Monthly Archives: July 2007

Looking for Album Artwork for your iTunes & iPhone/iPod?

Of course, iTunes will start to look into the iTunes Store for missing artwork as soon as you drag in new music files/tracks.

The album artwork it does match up with your tracks are top notch. They are perfectly matched and 99.9% the best version resolution-wise out there.

However, it can only find and “fix” your missing artwork tracks only with tracks they sell.

To get that full and cool “cover flow” action going – like flipping through an LP bin (iPhone only for now), you want as much artwork as you can find. Keep in mind though, the artwork can add up and use up storage space so there is a tradeoff. While you can’t get the cover flow thing on iPods yet, if you have a 2 or 4 GB iPod, while it is cool to have the album artwork appear in the NOW PLAYING window, a couple thousand tracks of artwork does take away “more” music you can load. But in most cases, it’s worth the tradeoff. If you have a 30GB or 80GB iPod, it’s hardly a worry.

FETCH ART

So, after iTunes has done its auto-best to find and copy over album artwork … my recommendation is to add FETCH ART, it’s a free album artwork search and works very nicely with iTunes (it’s free – from VersionTracker). It will load an Applescript menu item into iTunes. Next time you launch iTunes, you will see a menu item called Fetch Art.

Simply select a track missing artwork and then go up to the iTunes “Applescript” menu – drag down and select FETCH ART.

The application will auto launch – and once it locates the art from Amazon.com (in preferences, you can change to UK or CA), you will get a window like this with a preview:

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If it looks right – click on COPY TO ITUNES.

What’s nice about FETCH ART is it has a couple of other features. If you have a bunch of tracks that you know is missing artwork (Beatles anyone?), you can do a batch add, search and find – just highlight all the tracks or just highlight the playlist name and select FETCH ART, it will load all the tracks and do a search (it will take a few minutes) and then you can batch change the artwork.

The reason you don’t normally want to do this is if iTunes already found some artwork for you (or if you already had artwork), the Amazon replacement album artwork that FETCH ART uses might be lower res or worse incorrect … Fetch Art is eager to please, sometimes you will get random choices – maybe it’s Amazon’s DB fault but just so you know. Hey it’s free, you want your money back? 🙂

Also, note, unless you turn off SAVE ALBUM ARTWORK in PREFERENCES, Fetch Art will “backup” all the art in your iTunes folder. I don’t find that useful or necessary but you can leave it on.

FIND ALBUM ARTWORK WITH GOOGLE v2.5

Okay, so now I’m up to about 75% – because I have about 1 TB of music, there are albums that Amazon doesn’t sell or even pre-dates them and is now OOP. It’s time to visit the great Doug’s Applescript for iTunes site. And in particular, FIND ALBUM ARTWORK WITH GOOGLE. Of course, you can tediously type in the search bar above but why bother when highlighting and applescripting is there for you?

(If you don’t know how to add Applescripts to your iTunes, read our previous post).

After you install and see the FIND ALBUM ARTWORK WITH GOOGLE choice in Applescript – after both iTunes Album Artwork search and Fetch Art have failed you, Google to the rescue. Highlight the track missing artwork and select “Find Album Artwork with Google” from the iTunes Applescript menu and it thoughtfully launches a new page with your search results. If your collection has tons of obscure CD’s like mine, on occasion, you will have to type in CD along the artist/album name to help Google a bit.

AMG ALL MUSIC GUIDE

For me, there are still about 2% of the tracks that escape the above three giants feverishly working on my behalf – for that, I turn to the much improved AMG All Music Guide and search manually.

After all that, I’m pretty much at 99.9% for retail CD’s – of course, for promo CD’s, I have to do my own scanning – arghh.

There are some other Applescripts you might prefer … “Tracks Without Artwork to Playlist” will create a new playlist with all the tracks missing artwork so then you know exactly which tracks to batch search with Fetch Art.

Or simply look through the categories at Doug’s site including the MANAGING ARTWORK section or THE INTERNET. Keep in mind, the new scripts are listed first – some of the older scripts on page 5 don’t work as well in iTunes 7.x if at all.

And after you add album artwork to all your tracks – add in CLUTTER which will give you a mini app on your desktop with the album artwork as you listen in iTunes. You can even create multiple CD covers and just click to play. It’s free and pretty cool.

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Filed under Apple, Apple Mac, Computing, Gadgets, Media, mobile, Music

Oreo Cakester

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Yet another line extension.

Have you ever though – man, I like oreos but they really require masticating – if only I could get the essence of an oreo by just gumming them …

Your prayers have been answered.

Oreos that are mini soft cakes that just slide in your mouth and essentially down your gullet.

They are much better than the Hostess 100-calorie abomination of a cupcake.

These are moist and since it doesn’t taste bad, it must not be that good for you (shocking as that seems from something in the Oreo family).

It comes in two flavors – regular Oreo flavor and chocolate creme but frankly, I defy anyone to tell them apart with your eyes closed. You get 6 packets of two inside each box.

It does taste approximately like what a you might imagine an Oreo would taste like as a mini cake – but hardly a cause for shouting with glee, it’s not terrible and way better than the Hostess hockey pucks – so while not exactly the best benchmark, it is something. It was moist without tasting chemical-like so that’s something and it actually tasted fresher than most cupcake made by the supermarkets – again, hardly much praise and for about 18 chemicals, it’s not bad.

The bottom line would be I would buy them again for $2.50 a box – not sure what the non intro price might be.

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Not actual size … from BrownPau‘s FLICKR page.

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The iPhone as Business Phone: Where We Stand

One of the hinderance to business users switching is as simple as you have a business account and that AT&T isn’t offering the iPhone as an option.

If you run a small business or have enough pull, it’s simple to switch. In fact, if anything, you might save your company money. A colleague found out he was on the $249 a month plan and since he was mostly talking to his own team (all on AT&T) and about 40% of America is with AT&T – and those minutes don’t count towards your bucket of minutes, he was really only using 600 minutes a month so switching to an iPhone account actually saved the company money. And he works for a Fortune 50 company so either they sent an idiot to negotiate with AT&T or there wasn’t even any negotiations … in any case, if you can, look into the details of your particular account … in this case, he’s going to save his company over $1,000 this year on his cell phone bill … maybe you can too.

But where do we stand after a month on the corporate/business side of a phone Gartner & others declared “scary?”

Um, surprise, not so much scary.

The one security issue is like every other Mac or iPod security issue, in a lab where you solder and pry the Apple device open and under certain conditions, it can be “hacked.” But once you unplug the wires and leave that room?

Like a moth, the scariest bug on Earth that you can kill with WATER.

It’s nothing outside the guy’s lab (or Symantec’s or McAfee’s).

Just in case you’re keeping track of actual, real world viruses and intrusions?:

(7 years) Mac OSX 35 million users: ZERO

(6 years) iPod: 110 million users: ZERO

(1 month) iPhone: a million users: ZERO

13 years of cumulative use of ZERO is a pretty good track record – especially in the last two years with pleading hysteria that the time must be now that some Apple device, any Apple device is doomed.

Maybe, hackers buy it with the intention of creating havoc but then after 5 minutes, just begin to think – this machine hasn’t locked up on me, maybe I’ll create a widget. Or if that guy can create an Apple mini-app, I can create 2 or 400

Gartner & Forrester’s hysterical weeping before the iPhone was even out is illogical in claiming that because you can’t install 3rd party apps, it’s MORE insecure. I have a feeling if the iPhone allowed third party apps to install, they would arguing precisely the opposite. Their main point is that email is insecure …

Except that as the WSJ points out, click a switch in Outlook will send forward your corporate emails or that most companies offer web based email access. (The WSJ article also points out 10 things your IT department would prefer you not know).

Of course, this pretty much sums up IT’s attitude, “Executives will ‘infect the enterprise.’ That’s how the BlackBerry got started,” OMG – someone wants to use new technology.

RUN FOR THE SERVER ROOM AND KEYCODE US IN!

But there are people working on solutions …

SYNCHRONICA

“Mobile Gateway for Enterprises: Push and Synchronization for email, calendar, address book, over the air, anywhere.” Test out getting your email on your iPhone here.

NETSUITE

ERP & CRM web based software/site already designed a SuitePhone for the iPhone.

VISTO

A mobile e-mail service provider – users can access enterprise e-mail systems, including Microsoft Exchange and IBM Lotus Domino. Free demo and 60 days use here.

MORE TO COME

InfoBuilders (a business intelligence/Web-reporting software) users already have access using their iPhone and down the line, thinks the iPhone is the best mobile platform for viewing & accessing their reports.

COST TO OTHER SMARTPHONES?

From the PalmAddict site, the TCO for a iPhone is about $20 more than a Treo after 2 years in the most favorable comparison or the Treo is over $200 MORE than the iPhone in other scenarios.

And finally a real review by a real business user without a hidden agenda (InfoWeek) that covers issues of concern to business users and/or people used to other smartphones.

And of course, we covered the business gamut of apps that run online. They haven’t all been re-tested on the iPhone but web apps like Ta Da Lists is already an early favorite.

Of course, enterprise level web based solutions are going to pop up a little slower than everyday mini apps but it’s only logical as we move more software solutions online.

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Google MyMaps: Not Quite Ready for the iPhone

As Tizmanian covered a few month back, Google’s MyMaps are customizable.

In theory, it should be perfect for the iPhone. Of course, you’re all familiar with Google Maps. You type in a business name, a city or an address and you hit return, in literally seconds, it spans the globe and you a pin placement literally.

Google MyMaps (see tab on the Google Maps page) takes it one step further, letting you personalize & save bookmark/pin placements all over the world.

This is perfect for those of us who wants some restaurant links for some nearby town, or a great review for a restaurant on your next trip, an interesting hotel or a place to check out next time you’re on the road and you drank too much NyQuil and you really, really want to stop in Alexandria, IN and visit the world’s largest ball of paint? Who can keep a text list and have to remember where it is? Or keep a giant file folder and no time to look back through it? Or even if you remember, how far is that street from your hotel or the conference hall? Is it worth a $30 dollar cab ride to eat the best pulled pork in NC? (you are asking the wrong person 🙂 )

Type in the business, restaurant, hotel, etc …

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You can even read the review’s link. If it’s the one or you want to add it to your maps, just click on SAVE TO MY MAPS. You will be asked which MAP (you can name different ones … MISTRESS … WIFE … Just Kidding!)

You even have a space to add in comments like “Haggis, not so good, Peach Cobbler – good”

You can even choose the icon “pin” so you can do your own visible database.

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There are also other tools for drawing lines and boxes, etc …

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So, Google Maps works great on a computer browser but sadly, this potentially great tool is not ready for the iPhone just yet.

On the iPhone, the left scroll bar disappears so if you have more than 20 listings, they are not visible as the left page has no scroll feature in the iPhone … also, the normally handy Google Maps slider to zoom in does not allow finger taps to zoom in and out, it just becomes a scroll so pages just move around and the zoom is a tedious tapping on the +_ signs … the only way to make it less painful is to bookmark the url of a city on the computer and email or sync with your iPhone.

So, if this sounds like something you’d like to re-program for Google or let them know you’d like it iPhonized, drop by their forum and become a squeaky wheel!

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Filed under Apple, Computing, Internet, iPhone, mobile, Travel

Microsoft Acquires Small Network AdECN

The venerable WSJ is reporting that Microsoft is buying a small 30-person firm in Santa Barbara called AdECN that runs a network linking buyers and sellers of internet ad space.

Can Microsoft build the next ad exchange platform?  Sure.  Will users want to use it.  Huge maybe.

Google itself has learned the hard way that even with tons of muscle and money, there are just some things you can’t do well (such as Google’s repeated failed attempts to broker print space).

Ask.com has a pretty slick algorithm going nowadays but how many times have you used it in the past week?  Me…nada.  And yet I like its interface very much.  Old habits die hard…which is why Ask.com earlier this month worked a deal with Microsoft under which customers of Microsoft’s paid search program will see their listings appear on sites operated by Ask.com and its partners.

What does AdECN bring to the table that its purchase of aQuantive didn’t get them?  Are they just building scale?

From the AdECN website explaining their exchange: “In the following illustration, the AdECN Exchange is the central marketplace. The member is the advertising network that holds a seat on the exchange and acts on behalf of the advertiser or publisher in executing transactions. There are many seats on the exchange, and each member has its own advertisers and publishers. ”

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Think of it as NASDAQ for online where an AdECN member buys on the exchange (representing an advertiser/s) and sells on the exchange (representing a publisher/s).

The AdECN member’s advertisers specify in advance how much they are willing to pay based on the visitor’s profile, or the visitor’s past behavior, or the page content, or other factors. Advertisers can bid on a CPM, CPC, CPA, or CPL basis.

When a visitor lands on a website page, an auction is held among all the advertisers in less than 12 milliseconds, for every single ad impression. The highest bid wins, and that ad is shown.

Now this sounds all well and good but what if we, as internet readers, see this rampaging trend about web publishers and advertisers wanting to know every little detail about our web usage (not to mention our demographics using combinations of Behavioral Targeting, Geotargeting, and other tools of the trade) and we start training ourselves to purge cookies and set our privacy settings much higher?

Oops.  Who was that reader that just flipped through our pages again?

AdECN provides all of the hoo-hah that most ad networks provide when serving up ads using tags from what I can tell.

Members can place all, some, or even none of their traffic on the exchange. They can specify that the auction favor a match between their own publishers and advertisers, unless the profit of using traffic from the Exchange exceeds a certain threshold which is interesting.

The pitch here is as a member you will be in an electronic bazaar where supply and demand will dictate pricing.  But there are surely ways to game this system much like you occasionally hear about hedge fund managers gaming stock pricing from their ‘antics’ and massive buying (and selling) power.

Why would we want to see more of that activity in the online space?  I don’t.  Do you?

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Apple Financial Numbers & Conference Call To Rest the Rumors

Of course, it’s a spectacular quarter in the middle of the year.

Regardless of Apple but any company that randomly announces the following numbers clearly had a great 3 months:

Net income up 73% or $818 million versus $472 a year earlier.

Revenue up to $5.4 billion versus $4.4 billion a year earlier.

That’s $58.7 million a day in revenue BTW or about $8.9 million a day in profits.

How do you get there?

1.76 million or about 19,000 Macs a day with 50% of the Apple store sales to WIN users (according to Apple). That’s 33% better than a year earlier and about 3 times the growth rate versus the rest of the industry. Here’s our reasoning why the I’M A MAC ads work.

By selling 7,500 iPod’s every minute – at a 20% HIGHER rate than the year before – or nearly 10 MILLION iPods in 92 days.

Pretty impressive knowing that a touchscreen iPod (and iPhone) of course was coming for $600. Of course, sales growth didn’t match volume growth but that’s to be expected. Since January, people knew the form & functions of the iPhone doubling as an iPod AND also presuming that the widescreen would be the new format for the iPod, sales would be at the lower SHUFFLE & NANO line – the Shuffle line is brilliantly priced – expensive but inexpensive enough to make it an extravagant but elegant gift that works for young, old, colleagues, friends, etc … (twice now, I’ve seen someone buying all the colors at once – crazy exercise scheme or extravagant party favors?) While other DAP/MP3 sellers throw new shapes, money losing versions and new music stores at the marketplace, only the iPod is the one brand respected and acknowledged by all as “the one.” So in a year where the only change was adding the RED charity version, IPOD sales continue to march through like hot knife & butter.

The new widescreen iPod will once again ignite sales whenever it comes out – but presumably before the holiday selling season.

And of course, selling 270,000 iPhones in 30 hours or about 150 a minute … I think it’s safe to say that most cell phones do not sell at a rate of 150 a minute for the first 30 hours.

(And of course, our favorite mule to kick – the Zune sells about 30,000 a month or about 9 months to also sell 270,000).

And of course, buying an iPhone is a monthly revenue stream for Apple in the form of AT&T’s fees back to Apple, to iTunes sales and presumably another halo to selling more iPods and more Macs. (one source quoted AT&T as saying 40% were new to iPods).

By the end of next Q, it should be clear what the initial numbers are/were for the iPhone.

As part of the conference call, it became clear that some of the rumors concerning a “nano iPhone” are just that and certainly not coming out this holiday season because as Apple noted, “We’re here for the LONG TERM.”

Apple is launching the iPhone in Europe in the next few months and early in 2008 for Asia. Whether they add 3G or not is another matter but as for the form, why is Apple going to spend all this time establishing this AS the iPhone only to throw it away in 3 months?

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When it’s NOT even available anywhere else?

Do I think there might a smaller iPhone sometime in the future – sure – but in the next few months before EVERYWHERE but the United States (Not even Canada) has one?

No.

If you brand THIS iPhone as the MUST HAVE item as it sweeps across the globe – why would you start over by selling a DIFFERENT one AND a LESS PROFITABLE one?

You don’t.

There is also NO reason to cut profits to sell a cheaper iPhone just yet. You don’t create aspirations for owning a “special” item and then undercut it by discounting or bringing out a cheaper one right away. That’s the playbook of Motorola and you see how they can smash & grab some sales & market-share for a few quarters but then by driving the price down & down pointlessly, you have driven the brand value to ZERO.

The iPhone will follow the iPod and technology. It will be in versions bigger (physically as a ultra portable maybe) and it will get smaller and presumably cheaper but at some point in the future when nearly EVERYONE who is willing to pay $599 for a phone has one AND NOT A SECOND BEFORE.

That’s when you smartly strip out features or add in features only available at the top-of-the-line like Apple with the gulf of difference between a SHUFFLE, a NANO and an IPOD … or the MINI, IMAC & MACPRO and then price it accordingly.

So, maybe a year from now, after the world from Zanzibar to Altoona all have an iPhone, then iPhone 2 will be out … don’t worry, AT&T will be happy to reset your 2-year contract at 2 years again with a new extension activation fee.

Oh and two last numbers to consider. A lot of people are noting that Apple’s PE ratio is a bit high in comparison to other tech or software/hardware companies but they seem to neglect looking further down the report and noting that Apple is sitting on over $13 BILLION in cash and has a long term of $0.

That’s right – long term debt – ZERO.

Just like the numbers in my household … or maybe vice versa 🙂

(For investors or those holding Apple stock who want to gloat – Motley Fool has pulled together all the important numbers).

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Filed under Apple, Apple Mac, Computing, Financial, Gadgets, Internet, iPhone, Marketing, mobile, Retail

iPhone Mini Apps Major Update: 4 Weeks, 400 Mini Apps

When we last looked in a few weeks ago, it was about at about 200 mini apps after two weeks but it’s not slowing down – the count is going to click over faster and faster as more sites now are beginning to create iPhone compatible versions of their websites.

I would’ve just updated the post except now that we are roaring ahead with a hundred a week, it’s time to re-evaluate how to to access these mini apps on your iPhone. Clearly the “iPhone Icon Portal” sites are the way to go.

Sure, most of the sites you can bookmark as you always have but unlike a computer based browser access where having 10 bookmarks or a couple hundred is no problem to access – having even 20 sites you want to bookmark and then visit with an iPhone starts to become a visual burden since they are just text links that require finger scrolling.

Plus, it’s much cooler way as they have carried the iPhone home icons to its next logical step.

Basically, when you arrive at these sites, they have visually replicated the home page of the iPhone but instead of PHOTOS, CAMERA, YOUTUBE, etc … they offer a set number of sites visually accessible by tapping on an icon (like one for the NY Times) and you can add or delete other sites – also represented as a beveled icon.

Brilliant.

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The main contenders all essentially operate the same (screensnap from Leaflets). You can create your own personalized icon parade. There are about 25 main sites most people would want to add (chat app, list managers, movie showtimes, etc …) plus now, close to 375 other sites of varying interest – 20 sudoku games anyone?)

Here are the top 3 contenders:

MockDock

It is easiest to add on and edit your choices because you can sign in on the website via your desktop computer, makes changes and its reflected in your MockDock next time you check in via your iPhone. What’s also cool is you can create mini icons for dialing fav numbers. While, yes, you can select some favs to be listed in the your PHONE contact area right now, they let you assign an icon to HOME, WORK, PIZZA, etc … though the downside is you have to log onto their site FIRST before dialing out …

The only real downside is it be nice to able to re-arrange in order you prefer and there are some major choices not listed here.

AppLists.com

They are offering 128 mini apps. It appears you can also log-in and edit via your desktop browser (I had a little trouble signing in). They are also offering some new & different ones – especially several for road warriors that are nice & useful. The info window with each app is nice so you get a preview and info about the mini-app. Another nice feature is you can create folders for favs or other subcategories.

I was excited to see SKYPE listed but it’s nothing – all it does is point you to the main website and an offer to download the Skype app – clearly not all that useful. While there are some ones listed here nowhere else, it be nice to have one site with ALL the sites …

Appleopolis.com

Might just have them both beat. It is the largest selection but also keep in mind that a lot of them are repeats from other categories but I’m pretty tempted to say that all the major iPhone mini-apps are collected here. The navigation at Appleopolis.com is nice in one way in that every mini-app gets its own page, screenshot and description – though when you have over 300 sites here, that can get a little tedious especially since the navigation choices are a little unwieldy but mostly due to the staggering number of choices. Fortunately there is access through the browser on your desktop.

Without the desktop browser option, this site might be a much to navigate unless you are on a tarmac with an hour to kill 😦 – fortunately the desktop version is there and seems to work great. The icons are a tad lower res and could use a little more work. While it is the largest site so far, I’m still convinced it’s not everything EVERYTHING … the greedy bastard that I am 🙂 so it’s probably my number #1 choice so far but I’m not 100% convinced yet. I know they probably put 1,000 hours into this already, I just want another 1,000 hours (yea, I am a @#$$#$&&**!!*).

And already the first week “leaders” have fallen back a bit.

Gridgets

A fine choice and maybe the best looking icons – they have fallen back a bit with its more limiting selections and icons only presented in alpha order but if you don’t want to clutter up the screen with too many apps, Gridgets offers most of the major ones so there’s no reason not to use 2-3 of the other sites and continue to use Gridgets.

Leaflets

Might’ve been the first and still gorgeous looking but it is even more limited in that they have selected the mini apps they think you might like best so no customization except on a second tier where if you tap more apps, you can access a few dozen more but it’s a little inconvenient. Still great – just not as many options.

AppMarks.com

Is another choice. Limited selection. Does offer desktop browser editing but with only 20 site choices, not really necessary. Icons also need a little work – nice but falling behind the others.

Mojits.com

Looks nice but got “Rails App Failed to Start.”

OTHERS/TEXT BASED

iPhoneAppr.com

One of the first sites but not as an icon based portal. Massive but it’s all text based. Click on a category, get presented with a few to dozens of choices, tap to read and then tap to launch so a few extra steps. Some people might prefer this as the way to go – after you launch the apps, you can bookmark the url as you would any website so if you prefer to jump directly to a site versus an icon based portal, you can spend an hour at iPhoneAppr.com to pick and choose the mini apps you know you’ll be going back to and bookmark them (or perhaps use Netvouz or Del.ic.io.us to bookmark and then access via your own personal bookmark page).

iPhone Widget List

I would quibble that it’s not really widgets that we are accessing but it is a nice looking site with great information and links.

AddFone.com

Search – claims to list 374 iPhone mini apps so if you do a category search …

iPhone Application List

Blog format. Basic reviews and compilation of links to all iPhone mini apps. Many apps not listed with others so still a solid place to visit.

Everything iPhone

Also has a directory.

iPhone Apps

Blog format. They might be getting weary of it already – last post on the 8th.

So, website owners, hop on ye old iPhone bandwagon – here are Apple’s guidelines for making it iPhone friendly.

400+ mini apps for a “closed” platform in 4 weeks … what are the Treo & RIM boys thinking?

LifeClever has a list of “bookmarklets” that are also useful mini-mini apps (How small can we go? How small can we go?) The FIND ON THIS PAGE is handy but some others I couldn’t get to work but you can check them out yourself.

And in case you missed it, here’s the Google Search as formatted for your iPhone.

A note about TELEMOOSE (a mini app you will run across) which allows you Amazon access. Note, if you log onto http://www.amazon.com, it’s smart enough to figure out you are visiting from an iPhone and will present you MOBILE AMAZON – no need to go through TELEMOOSE which earns them credit if you decide to buy something … use the Two a Day link to buy something 🙂

Enjoy!

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Buying an HDTV: Plasma vs LCD vs DLP vs LCOS (Holiday 2007 Update)

Buying a TV was once a simple endeavor. You decided how much you wanted to pay and then how big of set you wanted. You basically paid for what you got. A brand name with a nicer tube would cost a bit more or if wanted a bigger TV, it would cost more.

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Those days are gone.

Then came HD … well, technically, first came ED which tried to pass itself off as HD.

So, that’s your first acronym of many to keep an eye out on.

Many years ago, ED was a fine choice but as most channels are converting to HD – don’t bother with ED which is really just a nicer analog TV signal but not much more than that.

If you want technical details on everything, you can explore further. This is really just intended as a general buying guide to cut through the clutter. They are a lot of specs that will be thrown at you and some if not most of it is subjective plus a little manufacturing voodoo as one number from one manufacturer will mean something and another from someone else might mean something else – you frankly have to go and look at actual picture quality … and really, really look. Look at the text and look at the transition from scene to scene even if they are running a demo disc – you can see differences. Keep in mind that they want to showcase the best possible picture quality but if you look closely, you can see anomalies on one set that is not on another set – extra softness (more blurred) in some instances. Again, there are no hard or fast firm rules.

How you intend to mount or place the TV will play a part into your equation also. Obviously width is a consideration but budget for wall brackets and perhaps professional installation if you want to wall mount it – and of course, it’ll look much better if the wires are in the wall and not outside the wall (add $).

Also, make sure you get the set into your house or where you want it.

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The first question is

PLASMA versus LCD versus DLP

… also versus a new projection (that is a combo of LCD & DLP) called LCOS.

Already, I can hear silent weeping in the background.

Here are some generalities and there are no hard and firm answers – if there were, it would easy and there wouldn’t be all the choices on the market. The good thing is you can’t really go wrong and in a place/store with no sales, you do tend to get what you pay for … however, with sales & rebates and the fact you are committing $1+k makes you want to make a great & perfect decision. Um, yea, good luck with that.

And that’s the hard part. It is like buying a car now, narrow down your choices, research and then go price or service hunting.

First, unless you want high end projection (100″ wall space available anyone?), let’s put LCOS aside for now.

So, it’s really PLASMA versus LCD versus DLP.

Again, these are generalities …

Larger than about 42″, plasma will tend to be less costly (actually there aren’t many plasma under 42″ now).

DLP sets are a swoosh brighter than LCD though plasma generally is much brighter.

Plasmas offer slightly wider viewing angles if you have a large brood.

Most seem to agree that when it comes to black contrast (deeper color blacks), plasma tends to be the the darkest black, followed by DLP and then LCD.

Though in overall warmth, many people believe LCD’s are better than DLP’s though plasma tends to offer a picture scenario most like “old analog” TV. However, if you measure in terms of sharpness and clarity, LCD tends to be the best.

DLP have replaceable bulbs which seem to burn out faster than plasma or LCD so after 5-6 years, DLP may end up costing you more (some manufacturers recommend replacing the bulb after 2,000 hours while plasma & LCD’s can go up to 50,000 hours before it gets less and less bright). Newer DLP’s don’t offer bulb replacement which is presumably a good thing depending on how many hours they project bulb life to be and do the math.

Some cheaper and older LCD’s have a slower screen response rate so during some fast action, there can be the appearance of a blur & delay … and even with the newer LCD, it’s something to watch out for so make sure you seen it literally in action … though anything under 40″ LCD shouldn’t be problem … this is a problem not normally associated with plasma. The newest LCD sets have a refresh rate of 120 MHz so look for that spec somewhere.

DLP sets tend to be bulkier and very few wall mounting versions (if any? DLP is really like an mini projection TV to get right down to it). Both plasma and LCD offer wall mounted versions).

LCD’s are alledged to use the least amount of power. Some manufacturer website will offer you power specs so again you can do that math … and you can also look for the ENERGY STAR label. (link to Energy Star’s .Gov Website) though apparently ratings are for the TV on standby mode … when does having a TV in screensaver mode considered watching TV? According to the WSJ, a 40″ plasma will consume more electricity than a refridgerator so if that’s a consideration, read the WSJ article which appears to be free and available with no log-in.

Plasmas do have a greater tendency for image retention – if want to leave your set to CNBC or ESPN News with their 24 hour crawl underneath, you might want to get an LCD instead. If you don’t plan on leaving a channel like that on for hours on end day after day, plasma is fine.

Again, no hard or fast firm rules and of course, no obvious choice.

THE NUMBERS

When it comes to specs, besides the size of the screen, there are some notable ones normally shown as: 1,024×768, 1,280×720, 1,366×768, or 1,920×1,080. The higher the number, the more pixels there are on the screen – the more detailing so in theory, the higher the better …

Plasma tends to top out at 1,366×768 with many lower end models in the 1,024×768 range though at the largest size and the costliest end, you can find 1,920×1,080 plasma.

These can also be shown as 720p, 768p or 1080p (P standing for “progressive” which will get to a little later.

High end LCD’s tend to 1,920×1,080 so in theory, an LCD offers more pixels and more details.

The reality is between 1,366×768 (768p) and 1,920×1,080 (1080p) while one appears to be a much greater number – is there that wide of a gulf of difference? In math yes, to the naked human eye? Maybe. Maybe not. Or more importantly, what is the cost difference? Is $2k worth the difference, $1k? $500?

Part of it is your source material. Fox HD, ABC HD & ESPN HD broadcasts in 720p. NBC, CBS, Discovery and PBS broadcasts in 1080i (I for “interlaced” – again – covered below). AND just as crucially – how you receive your signals. Right now, Dish & DirecTV compress the signal at a higher rate than Comcast cable (I have Comcast so I cannot speak for the other cable companies) though DirecTV is about to launch new satellites and a promise of 150 HD channels in September so things could get better … or worse. If you going to get your HD channels (well, the local ones) over the air, it is plausible you will be getting the full strength signal of 1080i but if you have cable or satellite, you might be getting a compressed signal anyway (DirecTV is not willing to admit they compress anything but they do) … do you have a HD or Blu Ray DVD player? Or an Xbox 360 or Sony Playstation 3? (Xbox & PS3 are 1080p in theory – theory being that there are no games in 1080p yet). AS of December 2007, only three networks claim to broadcast 100% of their programming in 1080i – HDNet, Universal HD & Mojo.

The “i” or “p” stands for how the lines are drawn/presented on the screen – either interlaced or progressive. Instead of a tedious description, if you want to read more, go to Wikipedia but 1080p is considered the ultimate of the ultimate HD (for now). Is 1080p better than 1080i – in theory. In actuality – no one can say for absolute certainty. There is the belief that 1080i is better for sports as frames can be drawn with less blurring but in reality – maybe if you had an 100″ set, you could tell but just as with 720p v 1080p – what is it worth to you? It’s like the difference between 500 horsepower and 520 horsepower. If you think it’s worth it – great. Because you could easily argue that whatever speed you can attain with 520 horses, you can get pretty damn close with 500 horses – enough to really tell the difference without a speedometer?

1080p will cost you more – if you have the means, no reason not to get 1080p but after cable or satellite compression, after putting it front of the family room with the Sun setting behind it … it’s just a number.

If you want to do more reading on compression and video codecs, MultiChannel News (a trade publication to the television broadcast industry) has a read that summarizes why there’s no feasible way to send uncompressed signals.

Though the larger the set, the more reason you do want to go with 1080 – if you stand in front of 70″ TV set, the average person can tell that 1080 is “better looking” than 720 …

For what it’s worth, LCD now holds 70% of the market – partially because while plasma was first to the 40-50″ arena, it was more difficult for plasma to attain 1080p which LCD was able to get there faster for the 40-50.” Plasma loses its pricing advantage when it comes to 1080p. One reason why plasma is going up to the 70″ marketplace but of course, at that price, the margins are higher and there’s less competition but overall, of course, there are much fewer people looking for a 70″ set – especially in 5-figure range.

RESPONSE RATE

A more critical factor in older or off-brand LCD’s – particularly 40″ or more. There was a delay limitation causing a slightly blurring in sports or action sequences. Most high end LCD sets now have a response rate of 6ms-8ms (this is also important for gamers) which is good enough. There are some smaller computer LCD’s with rates as low as 3ms but none yet for larger LCD’s as TV’s. If you decided on a plasma, you can ignore this as it “draws” and sends the images differently but if you’re going with LCD, check the response rate – the newest LCD’s (and ones that cost a bit) have the 120 MHz refresh rate spec.

DYNAMIC CONTRAST RATIO

In theory important as the higher the ratio the better like some claim 10,000:1 but it might mean they measured it with the TV off – so the numbers don’t really mean anything. Some claim that anything above like 1,400:1 is a lie so perhaps if you reduce whatever number they list by a factor of 10 … or in reality, since we have no real idea how their measurement is seen in real life (it’s suppose to measure how deep and rich the blacks are represented), but in real world conditions, the numbers are essentially meaningless but from a major manufacturer, you can at least presume the higher the ratio the better and compare made up apples to made up apples.

CONNECTORS

The more HDMI inputs and HD component video inputs the better.

Some LCD sets also have DVI inputs if you want to plug in a computer.

TUNER

If you live in a valley like me, whether it comes with a tuner or not is not all that important since without a dish or cable, I get pretty much nothing but if you can receive over the air HD local channels, you definitely want a tuner. HD tuners are listed as ATSC.

QAM tuners allow you to watch unscrambled cable channels (without a cable box)

Some TV’s have Cablecard slots which can be a nice way to go. Instead of paying an extra $10 to $15 a month for an HD converter, all you need is a cablecard from your cable company. By law, they HAVE TO supply you with one – most cost around $2 a month. The only downside is you do NOT get PPV or VOD but it’s a nice way to get the features of an HD converter box without paying as much.

OTHER NUMBERS

Yes, there are other numbers they will throw at you but the really are sort of ‘you get what you pay for’ numbers – if you’re paying $4k for a set, again, in every reputable place, that means the comb filter and other components that affect a picture quality will be better (in addition to the specs I cited earlier) so some you can look and weigh such as power consumption but others like pixel pitch or brightness numbers might be the truth, a little fudge or in some lab setting that has no real life equal. That’s not to say, you can spend much more time exploring and understanding all that but in 99.9% of the case, the less obvious stuff is definitely, ‘you get what you pay for.’

If you can find power consumption numbers, you can weigh the cost in electricity.

AUDIO

Of course, Dolby 5.1 (or better) are important but since you can bypass and supplement with your other AV equipment, it’s listed here as a consideration but for most people, not necessarily a deal breaker.

SUMMARY

There is still one constant – unless you are shopping at Al’s TV Barn off the swamp and behind the bog, you generally do get what you pay for.

Personally, I think DLP leaves too much up in the air with its possible bulb changing requirements – maybe even in the first years of usage (anywhere from 2,000 to 8,000 hours) versus 50,000 or more for most LCD or plasma screens. You can do the math on how much TV you watch and whether you mind the additional $200 to $400 for a bulb … though you could argue for $200, you have a set that’s nearly as bright as when you bought it after you put in a new bulb … so it’s your call. Also note – some are designed to be swapped out by anyone – others require a technician – check to be sure! And of course, will you be able to get at it once your TV is positioned?

If you decide on a non major brand – check your warranty coverage and perhaps choose a credit card that extends that. Do a search on that brand and see what pops up. I know a friend who had a chip go out after 3 years and if you do a search on that brand, up pops up other people complaining about the chip going out also. It’s was $300 for the repair so also weigh that against an extended warranty. If it doesn’t break in 30 days, it’s probably going to last another 2-3 years (at least hopefully) which the extended warranty might expire anyway so decide if it’s better just to spend $300 in 3 years when you need it versus spending $300 on a warranty during the best years of the TV anyway …

If you want anything under 40″, LCD is pretty much your only choice since plasma is not cost competitive there and they have pretty much given up … between 41″ and 50″ is the most competitive marketplace now so you will see the widest swings in price and sales (where you see “2nd tier” or even 3rd tier names) – above 51″ however, are where the big name manufacturers really make money and there’s not as much expertise from the non-big names so prices are more stable and of course, more expensive since there’s less competition.

Then decide if the cost difference between 720p and 1080p is worth it to you.

Make sure there are enough connectors and of course, can you get it into your house?

Everything I’ve noted can be argued both ways and then another 7 ways so no one is right nor wrong. Just decide what size you want and then your budget.

Here is the latest JD power rankings: LCD, 37-49″ and 50-65″.

The flat out best deal on an HDMI cable (from Apple) $19.95 (I’ve seen these selling for $100!).

There’s plenty more reading you can do – especially on the web – just be sure and look at the date – anything from 2006 or older is pretty much out of date. If you are interested in the high end, be sure and check out PERFECT VISION mag. I think they are the best – a nice blend of being spec geeks (testing kelvin temperature) but also realizing that people actually watch TV (many other high end geek mags just seem test the specs and make judgments on that). The offer the new issue as free PDF download plus they also have a AV database – though it’s best to look up specific models versus just random searching.

PROGRAMMING

I think most everyone knows by now but note – when you buy a HD TV, you get exactly ZERO HD channels even if the channel says ESPN HD. If you have a regular cable or satellite box and are not paying extra for the HD package, you are getting plain old old-school SD.

You must upgrade to an HD box to get actual HD.

For people who can get over-the-air reception, you can get an HD antenna to pull in your local stations who are broadcasting in full HD for “free.” The CEA has a map that seems to pretty accurate as to what channels you should be able to pull off the air.

As for choices from cable or satellite? Of course it varies depending on where you live and who your cable provider is. Comcast seems to be the leader when it comes to cable HD with a solid selection of national cable channels (in addition to your local channels) for just the price of an HD converter box over your regular service. Comcast is also very strong in the VIDEO ON DEMAND (VOD) service with lots “free” HD programming ready to view anytime. At the other end, old Adelphia customers are just emerging from bankruptcy and have poor choices. Dish seems to offer the most channels on HD (though not much on demand) though along with channels you’d recognize, you’re also getting channels like KungFu HD. DirecTV has finally added a slew of HD channels. Right now, I’m still sorting through the offers (could they be more confusing) but now DirecTV may be in the lead or a solid alternative to cable.

NEXT

We live in an era where there is no end. While you might stride the Earth with your fancy 1,920 by 1,080p set … they are working on 7,680 × 4,320 … yea, ultra HD so don’t be thinking you have bragging rights for long even if have a 72″ Samsung LCD or Panasonic’s 103″ Plasma that is bigger than 4-40″ plasma’s … (only $70k).

So keep that in mind while shopping. There is always better and cheaper tomorrow so don’t get carried away.

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If you prefer to know where your choice stands – market share wise, here are June 2007 numbers:

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Once you get your set, be sure and check out the what CONNECTORS TO USE GUIDE.

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Filed under Computing, Film, Gadgets, Media, TV, Video Games

Macbook Ultra Portable – When Will It Be Back?

As you might have heard, Apple doesn’t reveal much about future plans 🙂

So, of course, it’s speculation but it will be back at some point when Apple needs a sales boost to the laptop line.

First, they are selling both lines like crazy. The high margin MacBook Pro orders are back-ordered as the new boost in speed and LED screens are a big hit. The even higher margin 17″ hasn’t even switched to the LED screen just yet. The MacBook line is also high rated and selling very well. Apple doesn’t really need the 12″ just yet because a 12″ is really a specialty size and a version that is really more like a 2nd laptop or in auto terms, like a convertible. If the coupe and the sedan are selling well, you can pretty much introduce the convertible at any time and it will sell.

And right now with both lines cranking away, there’s no real point in taking away sales from either line by introducing a 3rd MacBook Pro which would cost money to manufacturer, stock, ship and market (Apple is apparently also selling something called the iPhone).

Because it would have to be priced (as it was as a PB 12″) somewhere between the MacBook and the MB Pro, it would cause some lost 15″ MB Pro sales. Right now, you have to decide – smaller screen & lower price OR much faster processor, faster bus and better screen for $500 extra (the priciest MB versus the lowest priced MB Pro) – many people will just say, okay, for $500, I’ll upgrade to the Pro … but if you had a 12″ version for $200 more than a MB, many people might decide they’d be willing to lose 1.3″ on the screen but get a faster laptop + LED screen (of course, hypothetical) but enough to lose some sales at the higher MB Pro 15″ end and at this point in production, why spend money on another screen size when all it will do is most likely cannibalize sales from the Pro line?

It’s simply better to wait until demand for the 15″ and 17″ stabilize – after selling to most of the base, then add an enticing 12″ version as a second “travel” laptop.

Of course, they might choose to go in an entirely different direction – maybe an iPhone styled portable laptop. What is the right compromise on a screen size? Really, anything larger than a 5″ screen would be too large to use or carry around as a phone – maybe 6″ screen max? Would it have a real keyboard with a flip up screen? HHD or the new mega Flash drives? Would you pay $899 or $999 for that … that would probably be different enough not to really cut into MacBook or MB Pro sales … that would be closer to a 2nd laptop people can use on a plane and then transfer or email over? Buh-bye Win Mobile and RIM?

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Filed under Apple, Apple Mac, Computing, Gadgets, iPhone, Marketing, Media, mobile, Toys

AOL Buys Tacoda

AOL is buying Tacoda for between $200 and $300 million according to reports today. To operate as a wholly owned subsidiary probably to get around the onslaught that will come from such a huge ad network (the largest actually via Advertising.com) buying a BT firm one presumes.

This deal is significant and at $200 million or so will be a steal for AOL. Why? Because Tacoda is one of the largest online firms that focuses on behavioral targeting by tracking web surfers habits (creepy but effective).

So now that Google bought DoubleClick, Microsoft bought aQuantive, Yahoo! nabbed Right Media, and WPP Group snapped up 24/7 Real Media, the online buying and placement landscape just took a big ratchet upwards in the muscle department.

If you thought you heard a sucking sound of print pages before, as soon as next year could turn into a whirlpool of dollars surging out of ‘old media’ and into the new. You read that prediction here first.

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