emotional responses can be triggered by this implant.”
Biohackers first came into the public consciousness thanks to an August 2012 article on tech website The Verge, where author Ben Popper had one of Grindhouse’s cybernetic magnetic implants surgically placed in his thumb. The implant, made from the rare earth metal neodymium, allowed Popper to feel magnetic fields. DIY cybernetics and the informal merger of human with machine attracts both professionals and dedicated hobbyists with unrelated day jobs. Two popular message boards, and DIYbio (which deals with the larger field of DIY biotechnology labs), serve as meeting points for researchers in the field. At BioArt Laboratories, a Dutch organization featured on DIYbio, art and music are made using cell cultures and biological materials. Meanwhile, users on biohack.me are contemplating the possibilities of subdermal bone conduction headphones and echolocation implants.
One of the biggest boom areas for the DIY cybernetics community is controlling software and applications with brain waves. Crucially, it is the one technology for which we currently have robust development tools and a price point which allows hobbyists to easily experiment. Brain-computer interfaces are increasingly commonplace; in their most common commercial incarnation, users control computer software—most frequently games or simple applications—with brainwave-reading electrodes.
Upstate New York is home to one of the best known brain-computer interface systems out there. BCI2000 was developed at the Wadsworth Center of the New York State Department of Health in Albany in order to create a framework for computer software to understand input from human brainwaves. Using BCI2000, developers have been able to create projects such as a blink-input computer typing system for the disabled and even brainwave-controlled robots. At the Wadsworth Center itself, research efforts on BCI are primarily focused on creating new communication methods for the severely disabled.
There is an undeniable science fiction factor to the idea of DIY cybernetics such as Ekso’s robotic exoskeleton for paraplegics. However, one important thing has to be remembered: Man and machine have been merging for a long time. Cochlear implants and bionic legs are just the latest in a long list of human augmentation that ranges from pacemakers to eyeglasses.
These technologies aren’t just for the future either; they’re being monetized and put to market on a mass scale today. Austrian firm g.tec released a product for patients with motor disabilities that lets them spell words using their brainwaves. Using the product, users who have severe difficulty communicating otherwise can attain a spelling rate of 5 to 10 letters per minute.
Two new consumer products also let ordinary folks—that is, ordinary folks with some money to burn—turn themselves into temporary cyborgs. Neurosky’s MindWave Mobile is a $130 brainwave-reading device for Android and iOS platforms. With the headset-like Bluetooth device, users can play simple proprietary games via their brainwaves—with no hand or gesture input required. Eight apps are included, such as shooters and “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style interactive movies. Rival firm Emotiv markets a brainwave-reading headset compatible with both proprietary games and standard PC games that retails for $299.
Crucially, both Emotiv and Neurosky make software development kits (SDKs) and APIs available to outside content producers. Both firms make the possibility of creating brain-controlled software more or less as simple as building an Android app. In other words, 20 or 30 years from now, we’ll likely look back on the biohacker and grinder communities like we currently look back on Silicon Valley of the early to mid 1970s or Stanford or Harvard in the ’90s, places and times when dedicated hobbyists and small businesspeople built homebrewed computers and software in garages and dorm rooms—and founded companies such as Apple, Google, and Facebook.
5 Things That Keep App Developers Up At Night. By Seth Porges
A hit mobile app can mean a big payday for a developer. But so much about what makes or breaks a product is completely outside of their control. And that means one thing: omnipresent anxiety.
Each of the world’s 410 million devices running iOS produces approximately $18.50 in App Store sales, according to Apple—of which $13 goes straight to developers. In other words: A hit mobile app can mean a big payday. But so much about what makes or breaks a product is completely outside of a developer’s control, from getting it surfaced in the marketplace to negative reviews and slow download times. And that means one thing: Omnipresent anxiety.
We spoke to app developers to find out what app-related fears cause them to lose sleep.
1. A TECH TITAN MOVES IN
Foursquare must have been a bit freaked when Facebook launched its Places check-in service in 2010, a direct competitor. But while both services seem to be surviving, many developers live in constant fear that a tech titan such as Apple, Google, or Facebook will move into their space and take it over. Some developers even view this as an inevitability.
“I completely expect that Apple’s native weather app will basically do what ours does sooner than later,” says Eric Stralow, creator of the rain-prediction app Raindropping.
It’s not just the tech titans that startups need to worry about, of course. There is always the possibility that while a developer is perfecting their product, a better-funded and more nimble competitor will move to market first.
“I worry that while we’re spending time perfecting things, a lower-quality product with a similar value proposition will come along with more marketing spend and get more share of voice,” says Eric Tarn, the technical cofounder of the Onepager app.
What To Do About It
Big companies have big problems, and their entry into a smaller developer’s space can legitimize the market—and even serve as a rising tide that brings attention to the original players.
“Focus on making your product different and really good at solving the unique problem you’re trying to fix,” says Pablo Quinteros, an independent iOS developer and co-host of The Big Apple App Guys podcast. “If you do this, then rarely will a competitor entering your market make you completely obsolete.”
“Take solace in the fact that you can move faster and be more creative than a giant corporation. Focus on what you can do that they can’t,” Tarn says.
2. BUGGY UPDATES
Even an incremental update to an app is an opportunity for new bugs to sneak into software, no matter how much testing gets done before a release. The heavily fragmented mobile marketplace makes it particularly difficult for mobile developers to clear away all the bugs beforehand.
“One of the biggest fears we consistently hear from developers is that on some combination of phone platform, firmware revision, and device their app will crash and cause new users to issue the deadly one-star rating,” says Rob Spectre, head of developer evangelism for Twilio. “Development tools on both iOS and Android still aren’t robust enough for developers to easily test their code on the thousands of combinations that exist in their users’ pockets. Will my video stutter on iOS 4 for everyone with an iPhone 3GS? Will my UI look pixelated on a large, low density screen for Android Gingerbread? Will my login button work on the new Nexus tablet?”
Compounding the stress: The ever-present possibility that a bug will be detected by a journalist, potential investor, or a celebrity with a large Twitter following.
“With each new release, no matter how well tested, you always worry that some VIP will encounter some bug you didn’t catch and that will forever taint their perception of your product,” Tarn says.
What To Do About It
First step is to minimize bugs in the first place.
“During the development process, using debugging and performance analysis tools, beta testing, as well as unit testing can help discover critical bugs before submitting for review,” Quinteros says. “Once an app is live, using crash reporters like Crittercism or Test Flight can help gauge the severity of bugs that made it in the public build. Bug-tracking software can help developers prioritize bug fixes.”
LITTLE DID WE KNOW, APPLE HAD COMPLETELY CHANGED HOW IT BUFFERED AUDIO AND THE ENGINE THAT WAS WORKING PERFECTLY ONE WEEK EARLIER NEEDED TO BE REWRITTEN FROM THE GROUND UP.
From there, bug damage can be minimized if users feel like they have a developer’s ear.
“Take the beta label off your product and keep an open, honest, and humble channel of communication with your customers,” Tarn says. “If you are a small company, use it to your advantage. Put your phone number on your page and ask customers to call you for a personal apology.”
3. API ANXIETY
Countless apps rely on the data supplied to them by other companies’ APIs (application programming interface), such as Twitter. While these services give smaller developers access to data and development tools that would otherwise be outside their reach, it also creates a dangerous dependency.
“We rely heavily on the Google Maps API, and if Google decides one day that we have to use the Enterprise editions, that’ll cost us tens of thousands of dollars,” Tarn says.
In some cases the API provider itself is shut down or acquired. Developers that relied on data supplied by the facial recognition company Face.com recently found themselves in the lurch after Facebook purchased it. But it can just as easily occur when a company decides that its third-party clients are now competitors. Twitter, in particular, has been ramping up restrictions on how developers can access its data. The scariest part for developers: Such changes can come at any time and with no warning.
“Making an app can be an exercise in anxiety when it relies on third-party APIs,” says Quinteros. “We’re dependent on so many factors outside our control. Fear that app performance will be impacted by sudden changes to external APIs is always on the back of my mind.”
What To Do About It
If a developer suspects an API may change its terms, they can minimize potential damage by moving API interactions to an outside server.
“This way, developers can handle unexpected API changes more gracefully and quickly than if they have to resubmit and wait for an update to get approved, says Quinteros. “Of course, it’s also more work.”
Developers should also have a back-up plan in mind, just in case a vital API is completely cut off.
“If you’re relying on an API for a specific piece of functionality, make sure you have an understanding about how it works and create a plan to bring that functionality in-house if needed,” Tarn says.
4. PLATFORM SHIFTS
In the mobile playground, the OS is king, and even subtle changes in how the basic tools of a smartphone functions can leave apps inoperable or filled with unexpected bugs.
“We had just released our location-aware album for Central Park when Apple released their last major overhaul of their iOS,” says Ryan Holladay, whose band Bluebrain recently released a series of experimental app-based albums. “Little did we know, Apple had completely changed how it buffered audio and the engine that was working perfectly one week earlier needed to be rewritten from the ground up.”
But while Bluebrain’s developers were able to fix this problem and issue an update, under-the-hood changes to platforms have the potential to completely sink an app.
“Platform changes can cripple the way your app works—like when Facebook changes how apps publish or promote to users,” says Jon Lazar, an independent mobile and web developer.
What To Do About It
This one is simple, but can be a strain for small staffs: Developers should download and test against OS updates as soon as you can.
“Fortunately, Apple and Google in particular have committed to a fairly transparent release process for big platform updates,” Spectre says. “The best thing you can do is install beta versions of their OS updates early and often and always develop against them. Often you get months to see how your app will perform with a new update.”
5. TRACKING THE NUMBERS
Once an app has been released, tracking daily downloads and user reviews can be an anxious addiction. Many developers told us that the first thing they do when they wake up is to check on the previous day’s downloads.
“You worry about the numbers,” Stralow says. “Every day. How many people downloaded the app yesterday? How many people visited the site? How many good reviews did we get? How many not-so-good reviews did we get? How many articles were written about the app? How many support tickets did we get?”
“It gives me heart palpitations when we release new content,” says Geoff Warren-Boulton, creator of the iOS humor apps Oldify and Stache-ify. “Making any kind of change takes a week or more to actually go live and even if a tiny percent of people don’t like something, it has a dramatic and immediate impact on our reviews.”
What To Do About It
For iOS developers, numbers-related anxiety is often exasperated by a simple fact: Despite the fact that Apple is known for designing some of the best user interfaces in the world, the web-based dashboard they use to give developers their download stats is notoriously difficult to dig through. To help developers, a cottage industry of analytics tools (examples include AppViz 2 and App Annie) has popped up to parse download data.
From there, all developers can do is sit back and avoid obsessing over daily numbers.
“There will always be rises and dips, but the idea is to just take a more general view and see how the overall product is being received and seeing how a longer term, more general rise can be achieved,” Lazar says.
Seth Porges is a New York-based writer and editor. As the co-creator of the iOS fashion app Cloth, he knows how much anxiety apps can cause. You can follow him onTwitter or Facebook.
Google’s Data Advantage Over Apple’s Siri. By Quentin Hardy
Google has been gathering data on the way people speak for five years.
When Eric Schmidt was still chief executive of Google, I asked him what the company owned that would make it particularly hard for any emerging search contender to wipe Google out. Spell check, he said. Google had observed the spelling mistakes and corrections typed into billions of queries, and had a vast understanding of what people really meant when they typed like thsi. Google was able to use this knowledge to offer a “did you mean” function in search, eventually completing queries before people were finished typing.
Voice recognition technology is critically important, not just for mobile phones, but potentially for control of lots of other devices, particularly televisions. It is still early days, but if you’re thinking about which side will win in the battle between Apple’s Siri and Google Voice Search, consider the lesson of spell check.
Other companies would not be able to get that learning, he said, since people had come to expect search engines to fix their spelling. The customers would stay with Google, where that problem was solved. Microsoft Bing has proved Mr. Schmidt was not entirely correct in Google owning spell check, but it does take a company of Microsoft’s size to come at the problem.
It is common around the world to use Google to check one’s spelling now, and it’s common inside Google to use that same ancillary learning on new products.
That is probably why Google Voice Search, in its Siri-like manifestation in the new Jelly Bean version of the Android operating system, appears to be winning the heart of my colleague Nick Bilton. Nick says Google Voice Search appears to have better understanding of what he’s talking about, and can answer questions better. There are also numerous videos on the Web showing its prowess.
If Google is better, it is most likely because it has roots in a product Google introduced in 2007, called Google-411, or Google Local Voice Search. Ostensibly a product that provided free directory assistance, Google was mostly interested in capturing the way different people pronounced words.
While the Jelly Bean version of Voice Search is new, Google’s linguists have five years of data on billions of pronunciations. A year ago, just for the English language, Google had a database of 230 billion word strings, and had worked on 23 other languages, based largely on 411 and related voice-based search products, including an earlier version of Voice Search. It’s another spell check.
Apple never worked on that kind of feature, which is one reason Siri is one of the few products Apple officially released in beta form. It is building up its database of speech during Siri’s early life. Some of the cute ways Siri talks when it does not understand a question, such as repeating back what you have said, may in fact be efforts to see if you will correct its understanding, somewhat in the way Google learned spell check. Google Voice Search on Jelly Bean is starting late, but its quality advantage from all that learning beforehand is what makes it better in the early days.
That is not the only area where Google develops one product for the sake of another. The Google Goggles application on Android, which uses computer-driven image recognition to help identify an object the customer photographs, is also a product for use in connection with Google Maps. You can take a picture of a street in Goggles, and if Google Maps has taken a picture of that place with its Street View cars, it can tell you where you are.
Correction: July 19, 2012
This article has been corrected from an earlier version to note that while the Siri-like Voice Search on Jelly Bean is new, there have been earlier versions of Voice Search.
How to Put Your Hands on Someone Else’s Computer. By Sam Grobart
If your company is anything like mine, you probably have been in this situation (or something like it):
TECH: I.T. support. How can I help you?
ME: Well, I just reset my active-directory login, but doing so caused my computer’s keychain of passwords to stop working, since it has a different password than what is now the new active-directory login.
TECH: Oh, that’s pretty easy to fix. Do I have permission to take over your computer for a minute?
At which point, my screen flashes, I click on “agree” when asked if I will share my computer, and the cursor begins to be controlled by a tech somewhere in North Carolina while I sit in Manhattan. I watch as she opens windows, scrolls through menus and types information into various fields and forms.
And everything is again right with my computer.
Let’s compare that with another tech-support phone call that many of us encounter:
MY MOTHER: Hi honey, it’s me. Something’s wrong with the computer.
ME: Oh? What’s the problem?
MOM: I used to have Safari in my dock of applications, and now it’s gone.
ME: O.K. Start by going to the Go menu and open your Applications window.
MOM: I don’t understand anything you just said.
ME: O.K. Um, do you see “Go” at the top of your screen?
MOM: I’m looking … Finder, File, Edit, View, Go!
ME: O.K., click on that.
MOM: I’ve clicked on it. What do I do next?
ME: Click on “Applications.”
MOM: Got it.
ME: Scroll down until you see Safari.
MOM: O.K. Scrolling…
I’ll spare you the rest. Suffice it to say, as a technology advice columnist, I get a lot of questions like this — and not just from my mother. You have the same problem, right?
I’ve found that it’s easier to take control of someone’s computer and fix problems myself than try to talk somebody through an elaborate solution. Not to mention that the person seeking help gets the added benefit of being able to see what I did on the computer. Having seen my handiwork, they may be able to repeat the same fix later, without needing to call me for help. (I can dream, can’t I?)
Fortunately, it is possible to do this remotely for the computers of loved ones and friends, in much the same way that your corporate I.T. department can. Generally categorized under the term “remote access,” these services let you view and control another person’s computer (or your own machine) from any computer with an Internet connection.
Before you worry that these services expose you to hackers, scammers and outright thieves, know that in order for any remote-access service to work, you have to take specific steps to enable a computer, and that access is controlled through a system of passwords. Using remote access is as much a security risk as logging in to your bank’s Web site, giving your credit card number to a phone operator at a catalog retailer, or walking outside with your wallet in your pocket.
If you use popular communications software like Skype or iChat, you already have some remote capabilities. Those applications have screen-sharing features, which allow you and another user to agree to see what is on your or their display.
That’s helpful, but it still requires a detailed phone conversation in which you direct your friend/family member/colleague around their desktop and hard drive as they retain control over the computer (“Just click once and wait for the label to be highlighted. No, you just clicked twice and opened the folder, go back…”)
What you really want is the ability to look at another person’s display and take control of their computer (is there a way to say this that doesn’t sound sinister?). There are several services that provide this feature, but the one I prefer is LogMeIn.
LogMeIn offers a range of products, but my favorite is LogMeIn Free. That’s because it’s free.
LogMeIn Free is designed and marketed as a way to set up your own computer for remote access, but it can easily be used to set up someone else’s instead. First you set up an account at logmein.com. Then you download a small piece of software onto the computer you wish to control and use that application to link that computer to your logmein.com account. You can add as many computers to your account as you wish.
Once you’ve linked a computer to your account, you’re able to view and control it from any Web browser after logging into your account and entering the password you assigned to it. This is another reason I prefer LogMeIn to some other services. It doesn’t require you to have any special software on your end — just a computer and an Internet connection. Or you can use an Apple smartphone or tablet and a free app; Android support is coming soon, the company says.
When you take over another computer, it will appear in a window on logmein.com. You have the option to view that window in full screen, effectively turning your keyboard and mouse or trackpad into the other computer’s. That’s not to say that, for example, my mother is locked out of using her machine when I access it; her computer will accept inputs from her or me, so we can switch off if need be. If we both try to do different things at the same time, the computer gets a little confused and the cursor doesn’t really move, so you have to work in turns.
LogMeIn Free allows the host computer to control some of the parameters of remote access. You can set it so whoever is requesting access has to get your consent before they can control your computer, or you can grant them automatic access. When your computer is being controlled remotely, LogMeIn will display a small window on your screen letting you know it’s been entered. A user can also turn LogMeIn off at any time, making remote access impossible. You also have the power to cancel a remote session if you’d like.
There is a little bit of lag time when you’re controlling someone else’s computer. Don’t expect the cursor to move perfectly smoothly, as it will jump and stutter a little bit. LogMeIn is great to change a setting or find a misplaced file, but the connection it uses isn’t very robust, so accessing Mom’s computer to, say, watch a video she has stored on it is not going to be a satisfying viewing experience.
There are some other limitations to LogMeIn Free. You can’t drag a file from your desktop and drop it into Mom’s; for that, you’d have to upgrade to LogMeIn Pro, which costs $70 annually. Copying and pasting text between machines is not always available, either.
But those are small quibbles, to be honest. What LogMeIn has done for me and my family is better than any therapist. Frustrating phone calls are a thing of the past. Inconvenient house calls are also in the rearview mirror. Now, when there’s a problem, I can quickly and easily get online, assess the situation and do my best to remedy it. Familial tranquillity has been restored.
iPhone 4S vs. Samsung Galaxy S III: Which Smartphone Wins? By Michelle Maisto
NEWS ANALYSIS: The Apple iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S III are both fast, savvy, feature-rich, can follow instructions and access hundreds of thousands of apps. A few features, though, set each apart.
While the next iPhone is expected to feature a larger display—at least 4 inches on the diagonal—and LTE connectivity—there’s really no telling what Apple is preparing as its response to the number of strong Android offerings that have come out in recent weeks, including the HTC Evo 4G LTE, HTC One X andSony Xperia ion.
If you’re considering a jump from an older iPhone to the Galaxy S III, or from an Android phone to an iPhone, here’s where, in the most straightforward terms, things currently stand:
Apple iPhone 4S
Dimensions: 4.5 by 2.31 by 0.37 inches
Weight: 4.9 ounces
Display: 3.5-inch (on the diagonal) widescreen multi-touch display with a 960 by 640 pixel resolution.
Camera: 8 megapixels, HD video recording, LED flash, autofocus, VGA-quality front-facing camera, photo and video geotagging.
Operating System: iOS 5
Pricing and Capacity: 16GB for $199, 32GB for $299, 64GB for $399 (with two-year contract)
Samsung Galaxy S III
Dimensions: 5.38 by 2.78 by 0.34 inches
Weight: 4.69 ounces
Display: 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED with a resolution of 1280 by 720
Camera: 8 megapixels, HD video recording, auto focus with flash and zero shutter lag, 1.9-megapixel front-facing camera with HD recording, zero shutter lag
Pricing and Capacity: 16GB and 32GB versions are available; pricing varies by carrier, but most are selling the 16GB version for $199 with a two-year contract. Pricing varies more for the 32GB model. Sprint sells it for $249.99, T-Mobile for $329.99.
Apple also has the largest ecosystem around, now with 650,000 apps in the App Store compared to 500,000 Android apps in the Google Play market. Clearly, neither store is going to leave a person wanting—those are incredible figures—but there is something to be said for developer’s support of Apple. It seems we more often hear of popular iOS apps finally being created for Android—Instagram and, more recently, Flipboard come to mind—than the reverse.
Another consideration is enterprise approval. With companies increasingly supporting bring your own device (BYOD) policies, the iPhone is an incredibly common business device these days and considered more secure than many Android handsets—though that thinking is changing. SAP, for example, has said it’s working on a solution that will enable it to include Android devices among its sanctioned iPhones and BlackBerry handsets.
Samsung has taken this matter into its own hands and created a distinction called Samsung Approved for the Enterprise, or SAFE, that endows a device with not only enterprise-ready features but enough security options to make SAFE phones appropriate, according to Samsung, for even regulated industries such as government and health care.
In an enterprise-friendly head-to-head, the SAFE-branded Galaxy S III would come out ahead of the iPhone 4S. Also in the Samsung’s favor are its NFC-based capabilities—it can do cool things like pass a photo to another Galaxy S III handset when the two are tapped, use Google Wallet (depending on the carrier) and program Samsung’s TecTile stickers to do your bidding. While mobile payments have been the focus of near field communication in the United States, there’s a lot more it’s capable of, as Galaxy S III users (and others) are already figuring out.
Both phones can be controlled by voice. The Galaxy S III’s S Voice can be made to control some apps—turning on or off WiFi, setting the alarm and creating and posting a Tweet, for example. S Voice can also find answers to your questions—though it won’t tell you them aloud, as Apple’s Siri will. That is, when Siri hears or understands correctly. Still, even with Siri’s foibles, and before the Siri upgrades Apple will launch with iOS 6 in its next phone—she’ll be better tied to information about restaurants and sports, among other improvements—the iPhone bests the Galaxy on this front.
Each phone has a lot more features than are listed here, as well as details that detract from or recommend it. But smartphones are far more than their lists of specifications. We love or regret them based on details like the placement of buttons and whether we find them convenient, how warm the phone gets during a long call, how quickly it responds, how intuitive the layout is to navigate and really the degree to which the phone’s a pleasure to use—which is personal.
The most dramatic difference between these phones, in my opinion, is their size. A 4.8-inch display isn’t for everyone, though no doubt some users will be thrilled with the GS III as a gaming interface or a screen for an in-flight movie.
If you can, get to a store, have a look, hold them—a lot of camera features are great, but more important, to me, is not inadvertently hitting the volume button each time I turn on the phone—and consider how and what you’d use them for each day. Which phone is the best phone is personal.
Today is Israel’s 64th Independence Day. In Hebrew its called Yom HaAzmaut (יום העצמאות). Although independence was declared on May 14, 1948 (see the Israeli Declaration of Independence), the day is today (April 26, 2012) because in 1948, the day fell out in the Jewish calendar on the 5th day of the month of Iyar. That said today isn’t even the 5th of Iyar, it’s actually the 4th. The reason is because if the holiday was celebrated tomorrow, on the 5th, it would be Friday and celebrations might run into Shabbat (Sabbath) which begins at sundown on Friday.
In addition, the day before Yom HaAzmaut is always Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) where Israel honors soldiers who died in action, as well as Israeli victims of terror attacks. It is a fairly intense transition from Memorial Day to Independence Day (might be interesting if the US moved Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day to July 3). If Yom HaAzmut would fall out on Sunday or Monday, then the date is also shifted because that would put Yom HaZikaron on either Saturday (Sabbath) or have it begin right after Shabbat (all Jewish holidays start at sundown the night before) and there was concern that people would have to prepare for the memorial services on Yom HaZikaron on Shabbat (which for religious Jews is forbidden). Therefore Yom HaAzmaut can only be on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.
So what does this have to do with the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) Movement and Google?
Google has, for more than a decade, modified their logo to commemorate various holidays and birthdays. Google calls these modified logos ‘doodles’ and if you’re interested they’ve published a history of them, and you can see and search through all of them. Some doodles are shown all over the world, and some are shown only in specific countries. For example, for doodles that commemorate famous individuals known mainly in Arab countries, they are shown only in Arab countries (like a doodle of Egyptian Poet Ahmad Shawqi which was shown in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt, Oman, Lebanon, Qatar, Morocco, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and the Palestinian Territories).
Today Google changed its homepage in Israel (google.co.il) to the following to commemorate Yom HaAzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day:
This isn’t the first time they’ve put out a doodle for Yom HaAzmaut – they did so in 2011, 2010 and 2008 as well. At other times they commemorated other events and individuals in Israel, including the Israel Book Fair in 2011, the 112th Birthday of Israeli artist Nachum Guttman in 2010, Election Day in 2009, the Jewish holiday of Purim in 2007, and Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) in 2006.
As you may have noticed above, Google has a separate geographic designation for the Palestinian Territories. Part of that includes having a home page specifically for the Palestinian Territories, located at google.ps. As mentioned, they do show doodles on google.ps, but so far they’ve only shown doodles on google.ps that were shown across the Arab world.
Why have there been so many doodles on google.co.il? My only guess is it’s due to Google having a major R&D presence in Israel, with facilities in both Haifa and Tel Aviv. We haven’t checked out all the doodles online, but presumably there are more doodles in countries that have dedicated Google facilities.
In any event, how does the BDS Movement stand Israel’s Independence Day being celebrated on Google? Obviously they need to boycott Google immediately – stop searching using Google, delete their gmail accounts, stop using YouTube, stop blogging on Blogger, stop using Google Reader, stop using Google Translate, stop using the Chrome browser, and stop using Android phones.
For search they can switch to Bing. Wait, no, Microsoft built their first overseas research center in Israel more than two decades ago. Scratch Bing. BDSers should also stop using Windows, Windows Phone, Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, MSN Messenger, Skype (bought by Microsoft last year), Hotmail and all other Microsoft products.
Maybe for search they can use Yahoo? Not if they mind that Yahoo has an R&D office in Haifa. That means also dropping Yahoo Mail, Flickr (Yahoo bought Flickr in 2005), Yahoo Messenger and all other Yahoo products.
Are there other major search engines? We’re not sure. However, there are a few other IT products BDSer should also boycott. PHP, probably the most popular web scripting language used worldwide, is developed in Israel. There are many BDSers who write blogs. We already determined they can’t use Google’s Blogger service (all blogs on blogger.com and blogspot.com), but WordPress is written using PHP, so BDSers will need to drop WordPress as well. The Moveable Type blogging platform uses a combination of Perl and PHP, so that’s out too.
Of course, they can’t write those blogs using Windows computers anyways, so what computer can they use? They can’t use Apple computers, due to Apple’s recent major purchase of a company in Israel, and the subsequent setting up of their first overseas R&D facility. Interesting that both Microsoft and Apple both opened their first overseas R&D facilities in Israel. That also means no more iPhones, iPods, iPads, Macbook Pros (a BDSer favorite), etc.
Perhaps they can use Linux, the open-source operating system (sure many contributors to Linux live in Israel, but we’ll leave that out). Possibly, but they can’t run Linux on any computer that utilizes an Intel processor, since Intel also opened their first overseas R&D facility in Israel in 1974. They also manufacturer processors at a multi-billion dollar foundry in Kiryat Gat. A huge number of Internet servers also use Intel processors, so BDSers should make sure to check with their hosting companies and make sure their web sites are not running on Intel-based machines.
If not Intel, maybe AMD. That was an option until AMD bought a company in Israel in 2010 and opened an R&D center in Israel last year. AMD processors also run almost all the other servers that host web sites around the world, so BDSers will need to search hard to find places to run their web sites. Getting back to what computer BDSers can use themselves, if they can’t use Intel processors and they can’t use AMD processors, what’s left? There are some computers that run on ARM-based processors. ARM is a processor core developed by ARM Holdings in the UK. Most cell phones, tablets and some low-end computers use ARM-based processors. Wait, no, ARM Holdings has an R&D facility in Kfar Saba. Scratch all ARM-based products.
There is the graphics-processor company NVIDIA. They also have a line of processors that can power devices like cell phones and tabets which they call Tegra. Tegra processors power a number of cell phones and tablets, although we’re not sure if any of them are running operating systems other than Android or Windows Phone. NVIDIA did invest in an Israeli company a couple of years back, but they don’t own any companies or have facilities in Israel as far as we know. Perhaps then, if BDSers can overlook the minor connection to Israel, they can buy NVIDIA-based tablets and work hard to make a version of Linux with no contributions from Israelis to run on it. Palblets? Hopefully NVIDIA won’t start an R&D center in Israel before the work is done.
Sure, BDSers won’t be able to run Angry Birds on their device, but at least they’ll be able to access the Internet. We won’t tell them that Cisco, which builds many of the switches and routers that make up the Internet infrastructure has a major presence in Israel, including the recent purchase for $5 Billion of NDS which secures cable and satellite set-top boxes (including those operated by DIRECTV, Comcast, Cox, Charter and Cablevision in the US). Of course they also own Scientific Atlanta which manufactures the set-top boxes for many other companies. Maybe they can get more done if they stop using the Internet and stop watching TV?
Make An iPhone, Android App Without Knowing A Line Of Code. By Kit Eaton
JamPot’s new AppBuilder asks a series of questions and spits out a genuine, though limited-function, app. It could blow the market wide open.
With JamPot’s AppBuilder, you can build a genuine iPhone or Android app in mere minutes for free—according to the company’s own website. The young company, savvy to the ever-shifting smartphone market, says it will soon support Windows Phone 7 too, meaning it’ll address the market that RIM seems to be losing its grip on very fast according to new surveys on smartphone use.
The idea behind AppBuilder, JamPot’s VP of Sales Matthew David explained to Fast Company, is simple. By using its web interface, pretty much anyone, no matter their coding expertise, can create a smartphone app and have it running on their device within minutes. They’re not web apps, not a clever HTML5 app-like experience—they’re genuine native apps, optimized for each platform’s particular foibles. And within a couple of weeks, makers expect AppBuilder to support Windows Phone 7 with all the, as David phrased it, “fantastic” attributes of Metro.
You can’t just build any old app here, before you start having wild dreams of penning the next Infinity Blade immersive battle game. AppBuilder has a prescribed list of functions which you connect up using the web interface, supplying relevant account names and web addresses for things like Twitter timelines or RSS feeds and whatnot. AppBuilder then slots together the commands, and then emails you with a link that instantly enables you to download the app you’ve drafted—direct to your iOS or Android (and likely soon Windows Phone 7) device.
Netizens who’ve used systems like IfThisThenThat (a web-based service that lets you do exactly what it sounds like, with processes like “if I Tweet something, then automatically put it on Facebook for me”) will find it pleasantly familiar—and just as easy to use. You can even log back in to AppBuilder’s website and tweak the app’s functions for instantaneous updates and improvements to the way it works.
David explained a little of the mechanics of AppBuilder to demonstrate how this works: The app you download is effectively a “shell” app that contains a goodly chunk of code and a unique ID—when you run it, the ID is whisked off to AppBuilder’s cloud servers and the relevant running code that you designed is sent to your phone. It’s cached here, ready to be used again—and lest you think this is some dubious developer-accessing-all-your-data scam again, this is analogous to the way Spotify works (though you’d never necessarily know it).
David explained that it also allows for app owners to quickly update their app and have the new system running on user’s phones without having to go through the process of submitting an “official” app to the iTunes App Store or Android Play for inclusion. If AppBuilder adds the ability for push notifications as it plans to in June, the system could get even more powerful. David gave a compelling example of a restauranteur seeing an empty dining room then using AppBuilder to update the app and push-notify its installed customer base with a special offer right then and there.
The power of controlling your own apps in this way is not to be overlooked, particularly given the ease of creating them in the first place and the idea that a big enterprise could roll out and update apps for its entire staff using the iTunes app enterprise “backdoor,” thus significantly boosting productivity for impressively low cost. AppBuilder, in fact, has four ways to make money that show how its apps may be used: Business-to-consumer, via the website; Reseller, where companies like ad agencies can create apps for their own clients, and stable them on their own iTunes account; White label systems, where AppBuilder’s tech is rebranded under a different name; and enterprise, which is self-explanatory.
AppBuilder’s services attract a fee, monthly or annual, but none of these approach the kind of costs you may imagine a company has to pay to have its own custom iOS app built, plus then a separate Android and WP7 version.
Remember the early days of the web, when sites were clunky and amateurish? Then as the web exploded, professionalism arrived and websites became big business both for their owners and the companies that crafted them for lots of money, before finally democratization of websites for everyone happened with “Web 2.0.” If you look at AppBuilder as a case study, perhaps we’re arriving in the era of Apps 2.0. You don’t even have to be able to write a single line of code now to build an app, nor pay huge sums for the privilege of someone else doing it for you.
Apps sell by the tens of billions. As RIM fades, Windows Phone 7 (with attendant app ecosystem) will swing into its place. iPads sell like the hottest cakes you’ve ever seen, and even Dell is suggesting tablets will become popular in enterprise markets sooner rather than later. Whole businesses like AppBuilder will surge as third-party partners who help you build apps, and no doubt they’ll make a lot of money. But the upshot is that every man and his dog will soon be able to build an app, and you can be sure that build them they will. That upsurge will have an impact on things like app promotion, for sure, and change the whole app ecosystem we’re just getting used to.
And it also makes us wonder. Is it time that we saw the first hint of what will eventually succeed the app? Or is it too soon?
Students and professors designed the specs for Aakash, the world’s cheapest tablet. Then they handed over their work to a manufacturer. Now they’re working on new versions and hope one day soon to have a greater role in how the tech they dream up actually turns out.
Barely a month has passed since the release of India’s “$35” Aakash tablet, but its creators already have its successor—a sleeker, more powerful low-cost tablet—ready to launch.
When the Aakash was launched in October, it was greeted with enthusiasm—what potential it holds for a developing market!—followed almost immediately by skepticism—could it possibly work for that cheap? What’s the catch?
Aakash, or Ubislate 7 as U.K. manufacturer DataWind calls it, has a 7-inch screen, runs Android 2.2. It comes with a USB drive and microSD slots. Suneet Tuli, cofounder and CEO of DataWind, tells Fast Company that DataWind will follow through with their plans to sell the tablet commercially in India, at the price of Rs. 2,999, about $60 ($35 was actually the price the government paid—read on). Eventually, he hopes they’ll sell upgraded versions of the tablet in the U.S. and U.K.
But the original designers of the tablet—students and professors who thought up and prototyped the first early versions of the device—are keeping their sights set squarely on the Indian market, while nurturing more ambitious plans for the next version and making low-cost technology accessible to all Indians.
The first versions of Aakash took shape at the Jodhpur, Rajasthan, campus of the Indian Institute of Technology as part of a government-backed undertaking to bring affordable computers to students in India. Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal, who’s been a supporter of science and tech inspired approaches to education before, has been its vocal federal front.
Prem Kumar Kalra, the professor at IIT Kanpur, began engineering the tablet in 2009 with a target price of $50. He brought his work to Jodhpur when he moved to IIT Rajastan to lead the new campus as its director. The Aakash team at IIT is now managed by Kalra, and professors Anupam Gupta and Sandeep Yadav. Together, they advise a band of about 170 students involved in various parts of the still growing project.
The hardware innards of IIT’s first version of Aakash exist already, Gupta tells Fast Company. The IIT team picked parts that would meet some basic performance specs, while keeping the overall cost low. The team had a pre-manufacture proof-of-concept of the tablet by August 2010, but the university lacked the ability to mass produce it. Since the Aakash project was a government supported venture, and IIT a government university, they could only offer up the design to commercial manufacturers that met government guidelines. The tech companies could buy and use the design as is or modify it, though, as long as their final product had the necessary features and would sell at the below $50 price.
DataWind bought the design and then created their version of the tablet. According to the IIT team, it lacks the built-in speaker and video conferencing facility that the original design had. But it runs a more advanced version of Android (Froyo, or 2.2).
Post-Oct. 5 launch, the first lot of about 500 tablets are still being tested by students. The government of India plans to buy another 100,000 tablets from the company for $35, which they will make available to students at an even lower price or for free.
Meanwhile, the IIT team is moving ahead with more advanced Aakash iterations. Aakash 2 carries “a more capable processor more memory, more onboard storage,” Gupta says. It runs Android’s Gingerbread OS. As with the first Aakash, the team will need to offer the design to the most appropriate manufacturing bidder. “Our designs are ready. It depends on when the manufacturer is able to take up the order and finish the next one,” Gupta says. On Friday, MP Kapil Sibal indicated that the next version may be available as early as February 2012. (Though, Gupta estimates that offering up and finding a bidder for their tender takes a minimum of three months, even before manufacturing begins.)
Though IIT engineers have offloaded a significant amount of their production challenge to manufacturing partners, they continue to stay connected to the project. In the days leading up to the original Aakash launch, students at IIT tested the first few units, identifying and reporting glitches (sometimes with suggested solutions) for DataWind to fix. Sivansh, an electrical engineering major in his fourth year, tells Fast Company they found, for example, that the way DataWind had built the device caused the screen and OS to freeze when a microSD card was inserted into the tablet. After feedback from the IIT students, DataWind changed their design so that this is no longer the case.
Post-pilot launch, one IIT team is working on designing Android apps that will be free to download. Their focus is now on modifying educational apps that will run on the budget device while giving students who use the tablet the kind of access to apps that they’d have on a computer. But they’re also looking further, and are planning apps that are tailored to health care professionals and those in agriculture, lead prof Sandeep Yadav says.
The team leaders are also nurturing innovation on the hardware front. A group of students, Sivansh included, are working on creating a new chip that would be both cheap and powerful. “We think that if we have our own chip, the performance will shoot up and the price will come down drastically,” Gupta says. Their goal is for future versions of the tablet will carry this chip, Gupta says.
Missing from equation for IIT is full ownership of its intellectual property—it gives up some of that by farming out manufacturing, and won’t share in the commercial gains once Aakash/Ubislate hits the market. IIT director Kalra says he hopes to address the issue of ownership with future devices that are built at the university. They’d like to invite incubators and investors to start backing the do-good tech so they could see it straight through to the market.
“The long-term objective is to create an atmosphere where we don’t have any company coming and hiring our students,” Kalra says. “They should all become entrepreneurs. That’s a goal which we want to set up on a long term.” As far as how things are working out with Aakash, he says, it’s just the start of many more things to come. “You can’t be happy or angry in the beginning. You can just see the sun is rising, that’s it.”
Nidhi Subbaraman writes about technology and the world. Follow on Twitter, Google+.
All of a sudden, the e-book companies are flooding the market with new models simultaneously. You’d think some major gift-buying season were about to begin.
The biggest e-reader headline, no doubt, is Amazon’s new touch-screen color tablet, called the Kindle Fire. (Get it? Kindle a Fire?) Actually, the big news isn’t the tablet — it’s the price: $200. When most tablets cost $500, a $200 tablet is rather a big deal. More on that in a moment.
In all, Amazon has three new Kindle models. The two cheaper ones will surely get lost in the smoke from the Fire, but that’s a pity; they’re rather spectacular.
The standard Kindle, just called the Kindle, has an improved version of its usual six-inch E Ink screen, which shows crisp, clear black and shades-of-gray photos on a very light gray “page.” The annoying white-black-white flash when turning an E Ink page now occurs only once every six page turns. E Ink comes awesomely close to looking like paper. And, like paper, it doesn’t glow; you need light to read by.
This new Kindle is now so small, it fits in a pants pocket. But again, the news here is the price: $80.
Do you have any idea how astonishing that number is? The first Kindle, born four years ago this month, cost $400. This model weighs 40 percent less, occupies a third less space and stores seven times as many books — at 20 percent of the price.
At this rate, by next year, Amazon will pay you to buy a Kindle.
You can pay a little more for various perks. For example, the $80 model displays ads. Never while you’re reading — only on the “sleep” screen and in a strip across the bottom of the Home screen. Most are discount deals, which makes them a lot more palatable. But you can get this Kindle without the ads for $110.
The second new model, the Kindle Touch, is almost identical — but instead of navigating by clicking a four-way controller, you can just touch the screen. It’s beautifully done. This model, too, is available with ads ($100) or without ($140).
All e-book readers connect to Wi-Fi hot spots — to download new books, for example. But the 3G Kindle Touch can also go online over the cellular airwaves, wherever you happen to be. (It’s $150 with ads, $190 without.) There is still no charge for this Internet service, and this Kindle Touch is the only e-book reader on the market to offer it.
It’s a chunky-thick, seven-inch, shiny black tablet. It’s actually running Android, the Google software that powers a lot of cellphones and other companies’ tablets, but you’d never guess it. Amazon has plastered over the Google design until not a speck of it is left showing.
The colorful home screen depicts an attractive wood grain bookshelf. Its scrolling contents consist of miniature posters of your e-books, music albums, TV shows, movies, PDF documents, apps and Web bookmarks. There is also a lower shelf where you can park the items you use most often.
Your heart leaps. “This is incredible!” you say, contemplating the prospects. “It’s like an iPad — for $200!”
But that’s a dangerous comparison.
For one thing, the Fire is not nearly as versatile as a real tablet. It is designed almost exclusively for consuming stuff, particularly material you buy from
Amazon, like books, newspapers and video. It has no camera, microphone, GPS function, Bluetooth or memory-card slot. There is a serviceable e-mail program, but no built-in calendar or note pad.
Most problematic, though, the Fire does not have anything like the polish or speed of an iPad. You feel that $200 price tag with every swipe of your finger. Animations are sluggish and jerky — even the page turns that you’d think would be the pride of the Kindle team. Taps sometimes don’t register. There are no progress or “wait” indicators, so you frequently don’t know if the machine has even registered your touch commands. The momentum of the animations hasn’t been calculated right, so the whole thing feels ornery.
Magazines are supposed to be among the best new features. Most offer two views. There is Page View, which shows the original magazine layout — but shrunken down too small to read, and zooming is limited. Then there is Text View: simple text on a white background. It’s great for reading, but of course now you’re missing the design and layout, which is half the joy of reading a magazine. And Text View sometimes loses words, cartoon captions and so on.
Children’s books, with their reliance on color, have never been possible on E Ink tablets, so they make their first Kindle appearance on the Fire. Amazon’s contribution here is that you can tap a text block to enlarge the type — a peculiar choice, since children’s books already tend to have jumbo fonts.
Videos play well, although neither movies nor TV shows match the screen’s proportions, and you can’t zoom in to eliminate the
letterbox bars. Glare on this superglossy screen is a problem, too.
The built-in Web browser is supposed to accelerate delivery of Web pages by handing off some of the processing tasks to Amazon’s own online computers. Furthermore, when you are on, say, the New York Times home page, Amazon tries to guess what link you will tap next, based on its popularity. It prefeeds your Kindle pieces of the page that would then appear, to save even more time.
In practice, it’s not clear what all of that gains you: nytimes.com takes 10 seconds to load, eBay.com takes 17 seconds, Amazon.com takes 8 seconds. The iPad took about half as long each time. On the other hand, the Fire can play Flash videos (if a little jerkily), which the iPad can’t.
Apps written for regular Android tablets require some adapting to run on the Fire. The essentials are already available — Angry Birds, Netflix, Pandora radio, Facebook, Twitter, ESPN, Hulu Plus — and Amazon promises thousands more to come.
Now, choosing an e-reader is a big decision. Each company’s books are in its own proprietary format, and you can never sell or donate them. So if you choose, for example, a Kindle over a Nook from Barnes & Noble, the price for changing your mind will be very high.
The case for Amazon is that it’s the dominant player. It has built-in music and movie stores. You can borrow Kindle books at 11,000 public libraries.
Everything you buy is stored in Amazon’s online locker, so it is always backed up and available to any of your other Amazon machines. Start watching a movie on your Fire, and your Roku box or TiVo at home remembers where you stopped.
An $80-a-year Amazon Prime membership gives you unlimited streaming of 13,000 movies and TV shows, free two-day shipping on Amazon purchases and
one free Kindle book loan a month (from a rather limited library).
Barnes & Noble, on the other hand, offers the convenience of human tech support in its 700 stores. It, too, has an Android-based tablet in the wings; I’ll review it when it’s available.
Is your primary interest in an e-book reader, well, reading? Then Amazon’s refined, dirt-cheap Kindle and Kindle Touch are no-brainers.
The Fire deserves to be a disruptive, gigantic force — it’s a cross between a Kindle and an iPad, a more compact Internet and video viewer at a great price. But at the moment, it needs a lot more polish; if you’re used to an iPad or “real” Android tablet, its software gremlins will drive you nuts.
Then again, Amazon tends to keep chipping away at the clunkiness of its 1.0 creations until it sculptures a hit. Or, as they say in the technology business: “If you don’t like the current crop of e-readers, just wait a minute.”