Archive for the 'Apple' Category

iPhone: a great companion at home too

There is general agreement that 2009 was (finally!) the year of mobile.  And there are many predictions about how important location awareness is going to be in 2010.  Agree with all that and share in the excitement.

But the thing that surprises me about my iPhone is that it has become a great in-home companion for me.  It’s pretty much always by my side or in my pocket.  Here’s some of the things I do with it at home:

  1. It has replaced my watch, my alarm clock and my kitchen timer.  It’s easier to use for all these functions.  It automatically remembers to change time zones when I go from Edmonton to Vancouver.
  2. I use it as a remote to control my Macbook connected to our TV to watch programs I’ve downloaded from iTunes.
  3. I use i.TV to look at TV listings.  I look up the sad statistics on the Edmonton Oilers.  I still check to see when their next game is despite the apparent futility of it all.
  4. I check in on Twitter and Google Reader while having my morning coffee.
  5. I bought my wife a Kindle for Christmas.  This lead to me downloading the iPhone Kindle app.  Now I read books on it too – surprisingly good at this.
  6. I use Skype to make phone calls.  I can wander around the house and make a cup of coffee while on a call.  This is the way Skype was meant to be deployed  (And not to worry – I refrain from using the washroom.)
  7. I get directions to a place before I go out to it.
  8. I look stuff up.  Often.  Weather.  Stock prices.  What something is.  Where some place is.
  9. I listen to music on it (through one of those sound system docks) – most often with
  10. I send and receive email; update or check my schedule; see what’s happening on Facebook.

Let me know in the comments what else you do with your smart phone at home?  I know my son plays games on his while at home.  I do that sometimes as well – but to be honest it’s not a primary use case for me.

I’m thinking there is a lot of ‘untapped’ potential in the smart phone as an ‘in-home companion’.

Welcome to 2010.


5 Ways to Simplify Mobile Reviews

You can never have too much data – especially when it comes to local reviews.  So for developers of local, mobile applications its worth looking for ways to simplify the process of capturing reviews.

So, here’s a list of 5 ways mobile application developers can simplify how a user identifies the business they want to review.  Here’s the scenario I’ll explore: I’ve just had a meal at a restaurant and want to quickly identify the business and give it a review.

1. Use a photograph of the menu

Take a picture of the menu and use software to automatically recognize the restaurant based on the picture.  The SnapTell iPhone application which provides ‘visual product search’ is a good example of this principle in action.   Now, just take that technology and apply it to local reviews.

Also uses: geo-location (GPS, cell-towers, wi-fi) as a hint to the image processor.

The challenge: photographing and tagging all those menus.  The crowds can help you out on this.  Restaurant owners might even be motivated.

2. Use a photograph of a code on the menu

Take a picture of a special code (likely a 2 dimensional bar code) somewhere on the menu.  Probably much more reliable.   You also get to engage the restaurant owner as an active participant in the process.  Google recently issued a patent on this idea.

Also uses: probably doesn’t need much help, a 2-D bar code would probably be reliable by itself.  That’s an advantage.

The challenge: getting restaurant owners to re-print their menus with 2 dimensional bar-codes.

3.  Use the restaurant’s wi-fi or blue-tooth signature

The restaurant could be identified by it’s wi-fi or blue-tooth signature.  You could even have the restaurant owner install a device explicitly for the purpose of being identified.

When the user opens the review application, you automatically present them with the restaurant based on the detected signature.  In a dense urban area, you might present them with a few different options on the screen.

Also uses: presents options to the user and gets confirmation/feedback from them.

The challenge: tagging all those signatures.  But others might be doing that anyway.  This might just become part of the general ‘geo-location’ infra-structure.

4.  Use location assisted auto-complete

The review app could use location-assisted auto-complete to quickly pick the restaurant to review.  Location is determined using GPS, cell-tower location, wi-fi or bluetooth signatures.  The user starts typing name of the restaurant and it auto-completes based on knowledge of place.  In most cases, the user will only have to type a few characters.

Also uses: The keyboard for input and a variety of geo-location technologies.

The challenge: geo-location information sometimes isn’t very accurate, so you need to make sure the auto-completion algorithm casts a wide enough net.  You also need geo-references for all the businesses.  But this one feels ready to implement now.

5.  Use augmented reality

Point your video camera at the outside (or possibly the inside) of the restaurant – see the name of the restaurant on the screen – pick it and enter your review.  Augmented reality is a hot-topic right now.  This one has sizzle, but I’m not sure it’s as practical as some of the other approaches.

Also uses: depends on accurate geo-location and a compass.

The challenge: accurate geo-location and tagged photographs of all those places.

More Reading

All of these suggestions are made possible by exploiting the array of new sensors available on mobile phones – which, as I’ve written previously, is turning them in to the Remote Control for Our Lives.

Recently, Tim O’Reilly has been promoting the idea of Web Squared – the evolution of Web 2.0 made possible (in part) by the sensors in phones.  These five suggestions are  an application of these principles to local reviews.

Apple: Purveyor of Remote Controls for Our Lives

Last week Apple marched on announcing price reductions across the iPod line and various new features.  The highlight was the addition of a camera and FM radio to the iPod Nano.  They high-lighted the importance of the iPod Touch (an iPhone without the phone) as a gaming platform.  The technocrati responded with a collective yawn — since there wasn’t anything sensational announced.


To me it seemed like a well executed release of incremental products as part of a clear long-term strategy: Apple wants to the the dominant supplier of the remote controls for our lives.

Mobile devices allow us to interact with the virtual world while simultaneously interacting in the real world.  In fact, with the coming explosion of Augmented Reality applications – the line between the real world and the virtual one is becoming increasingly blurred.  Mobile devices allow us to consume media, produce media and communicate with people.

In Apple’s case, the original iPod focused on the consumption side of the equation – allowing us to consume first music, then videos.  The ability to further consume media has been expanded to include games and the internet.  What’s more, many applications are creating brand new categories of things for us to consume – like specialized maps and services such as navigation.

Of course, the iPhone also supports the creation of media and communication in many different ways.  Some of these – such as voice and text – are traditional mobile features – while others are again enabled by the App eco-system – think Facebook and Skype.

The iPhone is the all-singing, all-dancing remote for our lives, followed closely by the iPod touch.  But these devices are expensive — so Apple has to provide less capable devices at other price points – at least for the time being.  The thing about technology is that it’s only a matter of time before iPhone capabilities become available at truly mainstream prices.

So, the significance of the new iPod Nano is simply that Apple has expanded this mass market device into one that is now capable of capturing and sharing media as well as consuming it.  In some ways, this can be seen as a pragmatic interim step.  One which extends Apple’s reach as the purveyor of remote controls while holding firm on a well understood price point.

I sometimes wonder why Apple doesn’t introduce more of an ‘entry-level’ iPhone.  I think perhaps the answer is that they don’t have to — they simply have to wait for the economics of silicon to get there instead.  When the time comes, people will gladly ditch their cell phones for a shiny new remote control for their lives.  In the mean time, they can satisfy themselves with Apple’s partial remotes.

Who owns my click stream?

The data we leave behind when using online and mobile services has great value because it can be analyzed to create a comprehensive profile about me.  Such a profile that can be used to give me recommendations — and target relevant advertising to me.  The prospects are both exciting and potentially alarming.

But I wonder — is the collective log of my activities really MY data and should I have more control over what (if anything) is done with it?

What Them Know About Me

Search engines track my searches. Phone companies track my phone calls. Google track my emails. Apple tracks my music listening and purchases. Amazon tracks my book purchases. Linked In knows where I’ve worked, who I’ve worked with and who I know.

Taken together – these crumbs and the crumbs I leave behind in many other places – provide a remarkably comprehensive picture of who I am and what I am doing.

What They Do With It

Their Terms of Service make it clear they own this usage data, but they’ll protect it and not abuse it. And in some cases, they even given me some control over it.

And in general, the convention is that they can use it to serve me better – Amazon recommends books to me and Apple recommends music to me.

And they can use it to deliver advertising to me.  So, Google uses what it ‘reads’ in my email to present me with advertising – sometimes to humorous effect.

But, I don’t think I’ve given them permission to use what they’ve learned about me in one place to serve me somewhere else.  Having said that, there are important and notable exceptions to this: cookies dropped all over the place by advertising platforms being one culprit.  And we don’t really know how much sharing their is among services who have the same corporate owner.

But What’s Possible?

There is a lot more that COULD be done if all my data was consolidated in to a single comprehensive picture.  But, I don’t think people are ready for this.  My conversations with friends ‘outside’ the business, suggest that most people are oblivious to how much data is already being collected.  They are alarmed when I tell them.

So, no, I don’t really want my data being shared and consolidated in some willy-nilly fashion.  Nor do I want these decisions being made behind the closed doors of corporate giants on the basis of services they own or agreements they’ve struck with others.

Instead, I’d like to see this dealt with in a transparent way.

Personally, I think it’s my click-stream.  So, I’d like to have access to it and control over how it gets used.  I WANT to be able to authorize trusted services to use it in specific ways.

We’re headed in to interesting times.

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