Category: Breaking News

Facebook Mail: the next step in world domination?

facebook-mailSo here’s something that should come as virtually no surprise to anyone who has marveled at Facebook’s stunning growth and popularity: according to tech blog TechCrunch, the 500 million + member social network will announce on Monday that they are launching their own email platform to compete with Google, Yahoo! and the old stalwart, Hotmail er, Windows Live Mail.

As impactful as such a move will no doubt be, for a massive number of Gen-Y’ers it may elicit little more than a “whatever”. That’s because Facebook has already become their de-facto messaging platform. Yes, they have gmail accounts or other web-based email solutions that they use for traditional correspondence, but wall posts, status updates and private messaging within the existing Facebook ecosystem has largely replaced basic email, which for some has become passé.

So why would Facebook want its own email solution? Well, other than giving the rest of their membership with a reason to conduct even more of their online lives within Facebook’s walls, Gizmodo points out that Facebook knows so much about its members interests and activities and friendships that they alone will be able to enhance the email experience beyond simple threaded conversations into something much more meaningful.

The influence being wielded by Facebook and to a lesser extent Twitter is huge, especially in the hardware and web-services development community. Marc Andreesen’s latest venture (he’s the guy who started Netscape) is a new web browser based on Google’s Chrome called RockMelt. RockMelt won’t even run without being signed into Facebook, and its goal is to merge your social and web-surfing experiences into a single application. If this idea takes off, it probably won’t be long before we see Facebook launch its own browser, an idea that has already received wide speculation.

So readers, if Monday does indeed bring us the advent of Facebook email platform, will you be jumping on-board and dumping your current email provider, or is the idea of having that much of your life in one place just too freaky?


Facebook iPhone app update trashes album uploads

The home screen of Facebook's latest iPhone app. Where's the camera? Click to enlarge.

The home screen of Facebook's latest iPhone app. Where's the camera? Click to enlarge.

I admit, in the grand scheme of things, this is a trivial issue – a minor bump in the road and I should probably just stop writing and enjoy my Friday.

But I can’t.

As a new iPhone 4 user, and as someone who has recently decided to upload a photo a day to his Facebook account, I’m irked. Here’s the problem: it seems that the new version of Facebook for the iPhone has a bug. It no longer lets you decide where you want to upload your photos to – such as a specific album. Instead, your photos all go to the “Mobile Uploads” album whether you like it or not. Moreover, adding photos is now a buried feature instead of being available straight from the homepage of the app.

I’ve found a few other people who are frustrated as well, and one of them suggested that deleting and reinstalling the app would bring back the album upload. No such luck.

I can’t imagine why Facebook would want to take such a big step back with their app, especially given their increasing focus on the mobile world.

Here’s hoping they come to their senses and fix this bug… I have Movember photos that I want to share… but not with the whole world ;-)

Facebook launches Places in Canada

Facebook's Logo for Places

Facebook's Logo for Places

Good news all of you Facebooking Canadians – and I know that’s almost all of you – Facebook Places has just launched here. In case you haven’t been following the launch in the U.S., in a nutshell, Places is a new feature that lets you perform a “check-in” similar to services like FourSquare and Gowalla. The idea being that if you like sharing everything about your life on Facebook, maybe you’d like to share where you are at any given point in time.

Sounds great? Sounds a little scary? You’re probably right. I’m not a big fan of these check-in services yet – but mainly because I suspect none of my friends really care that much if I’m parking my car and headed into Tim Horton’s for my morning cup of joe. That said, if Tim Horton’s cares, and wants to reward me for my continued loyalty by making some of those cups of coffee free, well heck, I might just become a Places fan. Maybe. Of course Marc makes a really good point that you should always think twice before telling the whole world you’re not at home.

For all the details, I’m going to pass it over to the official Facebook announcement (and their How-To Video) since there’s just far too much info here and I think they’ve done a good job at communicating the key points….

A sample of Facebook Places on an iPhone

Facebook Places interface on an iPhone

Lots of people were already sharing their location with friends via their status updates (‘I’m at the CN Tower with Kelly’). Facebook Places just makes this easier, more consistent and more social.
Why use Facebook Places?

·         To share where you are with friends

·         To find friends who are nearby

·         To help you discover new places of interest, recommended by your friends

When would you use Facebook Places?

a.       Student heading to university for the first time

So you’re starting university and you’ll find that, in a very short space of time, you’ll meet lots of new friends. Your Facebook friend count will shoot up! When you’re in your halls of residence it might be easy to find your new friends and hang out with them, but how about on campus?

·         You check in to the biology department building on campus at lunchtime. Your neighbour from residence has checked in at the history building next door. You can send them a message and arrange to meet for lunch.

·         Check in at the library to let your new course friends know that you’re picking up the required reading for your first lecture. You see that Josh and Amy from your seminar class are also checked in at the library and appear as ‘Here Now’. You can arrange to get together to share thoughts.

·         Check in and tag your friends at the pub, does anyone else want to join?

·         You really wanted to go out tonight but your new roommates are staying in. You see that your some fellow students have just ‘checked in’ at a bar downtown so you send them a quick message and decide to head over and join them instead. 

b.      Young professional

You’re a busy, young professional, based in a bustling city. You work hard and want to make the most of your free time with friends and family.

·         You check in at a conference and see that a key contact for your business is there as well. She mentions that she’s grabbing a coffee in the café so you can head over to meet her there.

·         You check in and tag your team from work at a local bar so that colleagues from other departments can come and meet you for that post-work drink

·         You’re at the local pub to watch Sunday’s big game on the big screen, and see that a friend of yours has checked in at the pub up the road which he says has the biggest screens you’ll ever see. Not only have you found out that your friend is close by so you can arrange to meet up, but you’ve been given a great recommendation

How does Facebook Places work?

From your iPhone:

·         Make sure you have downloaded the latest version of the Facebook application for iPhone

·         Click on the Places icon within the Facebook application (centre of the screen) and allow the application to use your location when prompted so that it can show you nearby places

·         Choose the place that matches where you are. Or, if there isn’t one already, create a new one

·         Tap the ‘Check in’ button to share that you’re at this place

·         You can also choose to add more details about what you’re doing there or why you like it

·         You might also want to tag friends that are with you. Be aware that you can only tag others if you are checking in too and only if their privacy settings allow you to

·         In the ‘People Here Now’ section, you can see who else is checked in at that place (this section is visible for a limited amount of time and only to people who are checked in there, or you can opt out of appearing there all together)

Places is also available through, on any phone that supports HTML5 and geo location.  

Where does it appear when I ‘Check in’?

When you ‘Check in’ at say, the library, your check in appears:

·         On your Wall

·         Depending on your privacy settings, on the news feed of your friends

·         On the Places page in the ‘People Here Now’ section (as long as your privacy settings allow) and in the ‘Recent Activity’ section, visible only to friends and others you allow to see your recent activities when they visit the Places page

Why can people tag me?

When people do things, whether that is going to the pub or to the movies, they will usually do it with friends. When friends want to see what you’ve been up to they usually want to see who you’ve been doing it with.  For example, if your photos had just you in them they wouldn’t be nearly so interesting! Tagging is what makes them so interesting.  It makes sense to extend this to Places as it makes the whole process more fun and engaging. 

Where does it appear when a friend tags me?

If your friend checks you in somewhere and you have already accepted check ins (by previously checking into a place yourself, or allowing others to check you in) the check in will appear:

·         On your Wall and in your News Feed

·         On the Wall of the person who tagged you as well as their News Feed (according to the set privacy controls)

·         On the Places page

o   You may appear in the ‘Here Now’ and ‘Friend’s activity’ sections of the place page (Only people currently checked into the same place will see the ‘Here Now’ section and only people you and your friends allow to access your updates will be able to see the ‘Friend’s activity’ section and only if they navigate to the place page)

If you‘ve never interacted with Places, or you have been tagged and clicked “Not Now”, here’s what happens when a friend tags you:

·         The post shows up on the Wall of the friend who tagged you, subject to his or her privacy settings (it will not appear on your Wall).

·         In the Recent Activity on the Place Page (visible only to the tagger’s friends)

·         You DO NOT appear in the Here Now section on the Place Page

·         You DO NOT show up in the “Friends Who Have Visited” on the Place Page on

·         Additionally, no location data will be associated with your name. 

I’m a bit worried about who can see where I am if my friends and I are using Facebook Places. What can I do to keep this private?

·         Facebook Places is an optional service, you have to actively start using it and ‘Check in’ for it to appear on your profile

·         People can tag you just as they can with photos, but you have to give approval to be CHECKED IN. 

·         Your ‘Check ins’ are visible to your ‘Friends only’ unless you have your master control set to ‘Everyone’, in which case Places will default to ‘Everyone’, in line with your explicit desire to share things more broadly (you can be even more restrictive than ’friends only’ if you want to and select just certain people to share with)

·         You have to actively allow people to check you in and can remove this from your profile via your computer or your mobile

·         If you do not want anyone to see you have been tagged at a place, you can turn off the ability for your friends to tag you from your privacy settings under “Allow friends to check me in” setting.

·         If you prefer not to appear in the ‘People Here Now’ section on a place page after you check in, you can uncheck the appropriate box in your privacy controls

Bell TV Launches Video On Demand, 1080p Hi-Def Movies

bell-TV-video-on-demandIn the ultra-competitive world of TV distribution, particularly here in Canada, the big battle has been waged predominantly between cable and satellite providers. Cable companies traditionally speak of their advantage over satellite in areas like reliability, Video on Demand (VOD) and quick channel-changes. Satellite for its part makes claims around superior picture quality and geographic coverage.

Today however, the landscape has changed yet again, with Bell TV announcing that it has launched satellite-based VOD  – a first of its kind in Canada.

Typically, satellite customers have been able to order scheduled Pay Per View programming, but the infrastructure needed to handle true real-time access to videos on demand hasn’t been available. Now, not only is VOD possible, the movies are being made available in what’s known as “Full HD” or 1080p, meaning that these movies are being streamed at the equivalent of Blu-ray quality. By way of comparison, all broadcast HD programming on cable and satellite is typically done in 720p – slightly less than half the resolution of 1080p. This is the first time 1080p has been made available in Canada. If you’ve been resisting the call of Blu-ray so far, Bell TV’s offering may mean you can forego that purchase altogether.

As of this announcement, the selection of available VOD content was slim – only 10 movies. However, if the selection of content on Bell’s IPTV product – Fibe TV – is any indicator, many more movies and shows should be available soon. According to Bell, new titles will be “made available every week.”

To access Bell TV’s VOD service (see their FAQ here), you’ll need one of their HD PVRs – either the 9242 or the 9241.  To enjoy the full HD 1080p signal, you’ll need to have one of these PVRs connected to a 1080p-capable HDTV. No word yet whether Bell will extend the service to their PVR-capable 6131 HD receivers.

Update: As one of the commenters pointed out below, these receivers only show two HD options: 720p and 1080i. So how does one achieve full 1080p? The answer from Bell is:

The set top box automatically overrides the existing setting and outputs at 1080p. The output settings will include 1080p in the future when there is 1080p broadcast available.

Movies cost $6.99 per title for up to 48-hour access, and are available instantly by remote control on channel 1000 or by calling 1-866-68 ORDER.

Disclosure: Sync is owned and operated by Bell Canada.

Apple's Music Event: Some hits, some misses

As is typical before any Apple event, there was plenty of buzz in the rumour mill around what Steve Jobs would be presenting. Wireless syncing with iTunes, an Apple HDTV, even a cloud-based model for music subscriptions. None of these predictions materialised but that doesn’t mean there weren’t a few surprises…

Apple iOS 4

Apple iOS 4

Product: Update of iOS to 4.1

Price: Free to owners of iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad

Launch date: Week of September 6th

What’s new: Upload of HD video to YouTube via WiFi, HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photos, GameCenter, iTunes TV Show Rentals*, iTunes Ping

What We Think: Obviously more features on an OS is a great thing as long as it doesn’t come at a cost (either in $$ or performance) and iOS 4.1 hits on both counts. Gamers will love GameCenter’s ability to match them up with other players in real-time similar to Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network. Shutterbugs will appreciate the addition of HDR capability – it’s a clever trick that makes photos look better by combining three different exposures into one image. Typically this is something that had to be done on a computer using programs like Photoshop, so having it built-in is a great feature. But be wary – HDR photos can often look unnatural so some experimentation will likely be needed. Thankfully the OS keeps a copy of the non-HDR image too in case you prefer it. We’ll get to the iTunes features in a moment.

Apple iOS 4

Apple iOS 4

Product: Update of iOS to 4.2

Price: Free (we think) to owners of iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad

Launch date: Later this year

What’s new: Print Center, AirPlay

What We Think: While we really wish that WiFi Sync to iTunes had made it into this release, being able to print wirelessly from the iPad etc, makes a ton of sense, especially given the number of printers that are being sold with built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. AirPlay is the new name for AirTunes – Apple’s feature that lets you stream your music wirelessly across your network from an iTunes-equipped PC or Mac. The new name reflects the fact that now you can stream more than just music: Photos and videos have been added and this will tie-in nicely with the new Apple TV (see more on this later). While some third party apps e.g. AirVideo let you stream from your computer to any device that has the client installed (even over the net), getting that content onto a TV hasn’t been especially easy or intuitive. We’re curious to see if Apple encounters any legal hassles around the name AirPlay as it is already in use by another software company.

iPod Shuffle 4th Generation (click for larger image)

iPod Shuffle 4th Generation (click for larger image)

Product: iPod Shuffle (4th gen) 2GB

Price: $59 CDN

Launch date: Week of September 6th

What’s new: External buttons, dedicated VoiceOver button, support for Genius mixes

What We Think: When Apple launched the 3rd generation of the iPod Shuffle last year, they proved just how small you could make a portable music player. Turns out the tiny, button-less form factor may have been a little too small for some people. The 4th gen Shuffle grows in the size department, but brings back the circular button layout from the 2nd generation without going back to the 2nd’s  dimensions. You don’t often see Apple acknowledge that they made a poor design choice, but it’s clear from this new (old) design that that’s exactly what happened a year ago. On the good side, Apple hasn’t brought back the awkward charging/syncing cradle that came with the 2nd gen Shuffle, instead opting for the 3rd gen’s simple USB-to-minijack cable. On the bad side, the Shuffle no longer ships with remote-control earbuds from the 3rd gen version. As someone who uses the 3rd gen regularly, I’ve become addicted to simply reaching for my remote to change tracks and volume. I’m sad to see this return to optional accessory status.

iPod nano 6th Generation (click for larger image)

iPod nano 6th Generation (click for larger image)

Product: iPod nano (6th gen) 8GB and 16GB models

Price: $159 CDN (8GB) / $189 CDN (16GB)

Launch date: Week of September 6th

What’s new: Tiny form factor, built-in clip, multi-touch display, top-mounted buttons for sleep/wake and volume.

What We Think: The latest nano is a drastic departure from the previous generations of this much loved music player. Gone are the iconic circular controls, replaced by a touch-sensitive screen. Gone is the built-in VGA camera. Gone (presumably) are any iPod games that required a click-wheel. Could this be a case of Apple’s designers ignoring the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”  I’m a big fan of multi-touch – it works spectacularly on the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad – all of which are devices intended to run multiple apps, surf the web and handle tasks like email. So which of these abilities come with multi-touch on the nano? None. Getting rid of the click wheel means that there is no way to navigate forward and backward through your tracks without looking at the screen. I always keep my iPod in my pocket when working out, and being able to press on the sides of the clickwheel through the fabric of my pants is something I don’t want to give up. Though there is bound to be an initial wow factor to this design choice, and the built-in clip is going to appeal to folks who don’t like stowing their iPod in their pocket, I’m not convinced that enough has been gained through these tweaks to justify doing away with the click-wheel. My advice: Unless you value a small size over features, look for lower prices on any remaining 5th gen nanos – you’ll be getting way more bang for your portable player buck.

iPod Touch 3rd Generation (click for larger image)

iPod Touch 3rd Generation (click for larger image)

Product: iPod Touch (3rd gen) 8/16/32 GB

Price: $249/$319/$429 CDN

Launch date: Week of September 6th

What’s new: Retina display, front and rear-facing cameras, A4 chip, slimmer design, 3-axis gyro, Wi-Fi geo-tagging of photos and video, FaceTime

What We Think: The iPod Touch just keeps getting better. The iPhone 4-inspired dual cameras turn the already super-versatile device into an HD camcorder while the new internal gyroscope will extend what game designers are able to do with the Touch as a gaming platform. What perplexes us is the choice to put a low resolution sensor in the rear-facing camera. The iPhone 4 has a 5-megapixel sensor which is the digital camera sweet-spot: enough resolution for high-quality prints and even some enlarging and cropping. The new iPod Touch maxes out at 960×720 for still photos – good for Facebook sharing, but that’s about it. It’s hard to understand what the rationale was for this decision. Were they concerned that a better camera would eat into iPhone 4 sales? Unlikely. Despite their similarities, the two devices are still very different. Was it cost? Again, it seems unlikely given how inexpensive camera sensors have become. Perhaps Apple was merely content to give companies like Cisco (with their popular Flip Video camcorders) some competition. With the inclusion of Wi-Fi uploading to YouTube in iOS 4.1, and built-in clip trimming, the new iPod Touch leaps ahead of the Flip in terms of on-board capabilities. The inclusion of FaceTime is a natural choice as it expands the video-calling feature to a much larger audience than it would have with the iPhone 4 alone. The real question is: when will Apple expand FaceTime to all computers with webcams? I’ll be looking for this in the next release of iTunes or QuickTime.

iTunes 10

iTunes 10

Product: iTunes 10

Price: Free

Launch Date: Available now

What’s new: Updated interface, Ping social network, a new icon, new pricing on movies and TV shows.

What We Think: iTunes is a love or hate proposition for a lot of folks. While it runs well on newer computers, older machines – especially PCs – are slowed to a crawl by the program’s massive footprint and accessory processes that it installs (including QuickTime, Apple’s proprietary video software). But if you own an i-thing, it’s probably installed on your machine and you probably use it for managing your digital library and syncing to your device, even if you don’t use it to buy music. This latest version of iTunes may not offer any performance improvements, but it does include Apple’s first and very bold move into the world of social networking. iTunes Ping is the name they’ve given to a service that lets iTunes users share their favourite music and concerts with friends. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Microsoft executed this exact strategy with their Zune players…. Remember “Welcome to the Social”? Yup. That’s pretty much what iTunes Ping is all about. You can use Ping from within iTunes on your computer, or on your iPhone or iPod Touch. Apple claims that security and privacy will be very effective and simple to use (which was a bit of a dig at Facebook’s famously complex privacy scheme). While I’m not convinced that Ping is going to take off (how many social networks do we really need?) I’ve been wrong about theses things before :-)

A much more significant announcement in my opinion is the new pricing structure on HD movies and TV shows. $5.99 CDN is the price of 48 hour rental of a movie. The bad news here is that there are still no TV show options for Canadians. Americans get shows from ABC and FOX for $.99 USD an episode.

Apple TV 2nd Generation (click for larger image)

Apple TV 2nd Generation (click for larger image)

Product: Apple TV (2nd Gen)

Price: $119 CDN

Launch date: Late September, pre-order today

What’s new: Tiny footprint, black colour scheme, no hard-drive, new UI, streaming of content from any iTunes computer, or from the iTunes store, or from Netflix, YouTube, Internet Radio, Flickr, MobileMe.

What We Think: Most people agree: Apple’s first kick at the can in the living room sphere was mediocre at best. Apple TV was a good idea, but not especially attractive given the price, the competition and the limitations. This time around they’ve gone back to the drawing board and completely reinvented the “hobby” device from the ground up. The new Apple TV is tiny – not much bigger than a couple of packs of playing cards. It runs silently (no fan) and sips power – two things that customers said they valued. This little black box is effectively a media-streamer, but as is typical of Apple, a media-streamer that only plays nicely with Apple-approved content formats.

These formats are:

Audio: MP3, AIFF, WAV and AAC audio (the music format used by the iTunes store)


Video: H.264, MPEG4, MotionJPEG

To really get a sense of what this new version of Apple TV is all about, you need to understand what it can and can’t do, because it might make the difference between buying it, and waiting for something else to come along.

What it can do:

Apple TV is the ultimate iTunes companion. Any content you have within your iTunes library on your Mac or PC can streamed to Apple TV over Wi-Fi or Ethernet.

It can track your favourite TV shows and let you know if you’ve missed any episodes and then let you rent them (but not in Canada yet).

You can rent HD  movies directly from the iTunes Store. You get 30 days to start watching and then as many plays as you like within 24 hours of starting the movie.

You get direct access to Netflix (which is launching in Canada this fall) so if you plan to become a Netflix member, Apple TV is probably a must-have purchase. In fact, Netflix, if you’re reading this, you should consider offering members a free Apple TV if they sign a three-year contract, just like the mobile carriers underwrite the cost of cellphones.

Instant access to photos on Flickr (and hopefully Picasa one day) makes it the biggest photoframe in your house. Access to YouTube means no longer having to gather around the laptop – this will be great for get-togethers (you know the kind where everyone seems to know of at least one clip that “you’ve got to see”).

You can remotely control your Apple TV from an iPod Touch, iPad or iPhone.

Swiping, pinching, un-pinching are all valid ways to control Apple TV, and will probably be more fun that using the included remote. Better yet, with the upcoming release of iOS 4.2 (and the previously mentioned AirPlay update) you can stream any content from your iPod Touch, iPad or iPhone directly to AppleTV.

What it can’t do:

Though Apple TV can stream every file that iTunes recognizes, there are still plenty of files that iTunes doesn’t recognize including WMV, MKV, DivX, xvid and other AVI formats. Likewise for lesser-known audio formats such as FLAC, OggVorbis, and RealAudio. If you’ve never strayed far from iTunes as your primary way of discovering, organizing and buying audio and video, this isn’t going to bother you at all. But if you’ve already spent considerable time and money building a library of content in these non-Apple-endorsed formats (Bittorrent people, I’m looking at you), Apple TV comes as a big disappointment.

Apple TV can’t access USB drives, disc-based media, Network Attached Storage (NAS) or content on your Mac/PC that isn’t recognized by iTunes. The only exception to this might be Apple’s own NAS product – Time Capsule. As of the writing of this post, I couldn’t find any information on this on either the Apple TV or Time Capsule product pages.

Apple TV is powered by Apple’s incredible A4 chip – the same brains that now control most of Apple’s products with the exception of their Mac computers and the lower-end iPods. So that means it is more than capable of running iOS. But no mention has been made of Apple TV running this platform. Given the enormous success that Apple has had turning the iPod Touch and iPhone into gaming platforms, why have they neglected to include Apple TV, the one device built specifically to connect to an HDTV, in this potentially massive gaming ecosystem? One might guess that they are merely waiting to gauge excitement levels (and adoption levels) of this new product before updating it with iOS, but if that were so, why didn’t Apple include Bluetooth on the Apple TV? Infra-red is useless for all but basic remote commands, while Wi-Fi seems an odd choice of interface when all 3 of the major game consoles use Bluetooth (or a related technology) for their remote controllers. And yet, as we mentioned before, the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch can all operate the Apple TV via Wi-Fi, so maybe there’s hope yet. At $119, Apple TV would be the least expensive way for people to add a gaming system to their TV.

So that’s what was announced, and you know where we stand. What was your take on Apple’s latest round of gadget goodies? Can’t wait to buy or disappointed by what was revealed? Let us know…

Smartphone players annoyed by Apple's response to "Antennagate"

An image from of the BlackBerry 9700 Bold labeled "In weak signal areas, this grip may negatively affect signal strength."

An image from of the BlackBerry 9700 Bold labeled "In weak signal areas, this grip may negatively affect signal strength."

When Steve Jobs now famously declared “We’re not perfect“, he was referring to the fact that despite their tremendous success over the past few years since launching the original iPhone, Apple can still make mistakes.

If he had left it at that, it’s likely that Friday’s press conference would have been seen as an appropriate demonstration of humility on the part of a company that had released a product which if nothing else, has a flaw that turned out to be bigger issue than expected. Most observers would likely have concluded that indeed, no one is perfect, and that Apple’s offer of a free case was the right thing to do, assuming that they would follow this measure up with more due-diligence to determine if the antenna problem had affected all of their iPhone 4’s or simply a small batch.

Unfortunately, Jobs elected to follow up his statement with a declaration that all smartphones to a greater or lesser degree, suffer the same problems as the iPhone. In essence, “We’re not perfect” became “We’re not perfect, and by the way, neither are our competitors”. It looked as though Apple had committed the classic mistake of trying to lessen the focus on their mistakes by pointing the finger at someone else. If this were a schoolyard squabble you could imagine Jobs saying to a teacher “Yeah, well I know I started the fight, but Johnny started a fight last week – why don’t you punish him too?”

Jobs cited RIM, Samsung and HTC’s smartphones as just as vulnerable to antenna problems when held in a certain way. He even showed some videos demonstrating what that looked like.

As you might expect, it hasn’t taken long for the companies that were dragged into the fight (and even one that wasn’t) to respond to Apple’s condemnation of an entire industry.

Gizmodo is reporting that Samsung has this to say following Apple’s demonstration of  a reception-impaired Omnia 2 smartphone:

“The antenna is located at the bottom of the Omnia 2 phone, while iPhone’s antenna is on the lower left side of the device. Our design keeps the distance between a hand and an antenna. We have fully conducted field tests before the rollout of smartphones. Reception problems have not happened so far, and there is no room for such problems to happen in the future”

The message to Apple is clear: Go ahead and defend your product, but don’t implicate our product when you do it.

RIM was far more direct in their reaction, not mincing any words:

“Apple’s attempt to draw RIM into Apple’s self-made debacle is unacceptable. Apple’s claims about RIM products appear to be deliberate attempts to distort the public’s understanding of an antenna design issue and to deflect attention from Apple’s difficult situation. RIM is a global leader in antenna design and has been successfully designing industry-leading wireless data products with efficient and effective radio performance for over 20 years. During that time, RIM has avoided designs like the one Apple used in the iPhone 4 and instead has used innovative designs which reduce the risk for dropped calls, especially in areas of lower coverage. One thing is for certain, RIM’s customers don’t need to use a case for their BlackBerry smartphone to maintain proper connectivity. Apple clearly made certain design decisions and it should take responsibility for these decisions rather than trying to draw RIM and others into a situation that relates specifically to Apple.”

And somewhat suprisingly, Nokia, who wasn’t mentioned by name in Apple’s press conference, felt the need to make a few clarifying statements lest anyone think that their products suffer from Apple’s “Smartphones have weak spots” remark:

“Antenna design is a complex subject and has been a core competence at Nokia for decades, across hundreds of phone models. Nokia was the pioneer in internal antennas; the Nokia 8810, launched in 1998, was the first commercial phone with this feature.
Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying human behavior, including how people hold their phones for calls, music playing, web browsing and so on. As you would expect from a company focused on connecting people, we prioritize antenna performance over physical design if they are ever in conflict.
In general, antenna performance of a mobile device/phone may be affected with a tight grip, depending on how the device is held. That’s why Nokia designs our phones to ensure acceptable performance in all real life cases, for example when the phone is held in either hand. Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying how people hold their phones and allows for this in designs, for example by having antennas both at the top and bottom of the phone and by careful selection of materials and their use in the mechanical design.”

  One thing’s for sure: we haven’t heard the last of “Antennagate” whether Apple recognizes it as a problem or not.

Steve Jobs on iPhone 4: We're not perfect

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

Despite the calls for a recall of Apple’s newest smartphone, the iPhone 4, Steve Jobs had this to say to all of the people who have bought the device, and to those who have critiqued it: “There is no Antennagate”.

Over the course of a 40 minute press conference today at Apple’s headquarters in California, Jobs outlined what he and his team believe to be the issue with the iPhone 4 after analyzing all of the available data. The bottom line: there is no issue.

Or at least, there is an issue, but it’s the same issue that plagues all smartphone – an assertion that Jobs backed up by playing demonstration videos of 3 competing handsets from 3 different manufacturers with 3 different mobile operating systems. Each handset appeared to exhibit the same drop in signal as the iPhone 4 when gripped a certain way.

He reinforced this point with some other facts relating to customer experience:

  • Only .55% of all iPhone 4 customers have called Apple to complain about the phone’s reception. That’s less than a percent.
  • In the period that the iPhone 4 has been available, AT&T has received 1/3 of the returns that they experienced with the iPhone 3GS during the same period
  • The iPhone 4 drops 1 more call per 100 than the iPhone 3GS

Though Jobs acknowledged that this last point was not acceptable to him, he shared a theory (not backed up by any data) as to why it it’s happening: Many more people who bought iPhone 3GS’s walked out of the store with a case designed to fit the phone. Since putting an iPhone 4 in a case effectively solves the reception problem, he believes that this data point has more to do with case use, than with any inherent flaw in the iPhone 4’s design vs. the 3GS.

He further acknowledged that given some of the data available to them, there must be a problem, but it only appears to affect a very small percentage of users.

At the end, Jobs provided the one measure that Apple was prepared to take in order to address an issue that they essentially feel isn’t an issue at all. Until September 30th, all iPhone 4 buyers can received a free case that will be sent to them if they order it from Apple’s website. The free cases will not be available at retail. People who have already bought Apple bumpers will get a refund.

Jobs finished his explanation with a sort of “Stop picking on us” rant. According to Engadget‘s coverage of the event, he said:

“We think this has been so blown out of proportion… it’s fun to have a story, but it’s not fun on the other side.”

During the Q&A that followed, Jobs continued to express dismay at how Apple has been treated by the press over the last 22 days since the antenna issue became apparent. According to‘s coverage:

“I guess it’s just human nature: when some group or some organization gets successful, there’s always a group of people who want to tear it down. I see it happening with Google, and I think to myself: why are they doing this? Googles a great company, and they make great companies. And now they’re doing it to us. I ask myself: why? Would you rather we were a korean company, instead of an american company? Would you rather we werent innovating right here? […] Just to get eyeballs for these websites, people dont care what they leave in their wake. I look at this whole Antennagate thing, and I say: Wow. Apple has been around for 30+ years; haven’t we earned the credibility and trust from the press to give us the benefit of the doubt? I think we have that trust from our users, but I didn’t see it from the press”

These words are showing us a different public side of the man who leads what is arguably the most successful and innovative consumer tech company in the world. Apple isn’t used to having to defend itself and Jobs’ remarks about being American rather than Korean had a disturbingly xenophobic ring to them – at least to my Canadian ears.

So readers, now that you know when the iPhone 4 will be available here, and you know how Apple has responded to the question of reception problems, are you more or less likely to buy one than you were before today?

Update 3:58 p.m.: Reactions are beginning to trickle in around the web to Apple’s annoucement and, predictably, there are as many people defending Apple as there are those who find Jobs’ explanations lacking. 

Let’s put this to a poll and find out what Sync readers are thinking:

If the whole world wrote a story, would it be worth reading?

Marko Sekardi, creator of

Marko Sekardi

Marko Sekardi, a 23 year-old economics grad from Slovenia, has a goal: he wants to make a million dollars. It’s a goal that is no doubt shared by many 23 year-olds. Unlike many 23 year-olds however, Sekardi has no intention of working at a job in order to earn that money. Instead, he has built a website which he calls a “homepage” and is hoping to sell enough ads on this site to reach his goal so that he can fund his love of traveling.

Sekardi’s plan sounds simplistic and perhaps a bit naïve. If it were that easy to build a site that could attract a million dollars of advertising, we’d all be doing it.

If Sekardi’s ambition is realized, we will all be doing it – for him.

His site is called BillionMindsUnited and it might be the biggest experiment in crowdsourcing ever conducted.

BillionMindsUnited is deceptively simple: It’s a tool that lets everyone with a browser and internet access contribute to a story – written in English – by voting for each letter one at a time.

Sekardi is hoping that enough of the world’s netizens will find this idea so compelling that they return again and again – and in ever increasing numbers – until the site is so heavily trafficked that advertisers can’t resist the opportunity to get their messages in front of that many people.

When you arrive at the site, you are presented with the text of the story so far, which at the time this post was written consisted of:

“Chapter 1

Sekardi's site lets you see how many votes each character received.

Sekardi's site lets you see how many votes each character received.

Beneath this is a virtual keyboard which you use to submit your vote for the next character. It can be any letter of the alphabet, in lowercase or caps, numbers from 0-9 and a few punctuation marks, though frankly not enough for my liking. The hyphen character is conspicuously absent.

Given that the site launched June 24th and has only collected enough votes to establish the first 9 characters of the story, it’s far too early to tell if we’re going to be treated to the next great work of literature or something bland and poorly written. The term “designed by committee” springs instantly to mind and leaves me dubious about the chances this project has of producing a story worth reading.

If you would like to identify yourself as part of the committee, you can list yourself on the site’s Authors page, or you can remain silent and contribute your votes anonymously.

The voting mechanism isn’t explained in much detail in the site’s FAQ. It states somewhat enigmatically that:

“After a predetermined number of votes, the letter that received the most votes will be typed in, and voting for the next letter will begin. When every person on this planet votes for a letter, there will be about 300.000 letters on the homepage.”

Now I’m not great at math, but this would seem to indicate that if the world’s population (6,800,000,000 in 2009 according to a U.N. estimate) and if all of those people votes resulted in 300,000 chosen characters, each of those characters require 22,666 votes. But perhaps this represents a utopian vision for how BillionMindsUnited will work, because as of today – if the site’s published stats are correct – only 68 votes are needed to establish which character comes next.

Speaking of math that doesn’t quite add up, let’s take a look at how Sekardi is planning to charge for the advertising that will eventually make him his million dollars.

On the homepage, Sekardi has allocated two columns for advertising, one on each side of the “story”. Each column contains 800 10×10 pixel square “blocks”. Each block costs $100 to buy. You can buy as many blocks as you like, limited only by the number of available blocks. Once you buy your blocks, barring any disagreement over what you display in those blocks, they are yours for the lifespan of the site – a minimum of 10 years according to the FAQ. Here’s the problem: even if Sekardi is successful in selling 100% of the available blocks, he will only net $160,000.

Again, math isn’t my strength, but Sekardi claims to be an Economics grad. You’d think he’d have noticed this little hitch in his plans. Or maybe not. Sekardi claims that his motivation for creating BillionMindsUnited isn’t about getting rich, but primarily stems from personal curiosity and because he loves “every single atom in this universe“.

Sekardi, thanking users for their vote.

Sekardi, thanking users for their vote.

He clearly has a special fondness for the specific atoms that make up Marko Sekardi. BillionMindsUnited might be all about brining the world together to create a story, but it is also serving as an unapologetic calling card for its creator. Sekardi’s image graces nearly every page of the site, sometimes in cartoonish poses as he beckons you to take part in the voting process and later thanks you for having done so.

The result is amusing, but it leaves us asking ourselves if BillionMindsUnited is a grand experiment in social science, a get-rich quick scheme, a joke, or merely a way for an enterprising young man to get himself noticed by people who can help him achieve his desire to travel a lot and work as little as possible?

The answer, much like the story the site is encouraging us to write, is something we all get a hand in deciding.

Consumer Reports punches Apple in the iPhone

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

Remember that problem with the iPhone 4’s antenna that surfaced not long after the device landed in consumers’ hands?

It seems that despite Apple’s acknowledgement of the problem and later promises to issue a software update, Consumer Reports has decided it represents a serious flaw in the device’s design. So  much so that they have added Apple’s latest smartphone to its “not recommended” list.

According to CR’s blog, the design of the antenna is such that:

“[if you cover a portion of it with your hand] the signal can significantly degrade enough to cause you to lose your connection altogether if you’re in an area with a weak signal.”

This report doesn’t bring any new facts to the table, but it is one of the first third-party tests to establish beyond any doubt what many users of the phone have been saying for weeks.  Apple’s previous model, the iPhone 3GS, remains by contrast one of Consumer Reports’ recommended phones.

Beyond the actual antenna problem, CR also takes Apple to task over its explanation of the issue as an “optical illusion”:

“Our findings call into question the recent claim by Apple that the iPhone 4’s signal-strength issues were largely an optical illusion caused by faulty software that “mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength.””

The big questions raised by today’s announcement are: Will this influence people’s decision to buy the iPhone 4 – especially since the device has yet to debut in the Canadian market? and… Will having such a bold condemnation of their device by a respected publication like CR cause Apple to consider a recall and subsequent redesign of their antenna?

Update July 13, 3:16 p.m. EST:

While there is still no official response to Consumer Reports’ review of the iPhone 4, Apple’s forum moderators seem intent on keeping any references to the post from gracing their discussion boards. Huffington Post quotes reports from TUAW that indicate Apple is going to significant (though apparently not uncharacteristic) lengths to hide the links.

Readers, where do you stand?

iOS4 takes the '3G' out of the iPhone 3G


Though the problem doesn’t appear to be affecting all iPhone 3G owners, a number of people have reported that since upgrading to iOS4, their phones can no longer connect to their carrier via 3G or EDGE. Other are saying that MMS capability has been knocked offline.

Apple has acknowledged these issues and has offered advice on how to fix the problems. But even after trying these recommendations, our video editor, Steve F. found himself with a phone that refused to connect.

Steve was among the first in Canada to upgrade his 2-year old iPhone 3G to Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS4. After completing the upgrade, he provided us with some of his thoughts on the process. To say he wasn’t impressed is an understatement. “If I could go back in time and make the decision to upgrade over again, I’d probably decide to keep my OS 3,” he lamented. But he chose to stick with iOS4 to see if the few improvements it offered him were worth the compromises.

Two weeks later, it happened. His iPhone wouldn’t connect to his carrier, Rogers Wireless.

“At first I though it was something I had done”, he said. Steve, who is very familiar with the inner workings of the iPhone, might have been more freaked out by the incident, but as luck would have it, a friend of his had experienced the same problem a few days before hand. He called Steve to see if his problem was unique. “Turns out [he] wasn’t alone,” said Steve.

Frustrated by the fact that Apple’s remedies weren’t correcting the issue, Steve reached out to the web and found a possible fix on Unfortunately, this option is of the thermonuclear variety: Doing a full restore of your iPhone using the “setup as a new phone” choice. Such a drastic measure results in all of the data being wiped clean, with no way to bring it back. Your downloaded apps are still available within iTunes to re-sync to your phone, but any data those apps might have saved locally including contacts, high-scores, or favourites are gone forever. It turns out that in these cases, simply doing a routine restore procedure doesn’t purge the bad data that causes the connectivity issue in the first place.

Ultimately, Steve did perform the full restore and found that doing so brought back his 3G connection as promised. And though he did lose all of his data, there was a silver lining: His iPhone 3G now runs iOS4 very quickly – much faster than it did after performing the original upgrade.

Has this made Steve a fan of Apple’s iOS4?

“No. I’m still frustrated,” he responds. Despite the improved speed of his now-squeaky-clean iPhone, he feels let down by the lack of advantages offered by the OS for iPhone 3G owners.

“I just don’t see the point.”

Readers: have you been caught unawares by a recent iPhone upgrade? If not, has this cautionary tale persuaded you to stick with your current OS? Let us know.