First impressions: Apple TV

Apple TV (courtesy Apple)

What the Apple TV does:

  • It connects to your high-definition television via HDMI (and only HDMI; cable sold separately).
  • It connects to your computer’s iTunes library, allowing you to play music, audio and video through your HDTV and home theatre system.
  • It connects certain Internet video and photo services to your HDTV (Flickr, MobileMe, Netflix, YouTube).
  • When iOS 4.2 comes out next month, you’ll be able to stream audio and video wirelessly from your iPad, iPhone and iPod touch on your HDTV and home theatre system, and not just from the default iPod or video apps. (This alone will save you the cost of a connector cable.)
  • It lets you rent and stream movies (and, in the U.S., TV episodes).

At $119 Canadian ($99 U.S.), that’s not a bad set of features, even if you have no plans to rent movies from Apple, so long as you already have a heavy investment in the Apple ecosystem. Adding a TV to that system for a hundred bucks or so does not seem unreasonable. A video-out cable for the iPad, iPhone or iPod costs $55 in Canada, $49 in the U.S., which is half the cost of an Apple TV that does the same thing wirelessly.

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Canadian iPad data plans

Last month, I said that “if the Canadian iPad data plans are anything like those offered by AT&T in the U.S., I’m in trouble.” Lo and behold, Rogers unveiled its iPad data plans yesterday, and they are basically similar to those from AT&T: 250 MB for $15 per month, or 5 GB for $35 (both plans including access to Rogers’s Wi-Fi hotspots, not that there are all that many). No contracts.

Not everyone is happy about it. Canadian mobile phone companies don’t offer unlimited data. It didn’t help that a $20 plan that allowed you to share an existing data plan with an iPad was posted on Apple’s page yesterday in error — no such plan exists, says Rogers, but it didn’t stop people from fulminating against it. Or against it not being there.

The people doing the most complaining are those who already have a data plan from Rogers, but I doubt that most people with an iPhone also need a 3G-equipped iPad, because they’re already going to have a healthy data plan included in their monthly phone bill. In that case, if you must have an iPad, get the Wi-Fi-only model instead, and use your iPhone when you’re not near Wi-Fi.

I see the 3G data option as a fall-back for when you can’t have Wi-Fi. I’m mostly around a Wi-Fi network, but there have been times when I’ve wanted Internet access where there was a cellphone signal but no open Wi-Fi. It would cost me $180 a year (or less: with no contract, you can switch the plan off and on as needed) for occasional on-the-go Internet. I’m not sure that’s a bad deal. I doubt I’d need more than that unless I was on a contract — during which I could easily switch to the 5 GB plan.

Yes, I’m probably in trouble here. I’ve got until the 28th.

Update: Noting for future reference the following iPhone Central articles on using the AT&T 250 MB data plan, which will be applicable here: How much does 250 MB get you? and Managing your 250 MB iPad 3G plan.

Orion’s iPhone app

Orion has announced its StarSeek astronomy app for the iPhone and iPod touch; it’s almost certainly a rebadged version of Carina Software’s SkyVoyager, which I have. It also looks like they’re rebadging the Wi-Fi telescope control module I blogged about in February (Carina’s, Orion’s). I wonder if SkyVoyager and StarSeek will simultaneously coexist — might be confusing — or if StarSeek will supplant SkyVoyager. In amateur astronomy, where the same product is sold under a half-dozen brand names at the same time — sometimes at different price points! — I wouldn’t bet against the former.

More entries below »

First looks at iPad apps

Even though the iPad only goes on sale today, and then only in the U.S., and then just the Wi-Fi-only model, a number of apps for the gadget are already available, and several sites have been pointing to a bunch that look interesting: Appolicious, Gizmodo, Wired. I have to say that some of these look good enough to sell iPads by themselves, just so that people can use these things. It’s calling, the Precious is calling …

On the other hand, I note that a number of iPad apps are more expensive than their iPhone/iPod touch counterparts (e.g., $10 instead of $5), as though developers are trying to reset expectations this time around so that people don’t consider apps the same way they do ringtones or songs, and only expect to pay a buck or two for them. The worst trend would be something I saw a couple of months ago: a $2 iPhone app to access a website that is normally free, but which blocks iPhone users to ensure that they pay for the $2 app. Things will not go well if users think that developers are just trying to fleece them.

Oh shit, here comes the iPad

iPad. Image credit: Apple A media embargo must have been lifted last night: all at once, major reviews of the iPad appeared, from reviewers who were given review units a week ago. Whatever you think about whether such arrangements tend to encourage favourable reviews to ensure continued favoured access, those reviews were all very favourable — so much so that you’d think they’d be embarrassed and ashamed if they weren’t completely sincere. Here they are: the Chicago Sun-Times’s Andy Ihnatko, the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg, the New York Times’s David Pogue, and USA Today’s Ed Baig. Here, too, are Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing and Stephen Fry writing for Time. They’re all blown away by this thing.

Personally, I’m afraid of it. It will be very hard for me to resist getting one, despite the fact that I already have an iPod touch (first generation — gee, it’s looking old), a MacBook Pro and an iMac (both bought last year).

For me, the use case for mobile computing would be stronger if I were more, well, mobile. It’s why I don’t have an iPhone: my cellphone requirements are usually minimal, at least as far as voice calls are concerned, unless I’m working in the city or travelling. But ubiquitous Internet access, without worrying about open Wi-Fi access points, has always been compelling to me, so I’m gravitating to the 3G models; my iTunes library is already bigger than my 32 GB iPod touch, so I’m running the risk of the most expensive iPad model there is, the 64 GB model with 3G wireless. Not cheap!

The wireless data offered by the 3G models without the need for an expensive cellphone contract, at least in the U.S., is extremely appealing; if the Canadian iPad data plans are anything like those offered by AT&T in the U.S., I’m in trouble. In particular, the idea of what this combination of a large screen, GPS, and ubiquitous Internet access will do for maps is making me quiver. That’s a use case I have a hard time resisting. Damn.

I’m actually hoping that the Canadian mobile operators will be their usual selves and screw this up, so that I will be able to resist this thing a little longer.

You’ll know I’m doomed if you see me in an Apple Store after the iPad’s release, fondling one while repeating to myself, over and over again, “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit” — that’s what I sound like just before handing over my credit card for something I tried to resist, but failed.

(Image courtesy of Apple. First review link roundups at Cult of Mac, Daring Fireball and Kottke.)

Wireless telescope control

Controlling a computerized telescope from a computer is not new; it usually requires compatible desktop planetarium software and a serial cable to connect the computer to the telescope mount. The only wireless option I was previously aware of was to use Starry Night Pro with a Bluetooth adapter — though it appears that that adapter is no longer available.

Carina Software SkyFi Wireless Telescope Controller Enter Carina Software’s SkyFi Wireless Telescope Controller, which adds WiFi to a computerized telescope. It connects to most telescope mounts with serial (RS-232) interfaces, including the two I own (the Celestron NexStar 5 SE and the Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro). Ironically, it isn’t compatible with newer mounts with USB ports, though they’re working on that. As you might have guessed from their name, Carina Software also makes software, including SkyVoyager, a planetarium app for the iPhone and iPod touch. I’ve been using it for a while; it’s a nice app. SkyVoyager, by the by, includes telescope control. Until this gizmo, that meant connecting via WiFi to a computer running Voyager, Carina’s desktop application, that was plugged into the telescope mount in the usual manner. Now you can control a computerized telescope wirelessly from an iPhone or iPod touch — directly. Contemplate that for a moment: controlling a computerized telescope from a phone or an iPod.

This made a big splash at Macworld this month: see coverage at MacRumors and MacNN.

SkyFi costs $150; SkyVoyager costs $15; Voyager runs between $100 and $180.

Civilization for the iPhone and iPod touch

Somehow I missed the news that a version of Civilization was coming to the iPhone/iPod touch platform. Now it’s here; Macworld’s iPhone Central has a review. I’m going to have to look into this — especially since it’s half price for the first 48 hours after its release — and then kiss all productivity (and battery life) goodbye.

Delicious Library for the iPhone/iPod touch

Screenshot The iPhone/iPod touch version of Delicious Library has been pulled because it ran afoul of Amazon’s terms of service. This is a real pity, because the iPhone/iPod touch version of Delicious Library is fantastic. It syncs up with the desktop version via WiFi (sidestepping the iTunes sync), downloading your collection data onto your device. This is extremely handy when you have an iPod touch, because it means you don’t need a network connection to browse your own library — and browsing your own library is really handy in a bookstore when you’re trying to remember if you already own a book. Really well-implemented search, too. So: a real pity. Good thing it can’t be undownloaded — I’ve already got mine, and I won’t give it up!

LG 150 recall

So my my cellphone has been recalled, owing to some mysterious non-compliance with some radio standards. Despite this, it still won’t give me cancer, apparently. Virgin Mobile is running an exchange program that is making it more difficult for me than it should: the web form doesn’t recognize my address, the phone queue is very long, and the phone reps a mite bit clueless. And in the end, my phone is not even from the batch that LG is worrying about, so I’m feeling a bit, shall we say, unnecessarily hassled.

Palm’s comeback

Palm Pre (thumbnail) Palm’s upcoming Pre is the first smartphone I’ve seen since the announcement of the iPhone that I might actually consider getting instead of an iPhone. (Not that I need a smartphone right now, but in the event that I do.) Watching the CES announcement drove home the fact that, for the first time, a competing smartphone manufacturer has actually tried to do the iPhone one better, rather than just play catchup. The Pre’s multitasking is an order of magnitude better than the iPhone’s: switching applications on my iPod touch suddenly feels clunky. (Ironically, the lack of true multitasking was one of the major problems of Palm’s last OS.)

Early reviews and first impressions are extremely positive — see, for example, Boing Boing Gadgets, CNet, Cult of Mac, Electronista, Engadget’s first impressions and interface tour, Gizmodo’s first look and look at the user interface, Scoble and especially Newsweek’s fine in-depth article — if not outright joyous that (1) beleaguered Palm is not yet dead and (2) finally, someone might actually give Apple a run for its money. But there’s still a lot we don’t know yet, such as what the Pre is going to cost, and how it’s going to work as a phone. Whether the Pre will turn out to be as good as it looks at first blush. The stakes for Palm are high: they’ve bet the company on the Pre, and if it fails, that’ll probably be it for them.

Previously: The Egregious Incompetence of Palm.

For the Zune, it’s Y2K plus nine

A bug in the way its internal clock handles leap years caused virtually every 2006-vintage, 30-gigabyte Microsoft Zune music player to fail yesterday. Microsoft’s fix: wait until today and the problem should resolve itself. CNet coverage.

Two questions arise from this latest Microsoft fiasco. First, how did this get past testing? And second, how could there be that many Zune owners out there? You people bought one of these things? Willingly? With your own money?

Update: A Zune Boards post analyses the bug in the Zune’s source code: essentially, on leap years, “the Zune keeps looping forever and doesn’t do anything else.” Also, it’s not a one-time thing: “if Microsoft doesn’t fix this part of the firmware, the whole thing will happen all over again in 4 more years.” Assuming any are still in use then. Via Daring Fireball.

Rogers iPhone data usage less than expected

I don’t know, maybe the reason that iPhone users on the Rogers network are using far less data than expected is because Canadian customers, remembering stories of monthly phone bills running four or five figures thanks to data usage, are terrified of going over the limit, and are holding back accordingly.

In the first four weeks after the iPhone launched in Canada July 11, Rogers says 95 per cent of customers used less than 10 per cent of their plans’ data allotment. … In the first four weeks of usage, 95 per cent of customers used less than half a gigabyte and 91 per cent used less than 200 megabytes. Only a single customer exceeded the 6 GB threshold, [Rogers spokeswoman Liz] Hamilton said.

People scared of exceeding the limit will generally buy more than they need. But changes are afoot to address these usage patterns: Rogers’s iPhone plans will become less generous in the fall, but they will cap data charges at $100 a month no matter how much you use. And data plans will be unlimited for the first three months, and can be changed, so that people can find out for themselves how much data they would normally use if they weren’t holding back. Both go some ways to addressing the problems with limited data plans I outlined two months ago. Unlimited data would still have been easier for all concerned in practice, even if Rogers has a corporate allergy to it: it would not have saturated the network — not on a device with WiFi — and it would have put users at ease. Via MacNN.

The problem with limited data

The iPhone 3G is coming to Canada this month, and Rogers posted its iPhone rate plans last week. As Richard (among many others) notes, unlimited data — taken for granted on U.S. iPhones and other smartphones — is nowhere to be seen. Data caps range from 400 MB to 2 GB, with overages costing 50¢/MB for the first 60 MB, then 3¢/MB after that. This has caused a considerable uproar, including an online petition site that has since gone 404.

Not everyone who wants unlimited data wants to use it in an unlimited fashion; indeed, I would imagine that the majority of Rogers subscribers will not exceed the data caps. The problem is, people imagine that they could, and worry what would happen if they did. It’s easy to avoid exceeding your monthly minutes: you call less. But data is charged by the megabyte, not the minute: when you check your mail, you don’t know if someone just sent you a 20-MB attachment or if you’re downloading a pile of spam; you don’t know how much bandwidth you’re using when you download a single page. You don’t have the same direct control over your data usage as you do over your voice usage.

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On the Kindle and e-books

The problem with the Kindle, Amazon’s new e-book thingy, is the problem with every e-book thingy I’ve encountered — namely, that they’re all designed as the last link in a proprietary supply chain. They’re not reading devices; they’re a place to read the e-books you’ve bought from their store. Everyone complains about the DRM, whether it’s Amazon’s, Sony’s, Microsoft’s or Palm’s, but the DRM is quite honestly a symptom rather than the problem.

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Palm’s Foleo

At one point I pontificated on this spot about handhelds and mobile technology on a fairly regular basis, and though I haven’t used a handheld in a year, having since reverted to pen and notepad, I should nevertheless say something about the Foleo mobile companion, the laptop-like thingy that Palm announced, or rather pre-announced, last week.

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The egregious incompetence of Palm

In The Egregious Incompetence of Palm, Daniel Eran makes a point about Palm that I had long felt, albeit incoherently: that Palm made a series of missteps and do-overs that essentially shot itself in the foot; and that what it did was essentially what the pundits said Apple should have done — viz., license and spin off the OS:

Remember when pundits all insisted they knew exactly how to fix Apple? Apple mostly ignored their advice, which ended up being fortunate for today’s Mac users.
Palm’s history of following all that advice — and paying the severe consequences — provides an interesting view into an alternate universe of possibility: what might have happened to Apple had it been run by John Dvorak, Paul Thurrott, Rob Enderle, and a gaggle of other columnists with conflicting opinions on how to save it.
They incessantly insisted that Apple desperately needed to:
  • License its OS to other hardware makers
  • Copy Microsoft’s Windows strategies
  • Compete directly against Microsoft in IT markets
  • Split into hardware and software companies
  • Buy Be, Inc. for its BeOS
  • Adopt the Linux kernel
  • License Windows from Microsoft
While Apple ignored all their free advice, Palm jumped in and followed it to the letter. The result: Palm is on extended life support and peddling a device that will be completely obsolete in six months.

Now, of course, there aren’t any more licencees, and Palm doesn’t even own its own OS any more — they spun it off and failed when they tried to buy it back. And they haven’t released a new, non-Treo PDA since October 2005. Via Palm Infocenter.

iPhone questions

iPhone The iPhone is one of those gadgets I’m awfully impressed by, and I certainly lust after, but I know full well that I do not need: I’m simply not out of the house enough to warrant owning a mobile phone of any sort at this point, and GSM coverage barely qualifies as marginal where we are. So I’m safe. But I’m still interested.

Two questions that came to mind yesterday while absorbing the information on this thing.

Continue reading this entry »

Minor technical difficulties

I’ve encountered a glitch with Front Row: it’s not playing nice with iPhoto. I’m not sure what the problem is — probably something is gumming up the works as a result of how I brought the old data over — but I’m assuming it’s solvable. More when I find out how to fix it.

Meanwhile, I’ve gotten the Palm syncing with the new iMac — works fine under Rosetta — and I’ve even got Documents to Go working again. My Tungsten T2 came with version 5, while Jennifer’s TX has version 7 — so when I synced up her Palm with my old iMac over Christmas, it overwrote version 7 over version 5 and promptly hosed it on my Palm. Now that we’re on separate machines (she’s using the old iMac), that conflict is no longer a problem. Unfortunately, no sooner had I got that working than I realized that audio was totally hosed on my Palm: I get a faint, high-pitched whine whenever it’s on (not enough to be annoying), but no other sound. (You can tell I don’t use my PDA much any more; it’s been like this for a while but I didn’t really pay much attention to it.)

The car’s headlights are only working intermittently at the moment: they outright failed over the weekend — no daytime running lights, no headlights, no brights — but appear to be working now. Garage suspects the daytime running lights module, maintenance on which requires a Mazda dealership. Sigh — the car is determined to have money spent on it. You can ignore compressors, but you just can’t ignore headlights.

Intel Mac Mini, iPod Hi-Fi

Today, Apple announced a new Mac Mini line with Intel processors and a new iPod speaker system, the iPod Hi-Fi.

Initial thoughts on the new Mac Mini:

  • It’s more expensive than its G4-based predecessor: US$599/C$699 for the 1.5-GHz Core Solo model; US$799/C$949 for the 1.67-GHZ Core Duo model.
  • But it’s arguably better equipped: each model comes with wireless standard, more USB ports, Gigabit Ethernet, and digital audio in/out. It gains a microphone port and loses its modem.
  • In a first for a Mac, the Mini uses Intel Integrated Graphics and shared memory instead of an ATI or Nvidia graphics chipset with dedicated memory. What are the implications for Quartz Extreme and Core Graphics? (Update: It might still be better than the Radeon 9200 in the G4 Mini. Update #2: Apparently it’s a GPU for video playback rather than 3D gaming.)
  • The Mini ships without a keyboard and mouse, as usual, but comes with a remote. (It’s got Front Row, but, as you might expect, no iSight.) There’s something strange about that.

As for the Hi-Fi, it’s definitely aimed at the high end of the iPod speaker market, at US$349/C$429. You have to plug in an iPod (or another audio source), but it’s being positioned on Apple’s web pages as another iPod, which may cause some confusion:


Me, I’d been hoping for a component unit with a hard drive that synced like an iPod wirelessly, but I imagine that the AirPort Express already fills that niche. So does a cable from an iPod to the back of your amplifier, for that matter.

But it doesn’t look like Apple means to complement your existing home stereo; it means to replace it.

New iPods are one cable short

This morning Apple announced revisions to its iPod mini and iPod photo product lines. They’re cheaper and they come with more storage: the iPod mini now comes in two capacities, 4 GB (US$199, formerly US$249) and 6 GB (US$249); the 60-GB iPod photo drops US$150 to US$449, and the 40-GB iPod photo is replaced by a cheaper, 30-GB model that’s thinner because it uses a single-platter drive, at US$349.

The iPod decontenting continues: no iPod model now ships with a dock, and the iPod photos do not come with AV cables. In fact, the new models don’t even ship with a FireWire cable, just a USB 2.0 cable. This has raised a certain amount of ire and the inevitable petition. As usual, I don’t think much of the histrionics involved when Apple does something its fanboys don’t like. They generally invoke every argument — loyalty to the Mac fanbase or nefariously abandoning the FireWire standard — except the sensible ones. In this case it comes down to economics.

Continue reading this entry »

RIP Clie

After pulling out of the North American PDA market last year to focus on Japan, Sony has announced that it’s ending production of its Clie line of Palm OS handhelds. Between this and the handhelds coming out of PalmOne, which are increasingly cheap-looking (and cheap-feeling — have you ever held a Tungsten T5 or Zire 72?), it’s safe to say that the high end of Palm OS based PDAs is about to disappear. Looks like I’ll be hanging on to my T2 until it falls apart.

PalmOne Tungsten T5 announced

PalmOne announced the Tungsten T5 this morning (coverage: Brighthand, Gizmodo, Palm Infocenter). In some ways this is more an E2 than a T5, in that it uses the Tungsten E’s form factor, abandoning the slider from the T/T2/T3. It’s still running OS 5, not Cobalt, and it still has built-in Bluetooth (it’s compatible with PalmOne’s new SDIO WiFi card) and the 320×480 screen. A part of its 256 MB of memory is flash memory that can store any files (not just Palm documents and applications) and that can be mounted as a USB storage device, which is kind of neat. On the other hand, it eliminates the voice recorder and uses a new connector format, which is kind of irritating. My snap judgment: I still like my T2, and would probably buy a Zire 72 if I was shopping for a gadget today. This one’s kind of meh.

iPod decontenting

The online documentation was contradictory at the outset, so it took us a few days to figure it out, but the new iPods have been “decontented” (see below): the low-end model, now 20 GB, has always lacked a dock, remote and case; but the 40-GB iPod now only comes with a dock, and not a remote or case.

Presumably, removing the remote and case from the US$399 model was one of the ways for Apple to cut prices without cutting profits overmuch. I imagine that their market research suggested that if they had to remove accessories, the remote and case would have been missed more than the dock. (That would be my sentiment, but I don’t presume that my preferences are somehow indicative of the whole, unlike many commentators.)

“Decontenting” is an apparently common practice of the auto industry: increase profits by removing standard features and making them extras, rather than raising the sticker price. (See the bottom of this page.) It’s best, of course, if it’s a feature that the customer won’t miss overmuch — i.e., the cost of including it outweights the benefit derived from including it — otherwise there’s a general hue and cry.

An odd link correction request from PalmOne

Got an unusual e-mail the other day from a Cooper Marcus at PalmOne — the hardware successor to Palm — notifying me (redundantly) of recent corporate changes (Palm to PalmOne, which has also acquired Handspring) and would I mind updating my links to the Palm, Palm Store and Handspring sites to the new URLs? He cited a link from this site, dated May 2002.

You know, this is something that could be done a lot more efficiently at their end by simply forwarding to the new URLs: a lot less labour intensive than e-mailing everyone who ever linked to them. There’s also this feeling I have that links in old blog entries should be allowed to expire, or at least be accurate for the time: after three years and something like 1,600 entries, I don’t think I like the precedent of having to maintain and update links for all time. So phooey.

Clearly an exercise in supporting the new corporate branding — he also asked that the new name (“PalmOne”) be used, to which I say “fine”. But by asking everyone to update their links instead of forwarding them themselves, they might also be trying a bit of search engine optimization, by boosting the new pages’ ranking past the old pages. Years of the old Palm and Handspring names, with thousands of instances of relevant keywords linking to the old URLs, may well represent a very significant obstacle to overcome.

If they’re trying to kill “Palm” as an identifier, they’ll have their work cut out for them. Most of the people I talk to don’t understand “PDA” or “handheld”; they understand “Palm” or even — quelle horreur — “Palm Pilot.” And didn’t I see a trailer for Little Black Book, which features a Tungsten C, in which the characters refer to the gadget as a “Palm”?

Camera phone hysteria

You may have noticed a certain amount of hysteria out there about the presence of camera phones — cellphones with a built-in digital camera. Apparently they could be used for all sorts of malfeasance, from pantsuto fetishism to industrial espionage. Case in point: at the Newmarket reptile show last month, there was a notice on the community centre banning digital cameras in PDAs and phones. This was a community centre where selling reticulated pythons was legal, but they were deathly afraid that someone might use their phone to surreptitiously take a picture of you taking a pee.

The reaction to camera phones is not unlike what happened when the inexpensive Kodak film camera was introduced in 1888 (via Kottke).

Blogging from your Palm

HBlogger, currently in beta, is a Palm OS application that allows you to post to your blog (Blogger, LiveJournal and Movable Type) from an Internet-connected Palm OS handheld (via Palm Infocenter). This plus Bluetooth connection sharing — or an affordable and strong GPRS signal — and I’m set.

The Missing Sync

The Missing Sync 4, available next month, is a full replacement for the increasingly creaky HotSync Manager for Mac OS X. Previous iterations of the Missing Sync have enabled Mac compatibility with a whole whack of handhelds, Palm OS or otherwise. This version integrates all the previous hacks for Palm OS handhelds (Sony Clié, Tapwave Zodiac, Garmin iQue) and adds features not available in HotSync. Me, I’m looking at the iPhoto plugins and the Internet sharing via Bluetooth.

This software is what will enable Palm Cobalt compatibility with the Mac; PalmSource had earlier indicated that they would not ship a Mac version of HotSync for Cobalt, but that third-party solutions would be available (see previous entry). Here’s that third-party solution, even though no Cobalt devices have shipped yet.

In the meantime, this’ll be compatible with Palm OS 4 and OS 5 devices. This means that Jen’s m500 and my Tungsten T2 will work with this, though OS 3.x devices won’t — too bad for imminent switchers Florence (Palm m105) and David (Palm Vx), who will have to use HotSync (which is at least free).

iPod mini available internationally; AirPort Express not listed in Canada

Apple is now taking pre-orders for the iPod mini from international customers; they will begin shipping on July 24. The mini’s availability has been limited to the U.S. for months due to high demand and constrained supply (previous entry). The Canadian price is $349.

(Meanwhile, why doesn’t AirPort Express appear in Apple’s Canada Store? The Canadian page says “Coming soon.” I’d love to know what’s behind that.)

New Zires; PalmOne’s upgrade path

Also this morning, there are two new Zire-branded handhelds from PalmOne:

  • The Zire 31, a low-end handheld with 16 MB of RAM and a low-resolution (160×160) colour screen. US$149/C$229. Brighthand review.
  • The Zire 72, which replaces last year’s Zire 71. It bumps up the camera resolution to 1.3 megapixels and adds video support (not Mac supported). It also bumps up the memory to 32 MB and adds Bluetooth (yay!) and a voice recorder. It ditches the 71’s sliding mechanism that revealed the camera. But it also ditches the Universal Connector: a bummer for anyone who already has accessories. So that rules it out for us; otherwise, this would have been a perfect handheld. (Not that I’m seriously considering replacing my Tungsten T2, but had this handheld existed when I was shopping, I would have given it serious consideration, and the lack of a Universal Connector would have been a serious drawback.) US$299/C$449. Brighthand review, PalmInfocenter review.

Somewhat off-topic. The Palm OS version number on these handhelds is 5.2.8. Upgrades are the purview of the hardware manufacturers, not PalmSource (the OS company), and I’m not sure what PalmOne wants its installed base to do. They haven’t released any OS upgrades since 4.1 — you’re stuck on 5.0 if you have an original Tungsten T, for example — so they may implicitly want you to buy a new handheld to get the latest OS features. (The upgrades to the calendar and address book apps are ideal for their OS X equivalents, Address Book and iCal, what with the multiple calendar categories, address book photos, and birthdays, so of course I want to lay hands on them.)

But so many of the new handhelds lack the Universal Connector: all the Zires (except the just-discontinued Zire 71) and the Tungsten E. Anyone with a Universal Connector equipped handheld — say, the m500 series — who wants, say, a Zire 72 will have to ditch any accessories (the landline modem, the original keyboard) bought for the original gadget. Generally speaking the handhelds lacking the connector are entry-level devices: no one is going to “upgrade” from an m515 to a Zire 21. But it’s possible that someone might replace a broken m515 with a Tungsten E, and the camera-equipped Zires have definite upgrade appeal, if I’m any indication (see above). So I’m surprised that they left it out.

This may not apply to enough people for PalmOne to worry about it, but I do wonder about the upgrade path for existing users, whether it’s software or hardware. Palm originally offered regular OS upgrades at the very least. “Buy everything new again” is not something that would please a customer; it might even cost sales.

All hail Bluetooth

A man, an unlimited data plan, and a whole whack of devices and software: Matt’s a convert to Bluetooth, using his PowerBook and his T68i to connect anywhere there’s a GPRS signal, among other things. His mind boggles at the idea of ubiquitous net access. It’s something I’ve been coveting for a while, and something I’ll make a priority when I safely re-ensconce myself somewhere urban.

Professor iPod

Wired has an interview with “Professor iPod” Michael Bull, talking about the social impact of that gadget. Actually it’s a bit of a misnomer, since he’s an expert on the social impact of personal stereos, from Walkmans on (profile).

If I had finished my Ph.D. — social history of music — I would have been all over this guy. Since I was interested in the divide between public and private music (performances vs. listening at home) and active and passive music (playing vs. listening), as well as the usual gender and class stuff, his work would have fit right in.

Now that I think of it, doesn’t GarageBand do something in terms of invigorating the active aspect of music, opening up opportunities for playing and, through sharing the music, performing that otherwise would have had obstacles insurmountable for some — whether through lack of lessons or lack of technology (not being able to afford Pro Tools or the bank of sound equipment plugged into the back of a Power Mac).

iPod mini’s hard drive costs nearly twice as much retail

“The $249 iPod mini contains a $479.95 Hitachi MicroDrive,” says Jonathan Hudson. Now, leaving aside the question of whether or not you can strip out the iPod mini’s hard drive for use elsewhere (iPodlounge), and save a bundle on a CF microdrive thereby, let’s look at that again. The US$249 iPod mini contains a US$479.95 microdrive. Anyone still think it, and other MP3 players using the same part, are overpriced? (via Boing Boing)

No Palm Cobalt for the Mac

PalmSource’s decision to drop Mac compatibility from Cobalt (formerly known as Palm OS 6) is, on the surface, maddening. But this cloud may have a cobalt-thorium G silver lining.

Cobalt will have a different PIM architecture that renders it incompatible with the current Palm Desktop. The current Palm Desktop for Mac, however, sucks — and sucks hard, and the HotSync Manager is only barely on speaking terms with iSync. Mark/Space has already announced that it will release a version of Missing Sync for Palm Cobalt devices — they’ve made or announced similar software to get Sony Cliés, Pocket PCs and Danger Hiptops to sync up with a Mac. They might, in other words, come up with a solution better than anything PalmSource could come up with.

It also raises the question: assuming that the PIM architecture is readily accessible to third parties (as HotSyncing is not), why might not Apple itself engineer Cobalt compatibility directly into iSync? At least one commenter in the Palm Infocenter story’s comments raised that possibility, drawing an analogy with Microsoft ending IE development as Apple released Safari.

The problem this time is that the alternatives aren’t in place in time to reassure nervous consumers. There are almost certainly a lot of pissed off Mac/Palm users out there today.

New Cliés

Obligatory mention of the two new Cliés announced today by Sony Japan: the TH55 has a full 320×480 screen and built-in Wi-Fi; the TJ37 has a 320×320 screen and the usual god-awful Sony buttons; both have a built-in digital camera. Read more at the usual sources: Brighthand, Palm Infocenter.

Palm OS 6 upgrades

Oh well, it doesn’t all look bad on the Palm front — rumour has it that there may be an OS 6 upgrade for OS 5 devices. This is the closest we’ve ever gotten to confirming that OS 5 handhelds are upgradeable; mum was the word when they were first announced. This was vexing to some users who knew perfectly well that OS 5 was an interim port to the ARM platform while they worked on OS 6.

Delayed again

Well, surprise, surprise — the SanDisk WiFi card’s Palm OS drivers have been delayed yet again. See previous entry. Now SanDisk is warning that not every OS 5 handheld will have enough power to run the card. Why on earth did they announce the silly thing in the first place, then? I’m sure that it will turn out that the only Palm capable of running the card will be the Tungsten C — the one with WiFi built-in.

I’m not pleased with the state of peripherals on the Palm OS 5 platform. Despite the fact that the two dominant manufacturers use different memory card formats (palmOne: Secure Digital; Sony: Memory Stick) and different internals, is it not possible to have some equivalent of Pocket PC’s SDIO Now! for the Palm?

Copyright tariff increases limited to MP3 players

This saga has been ongoing for more than a year and a half — see previous entries from Jan. 21, 2003, Dec. 11, 2002 and March 12, 2002 — but now we have a final answer from the Copyright Board of Canada regarding the CPCC’s proposed tariff hikes on recordable CDs and DVDs, flash media and hard-drive-based MP3 players like the iPod. And the news is mostly good overall. The Copyright Board has rejected increased tariffs on CDs and new tariffs on DVDs and flash cards (which can be used, after all, for data backup and your own material — I imagine that most flash media is sold for use in digital cameras) and imposed a tariff of up to $25 on hard-drive-based MP3 players. When you consider that the original tariff rate proposed was $21 per gigabyte — or $840 extra on a 40-GB iPod costing $729 — this isn’t bad at all. Read the news: CBC News Online, Globe Technology. See also Richard’s post; he’s been tracking this issue for a long time.

Update: A pretty good CBC News Online backgrounder.

Palm SDIO accessories

When I read that the palmOne SDIO digital camera was going to be delayed and rebranded, on the heels of hearing that SanDisk’s WiFi card has been delayed, I began to wonder whether there was something inherent to the Palm OS that made it difficult to produce accessories. You’d think that, with more Palm OS units than Pocket PC units out there with Secure Digital slots, there would be more SDIO accessories for Palm than for Pocket PC, but that’s not the case. Instead, we see the Palm Bluetooth Card still incompatible with OS 5 handhelds a year after they come out, and a WiFi card come out for Pocket PC months before the Palm. Here’s an article that sheds some light on the difficulties, particularly in the context of the SanDisk WiFi card (via Gizmodo).

Update: Brighthand coverage.

Sony Clié UX-50; slow Nokia cameraphone

Mobitopia has a couple of interesting recent articles. One is a rather gushing review of Sony’s top-end Clié, the UX-50, which includes a built-in camera (640×480), Bluetooth and WiFi, but not a cradle or a portrait-mode option for the screen. And it’s pricey. The other article is a complaint about the Nokia 3650’s built-in camera. Apparently its advantage is ubiquity, not speed: you may have the camera with you, but you might not be able to take the damn picture fast enough.

Signal strength in Quyon

In Quyon last night to cover a public meeting regarding a proposed engineered landfill site, about which I hope to have a nice article next week. Quyon has a good spot for cellphone signal strength by the Lions Club and ferry dock: I was able to call home without difficulty. But by the time I hit Clarendon Street (Quyon’s main drag), the call began cutting out. In the Pontiac, at least as far as Rogers AT&T Wireless’s network is concerned, all cell towers are on the Ontario side; it may be a matter of being on the wrong side of buildings — something that is less prevalent in cities where there are more cell towers in more directions. Or does that make any sense? I’m just guessing.

SD WiFi card delays

Next spring? Oh, for crying out loud — how can SanDisk be almost a year behind schedule on their 802.11b SD card for Palm OS 5? This is something I’d buy just about instantly — in theory, the Bluetooth on my Tungsten T2 is more useful on the road, especially since there aren’t many WiFi hotspots in rural western Quebec, but it’d be nice to surf the web on my Palm at home. (Otherwise, I’d have to figure out how to enable Internet connection sharing via Bluetooth on Panther — the original hack under Jaguar appears to have been disabled as of OS X 10.2.6.) Serious grumblage.

Power to Go — for a price

Brighthand has a review of the Palm Power to Go, an external battery pack for Universal Connector-equipped Palm handhelds. At US$100/C$150, this clearly isn’t for everyone — not when car chargers and AC adapters are so much cheaper. Palm-branded accessories are usually pricey in any event.

But it sounds like a good idea in certain, limited circumstances. I can think of two: where you are using it heavily for prolonged periods, and it’s inconvenient to recharge it by other means (i.e., you’re using it with the battery pack clipped on), or you’re in a location where charging by other means is simply impossible — say, out in the field somewhere. Ed’s review has some other scenarios.

Note: Entries prior to November 2003 did not have categories assigned to them, and are not included in category archives; please consult the monthly archives.