Sunday, August 23, 2009

Fluent News: Quick App Review

I discovered Fluent News a couple of weeks ago when I was telling a colleague that I wish I could find a great app that pulls together all the major news feeds into one. Given that app discoverability is probably the biggest problem with the app store model, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that an app like that already exists!

Fluent News is simple and elegant. It includes all the social networking links you'd expect, so if you find an article you want to tweet or email to a friend you're just a couple of clicks away from doing just that.

What I like most about Fluent News though is its speed. I understand the developers behind the app do some fancy content pre-fetching. If that means nothing to you, just give it a shot and you'll see what I mean. Click one article after another and you'll find they load much faster than any of the other news apps I've used.

I'm so hooked on this one that I now leave my iPhone on my nightstand so that I can catch up on the latest news after the lights are out and my wife is trying to fall asleep. Let's see you do that on a Kindle!

Monday, June 22, 2009

First Few Days with iPhone 3G S

I didn't initially plan to upgrade my 3G to 3G S but my wonderful wife surprised me with the upgrade as a birthday present last week. Even though I'd only had my 3G phone for less than 8 months I managed to get the 32 Gig 3G S for $299 as an upgrade to an eligible slot we have in a separate family plan. Here are a few of my initial observations after using the phone the past 3 days...

Speed. When I got my 3G S I asked the AT&T rep I'd really notice much of a speed improvement vs. my 3G phone. He said the only difference would probably be when I'm browsing the web. I've done a lot of web browsing the past few days and it seems just like my old 3G. Strike 1.

Battery life. Apple has been touting the improved battery life on the 3G S but there again, I'm having a hard time noticing a difference. In fact, I'm plugged in at an airport right now, hoping to get a full charge before I get on the next leg of my journey. I even turned 3G service off in the hopes that it would extend the battery life but the meter still seems to drop at the same rate my 3G did. Strike 2.

Voice Control. I initially considered this a gimmick that I'd rarely, if ever, use. Boy, was I wrong. I may never look up another contact in my address book. The darned thing is not only handy but it's also incredibly accurate. It's successfully retrieved every number I've asked for. That takes away 1 strike.

Compass. This is another gimmicky service I figured I'd never use. Wrong again. I've shown this one to 3 other people now and every one of them simply said, "wow." Like Voice Control, it's been extremely accurate for me. I can't wait to find myself in a location where I can really use it. Another strike disappears.

Video camera. I was really looking forward to this feature and so far, it hasn't disappointed. Like pretty much every other Apple tool, it works like you'd expect it to. Simple but effective. My only gripe is that there's still no zoom capability. As I mentioned in an earlier Tweet, this feature obviates the need for a separate quick-and-dirty video camera. (I wonder if Cisco is starting to regret their recent purchase of the makers of the RIP, er, Flip camera.) Seriously, if other cell phone makers copy Apple and start integrating a camera this good, well, why would you bother with a separate device?

The bottom line is a mixed bag. I'm thrilled that my wife got me a 3G S and, I suppose if you can also score one for $299 it's worth the price. And while I'd say the phone is as "insanely great" as most other Apple products, paying the non-upgrade price of $699 would simply be insane.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Resurrecting My iPhone

Earlier this week I ran into a major problem with my iPhone. Every time I connected it to my Mac it crashed iTunes. The problem started shortly after I deleted a bunch of old podcasts from my iPhone. The next day I also started run see a rash of dropped calls. That, coupled with the inablity to sync iPhone and Mac left me more than a bit irritated.

One of my first stops for help was an Apple forum where I posted my problem. I never heard back though, so I have a new apprecation for anyone who's skeptical of how "we are smarter than me." A couple of friends suggested I head over to the Apple Store and give the Genius Bar a shot. The closest one is about 20 minutes away though and I assumed they were going to tell me what I already determined: that I should just nuke the darned thing and start over.

So I saved myself a trip across town and proceeded to wipe out my iPhone. I almost choked when I saw the message indicating the wipe-out process will take about an hour. To be fair, that part of the process really only took about 25 minutes. When the screen said it was time to reconnect the iPhone to the Mac I took a deep breath...

An hour or so later, after all the data from my last backup made it to my iPhone I was up and running. I figured I'd have to spend the rest of the night reconfiguring all the various email settings, phone favorites list and other preferences I'd set up over the past 7 months.

Guess what? The restore process took care of all of that for me. Every single bit. When the phone came back up my email settings were already in place. My Yankees wallpaper was back where it belongs. My AIM and Twitter clients were all loaded with my IDs and passwords. It was truly remarkable.

Although I'm still scratching my head over how I got into this mess to begin with, I have to tip my hat to Apple for creating such an outstanding recovery process. If you ever have to go through this, don't sweat it...Apple's got your back(up)!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My iPhone Crashes iTunes...

After about 7 months of relatively flawless service from my iPhone and iTunes, I woke up today and discovered that anytime I connect my iPhone to my Mac, it crashes iTunes. I've tried rebooting both devices and have done a number of hard resets on the iPhone. No dice.

Does anyone have any advice on how to resolve this?...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

TwitterFon: Quick App Review

I can't tell you how many Twitter apps I've tried on the iPhone. I went through at least 5 or 6 before I got to TwitterFon, which I've now been using for the past several months. Does it have every single feature you could imagine? No, but I'll bet you'll find it has everything you need.

What do I love about TwitterFon? First, it's free. OK, I'm a cheapskate, but still, TwitterFon stacks up well against any of the paid Twitter iPhone apps. Second, it's fast. No matter how many tweets I'm behind it seems to load them in no time at all. Next, as with all good iPhone apps, the user interface is intuitive. The developers managed to put all the right controls on one screen without it seeming overly crowded. Then there are the nice, subtle touches, like how you can quickly get to a hot Twitter topics list from within the search screen.

Others have complained that TwitterFon doesn't support multiple Twitter accounts. I suppose if I was working with more than one Twitter account that would be a drawback, but I only have one.

If you're looking for a great, simple and free Twitter client for your iPhone you can't go wrong with TwitterFon.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

MLB's At Bat 2009: Quick App Review

I'm a baseball nut, I admit it. Until recently I had only bought 3 or 4 iPhone apps and the most expensive one was $1.99. I had been using MLB's At Bat 2009 Lite edition before opening day and I didn't even flinch at the thought of paying $9.99 for the full-fledged version. I'm glad I pried open my wallet for this one.

The pitch-by-pitch, in-game interface is nice and all, but the killer app for At Bat 2009 is the audio feed service. No matter what game I want to follow I always have the choice of not one but two radio feeds from it (home team or away team). So when I'm catching up on the Yankees game I can always be sure to hear the wonderful John Sterling as well as the annoying Suzyn Waldman. (See? She even spells her first name annoyingly! She's begging to be parodied on SNL, if she hasn't been already.)

I've been on the road a bit since the season began and I'm happy to report that the audio feeds have been terrific. I've tried them via 3G and wifi and couldn't tell the difference between them.

The video features are nice for highlights but I have to admit they're awfully grainy on 3G but spectacular if you're on wifi. But if you're committed to running wifi while using this app I hope you're close to a power source. The audio streams for At Bat 2009 will suck your battery dry faster than you can say "Batter Up!".

Overall though, if you're a fan of the game this app is a must-have.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The iPhone "Gold Rush" Indeed!

Here's a great recent NY Times article about developers looking for the pot of gold at the end of the iPhone rainbow. It's wonderful hearing stories like this where a developer working for a struggling company moonlights and comes up with a game that generates a significant, six-figure bump to his income. Unfortunately there just aren't enough of these stories, especially when you consider the App Store currently features more than 25,000 products. The odds of getting rich are better than they are for buying a Super Lotto ticket, but then again, how much work is involved in paying a buck to the lottery?!

One of the things that's got to change here sooner rather than later is better discoverability. Sure, there are 25,000 apps but how many have you looked at? And even though featured lists, new release lists and other methods help increase discoverability, if you're like me you figure there are probably dozens of apps you'd be interested in but you haven't come across them yet.

I wonder if Apple will do something to better address this problem or will a third-party intervene with a clever solution?...

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Skype on iPhone

I was one of countless people who downloaded the new Skype app for my iPhone today. The timing was perfect as I had a Skype call scheduled with one of our authors in the U.K. I spent about 45 minutes on the call with her and it was a terrific experience.

I've been using Skype for a few months now and there's sometimes an awkward delay between speaking and hearing. I didn't encounter any of that today. In fact, the call was probably more clear than the ones I typically make via AT&T's regular network on the iPhone. Go figure.

I really liked it that we were able to use Skype's IM feature while on the call. Our author was able to send me a review and a link in the middle of the call, which was very helpful for the discussion.

I guess the only drawback I see with the Skype app is the fact that you can only make calls when connected via wifi, not 3G. I work out of my home though, so it's very convenient for me to turn on and off wifi as needed; it's mostly off because it's such a battery drain, btw. It's also nice to know that I won't be tethered to my computer when I have to call my daughter in Spain or on any other Skype calls going forward. Highly recommended, especially since the app is free!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

ESPN...and Sports Apps in General

I admit it. I'm an ESPN addict. That's why when I search for ESPN in the App Store I always end up discouraged. They offer a couple of gaming apps but that's about it. ESPN has always been the leader in rich sports content, so why isn't there an app to showcase it on the iPhone?! Done properly, it's one of the few apps I'd be willing to pay for...

And speaking of sports apps... I'm not finding any that really wow me. I've downloaded Fox Sports, MLB's At Bat Lite and NCAABBNow (for the tournament), but I wouldn't say any of them are "must-have." In fact, the NCAABBNow one is just plain awful; do they ever update scores on it?! I see MLB one is free for preseason and then you have to pay for the pitch-by-pitch data during the regular season..that seems reasonable, assuming they don't gouge me on the price. Being such a baseball fanatic I'm sure I'll wind up paying whatever they ask me to though.

In the mean time, I sure hope ESPN gets their act together and develops a killer app. They're missing a huge opportunity.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Amazon Kindle iPhone App: First Thoughts

I'm a Kindle 1 owner and was curious to see how Amazon planned to extend their platform to the iPhone. I installed the free Kindle iPhone app earlier this week and have been using it pretty much every day since.

The good news is that the app lets you sync your books with your Kindle, not just the book content itself but where you are in each one. I mention "book" a couple of times in that sentence because it's important to note that you won't get access to anything other than books through this service, which is disappointing. I subscribe to The New York Times and New Yorker magazine on my Kindle but I can't place that content on my iPhone. Yes, I know you can use the NYT's free iPhone app, but it's not the same; you have to download each article separately, which is extremely inconvenient when flying at 30K feet!

I was partway through a Stephen King book of short stories on my Kindle and I pulled it over to my iPhone. The app asked me if I'd like to jump to where I left off on my Kindle, which I did. I read a couple of stories and put it away for the night. When I went to that book on my Kindle it asked me if I'd like to jump to where I left off on my iPhone. Again, I said yes and the Kindle took me to my iPhone stopping point. Very nice.

The beauty of this is that I'll now always have all my Kindle books with me (since my iPhone is always with me). But what about those magazines? And how about all the other documents I email my Kindle account so that they're available on my device? If Amazon were smart they'd open up a service where you can keep all your documents in their cloud and access them on your Kindle or your Kindle iPhone app. I'd pay for that feature!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What's The Fastest Growing Category in the iPhone App Store?...

You probably guessed "games", and while that's still the largest category, it's not the fastest growing one. Be sure to read this excellent analysis on the state of the iPhone App Store market by Ben Lorica. It's full of very interesting stats and trends.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

iPhone App Store Price Sensitivity

Free apps are everywhere and it's easy to download as many as you want. I've probably downloaded a dozen or more free apps that I haven't even opened. Ever. There's also a huge difference between a free app and a 99-cent one. I've bought 2 apps (99-cents each) and I've downloaded 30+ free apps. What's the mix on your iPhone?

I bring this up because app developers are trying to figure out the right model for the iPhone. We had some related data we shared at our recent TOC conference. Our CEO, Tim O'Reilly, mentioned that we introduced our iPhone: The Missing Manual as an iPhone app priced at $4.99. The app sold phenomenally well, but we wondered whether we were leaving money on the table, so we raised the price to $9.99.

Guess what happened? Tim noted that by doubling the price, we cut the sales to a quarter of their earlier levels. Yikes.

The lessons learned: First, there's definitely a good deal of price sensitivity in the App Store, even (especially?!) below the $10 point. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the convenience of always having your book with you is nice, but there's a point somewhere below $10 where the smaller screen's limits trump the convenience factor.

As a book publisher we'll continue experimenting on this front. Rather than just playing with price points and form factors though, I tend to think we need to focus more on the content. Instead of simply porting the print product to an app, what functionality can we add to create a richer reading experience that takes advantage of the iPhone's capabilities? IOW, forget about the limits inherent in a print the app so that it fully leverages the device!

Speaking of which, Amazon's new "Text-to-Speech" feature in Kindle 2 would be awesome on the iPhone, don't you think? See my Publishing 2020 blog post for more about this opportunity.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

So What About that Secret?...

I twittered it, but I neglected to write a short follow-up post here about the secret iPhone service I mentioned I had been testing last week. It was announced at the TOC conference on Tuesday and attendees had a chance to test drive it for free for a day.

What am I talking about? It's the mobile UI for Safari Books Online. The url is but it's still in beta for the time being. I'm told the service will go live for all Safari subscribers later this month.

What's so exciting about that? The Safari mobile UI will enable you to access your Safari book subscription from the convenience of your mobile device. I've been playing with it on my iPhone and it's terrific. I love that I can read portions of a book while I'm standing in line at the grocery story, sitting at the airport, etc., all without having to pull out my laptop.

If you're a Safari subscriber you'll soon have the same access I do. If you're not a subscriber, go check out the service now -- it's unbeatable access to an extensive library of books, all for about the price of one print book per month.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

I Know a Secret...

...but I can't share it just yet. I've been beta testing a great new service on my iPhone and it's scheduled to be publicly announced at O'Reilly's Tools of Change (TOC) conference this week.

You can connect the dots a bit on this and easily figure the service has something to do with content/publishing, since that's the industry I work in and it's also the focus of the conference. All I can say right now is that this service is very cool, it's for a variety of mobile devices and it looks terrific on my iPhone.

Curious to hear more? Stay tuned, especially to my Twitter feed since that's where I'll be talking more about it during this week's conference. If you're interested in the publishing world but can't make TOC, be sure to also follow the #toc hashtag in Twitter.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

RepairPal iPhone App

I usually buy my cars and drive them till they drop. Given current economic conditions I'm sure and more car owners will be doing the same. One of the worst aspects of this is needing a car repair and having no idea how much it should cost.

That sounds like a job for...RepairPal, a great little iPhone app that not only gives you cost estimates but also points you to garages in your area. Just broke down in the middle of nowhere and have no idea where the nearest garage is? Use your iPhone's built in GPS service to find the closest options. It's all built into this handy, free app. Highly recommended!

A tip o' the hat for this recommendation from blog reader Newt Barrett.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

My Favorite (Free) iPhone Apps...So Far

I've downloaded a boatload of apps on my iPhone over the past few months and thought I'd share a list of my top 5 favorites. They're all free, btw, partially a sign that I'm such a tightwad (I've only downloaded 2 paid apps so far) but mostly because there's so much great free stuff out there.

OK, here's my top 5, in no particular order:

TwitterFon -- I had been using Twitterific and several people told me about TwitterFon. It definitely loads tweets much faster than any other Twitter app I've tried for the iPhone.

USA Today -- I've always looked forward to the copy at my hotel doorstep when I'm on the road, but I don't feel that way anymore. Now I just pop open my USA Today app and read it on the go. Sure, some of the cheesy graphs and charts don't make it into the app version, but the stories all seem to be there. And as an added bonus, I don't get all that ink on my hands!

The New York Times -- I currently pay $13.99/month to get the Times on my Kindle. If they'd just add a "download" button to the app I'd cancel my Kindle subscription and just read it on my iPhone. And, I'd gladly pay Apple the $13.99/month I'm currently paying Amazon. I stick with the Kindle version now because I often find myself reading it on a plane and I can't do that with the iPhone version.

Instapaper -- This one sort of addresses that download issue I mentioned with the Times app. Have you ever found yourself reading a lengthy article in Safari and wanting to download it for later reading, especially if you expect to be without a wireless signal (e.g., on a plane)? If so, Instapaper is for you. It allows you to quickly download the current page you're viewing in Safari and read it later. Very handy.

iheartradio -- Apps like this and AOL Radio are further nails in the coffin of satellite radio services. I'm listening to WDVE out of Pittsburgh on it right now and I've also used it in my car and at the airport. The "portable" XM Radio device I used to own was never able to pick up a signal without the docking antenna. The iheartradio app gives you live access to loads of radio stations anywhere you can pick up a cell signal.

P.S. -- I bought my iPhone after baseball season but I suspect the app will slide into my top 5 later this spring...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Sirius Radio App for the iPhone...Who Cares?

I was an XM Radio subscriber for a couple of years but I shut it down in 2008. I was getting more enjoyment from my own music selection of MP3's and felt XM wasn't worth the ~$14/month I was paying. Now I see the Frankenstein company Sirius/XM (or whatever they're called) is planning to offer a Sirius app for the iPhone.

I already enjoy plenty of free radio stations through the iheartradio and AOL Radio apps. If I'm able to pick up a satellite radio signal (i.e., not on a plane) I'm also able to get a cell signal. This app certainly wouldn't cause me to consider renewing my old subscription. In fact, if you have an iPhone I don't understand why you'd bother with satellite radio at all. Nobody listens to Howard Stern anymore. I'm surprised Sirius/XM is still in business.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The iPhone's Secret Sauce

It's all about the AppStore and the ever-growing number of new applications, right? This recent BusinessWeek article does a terrific job explaining how Apple's approach has completely turned the cell phone market on its head.

A few interesting tidbits/excerpts:
The average iPhone owner has downloaded at least 15 applications in the past six months.

Research firm Evans Data says 20% of wireless developers now create software for Apple, up from 8% six months ago.

TD Ameritrade hired an Argentine developer to crate its mobile software -- and paid nothing upfront. Instead, the developer gets a cut of commissions from trades using its program.
I love that last point the most, especially in the midst of such brutal economic conditions. It's nice to see you can develop an app without a lot of upfront investment; it's also great that both parties share the risk as well as the potential wealth.

Monday, January 26, 2009

When Will Apple Create an AdSense Model for the iPhone?

Will advertising be ubiquitous across iPhone apps one day? Not in-your-face ads, but simple, unobtrusive ones that are highly relevant to what's currently on the screen. I'm describing the AdSense model as it would be applied to the iPhone and I believe it's a huge opportunity for Apple.

A good example is what The New York Times app does at the bottom of the screen. Right now it's featuring a "Find movie showtimes" banner, which isn't exactly relevant, but shows how the ads could be implemented. Imagine a model where the bottom 10% or so of the screen was always reserved by Apple to feature a context sensitive banner ad.

Annoying? Perhaps. But what if this led to new service plans? Today's model would be the most expensive because it doesn't feature this always-on advertising. A less expensive second option would display the ads in that bottom area of the screen. An even cheaper option would be one where you see the ads and you agree to let Apple capture your every move on the iPhone so they can sell the info to market research organizations. Yes, the privacy advocates hate this sort of thing but I've never understood why. Go ahead, watch what I do all day on my iPhone -- if it means I pay less for service each month, sell the data to anyone you can!

On a related note... I was on a flight recently with a fellow from AT&T. I mentioned this idea to him and he said this is something AT&T plans to aggressively pursue. I figured Apple would have first dibs on it, but I guess not. Think of all those ad impressions AT&T/Apple could capture on the iPhone. It's staggering. And besides, they need a model to somehow monetize all those great free apps, don't they?!

P.S. -- The AT&T guy also mentioned they're working on improvements to the 3G network, which should be implemented later this year. He said it's not clear whether existing phones will be able to take advantage of these improved speeds because it requires a firmware upgrade and Apple hasn't decided whether they'll push the upgrade out wirelessly or make you buy a new phone.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

It Was 25 Years Ago Today (sort of)

Way back in 1984 I forked over $2,500 for an original 128K Macintosh. Actually, it was more than $3,000 with tax because the purchase also included a $499 ImageWriter (dot-matrix) printer.

I was the first in my neighborhood and probably one of the first in the entire state to own a Mac. I bought it to write a book, Using Your Macintosh: Beginning Microsoft Basic and Applications. Go ahead and Google the'll still find several references and even a few used copies for sale.

I used the Mac for a couple of years but soon realized I was destined for the PC platform. In fact, it was only recently that I made my very next Apple iPhone.

I've owned an iPhone for a couple of months now and I'm totally hooked. So much so, in fact, that I'm putting my Kindle on ice for a bit while I spend more time using and evangelizing the iPhone. I find myself wanting to experiment with and talk about the iPhone much more so than the Kindle, and this is coming from someone who was a huge Kindle advocate, at least initially.

My goal for this blog is to use it as a platform to share my experience as both an iPhone user and a publisher who sees the iPhone as an enormous opportunity for the entire content industry. I hope you'll stay tuned for future posts. More importantly, I hope you'll weigh in with your own comments along the way.

P.S. -- The picture included with this post is a shot of that original Mac from back in 1984. It stopped working about 15 years ago so I decided to take it apart and look inside. My hope is to one day convert it into an aquarium...a MacQuarium.