Imagine this scenario, you're listening to your favorite music track on your Mac and had to leave the house, don't you wish your iPhone or iPod touch can seamlessly carry on playing the track from where you were at in iTunes on your Mac? Or if you were deeply engaged in a podcast just before you had to head out, so you have to wait for the iPhone or iPod touch to synch using iTunes before you leave. This happens to me often especially the latter. Fortunately, Five Details, the 2008 Apple Design Awards winners and maker of Flow, has a solution and it is called Seamless.

This little utility comes in an iOS/OS X duo, a free OS X app and a USD0.99 iPhone app components. The OS X app is a background app that only appears as a menu item on your Mac when running.

Before anything is to work you will first have to pair the iOS app with the OS X app. This is done easily:

  1. Have both the Mac and the iOS device on the same WiFi network.
  2. The OS X app needs to be running.
  3. Starts the iOS app then;
  4. Clicks on the "Add A Mac" option in the iOS app.

The Mac will immediately recognizes its iOS component, and presents a dialog to confirm your action.

Seamless - Add iOS Device

Acknowledge the iOS device by clicking on the Allow button. Now the Mac will become one of the Near By Macs in the list within the iOS app. There does not appear to be any limits to the number of Macs the iOS app can be paired with or vice versa.

Seamless - Track To PlayWhile the OS X app runs in the background it monitors the currently playing track in iTunes. When you have to get away from your Mac all you have to do is start the Seamless iOS app on your iPhone of iPod touch. The iOS app will immediately picks up the current playing track from iTunes on your Mac and presents you with a large button to "Transition music from Mac".

Clicking on the "Transition Music from Mac" button will immediately plays the track in the iPod app within your iOS device. Of course the said track will need to be already on your iOS device. Seamless will not magically transfer tracks that are not already on the iOS device or the Mac.

Seamless - Track Not Found Seamless - Transition To MacIf the track is not found the iOS app will show a screen telling you to synchronize your music between the Mac and the iOS device.

Note: currently Seamless can only recognize tracks within a Playlist synchronized between the Mac and the iOS device, but this bug should be fixed in the next version.

Going from the iOS device to the Mac is just as seamless. An added bonus is that the iOS app will quietly fades away the track on the iOS device while it transition the track to the Mac.

Overall this is a well polished 1.0 app for from this award winning developer. For the inexpensive price of USD0.99 it is well worth it to have this function that Apple should have built into both OSs.

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/20154325[/vimeo] Seamless from Five Details on Vimeo.

Posted
AuthorVinko
Categoriesiphone

It has been over 6 months since Apple HK sold officially carrier-unlocked iPhone 4 through Apple Store online. Unlike when Apple HK begin to sell iPhone 4 back on July 31, 2010, this time there are no limits on the number a customers can purchase. This is a bit strange since the speculation on why Apple discontinue selling iPhone 4 through their online store and authorized resellers, was because of the overwhelming number of people purchasing and selling them to mainland Chinese gray-market resellers.

With rumors of Apple may be missing the annual iPhone June launch this year, this may explains the reasons why iPhone 4s are back on sale in the Apple Store HK online. The current estimate ship date is "3 - 5 business days", which is 2nd level in the possible estimate ship dates for Apple products sold through the Apple Store online.

This also refutes the speculations that the triple disasters in Japan was going to effect Apple's production lines at Foxconn.

Posted
AuthorVinko
Categoriesiphone

After Steve Jobs' announcement at the "iPad 2 Event" that the Personal Hotspot feature will be available in iOS 4.3, people have been wondering if their mobile carriers will allow the feature to work, and how will these carriers charge for the usage of this feature on their network. Like these users I wonder about it for my current mobile carrier, Smartone-Vodafone (SMV) in Hong Kong. So right after the iPad 2 Event I posted a question on Smartone-Vodafone's Facebook Page asking them to comment on the feature's use on their network and the charges if any. All SMV has to say is "We do not have any information regarding Personal Hotspot at this time, please stay tuned".

Fortunately Apple made iOS 4.3 available a day early (March 10th) since my bill-cut-off date is the 11th. I installed it right away and tried the Personal Hotspot feature, only testing the speed of the connections of devices connected to the Personal Hotspot host. Because I have yet to confirm with SMV the charges relating to Personal Hotspot use. I waited all weekend and Monday for my March 13th bill to be available online, and it was finally available a few hours ago. As I have expected, SMV is able to distinguish the Personal Hotspot traffic from other data use, just like regular Tethering via USB, but unlike regular Tethering over Bluetooth. Apple probably provided the carriers a mean to identify Personal Hotspot traffic, since carrier partners are given the ability to turn on and off Personal Hotspot for individual subscribers on their network. The Personal Hotspot connection I tried was via WiFi, I'm sure the results will be the same through Bluetooth and USB.

Also as expected, my Personal Hotspot usage was "FREE". I have SMV's HKD389 iPhone Plan with unlimited data, which also comes with a handset rebate, giving me a monthly bill of HKD259 (USD33.24).

In the past month (30 days) SMV's bandwidth had dropped dramatically. On average it had fallen more than half as compared to previous measurements. I'm sure SMV is monitoring Personal Hotspot usage to see if it further congest their network. Fortunately, I currently also have access to the CSL 1010 3G network, and it is indeed much faster than SMV's 3G network at all locations: Wanchai, Central and Admiralty, I've tested. In most cases it is faster by 50% - 100%.

I was made aware of the iOS app, Localscope, by Cynapse of India. Initially it looks to be yet another local search app like, Yelp, Foursquare, Google Places, etc., fortunately after a closer look I finds out that is not the case.

The app allows you to search among various categories for places mentioned in one of the services: Google, Bing Maps, Foursqaure, Twitter and MacVisions Wikimapia, it is "partnering" with. By partnering, I mean the app utilizes API from the respective services to display search results to the user. During these searches it takes into account the user's location, either specified manually or by the built in GPS of the iOS device. The built in categories are the ones you will expect, but the results from these are fairly inconsistent. For example, there are spots that have Google Places entries and are close by, but do not show up in the chosen category or search term when using the Google search. Not sure if this has to do with whether the spots has Google Hotpot entries.

Unlike most other applications of this kind, it allows the user to manually set a location by turning off the GPS feature, making it easy to plan ahead for the place one is about to visit.

This feature is useful for places where GPS signals are not that accurate; like Hong Kong and other cities with many tall buildings.

An interesting usability feature, is the application's ability to automatically saves previous search terms for subsequent access. To make it even easier to access frequently used search terms or categories the app automatically sorts the terms based on last ("number of") access.

This attention to details extends to the app's utilization of common iOS UI to improve its functionalities. For example, the action of pulling the list down will force the list to update, pulling the list up will load more items.

To make the app a more complete local search tool, it allows quick calls to the chosen spot for iOS devices with communication capabilities. This feature is hidden in the Item's Options reviewed by swiping either left or right on the item, the same capability can also be found within the Item's Details page. Within these Item's Options are features to view the spot on the device's map app or share it via: SMS, email, Facebook or Twitter.

Another unique feature this app has over the others is its ability to utilize the built in compass to show the directions of spots from the user's chosen location in additional to the distance. This gives the user a much better idea on the direction to head towards.

The app also combines features from several other similar apps to offer three different ways the search results can be viewed: List view, Map view or Augmented Reality (AR). The AR view is similar to the one found in the most famous AR iOS app, Layar.

Conclusion

With over 400,000 apps in the iTunes App Store it is often hard to find a new app that demonstrates care and thought by the developer. I am glad to see Localscope [iTunes App Store link] is one of those apps. The developer is asking USD2.99 USD1.99 in the App Store.

[Updated: Feb. 22, 2011] WIth the latest release (v1.2) of the app, the developers added integration with TomTom's Navigon MobileNavigator for turn-by-turn voice navigation to your chosen point-of-interest. In this version the developers also added integration to Facebook authenticate each time.

A good feature to add is the integration with Facebook Places, so uses of Localscope can quickly check into places after setting a point-of-interest as the current location.

Posted
AuthorVinko
Categoriesiphone, review

Or is it? This morning as anticipated for the past 3 years, Verizon (USA) announced the availability of the iPhone 4 on their network. They will begin pre-ordering for existing Verizon customers on February 3rd and the phones are available for pickup on February 10th.

There are only three differences between the iPhone 4 (CDMA) announced by Verizon (a mobile carrier in the US) and the previous model of iPhone 4 (GSM)

  • Supports CDMA EV-DO Rev. A (800, 1900 MHz).
  • Mobile hotspot capability like the MiFi.
  • A change in the slit at the top of the GSM iPhone 4 has been move to a slits on the left side.

These features ("changes") really have no benefits to anyone living outside of the USA and non-subscribers to Verizon (US). CDMA phones are locked to the carrier they are designed for unless they use a R-UIM card inside.

As for the mobile hotspot capability, it is questionable whether this will be a practical advantage. Since Verizon CDMA does not allow simultaneous data and voice access. So if the iPhone is in mobile hotspot mode, it will not be able to take or make a voice call over the Verizon network without dropping the mobile hotspot for all connected devices. Unless this voice call is made through one of the IP based voice services (ie. Skype, etc.). The rumor is that the mobile hotspot function may become a built in feature for all iPhones with the pending iOS 4.3. This feature will work much better on a GSM network, since simultaneous voice and data is capable on GSM networks, but the feature will require mobile carriers to release it to iPhone users.

The change in the top slit position means that the Hold button has shifted down from position on the GSM version of the iPhone 4, meaning most existing cases for the iPhone 4 (GSM) will not fit the iPhone 4 (CDMA).

So if you live in the US, is an unhappy iPhone user with AT&T service and wants to change to the Verizon network, or if you had resisted in purchasing an iPhone because you do not like AT&T, you may want to wait another six months. This is because there will most likely be an iPhone 5 in June 2011 and it is very likely will be available for both Verizon and AT&T networks. It will also very likely will be a LTE capable iPhone.

For the former group there is really no benefits in switching to Verizon unless you have a really bad receptions on the AT&T network, but should still wait to find out if iPhone 4 users on the Verizon network in your area get better reception.

As for the latter group, since you had waited over 4 years for an iPhone you can wait another six month to see what the iPhone 5 will bring and whether the Verizon network will suffer the same congestions as AT&T.

So will this be the first and only CDMA version of the iPhone? Will Apple create CDMA versions of the iPhone for other carriers? Verizon is currently the larges CDMA EV-DO Rev A provider, but China mobile may take the title from Verizon as the largest CDMA EV-DO Rev B provider, when Verizon ramps up its own LTE deployment to cover all its existing coverage areas in the US.

If you are a blogger you are most likely using a blogging platform to host your blog. These blogging platforms will come with web based interfaces for users to compose blog posts. When these web based interfaces are accessed from a browser on the computer this works well, but may not be the case from mobile devices like the iPod Touch, iPhone or iPad. Of course there are exceptions, which I will discuss later. It is hard to find an app that takes advantage of the capabilities of these mobile devices while supports the functionalities of the blogging platforms. There are two blogging platform specific apps for the iOS devices: WordPress and SquareSpace. The former is the first of its kind and its functionalities are fairly complete, but there are bugs that will sometimes cause the lost of blog posts. The latest version (2.6.3) is even worst, so this is not an app that I will recommend. On the other hand the offering from SquareSpace is very well designed. It has set the standards for all blogging apps in the iTunes App Store.

Then there are blogging apps that support multiple platforms, like BlogPress. It supports the following blogging platform/services:

  • Blogger
  • MSN Live Spaces
  • WordPress
  • Movable Type
  • TypePad
  • LiveJournal
  • Drupal
  • Joomla
  • Tumblr
  • Squarespace

Since my blog is hosted with a WordPress backend I will only be discuss the functionality of BlogPress with a WordPress blog.

Due to BlogPress' multi-platform support the author tells me that the app cannot support all the functionalities of a WordPress blog. Even though this may be a good reason, this app has some work to do to get the functionalities that it does support more elegant.

One example, is BlogPress' terminology and concept of "drafts". There needs to be a distinction between "local draft" and "server draft" (draft stored on the server, not yet published and marked as "Draft" on the WordPress platform). This has been improved in the latest version of the app.

When the user click on the Save button to save a post, a dialog is presented with a daunting 6 options:

  • Publish Now!
  • Save and Preview
  • Save Local Draft
  • Save Online Draft
  • Save & Create New
  • Discard

It is a bit strange to see "Discard" being one of the options for a "Save" action.

Unfortunately, the "Publish Now!" options are not exactly what they mean. If you click on "Publish Now!" it doesn't always means that the post in questions will be published on the web site managed by WordPress. This depends on the settings in the post's options. Fortunately the "Publish Now!" option has been changed in the latest version of the app to always mean "publish the post, making it live on the site".

Within this options window there is a "Publish or save draft online" section, where you can toggle the "Publish" flag to "On" or "Off". Again this is not too clear, but "On" means "Publish" the post to the web site, making the post "live". The setting in the "Off" position means to only "save as Draft online" within the WordPress system. The behaviour after choosing "Publish Now!" from the Save dialog will depends on this flag. In the latest version of the app this option no longer has an effect, which is a good thing. I think the developer just forgot to remove it.

For new users who are familiar with WordPress, they will most likely avoid the "Publish Now!" button at least not until they are really ready to publish their post live onto their web site. Fortunately BlogPress has coloured this button red to warn users from clicking on it accidentally. I would have place this as the last item in the option window.

When writing a post the author will want to save constantly, because they worry that the revisions will be lost during the creation process. It is natural to want these revisions to be saved back on the server, for WordPress users automatically saving revisions while composing a post is the default behaviour within the WordPress backend.

Having said that, I believe users like me will prefer to click the "Save Draft Only" from the Save dialog. Choosing this option will save the post, and the app will move the post to a section called "Drafts". It is not until the user goes back to their WordPress platform to realize none of the revisions are saved within WordPress. What happened is that BlogPress only saved the revisions locally within its app and never transferred to the user's WordPress platform. "Save Online Draft" which causes the revision to be saved on the server rather than locally on the iPad. This is because in most cases the iPad is not where a user will finish a post therefore they will want to have their post in progress available anywhere they may edit the post, including back on the WordPress backend.

While this Save function is a UX design issue and less of a bug. There are some quirkiness in the app that can drive a user crazy.

After saving a post the app will leave a blank space at the top of the post pane for no apparent reason.

Another bug is the app's inability to autoscroll when the text reach below the current visible line of text.

This caret scrolling issue becomes most annoying when the user clicks on a spot within the post to enter the Edit mode. User expects the app to scroll the text so the spot where he clicks and where the caret is placed should be visible.

Aside from these clunkiness the app does have some niceties. One such example is its Insert HTML feature, which allows quick template insertion of some of the more common HTML used within a post.

The app also allows the user to insert images from the device's Photo Album. This has been greatly improved in the latest version on the iPad. Although it is still not too intuitive as the image inserted only serves as a placeholder. Any adjustments to the size and alignments are not reflected on the post until it is published to the server.

Since BlogPress does not really have a WYSIWYG mode, only images inserted using BlogPress can be seen, any other images inserted using other means the user can only see their respective HTML codes like the rest of the post.

This behaviour is very confusing, since most WordPress users using BlogPress will assume they are looking at the HTML version of their post, except for the few elements that are added using BlogPress. To make it even more of an issue is that images inserted using BlogPress do not follow the standard WordPress CSS styling so any HTML attributes added to the image are not compatible to the CSS styling by the theme used for the blog.

border='0' width='250' height='166' align='left' style='margin:5px'

The CSS and IMG attributes applied by BlogPress when inserting an image to the post.

width='250' class='alignleft size-full wp-image-7310'

The CSS and IMG attributes would have applied by WordPress if using the WordPress backend.

Conclusion

Given the state of BlogPress I do not recommend WordPress users to use it to edit or create new post for their blogs. This is disappointing as the WordPress iOS app is not reliable to trust it either.

Having said that, I do see improvements made by the developer of BlogPress between versions; as explained above. Therefore if you like to support the developer, so we may eventually have a great native app for managing your WordPress blog, you may want to pay the USD4.99 (on Sale right now for USD2.99) that the developer is asking for in the iTunes App Store.

The Glif was a Kickstarter project by Tom Gerhardt and Dan Provost who had hoped to raise USD10,000.00 to develop a tripod mount for the iPhone 4. In the end of the fund raising he ended up receiving 5,273 backers and raised USD137,417.00 for the project. I am happy to say that I'm one of those backers with USD20.00 + USD8.00 (international shipping to Hong Kong) contribution.

After months of development my Glif came just in time for Christmas. It is made from injection molded rubber with a copper 1/4"-20 thread insert for attaching to any standard tripod head. Aside from using it as a tripod mount you can also use it stand-alone as a portable stand. It can be use in landscape orientation for movie or web page viewing. It can also be use in portrait orientation, which is perfect for FaceTime or alike video conferencing. The Glif is very light and can easily fit into a pocket or purse, making it readily available anywhere and anytime a stand is needed. Anyone can now purchase it directly from The Glif web site for USD20.00 each.

Posted
AuthorVinko
Categoriesiphone, review

People overseas have asked if I can recommend a stored-value SIM package for them during their stay in Hong Kong, so instead of repeating my answer over an over I've decided to create a post. Before reading this post one needs to understand one thing about the mobile market in Hong Kong. It is very competitive and the rates and packages change frequently; around every six months. So aside from the following recommendations you should also verify my information when you arrive in Hong Kong.

Another thing to be aware of. Except for speaking to Smartone-Vodafone, don't use the phrase "Stored-Value SIM" to describe what you're looking for, as most of the other 6 carriers do not know what that means.

GSM Mobile without Data

If you're not using a GSM mobile phone with a micro-SIM card then you have many options. Any of the 7 carriers: PCCW Mobile, CSL's 1010, CSL's one2free, 3 HK, Smartone-Vodafone, China Mobile and China Unicom, in Hong Kong will have stored-value SIM cards for you.

GSM Mobile with Data

It appears that 3 HK and China Mobile are the only carriers in Hong Kong who are willing to serve overseas customers that want to use mobile data on their phone while in Hong Kong. With the former offering 3G Data connectivity.

GSM Mobile with 3G Data and micro-SIM

Even though Apple HK has three official carrier partners for the iPhone: CSL, 3 HK, Smartone-Vodafone, and a total of four carriers that sells iPhone 4 tariff plans, there is only one carrier (3 HK) that offers stored-valued SIM packages with micro-SIMs.

The type of SIM cards that 3 HK sells are those that can be either a regular mini-SIM or a micro-SIM (for the iPhone 4). Although, after you make the choice of turning it into a micro-SIM there's no way to go back.

Conclusion

Conveniently all carriers' store-value SIM packages are available at 7-11 so you can make your choice at the Hong Kong International Airport before you get onto the Airport Express for town.

Have a good stay!

Posted
AuthorVinko

The North Point Community Church's "iBand" used apps on their iPad and iPhone to deliver an impressive performance of "Carol of the Bells", "Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree" and "Feliz Navidad". httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9XNfWNooz4

Although they are not the first to use iOS devices in a performance, they are one of the first to use so many apps at the same time. They even use Apple's Logic to multitrack the arrangements before they perform the songs.

If you are interested in creating your own iBand, here are the apps they used (source: The Ballad of Mr. Fun).

Carol of the Bells

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

Feliz Navidad

1 NLog has an universal version native to the iPad called NLogSynth Pro. 2 Precussions has an universal version native to the iPad called Precussions+. 3 Pianist has an universal version native to the iPad called Pianist Pro.

Posted
AuthorVinko
CategoriesiPad, iphone

This past Saturday (September 25, 08:00 China Standard Time) we saw the official release of the iPhone 4 in mainland China. It was welcomed by thousands of Chinese Apple fans, who camped out at the 3 Apple Stores in Beijing and Shanghai respectively. The actual launch had the fanfare of launches in New York City, London and Tokyo. This is even with gray-market iPhone 4's from Hong Kong and other countries sold in mainland China since it the initial launch in the US.

China Unicom said over 200,000 pre-orders for the iPhone 4 were received since September 17 but only 60,000 of these customers received their phones on the weekend. China Unicom had since stopped taking pre-orders due to the demand. The high demand at China Unicom outlets occurred even though the iPhone 4 sold through, Apple's only official mainland China carrier, comes with a 2-year contract.

Contrary to the iPhone 4 sold through Apple Stores in Beijing and Shanghai which are contract free. Apple have not released any sales figures for the weekend, but we can see from the lines of people waiting outside Apple Stores, many do not want to be locked into contracts. The Apple list prices of RMB4999.00 and RMB5999.00 for the 16GB and 32GB respectively contract-free iPhone 4 are quite high given the average monthly income in China, then again China is a country with the most millionaires, so only time will tell.

So far reports indicate that not only China Unicom outlets are sold out of iPhone 4, the four Apple Stores are also sold out.

Posted
AuthorVinko
Categoriesiphone