The Search for the Perfect Watch

I love watches.  I've had a watch for most of my life, and I just like the fact that the watch makes it so easy to check what time it is.  (In my case, it's nice because I can get it up close and look at it really easy too.)  I didn't have a watch for my senior year of college, and I guess I got by just fine, but I really do like a good watch.  My most recent watch buttons are not working, so I'm going to ramble on a bit about what I want and how I cannot seem to find it.

For at least the last decade, I've been using Timex digital watches.  I think I started out with a large digital Ironman watch, and I just loved the functionality.  Of course, the alarm is great, but some of my favorite features are the stopwatch and the countdown time.  I actually use the countdown timer every week to remind me that my load of laundry needs to be changed every week.  Also, you can keep track of the time in another time zone, so if you're traveling around a bit, you can remember what time it is at home.  These are the features that make the digital functionality a must-have.  Plus, the Timex watches are all laid out the same, so once you know how to change settings and o things on one, you know them all, and they're very intuitive, such that I've almost never referred to a manual.

For the last seven or eight years I've had Timex's analog-digital hybrid watches, which I've also loved.  These feature a great analog display on a metal armband and case that has a digital display inside the bottom of the face.  It looks really stylish, but also is very functional.  I got the metal armband because the cloth armbands would, after time, start to get damp and smelly from sweat, but the metal, I've found, just starts getting deposits of dead skin cells and gunk in the cracks of the band, so I guess it's a little better.  I also love the Indiglo nightlight technology that lights up the entire watch face for great viewing at night, which is another thing that Timex seems to have perfected in the watch space.

So what's the problem?  Well, I think I take pretty good care of my watches.  They say they're "water resistant", but I've found that's not the case as much as I'd like.  All the analog watches have the dial on the side that you use to adjust the time on the watch and that dial has rusted out on every single watch I've had.  It's not like I'm wearing them while swimming or showering, but I do wear it while doing dishes or in places where my arm might get a bit wet, and taking off the watch and stowing it away from water would be a big nuisance.  Somehow, on the watch I had 4 or 5 years ago, clouds of water formed underneath the watch's clear covering and then the watched stopped completely shortly after.  On this current watch, it's been working like a champ for almost four years, although the buttons have been getting a bit rusty and it's been reacting a bit to my skin.  But, just last night, one of the buttons has completely stopped working such that I cannot use any of the digital features of the watch besides the current time.  (I can't even turn off the alarm that most likely goes off every morning at 5:27 am.)  I did have the battery on this watch replaced once within the last year, and it has worked really well.

What I would like to find is a watch that lasts for much longer.  I'd rather not have the buttons and face get tarnished or rusty.  Also, I want something simple and stylish, not complicated-looking.  I want to know if there are better digital watches out there.  I'd even be willing to forsake the stylish analog part in the place of a professional-looking digital watch.  Anyone have a watch you use and like that has these features?  What's your experience like?

While looking around, I was intrigued by the Casio Wave Ceptor digital watch.  It's got a square design and a big time display, plus all the usual options.  But, at the hefty price of $160, there's a bunch of extra cool features.  The watch gets its time updated from the atomic clock in Colorado automatically and it also includes a battery that recharges via light from the sun.  These are both interesting developments, especially the second, because I expect that's where the price increase is.

My problem is that these features leave a lot of questions, and I tried to look around on the 'Net a bit, but I couldn't find any good answers or places to get these questions answered.  First, if at some point I had to replace the battery, how much does a rechargeable battery cost?  Second, if the battery will last for a long time, is the construction of the watch good enough that the buttons and case won't wear out before the really nice functions?  I've only paid $50 or $60 for my earlier watches, so if I'm going to pay much more, it's going to have to last for most of a decade.  There are other similar models without the recharging capability that I might look into, but I'd love to hear input that anyone has.


The iPhone Looks Cheaper and Faster Than Ever

On Monday, Steve Jobs and his regular stable of Apple executives made a nice event around the iPhone - the newest in their three main product lines at Apple. As expected, the iPhone has 3G wireless in it, which means it should be faster and sound better for talking, but it still remains to be seen whether it'll be much better than the first one. The main takeaway, however, is that the iPhone Software 2.0 and the App Store will be making iPhone experience better and more powerful for both new and old iPhone users. Last year Steve Jobs announced that developers would be able to make web apps to reach iPhone customers, but this year a majority of the developers at Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference were there to develop programs to run exclusively on iPhone and iPod touch.

The first event of the morning keynote was to talk about the exciting new enterprise features of iPhone 2.0, and included high praise from large corporate IT managers about how great it was to be using iPhone. Steve Jobs announced that 35% of Fortune 500 companies participated in their corporate beta program, which is pretty crazy. Apple is really going to be quickly beating RIM's BlackBerry in no time if they continue to take an aggressive stance such as they are right now. (In other corporate-related news, it was announced in another presentation that day that the next version of Mac OS X will include full Microsoft Exchange support, so Apple's even making it easier to use Macs at the corporate desktop.)

Scott Forstall came up and gave much of the same iPhone developer information that he gave three months ago, and there was not a ton of new information there. He demoed creating, testing, and debugging an application and then invited a whole host of iPhone developers onstage to demo and talk about their applications. Sega's Super Monkey Ball again made an appearance, as did games from Pangea Software that were ported from Mac OS X, Cro-Mag Rally and Enigmo. The first two games used the built-in accelerometer to control the game by tilting and turning the iPhone around. Enigmo just used intuitive touch controls but had very complex gameplay that reminded me of Sierra's old Dr. Brain games. A Spanish game developer called Digital Legends Entertainment has also started a "fantasy action-adventure game".

Forstall also brought up developers from companies such as eBay, Associated Press, and up to showcase their applications as well. eBay and TypePad basically had slightly more streamlined versions of what you could find on the web. Associated Press also featured an improved news browser and also gave a way for users to submit pictures and stories right within their application. Major League Baseball showcased a really nice version of their GameDay stats board designed for the iPhone as well as the ability to watch video clips taken just moments before right on the iPhone. A couple medical apps were shown for both teaching and diagnosing purposes and a social network showed off a program where they used many of the phone's location and mapping functions to find nearby friends in real time. The most fun, though, was probably Moo Cow Music's neat little program called Band that allows users to play a simulated instrument right on the iPhone's screen. The neatest was the "12-Bar Blues" area, which has all the instruments necessary to be a full blues band on your iPhone screen. The application demos were a bit long in parts, but most were really interesting to see innovative ways to use the iPhone. A later poll of developers at WWDC found that most people are going to give apps away for free, but it seems most will be under $10, which means I might buy a couple games or other useful programs when I get an iPhone.

The last geeky, developer-focused announcement was that Apple is putting together a notification service for iPhone developers to use. All real-time notifications while the program isn't running will have to go through Apple, which can be a downside for a developer, but the upside for the iPhone user is that all the cell phone's resources are given to the application that are running. It seems that developers will have to run a server-side service to push the notifications themselves and Apple may not deliver them as real-time as some developers may like, but this seems to be a creative, diplomatic way to allow programs to notify users of new information without slowing down and crashing the phone.

Steve Jobs returned to the stage to talk about a couple new features of iPhone 2.0 software, such as better language support, better reading of MS Office documents, the ability to delete and move multiple items at a time, search for contacts and a scientific calculator. All of the features so far are going to be available with iPhone 2.0 software, which will be released sometime in the next month and will be a free upgrade for iPhone users and a $10 upgrade for iPod touch users.

Of course, the most exciting announcement (but the least geeky for a developer conference) was an updated iPhone with 3G wireless support. The phone looks a bit sleeker with the tapered edges and black plastic back, but is just a tiny bit thicker. The recessed headphone jack is gone, so you can listen to your music with any headphones you like without an adapter. Plus, the best news is that the 8GB iPhone is $199 and the 16GB is only $299, although we'll talk a bit more about that later. The back of the iPhone is a black plastic and the 16GB ones are alwo available with a white back.

Loading web pages, at least in their tests, was at least 50% faster on the next-generation AT&T network that is available in most U.S. cities. The battery life has also been improved, although turning off the 3G features and GPS will greatly improve the battery life overall. If you turned off all the phone features, the iPhone can play music for up to 24 hours. They did not show turn-by-turn directions with the GPS, just that it gives a blinking dot where your phone is on the Google Maps application. However, things such as GPS, Wi-Fi and 3G network use will drain the battery in a couple hours if they are on and used heavily throughout, so there are options to turn these off.

At the end, they fed the overhype by showing a cheesy, Ocean's Eleven-style that touts the 3G iPhone as finally here. The only problem is: Who cares? Must cell phone customers don't even know what 3G wireless is and what it means, so why name the phone after the 3G features? Only major cities in the U.S. have 3G wireless coverage, so if you're not in one of those places, the major benefit will be of no help until they build out their 3G network. And, although the iPhone 3G looks cheaper with that $199 price tag, you'll be paying more than the difference with the more expensive 3G plans that are as cheap as $70 per month. Of course, this only really applies to the U.S. - in the rest of the world, Apple needs this to compete because 3G phones and service are everywhere. The $199 price is subsidized by AT&T by at least a couple hundred dollars, so it looks like it will be much harder to get an iPhone here in the states without immediately signing an AT&T contract.

In the end, I think that the iPhone 2.0 software is an amazing and much-needed update to the iPhone's functionality. The iPhone 3G is slightly better, but for most Americans, there's not much extra built into the iPhone hardware that requires you to upgrade.

What am I going to do about all this iPhone business? Like last year, I'm waiting for a couple things. First, last year I decided to go with a different phone, so I'm waiting for my two-year contract on it to play through. Second, I want to see what kind of apps come out of the iPhone App Store and if they fill the holes the iPhone software currently has for me. And, well, I'm still a bit apprehensive about switching to AT&T. I've had very little real problems with Sprint in the last 4 years or so and I've been a good customer of theirs for 7 years, and it doesn't sound like AT&T is better. Fourth, I'm not sure if I'm going to like having the annoying GSM network side-effects (that annoying buzzing from time to time in nearby speakers). The major reason to have an iPhone is because I'll no longer have to carry a phone and an iPod on a regular basis though. Most likely, I will be getting an iPhone in 2009 because there's very little enticing competition on the horizon, at least from what I've heard.


Summer Blockbusters and Speed Racer

If there's anything I've learned in the last year, it's that everyone I know thinks I'm totally insane. Well, at least anyone who asks my opinion about movies. So, for those of you who think I'm off my rocker, enjoy this next little bit. If you still think I know something about movies, feel free to learn a bit or two.

I've only seen a couple movies so far this year, but so far my favorites have been the ones I wasn't expecting - I had see the movie trailers and wasn't planning to go see them. After the movie was in theaters, there was enough buzz (not hype) about the films that I ended up catching them in the theaters. These films were Iron Man and Speed Racer. The former was a fun story of another self-made superhero like Batman - Tony Stark realizes that someone has to stop the violence in this world and therefore starts his quest to build an armored suit filled with amazing nanotechnology. It was lots of fun.

I just got back from seeing Speed Racer, which was an amazing sight to behold. Probably my favorite thing was that every frame of the film was filled with the most vibrant rainbow of colors, even more than the amazing Curse of the Golden Flower. It's the most psychedelic film I've probably ever seen and the twisting, ridiculous tracks the characters race on were more than exhilarating for the viewer (think MegaRace taken to a whole new level, for you old-school PC gamers). Also, it was possibly the most fast-paced movie I've seen throughout the film's 135 minutes, with most slower plot points mashed together via fast cuts and innovative wipes. The plot was a heartwearming tale of fast-paced racing, family values and sportsmanship pitted against those who make the game into big business.

Although the film was only rated PG, I don't think it's a great one for young kids. One of the major comedic elements is a young kid and the family monkey, which are obviously aimed at the kids, but there is some language and a bit too many scenes of immodest women to show this to the youngsters, in my opinion. John Goodman and Susan Sarandon do a great job as parents of the main character, Speed Racer, as he deals with his growing success and making his own decisions.

Of course, this time of year is the time of the summer blockbuster, a huge movie event that is full of special effects and is, for sure, best viewed on a big screen. These films are from the first crop of the year's blockbusters, and so far it's been a good ride. The other major blockbusters, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian were both more of a spectacle than their previous incarnations, but both failed to blow the mind in the same way as these newcomers did (as is often the case). Of course, in any given year there are the non-blockbuster movies, which I get to whenever I can because they're not something you have to witness in the theaters. These types of films just aren't the same at home on DVD, at least not yet (or at any of my friend's houses).

For any of those who are wondering, here's the films I'm looking forward to checking out this summer (although we'll see if they're all as good as I hope):

  • The Incredible Hulk (June 13) - Edward Norton can make this one work, I think.
  • The Happening (June 13) - Hopefully M. Night Shyamalan can get Mark Whalberg to do something interesting for the first time.
  • Get Smart (June 20) - This one might be good.
  • Wall-E (June 27) - No doubt. This is the movie event of the year.
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army (July 11) - Guillermo del Toro is back to work his magic.
  • The Dark Knight (July 18) - Christopher Nolan is back for an amazing thrill ride.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars (August 15) - Who knows if this will be good, but it looks like it could be a nice 3-D animated fleshing out of the Clone Wars.

Well, maybe it's not that people don't respect my opinion; maybe it's that I have too many types of films I enjoy. I mean, my favorites from last year were Ratatouille, Hot Fuzz, and There Will Be Blood - how many people do you know that liked all of those films and has a modest collection of Disney films in their DVD collection? The only one I know is me.


Of Lions, Rings, and Harry at the Movies

Over the past day, I've enjoyed the three to four hours it took me to read Prince Caspian, the second book of the Chronicles of Narnia series (if you count them correctly). It had been a long time since I read it, but I really enjoyed the experience of a good children's fantasy book, which I haven't had since last summer's Harry Potter tome. Narnia is a great, wild world, and Lewis also brings a rich history of characters and exciting landscapes to each and every book. But seeing as this post is more about how the movie will end up, let's talk about the other recent fantasy franchises.

First and foremost, there's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, written by J.R.R. Tolkien and directed for the screen by Peter Jackson. This one was epic. Everything was so masterfully done that every detail screamed "this is Middle Earth". With the long film runtimes (and especially in the extended editions), they were able to put in many of those touches that made it as close as you can get to authentic Tolkien. The films were made on such a big scale that they were events to behold. There were a number of aspects of the films that grossly misrepresented and misinterpreted Tolkien's vision, in my opinion, but the films were, overall, very enjoyable and at least in the overall spirit of the Middle Earth that Tolkien chronicled.  I went to see each movie a couple times in the theater and watched all the extended versions once.

The second and most contemporary of the fantasy epics is the Harry Potter series, which tells the story of young Harry Potter in his years at Britain's foremost school of wizardry.  The first couple films were slightly lacking in the special effects department, but all of them solidly brought J.K. Rowling's magical world to a vibrant life.  I've enjoyed every film immensely, but for some reason I've never had the desire to watch any of them a second time.  I guess I don't watch movies numerous times unless I find them so cool that I want to show them to all my friends, but I never felt that with Harry's movies.  Maybe it's just because everyone else is into them.  Maybe it's because it follows the books so closely that I feel like I've already seen it before.  And maybe it's because I find the book was better and my imagination found it cooler, but I'm not sure.

This brings us to the first installment of The Chronicles of Narnia in feature-length film, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I went to see it with a friend on opening weekend just a week after reading the novel it was based on.  I'd read it a whole number of times in my childhood, but I found it still was a great read even in my mid-twenties.  However, when I saw the film, I was a little disappointed.  I didn't feel the filmmakers captured the epic land of Narnia that well, and I found the movie's special effects a bit too unpolished to be believable.  It was a good, faithful adaptation of the book, but it lacked the connection I felt with Jackson's interpretation of MIddle Earth.  Even in the couple years since the Wardrobe released, I've had no strong desire to give it another look.

In my opinion, Prince Caspian is going to be pretty hard to make into a film.  The book lacks connection with the main characters for long gaps, as the first third follows the Pevensie's as they rediscover Narnia, the second talks about the titular character, and the ending has almost all of the action and brings both parties together.  It could easily be a problem for the pacing and development of the film.  Also, with the basis of the first film firmly behind us, there's actually not that complicated of a plot, so I can see why the old BBC version just spun it into the start of Dawn Treader.

All this is to say that I hope they can do better with Prince Caspian and not just try to churn out a sequel.  It could be with less to do in the 140 minutes that they will do a better job of bringing Narnia to life.  Walden Media has historically done a great job with creating films from books, and with Douglas Gresham helping out with production just like the last film, it could be the best film of the year.  On the other hand, Andrew Adamson's only film experience besides Wardrobe is directing the immoral and unintelligent Shrek and Shrek 2, so there's very little depth to draw upon from the director.  I'm still going to see it this Friday, but here's to hoping that the production team can overcome the film's inherent hurdles.  If not, we have next to look forward to a possible adaptation of The Screwatape Letters sometime in the next couple years and the film adaptation of one of my favorites, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in May 2010.


Tools for Stalking Me

A couple weeks ago, a friend who usually requires me to comment on the latest news from Apple told me that she wanted to hear more about me and what I'm up to on my blog.  She also asked that I post those on top of the technology posts, then just a couple days ago she asked me, "What's Drupal?" and I told her to get reading.

In the past, I have posted slightly more personal goings-on on my blog.  But, thanks to the evolution of the Web 2.0, I get to do those types of things in bunches of ways.  First, there's services like Twitter and Pownce that allow you to post a quick little message to your friends.  Both of these can be easily posted from my phone, so it's easy to post directly what I'm up to.  (I use a service called TwitterFeed to just post to Pownce and then they cross-post it to Twitter for me.)  Here's what I've been talking about on Pownce/Twitter for the last couple months:

  • I posted my regular goings on during a March trip to Arizona.
  • I talked about my love for artists like Andy Hunter and John Reuben, as well as being hopeful about the new Coldplay.
  • I commented on the squealing power brick on Kevin's computer.
  • I posted random, out-of-context quotes from life here in Dinkytown.
  • I overrreacted a bit when housemates were burning stuff in the kitchen and it made the house reek.
  • You can pretty much get me to do anything if you offer me fresh Chipotle burritos.
  • I posted links to some of my favorite content from
  • I professed my love for jQuery (which I get to learn about more today with the Lullabots).
  • I got my bicycle out and have rode it around a couple times.
  • I "live-blogged" some of the talks from the People of Praise men's retreat by posting some of the more pivotal points in the talk.
  • I quoted Sixpence None The Richer and Avril Lavigne.
  • I posted about last weekend's adventures camping near Taylor's Falls, MN.
  • I've made a couple comments about this week's Lullabot workshop as well.

The second place you can see stuff I'm interested is on my Google Reader Shared page.  I use Google Reader all the time to keep track of sites that get updated, and if you have me listed as a Google Talk contact, you should see my Shared Items right in your Google Reader (or you can use the page).  Here's some cool items I've shared as some of my favorites:

I'd say that if you want to know what I'm thinking about and doing, just bookmark the Pownce and Google Reader pages and keep up with the reading.  If I do have longer, more thoughtful posts to put up, I will keep posting them here.  Also, a regular feature showing off my many stylish T-shirts may be in the works as well for this blog.


Shady Mall Carts (Part One)

OK, so I don't really have a series yet. But I've always found those vendor carts at the Mall of America (and, well, every mall) to be a bit shady. Here's exhibit #1:

Just in case you can't read it, the sign says "Version Wireless" (as opposed to Verizon Wireless and what I thought it was at first, Verision Wireless, thanks Josh). They at least sell cellular phone accessories, and maybe they sell phones and phone plans as well. This was the only time I found the place unopened, which is a bit disappointing, but still, it's shady.


Drupal and Web Frameworks

Many of my loyal readers know that I'm into Drupal in a pretty big way. Lots of things are going well for Drupal these days, including a better-than-ever release of Drupal 6 and a community's who only major problem is handling the exponentially rapid growth. Last week, tech celebrity Chris Pirillo announced a project called Gnomepal where he encouraged developers and users to use Drupal as a core for a community platform. It's just another reason why I think Drupal is the web framework of the future and that I hope I'll be able to develop with Drupal more in the future.

First, Chris talked of Drupal as a "community platform", but what does that mean? A community platform is a website where all aspects of an online community can be attached or created. Drupal's web site calls its software a "content management platform" and "community plumbing". This is very accurate because Drupal is made up of many modules that work on top of the main core of the site. At the core of the site is the basics of managing news items and basic pages of a website, but with only a couple clicks you can add a blog for each user (or subset of your users) or a discussion forum or an RSS aggregator of a number of specified feeds. I have literally implemented all of these in a matter of minutes on basic sites to facilitate community. In this way, a website for an online community can be started in minutes and features can be easily added to accommodate growing needs.

What's so great about a community platform? On many of the sites that I build at work, we often use three or four open-source applications - sometimes a CMS that manages pages, a blog, and a discussion forum, and then there may be some custom work to tie them together or bring in custom functionality. The problem is that each application has its own administration and logins. Not only do the owners of the site have to keep track of four different accounts, but the users of the site have a disjointed experience and have to sign up multiple times as well. This type of community platform allows you to make one site with all these different parts that integrate better and all use the same login account. The only downside is that, because it does everything, it does not do everything well. For example, WordPress is perfect for a blog and exactly what I use here because the features are more specialized for a blog. But if I wanted a blog and a forum, I'd install Drupal because users only need one account and the site is better integrated by design.

Second, what is a "web framework"? A web framework is a collection of functions and libraries that speeds up the web development process. The web framework is built on top of an existing language and speeds up the web application development process. Examples of web frameworks include Ruby on Rails, Django (for Python) and Zend Framework (for PHP). We use Zend Framework at work and it really helps in making custom applications because there's a system for database abstraction as well as systems for managing URLs, templating, and much more. It takes a bit of work to understand and get used to the framework, but once you get the hang of it, it speeds up the development process a bunch and still gives you the ability to override or extend the functionality gracefully.

Although Drupal does not use an MVC pattern like most of the other frameworks, it is a powerful web framework. All extensions are written as modules, and functions for themeing, rendering and organizing forms, etc. are all available from the Drupal core. Many of the contributed modules even provide their own functions for adding your own modules on top. Although Drupal's web framework API is a bit different than the major web framework players, it is still a great development system. And, again, one of my favorite things is that this web framework comes with a extensible Content Management System from the first moment you install it, giving you a shortcut to building most applications.

In the end, though, there is a problem. I've adopted Drupal as the platform of choice for a community platform, for example, on my music website,, as well as the basic content management system for most sites I manage. The problem I've had is figuring out how to figure out problems and learn more. Through the Drupal book and asking a question or two in IRC and on, I have gotten a long way and been able to develop a number of custom modules. However, in the development of, I have gotten to the point where I'm spinning my wheels a lot. I'm trying to make as much of an automated site as possible but I cannot figure out how to organize and tie in the artist data throughout the site. I know Drupal can do it, but I cannot figure out a way how. I've tried posting a question about it on, but I've never received an answer. I need some outside help, but I'm not sure where to get it.

The free options are to just read up a lot about stuff on, but that takes a long time of reading and does not directly answer my problem. I could try networking and learning a bit at a local Drupal group, but their meetings already overlap with a People of Praise meeting I already have. There are a couple other local groups of Drupal developers, and maybe next time a Drupal Day is organized, I will go, but there seems to be no real low-cost solutions to my problem that don't require a bunch of time I do not have. I already do other free things such as a free Drupal podcast which has given me lots of ideas.

So, I think that means I need to spend some money to figure out more about Drupal. I could hire consultants from Lullabot or Bryght or somewhere to figure out and develop a solution, but that is just investing in my site and not my own learning. Plus, hiring consultants such as these could be very expensive. The solution, I think, is the Lullabot Training series. These world-class Drupal consultants have helped Warner Bros. Records, Sony Records,, Participant Productions and many others to create great-looking sites that leverage all the benefits of Drupal. Plus, they've done week-long training sessions in most major cities and even are bringing it this week to Australia. It is almost $2,000 to get a week of training, but it seems like it may be the answer to digging into Drupal a bit more. They are spending a week next month in Minneapolis, and I'm thinking about attending. I think I'd learn a lot from the classes, and just getting a week to play around with Drupal and have some guidance will probably be exactly what I'm looking for.

What do you think? I'm leaning towards thinking $2,000 of investment in my Drupal skills is probably worth it. Should I go? Is there something else I could do? Have you been to a Lullabot training and did it help you? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Ride The Chipotle Train!

On my way home from work today, I was walking to the platform and I saw this:

I knew I had to get on the Chipotle Light Rail train! Unfortunately, the train was packed full of sports fans for the Twins opener. It was almost as crowded as during a Vikings game.


The Apple iPhone's Rich Future

Last Thursday, Apple held an announcement on their campus that detailed some of their plans for the future of the iPhone. Although not much was surprising, many Apple fans and developers alike will be very happy with the amount of concerns that were answered by Apple. The only major concern for some people that was not answered was when the 3G-enabled iPhone will be coming for those faster speeds over cell networks, but with all the new capabilities with today's data speeds, developers should have plenty of projects to work on. Most of what Apple revealed will not be available to the public until June when iPhone software version 2.0 comes out, but both developers and corporations worldwide are looking forward to the future.

iPhone Roadmap Event

After a brief introduction by Steve Jobs, Senior VP of Worldwide Product Marketing Phil Schiller talked about the solutions for the corporate customers. Apple decided to license Microsoft's ActiveSync technology to enable corporate customers to get e-mail delivered to their iPhones directly. In a jab at RIM's BlackBerry services, Schiller explained that Apple's service does not rely on an intermediate service such as the one RIM has, but instead the iPhone communicates directly with the corporate server, and optionally via the Cisco VPN tool that will be built into the iPhone. Some commentators have said it less reliable than the system that RIM currently uses, but it seems more secure to me and less prone to system-wide outages because there's no intermediate service to go down like happens all too often for BlackBerry users. They performed an impressive demo where Schiller created a new contact on his Exchange-enabled phone and then some Exchange administrator in the audience added it immediately. Apple is even giving Exchange administrators the ability to reset the iPhone to factory settings whenever they want. For most corporations who already have an Exchange server, it seems like the iPhone will fit into the corporate environment with very little work.

The main portion of the presentation was done by Scott Forestall, Vice President of Platform Experience. Forestall announced the immediate availability of the iPhone SDK to developers and proceeded to show off the iPhone's ability in a number of ways. The SDK they released is the exact same as the one they used internally to develop all the apps standard on the iPhone, so it should be some incredible access to the phone's innards. Forestall reminded us that the iPhone is a stripped-down version of Mac OS X through and through, and therefore development will be much the same. For the Mac OS X, Apple has previously released their Cocoa API for developing applications, and now they're releasing an API called Cocoa Touch with functions for interacting via a multi-touch enabled screen. Tools include graphics layers, access to location-based awareness, accessing contact information and the photo picker, as well as data storage via the SQLite database.

Some of the funnest parts of the presentation for me was Forestall showing off the API. It seems like it might even be fun to develop for the iPhone (or maybe my Mac, as well). It seems that iPhone development will only be able to be done a Mac, which is not surprising. But, never having used the included Mac developer tools before, I was amazed at all the helpers they give. First, there's helpful apps such as an Interface Designer that allows the user to graphically layout and an amazing debugging application called Instruments. Forestall created a "Hello World" application and loaded it onto the iPhone connected to the computer and Instruments collected live information on how fast the program was running. He just clicked on an underperforming part of the graph and was able to see what parts of the code were running just then. And finally, the iPhone Simulator allows developers to run an iPhone on their desktop even if they do not own one. I had a bit of fun playing around with my virtual iPhone for a bit, although the Mobile Safari didn't want to bring up iPhone-specific versions of web pages - just the standard ones.

Forestall quickly showed off a couple demo apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch. First, they put together a simple photo editing program that uses the touch controls. Scott put his finger over the photo and the part under his finger bulged out. He then took two fingers and pinched another part of the photo together much like fun little photo editing programs do. The most exciting part, though, was the idea of just shaking the iPhone like an Etch-A-Sketch to reset the phone. They also made a little Starfox-like game called Touch Fighter. Just tap on the screen to shoot, and to move around, actually move the iPhone from side to side. You might look a bit like a dork jerking your iPhone around to dodge bullets, but it's probably pretty fun.

For the next section, Forestall introduced several application developers, mostly game companies, who got to spend only two weeks playing with the iPhone API. In most cases, they came up with some amazing stuff. First, a couple EA developers showed a basic port of this year's most anticipated game, Spore, which will be releasing for iPhone this fall. They were able to demo basic gameplay and species modification using the touch controls of the iPhone. Sega also showed a version of Super Monkey Ball that is only controlled by banking your iPhone from side to side and the developer claimed it was a very fluid, intuitive motion. It looks like a blast and it certainly looks like the games will abound on the iPhone.

Non-gaming apps were represented as well, with AOL Instant Messenger, and Epocrates making appearances. The AIM client looked great and easy to use, and is great confirmation that Apple and AT&T aren't going to be sticklers about using lots of data services. Salesforce had an interesting application that would certainly help salespersons manage their bottom line and follow up on sales from anywhere. Epocrates, a healthcare information provider, had an extensive database of drugs loaded into the iPhone's database and made it really easy for doctors to search for drugs and find all kinds of information about conflicting drugs and even see hi-res photos of what the drug looks like. All these applications look just as nice as the ones Apple provide with the phone and provide plenty of features. Rumors over the last couple days have been saying that programs are not given the ability to run in the background or as a scheduled event, so that may be a hurdle to overcome with some developers. Also, at least on the phone, your application has to be ready to stop at a moment's notice in order to answer a phone call, so that may be a bit hard to account for.

Steve Jobs return to the stage of Apple Town Hall to tell us that developing your own applications for the iPhone is entirely free as long as you're just testing on the iPhone simulator. However, to load it onto an iPhone, you need to purchase a $99 certificate from Apple to verify you're a trackable, reputable devloper. You can test it on your own iPhone and then upload it to the iTunes App Store, where iPhone and iPod Touch users will be able to download applications. Developers will be able to sell their apps for any price they like, including free, but Apple will take 30% of the sale price for the hosting and listing of the program, which is comparable to similar centralized stores for Palm or Windows Mobile. Apple will test your program and verify that it's not malicious and then will post it online. The App Store will also be available directly on the device, so users don't have to get to a computer to download and install new applications, which is crucial, although you could if you like. This seems to be a good balance between security and usability of applications and doesn't seem overly expensive for developers.

In a somewhat odd announcement for the fabled "One more thing...", Steve Jobs and Kleiner Perkins, a large Venture Capital firm, announced the "iFund", which is $100 million that is set aside for startups who want to develop for the iPhone. I guess this is supposed to spur development for the iPhone and give the little guy a chance for iPhone development. This move doesn't sound bad, but it's just a bit odd.

Overall, it seems like the iPhone is headed firmly in the right direction, even if some of us wanted it about a year earlier. Still, it's not surprising, as Apple doesn't like to lay all its cards on the table - they'd rather stagger them over time as the market for the original product slows down. If the development for the iPhone is anywhere close to what Apple and most people are expecting, I'll be itching to get an iPhone for my next phone when my contract expires in 18 months.


The Status Messages Problem

For the last couple years, most of my circle of friends have all signed up for Gmail accounts and hang out on Google Talk. It's much slicker and nicer than Yahoo!, MSN, or AIM, mostly because it's done in a Google smart way. It makes it really easy to contact all my friends because, more often than not, my friends are online, but it does still have its downsides, just like all the other services.

Among my friends, the "status message" has become the mode of communication. A month doesn't go by where some of my friends talk about how much they love that their Google Talk contact list is like a virtual "living room" of their circle of friends across the country, and I agree. It is fun to read everyone's status message, and great to be able to hear what's going on in people's lives or to find out what they're seeing/watching on the Internet.

However, the main problem is that I only really have time to hang out in this "living room" for about 12 hours per week, on average. I have a couple hours on the weeknights of Monday and Tuesday and then some blocks of time on Saturday and Sunday. Almost daily I hear, "Did you hear what was on so-and-so's status message?" Of course I didn't! I was at work! (And no, the management at work wouldn't look kindly upon me chit-chatting it up all day.)

The best way to overcome this problem, in my opinion, is to use a service such as Twitter or Pownce as well as or instead of Google Talk. These services are basically another place to input your current thoughts or goings-on that also includes an archive of statuses. Persons can post comments on your message. Your friends could also get your latest status message sent to their cell phones, if they like. You can download some sort of application that will keep the latest statuses of your friends on the side of your screen, just like Google Talk, if you want. Sure, there's some status messages that are of the moment and not worth having a big archive of, but when someone posts a cool video or interesting article, I'd rather not hear about it three weeks later in a conversation where I'm the only one of 40 people who didn't hear about it. I like this because then I can subscribe to the RSS feed and read about it later that evening or the next day when I have time, and then I can take part in the conversation. If I do come up with a quick thought that I post on my Google Talk status, I always also post it on my Pownce page, whether via the website or the handy little Adobe Air app, because I want you to hear about it even if you're not online at that millisecond.