Category Archives: Technology

With over 275,000 apps in the App Store specifically optimized for iPad, and what seems like a million more for iPhone, it gets a bit overwhelming to discover the apps that can benefit your life — especially when you consider the average person only downloads 60 apps to their iPad. Here’s a list of the 5 that have earned prominent positions on my home screen, never wiggling to be tapped out of existence… in other words, the ones I can’t seem to shake off:

Bloomberg TV
I’m not a big “stocks” guy, and my financial portfolio consists of lots of credit card balances and too-high interest rates. So, I’m probably NOT the target audience for this iPad app. However, I am compelled to tune in every morning — they have diverse coverage of what’s going on in business, with a razor-sharp focus on the tech industry. I find their commentary to be witty, succinct and spot-on. You can register and synchronize content across your devices, create custom playlists, and oh yeah, you can get stock portfolio updates if that’s your thing. On my iPad mini 4G (Verizon), there’s never a hiccup in performance either.

 

The Magazine
I would like to find the individual at Conde Nast that made the decision to just port their print magazines to a “pdf” style iPad edition that requires me to sit and stare at the download meter as each 600mb edition downloads. This is the experience you want to provide your end-users? I don’t want a big, thick, glossy, tree-killing tome ported to my iPad. Just when I’m about to give up and go back to lugging around magazines heavier than my grandmother’s Bible, Marco Arment steps in to save the day. The creator of Instapaper, he has redefined the “magazine” experience for us on-the-go tablet geeks. Just imagine: instant download, simple, clean design, TEXT to READ, no stuffy, 25mb .jpgs, and no intrusive ads and lame videos. Just content. Marco’s vision is to “go beyond technology” and deliver big-picture content experiences. I hope product managers, or those in charge at the Big Media Companies, will get a chance to download this app. Maybe then they’ll re-think what they’re doing… and save me some precious space on my almost-filled-up iPad.

 

TED Books
I know, I know. that annoying state. However, I found this app this year, and find it almost all-consuming. There’s a Newsstand-like UI filled up with short ebooks about the human condition and what you can do to be an active part of making things better. I find the selections to be uplifting and some quite controversial. Most are in nice, bite-sized chunks as well.

 

 

McSweeneys
Yeah, yeah, I know. You’re thinking, “Oh he’s trying to prove he’s a literary fellow”. But what I like about the McSweeney’s app is less the “liberal Mother Jones” kinda bloviation and more the diverse writing that never ceases to surprise me. Even today I was able to tap in and read about how Yoga is able to help people who are struggling with tragic circumstances in their life, learn about self-driving tractors, and laugh at the “pain” of playing sudoku. All that and then add that I get a monthly Greil Marcus column. Can’t be beat.

 

 

Tom’s Guide
There’s no shortage of tech apps and sites to get your fill of whatever it is you’re jonesing about at any particular moment. It’s a tad overwhelming, actually. How many Engadgets, TechCrunchs and Verges do I need in my daily tech news Favorites list? Well, I discovered Tom’s Guide this year. And what I like most about it is its simplicity in the face of a constant stream of information. “Tech” as a subject is big, and Tom’s Guide takes the low-fi road in presenting it. Text with a small picture, when appropriate, and a very easy navigation scheme. It’s one key app I use to get the tech news I need for my day.

 

 

Tied for 5th: Tappestry
Disclosure: I know the developer of this app. Having said that, Tappestry opens up a new way of sharing, debating, and dialoguing with communities around almost any subject. You start out by broadcasting what you’ve learned, read, tried, achieved, or want to do. Anything. It won’t take long for someone to have something to say about your post. There’s much more going on behind the scenes though: Tappestry represents what I like to call the “achievement broadcast complex (ABC)”… it’s the first app that I know of that facilitates you being able to record what you’ve learned, take it with you wherever you go, and discover like-minded people that add to your learning and offer you new perspectives.

I’m sure you’ve seen it on Facebook. I’ve seen it at least 30 times in my feed this morning.

“Oh no! Instagram changed their terms of service and they can now sell my photos!”

First off, I’m actually impressed that people are reading their Terms of Service. (Hey, you guys know Facebook pretty much owns all your stuff anyway, right?)

Here’s the new line in the TOS:

You agree that a business may pay Instagram to display your photos in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions without any compensation to you.

Here’s the thing – Facebook is already doing this to you. I can’t tell you how many times I look over in my right column and see that one of my friends has Liked a page or Purchased something, and it even shows their photo. The first time it happened it was jarring – did my friend give that company the right to use their profile photo? Well no. But we did give that right to Facebook to use in their sponsored posts.

That folks, is what Instagram can do. You’re not going to be seeing your cool photo on the side of a bus or denigrated at a bus stop beside a weeks-old movie poster. Instagram can’t change your photo, modify your photos, or drop their logo on it. In fact, as the Verge puts it:

Well, an advertiser can pay Instagram to display your photos in a way that doesn’t create anything new — so Budweiser can put up a box in the timeline that says “our favorite Instagram photos of this bar!” and put user photos in there.

Again, Facebook has already been doing this to you for months. Yet, we tend to eventually accept all that Facebook does to us because our worlds are often on Facebook.

Thanks to The Verge for clearing that up. Guess their news feed was overrun as well.

UPDATE: Instagram says “Thank you and we’re listening.” They’ll be re-wording their policy soon, so that the legalese is less confusing.

 

For years I’ve been buying my phones on contract with whatever provider I’m with. For many years, that was AT&T. I got the first iPhone in 2007 on a two-year contract. I got the 8GB model, if memory serves me, and paid the subsidized price. Since then, I’ve always bought smartphones on subsidy, and just agreed to the contract. If I was fortunate, my provider would give me an “early” upgrade option… because the first problem with buying on contract for an early adopter like me is new phones are released every year. But providers make you sign two-year agreements. And if you sign a two-year agreement today on a Verizon iPhone, you’ll pay as little as $199 for the phone with the contract. However, if you want to go off contract, you’ll need to fork over $800 for a 16gb iPhone 5. At first glance, it seems like a high price to pay. But, I am finding it much more convenient to buy my phones off contract. Here’s why:

I have accepted the fact that I’m an “early adopter” tech geek. I don’t work for a company or an organization that will supply me test gadgets, so I’m on my own. I like to try new products out, and I like to have the latest, greatest. I lease my cars in the shortest contracts I can, cause I’m gonna want a new car as soon as I can get one. Bottom line. Same thing with gadgets. I’m tired of being locked into provider contracts and not being able to “upgrade” my way to the latest and greatest one. And if you consider the actual price you pay, it may be a better deal to go off contract. For example, a 16GB iPhone 5 is $199 with a two year agreement on Verizon. Verizon will charge you $30/per month to have the smartphone on your account. If you are on their “share everything” plan, your data cost is separate, based on what amount you’ll use. So at the bare minimum $30×24=$720, plus the $200 you pay up-front. That’s $120 more than the phone itself on the open market. Next year, when iPhone 6 inevitable comes out, you drop your iPhone 5 on Craigslist and get about half your money back to apply to the new, shinier one. That there is reason alone to go off contract and just buy the phone outright. Now, this works for me because I have a Verizon account with other devices. You may not get that same price if you don’t have other devices, or a “family plan”. But it’s a compelling argument to consider off contract.

The other reason I like doing this is it lets me explore other options. This weekend I picked up an HTC 8x Windows Phone to give it a try. I’m able to activate the SIM on my Verizon account and switch between the iPhone and the new HTC phone without having to add another line. I can bounce back and forth to give the new phone a real tryout or I can just keep multiple phones to move back and forth with. It’s easier to do this now that all my information is not tied to one device. With my contacts and apps in the cloud, I can move between multiple devices without a lot of hassle. Most people won’t do something like this, but I’m a gadget geek… so it makes sense to me. I see off contract as more freedom. It’s not for everyone. But, just like when you lease or buy a car, be sure you understand the impact of your subsidy in the fine print. You may find it more appropriate for you to free yourself from those two-year agreements.

Picture it: a bachelorette trip to Nashville. I drive a Volkswagen Eos, which is a fantastic car that appeals to this girl geek since its top is like a transformer, but for a six-hour drive with three girls’ luggage? It wouldn’t do. I cashed in a few free days from National Rent-A-Car and ended up with a Chevy Equinox.  Though we liked the extra room, what all three of us were really fascinated by was the really nice integration of MyLink and OnStar.

I think we’re all used to European cars leading in-car technology: think Mercedes-Benz’s MBrace, or BMW’s iDrive.  Recently, Ford Sync and Chevrolet’s MyLink have jumped into the ring in a very competitive way.

Using MyLink was easy– simply link a phone via Bluetooth or the USB port, and your songs and playlists are instantly indexed.  Hit the Aux button, and you can use Spotify or Pandora instead.  Need to make a call?  Press a button on your steering wheel.  Need directions?  Though I’m a devoted Apple fangirl, Siri sometimes just doesn’t cut it.  Press a button for OnStar and the unfailingly polite person on the other end finds your destination and sends the turn-by-turn directions directly to the MyLink display.  It instantly recalculates, and if you have any other issues, help is a phone call away.

I only  had the Equinox for two days, but I approached the Chevy dealership in my area about driving a Volt (Full disclosure: I do some community management for the dealerships in Cincinnati).  They hooked me up with a white Volt for five days.

This car is a geek’s dream.  Really.  Though white isn’t my color– they carry it into the dash, making it look a little like an early iPod– the rest of the experience is fantastic.  It has all of the same MyLink features as the Equinox, but streamlined with a touch panel and screen that also allows you to monitor the hybrid engine.  You can see how power is being generated, how your driving style and cabin comfort (read: air conditioning or heat) affects your use of energy.  It’s pretty cool.  The display is also customizable: the dealer, when showing me the features of the car, said that if you’ve got someone who really only wants to monitor their usage, listen to the radio, and maybe use satellite radio, you can eliminate the rest of the choices to eliminate confusion.

The Volt is a range-extended battery-powered series vehicle while the Prius is a hybrid (even the plug-in version).  Unlike a 50mpg Prius, which can only go for about a mile on the battery before the gas engine kicks in, the Volt has a 38 mile range, which is perfect for someone who only drives in the city, or has a  one-way commute under that mileage.  With the Eco function, which limits the power of the (very nice) speakers and heats the seats instead of the whole cabin, the Volt can allow your experience to be efficient and maximize that 38-mile range.  It’s entirely possible, based on where you live, to not have to use the gas generator (it’s not really a gas engine, the generator creates electricity to power the battery) at all– just plug in at your destination and at home.  This makes for a car that has some kick– floor that baby and it’ll take right off but it is still incredibly quiet.  I drove around a little in a quiet park, and the only sound you hear are twigs and gravel under your tires.  I had to use the horn feature– a couple of brisk “toots”– as I turned on my city streets, because the Volt is so quiet that pedestrians can’t hear you.

Plugging it in was easy:  I live in a condo, and I happen to have a parking spot right outside my door.  It takes about 10 hours to charge with a standard outlet but many places (seemingly random here in Cincinnati– an outlet mall, a few restaurants) have the higher voltage charger which will charge it in just a few.

Oh, need to know how your car is doing charging-wise?  The OnStar App is fabulous.  You can figure out your gas (er, electric…) mileage, remotely turn the car on and off (I would LOVE that in the winter), send directions– all sorts of things.  It also monitors the health and well-being of your car, so you know when your tire pressure is off or if you have to have some maintenance done.

All in all, as a fairly devoted European car driver, I was incredibly impressed with what the Chevy Volt had to offer.  For a starting price of $36,500, I would have liked a few more luxurious details like leather and automatic seats,  but overall the technology blew me away.  As a city dweller who doesn’t drive much, this might work out to be a great car for me.  But since my Eos is only a year old, I’ll look into OnStar FMV– essentially the OnStar system for any car, GM or not.  Once I get it, I’ll report back.

 

 

 

 

I was wondering why it took them so long, but San Francisco’s cabbies are now shouting out against Uber, the upstart private taxi service, by claiming it’s engaging in “unfair competition”. TNW is reporting on a class-action complaint filed by SF cabbies claiming Uber is practicing “unfair business competition and for violating California Statutory and city regulatory mandates.” Uber, which is facing similar lawsuits wherever it rolls out service (esp. in New York and Chicago), responded with this statement, “Uber complies with all laws and regulations applicable to its business. Any claim to the contrary is baseless and motivated by those who seek to deprive the public of this safe and convenient transportation option. Uber would rather compete for business on the streets of San Francisco than in the courtroom, but Uber will defend these claims in court and is confident of the outcome.”

Uber is not having a hard time capturing funding, with over $50 million so far coming its way from Tech’s most prominent VCs. We’ll see how this plays out in the courts. Looks like Uber will need to stash some of that venture cash for lawyering up — fighting cabbies won’t be pretty.