All 18 entries tagged Iphone

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September 23, 2010

The "replacement for my iPhone 3G" deliberations continue…

I’ve had my iPhone 3G since day 1. Back in July this year when the iPhone 4 came out I was looking forward to getting something a little better, but ended up being disappointed by how little better the iPhone 4 was compared to its asking price. That started me on a process of looking at alternatives, mostly various Android phones. As I looked, I kept comparing them to my iPhone 3G and coming to the same conclusion. None of them was enough better to justify the cost. Time for some serious thought – what is it my iPhone 3G doesn’t do that means it needs replacing?

I’ve eventually come to the conclusion that there are just two things. First, the iPhone 3G is too slow. Maybe it has always been this slow and I’m just noticing when it is compared to newer devices, or maybe OS upgrades over its 2+ year lifespan have slowed it down? Certainly iOD 4.0 and 4.0.1 had performance issues, but 4.1 is much better. Either way, waiting for apps to open is getting quite frustrating. Waiting for web pages to load is equally frustrating, and that’s down to CPU not network. Some apps just don’t work at all, which I imagine is down to lack of RAM.

The second thing is the lack of storage. I bought the 8GB version, not the 16GB one. 8GB seemed plenty at the time, but now I find myself having to cut back more and more on the music on the device in order to make room for apps and their data.

And that’s it. Everything else about the device, from the lowly 2MP fixed-focus, no-flash camera to the display is fine for me as it is. Yes, better would be, well, better, but I don’t need better. While the various possible replacement phones I have looked at, or would like to look at – HTC Desire, HTC Desire HD, Samsung Galaxy S, Nokia N8 – are all good devices, they are all expensive ways of addressing the problems I actually have.

This is all leading me slowly but surely to the conclusion that what I need is an iPod Touch, combined a MiFi. I liked the Mifi so much when I had one on loan that I might just get one anyway for use with laptops while travelling. That would reduce my iPhone to, well, a phone most of the time, with a few apps still on it for those times I don’t want to carry the touch too. And for things the Touch doesn’t do, like GPS.

A decision is getting close, I think…

January 04, 2010

Playing audio from an iPhone

Pretty much ever since I’ve had my iPhone I’ve had a problem I’ve been looking for a solution for. Having lots of music on the phone is great for personal use – earphones on one sort or another work fine for that. Sometimes, though, I want to share the music (or podcasts, or…) with others, and in several different situations. I’ve found the built-in speaker to be surprisingly loud, and is usable in smallish rooms with a few people so long as there isn’t too much background noise. But sometimes something else is needed and I haven’t really found an ideal solution.

At home I can just connect the iPhone to my existing hi-fi via a cable and that works fine from an audio point of view. Having a cable trailing across the room is less than ideal, though. I’ve tried the Jabra BT3030 as a solution to that. It is a stereo bluetooth headset designed for mobiles, but with a 3.5mm socket for connecting headphones, meaning I can also feed it to my hi-fi. As a wireless headset for an iPhone it has some shortcomings, but for this application the main problem is that the audio quality isn’t quite good enough.

I’ve also tried the Griffin iTrip (thanks, Santa!). This is a much better solution all around, apart from one little detail. The range is irritatingly short. More than a couple of metres away and the signal starts to break up. The Griffin website claims a range of 9m. I don’t get anywhere near that. And anyway, it seems that not everywhere I want to do this has a conveniently located FM radio capable device. A decent enough portable FM radio isn’t hard to come by, though, so this is my current best solution to the problem.

Does anyone else have the need to play audio from an iPhone/iPod in a portable way without spending a fortune? There must be a better solution out there somewhere. Do decent bluetooth speakers exist? Bluetooth appears to have a longer range than the iTrip…

August 17, 2009

A comparison of the iPhone and Windows versions of autostitch

I’ve been a big fan of Autostitch for ages now. I’ve always found creating panoramas by hand very difficult and extremely time consuming, so I never really got into it. Autostitch automates the whole process. You just throw a collection of photos at it and it does the rest. You don’t even need to tell it the order – it figures that out by itself and does all the blending for you to hide the joins. There are times when it doesn’t do a brilliant job but most of the time it does at least as good a job as I could have done by hand, and it does it far faster and with almost zero effort.

Then along came the iPhone version and I bought it instantly. I didn’t really expect it to do such a good job as the Windows version but actually I’ve been surprised at how good it is. Here’s a quick comparison. These two panoramas were created from the same set of three images taken in the iPhone. The first was done by autostitch on the iphone itself and the second by autostitch on Windows:

Hastings beach

iPhone version

Hastings beach

Windows version

It is actually quite hard to choose the better of those two. They each have good and bad points. Fairly obviously the Windows version hasn’t managed to blend the exposures very well. Because I was shooting into the sun, and the iPhone camera is completely automatic, the exposures were not consistent across the three images. The iPhone version of autostitch has handled that very well while the Windows version has pretty much failed miserably. I could even the exposures by hand first to help it out, and the result would then be much better.

However, the Windows version has matched the images up much better. If you click on the images to zoom in, you’ll see quite a lot of ghosting on the iPhone version where the separate images haven’t been properly matched up. I guess that’s where all the processing work is needed, and so where they’ve cut a few corners to get the iPhone version working at an acceptable speed. I hope they improve this in future as it really is the whole point of autostitch in the first place!

The other disappointment with the Iphone version is that the resolution of the output image is lower than I’d like. By the time the image is neatly cropped it is less than 1MP while the Windows version comes out at 2.5MP. I’m not sure of this is a limitation of the iPhone OS, or autostitch, or me not using it right. More investigation required…

Overall I’m really impressed with how good a job the iPhone version of autostitch does, and I’m happy to have paid £1.20 for it. A little bit of work on the image matching, and the ability to get higher resolution results, and it will be perfect…

August 04, 2009

Another unexpected use for Dropbox

Writing about web page

I’ve been using a free Dropbox account for a while now, as a backup mechanism for some of my important stuff from both work and home. With only 2GB of storage I couldn’t hold everything in there but it was still very useful. A little while ago I finally decided it made sense to upgrade to a 50GB account and use it to backup my digital photo collection and some other stuff. I don’t take a huge number of photos so 50GB was more than enough. I’ve also ended up putting my iTunes library in there.

And that’s where this new use comes in. As well as copying and synchronising files between my various PCs, it makes them all available via a web interface so you can get to them from anywhere. There’s also a nice iPhone optimised version of its website. So, now I’ve got access to my entire iTunes library via Dropbox, even those tracks I don’t sync to the phone itself. Obviously I need a working data connection, and it only plays a track at a time, but still it turns out to be very useful.

Dropbox already provide a nice interface for viewing photos via the iPhone web site. I wonder if they could provide a nicer interface to music, too?

If you fancy trying dropbox, even with just a free account, drop me an email and I’ll send you an invite. You can sign up directly but doing it through an invite gets both of us some extra space for free…

June 25, 2009

TweetDeck for the iPhone

I’ve been a user of TweetDeck on my PC for a long time. As long as it has been around maybe? I’m not sure exactly when I started. I love it. I can’t imagine using Twitter without it. It makes it possible to keep up with hundreds of users without spending all my time doing it. I divide up my followees into groups. For some, generally people I know in person, I want to try and read their tweets as they come in. For others, people I only know from Twitter or news feeds and other bots, I’m happy to catch up less often. Then I keep TweetDeck running and watch the alerts. If tweets pop up in appropriate groups I’ll open up TweetDeck to read them, otherwise I’ll leave them for later. This way I can keep up-to-date in real time with people I care about while still getting some work done.

For almost as long as I’ve been using TweetDeck on my PC I’ve wanted an iPhone version. To have all the same functionality in a mobile format would be awesome. When such a thing was announced last week I couldn’t wait to try it. Not only was there an iPhone version but it synchronised groups with my PC installation. Perfect!

Except, it turns out I use Twitter differently on my phone. I don’t have it running all the time while doing other things. When I open up a Twitter client on my phone it is because I want to spend a few minutes catching up. I have the time to read everything. I don’t need my followees in groups – i just want to read everything. Groups actually get in the way. So I’m back to reading just my “All Friends” stream and ignoring the other groups.

Don’t get me wrong. TweetDeck for the iPhone is a great app. It makes great use of the iPhone screen and gestures. It might even be nicer to use than the PC version. Multi-account support is really useful. And it looks great. It is just that the feature I thought I really, really wanted turns out to be a feature I don’t actually use. Of course, what’s true for me may not be true for you. I already know of one person with exactly the opposite experience. They love TweetDeck on the iPhone but don’t use it at all on a desktop/laptop, preferring the single stream produced by something like twhirl.

The lesson for me here is that mobile and desktop platforms are different and we use them differently. What works brilliantly on one might not be so great on the other.

May 19, 2009

iPhones and data use…

One of the attractions of O2’s contract pricing for the iPhone in the UK was the including of “unlimited” data. I wanted to be able to use the phone to the full without worrying about unexpectly large bills. Yes, there’s a fair use policy, but I assumed that given that the device is clearly intended as an “always on” internet device Apple would have persuaded O2 to be generous. I’ve certainly not heard of anybody being stung by O2 for using too much data. Part of that, I’m sure, is because of the restrictions Apple and the carriers have put on data-intensive apps (streaming video mostly), which only work on WiFi connections.

I also assumed that using an iPhone as intended would result in the consumption of lots of data, so an “unlimited” plan made a lot of sense. I’ve never really check that, though, until now. I’ve just gone back over my last few bills – O2 itemise my data usage on a daily basis. I seem to average only about 100MB of data transfer, and my highest has been 250MB. That’s a lot lower than I expected. At home I’m using WiFi the whole time, which obviously helps. During the day at work I don’t. Thanks to a combination of the iPhone’s irritating VPN behaviour and the WiFi setup here, it is just too inconvenient and I have a 3G signal at my desk anyway.

What prompted me to look at this is a rumour that AT&T in the US might be looking at reduced pricing for “capped” data plans. With my current usage, if O2 did the same here that might be a quite attractive option. For now at least, 1GB, or even 0.5GB would be fine.

If ever video streaming over 3G is allowed, though, everything will change. I would occasionally watch BBC iPlayer content over 3G if it was possible. Especially if streaming live TV was supported. An experiment a couple of months ago showed that an hour’s iPhone-optimised iPlayer content results in about 100MB of data. That could add up quickly.

December 08, 2008

iPhone GPS reliability

There are several fitness-related apps out there now for the iPhone that record running, cycling or other activities and sync them to a website where you can do further analysis, get monthly totals, etc. GPS Tracker, Trailguru and RunKeeper are three such apps I’ve played with recently while out cycling. I like to record every cycle journey and calculate statistics about them, and so these apps should be perfect for me.

The problem is, I can’t rely on them. My cycle computer records every journey consistently. Over the same route I get the same distance recorded, to within a hundredth of a mile, every single time. Every. Single. Time. A GPS track seems to vary in length a little more than that, but not enough to be too much of a problem. The problem is, I don’t always get a complete GPS track recorded. The iPhone seems to loose satellite lock too easily. Take today’s route as an example:

The straight line from Balsall Common to Burton Green should follow the road, but doesn’t. Instead it leaps straight from the A452 to Cromwell Lane for a little while before leaping again straight to University House. There’s not a lot of tree cover on those roads. Less that at other points on the route. Based on my experiments so far, this sort of thing happens on about 25% of my rides. For my purposes, that’s just useless. I carry the phone in the back pocket of my cycling jacket so it should have a reasonable view of the sky.

All the apps I’ve tried do this occasionally, so it seems it has to be the hardware. I’ve also got a fairly basic Garmin handheld GPSr (a Geko 201) that has never done this on a cycle ride. It does lose satellite lock when walking in woods, but on the roads it never does. Does the Garmin have better a GPS receiver than the iPhone. I thought not, but the evidence says otherwise.

As much as I’d love to record every cycle route this way, there’s just no point if it is going to be so unreliable. Sigh…

Addendum: I don’t remember any such problems when using SportsTracker on Nokia devices, over some of the same routes even. Indeed the Nokia E71 I had on trial a little while ago managed to correctly record the whole of the 68 mile MacRide I did back in September. Not a glitch. Maybe I should be hoping that Nokia manage to come up with an iPhone-killer by the time my iPhone contract is up? Christmas 2009 would be perfect timing…:-)

October 15, 2008

How much storage does an "always connected" device need?

One of the reasons I bought the iPhone was to explore new opportunities made possible by an “always connected” device. Of course an iPhone isn’t always connected. There are coverage black holes around, and places where wireless data just isn’t allowed – eg planes and hospitals. But so far, for me at least, “almost always connected” is a good description.

Given that, there are some implications for what I hold on the device. I have a lot of music on it, but frankly rarely listen to it. Instead I find myself mostly listening to these days. There are only a few circumstances when that doesn’t work:
  • No coverage, obviously
  • Only 2G coverage. is rubbish on GPRS/EDGE. It is fine on 3G though.
  • Abroad, when mobile data is just too expensive to use.
  • When I want to use another app, like now when listening to music while writing a blog entry.

There’s also an app called SimplifyMedia that let’s me play music from the iTunes library on my PC by downloading it over the air. Obviously the PC needs to be on, and I need coverage as above. But it means I can play specific tracks not just what chooses for me, even if they aren’t physically on the iPhone.

So, I do need some music on the device for those circumstances where the above apps don’t work, but nowhere near as much as I currently have.

Similarly for photos, I can put them in Picasa or Flickr and view them over the air rather than storing them on the iPhone.

I only bought an 8GB iPhone but thought long and hard about getting the 16GB one. Now, 8GB seems like too much! I’m sure, though, I’ll find other ways of using it all. For example, I wish I could download stuff from the BBC iPlayer to the iPhone to watch when I’m away from WiFi. Maybe one day.

Life in the cloud is fun!

October 08, 2008

What the iPhone needs next…

I’ve had the device for almost three months now, using it as my only phone and portable internet device, so by now I’ve formed a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t for me. On the whole, I like the device a lot, and pretty much everything about it is just right. I have just three main items on my “wish list”.

  • Copy and Paste: Until recently I didn’t really have a need for this. It is undeniably wrong that Apple don’t provide this functionality, but I didn’t miss it at all. Until I started using twitterific and wanted to copy URLs from safari into twitterific. And now I find the lack of copy/paste really frustrating.
  • Flash: I know some people think the lack of flash is a good thing, but I don’t. Most video is presented on the web through Flash, and I’d quite like to be able to watch it on my iPhone. Especially the live streaming of terrestrial TV channels. There’s more to online video than YouTube…
  • Background Applications: Using social networking apps on the move is frustrating when you need to have the app in the foreground for it to work. I’d like twitterific to run in the background and beep when new tweets come in. I’d like Fring to be able to take incoming VoIP calls. I’d like Palringo to be able to tell me when somebody wants to chat. All at once. Social networking will work much better when apps can get notification of incoming messages and do the appropriate thing.

These aren’t the only problems with the iPhone by any means, but they are the ones that annoy me most at the moment.

October 06, 2008

Fring on the iPhone

Follow-up to VOIP on the iPhone from Steve's blog

And finally Fring appeared in the app store last week. It talks Skype and SIP as well as the usual set of IM protocols, and it works pretty well. I immediately fed it the details of my Sipgate account and it worked first time, both for outgoing calls and incoming. Sipgate give you a geographical number (a Coventry number in my case, although you get a choice) with your account so people can call you on it whereever you happen to be. So, the “keeping in touch while abroad” problem just got easier still, because I can be called from home via a number that’s free from our BT line.

Of course, there are the usual iPhone limitations. Namely, fring won’t run in the background so incoming calls only work while the app is in the foreground, and thanks mobile carrier fussiness it only works over WiFi links when 3G would work perfectly well. The same limitations apply to TruPhone too, of course.

Still, despite those limitations, both apps should make keeping in touch while travelling a much less costly venture.

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