Posted in Opinion, tagged accessories, apple, Bluetooth, Handhelds, headphone jack, ios, ipad, iphone, Smartphones, TUAW, Universal Serial Bus on November 12, 2013 |
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Some thoughts on a recent article at TUAW (The Unofficial Apple Weblog) discussing the wide variety of contemporary accessories that iOS devices (specifically the iPhone) that use the headphone jack as the portal of interaction with your device. I have to admit, when pondering accessories that require input into an iOS device the sole physical portal that I (or most people) consider is the data sync port- that flat slot for Apple’s formerly iconic 30 pin connector on older devices, or the tiny jack used by newer Lighting cables. Apple has had a few adaptors for the data port for quite some time; for instance the misleadingly named camera adaptor has long been used for a variety of uses thanks to its USB port and SD card slot. Most accessory makers interact with iOS devices the way that Apple likely thinks is most appropriate- wirelessly via Bluetooth or wifi.
But for those inventive few that prefer a hardware connection there’s another option- the headphone jack. It has quietly acted as a means of interaction since the iPhone 3GS, allowing users to first play/pause/skip audio tracks and answer phone calls (and act as a microphone). As with most useful tools those with imagination will find new and inventive uses for it, as the TUAW article shows- from a laser pointer to a “smart” thermometer that via an accompanying app will provide more than just temperature. These various accessories use the audio port as both a means of input and external control of other devices.
As many medical device have become more computer based it’s easy to imagine devices like the iOS ecosystem providing even more broad functionality via hardware accessories. The ultrasound equipment that I use for cardiac and vascular imaging are essentially just specialized PCs; they run Windows XP embedded and have the same software that their accompanying PC reading stations use. The only differentiating factor is the specialized input hardware. In a similar vein my primary care physician has forgone the traditional EKG cart for a laptop with a specialized input accessory and software; the functionality is identical but the now digital platform can provide a great deal more flexibility while being more cost effective. The power afforded by an iPhone or iPad has grown exponentially since their introduction; given the right input hardware and app development they could likely be used as lower cost components for many everyday devices used in healthcare.
So let’s hear it for the visionaries that see the potential in devices like the iOS lineup. Their inventiveness might benefit you more than you realize.
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Posted in Advice, tagged Bluetooth, Bluetooth headsets, BookBook, Fitbit, Headset (audio), iFrogz, ipad, iphone, iPod touch, Motorola Bluetooth headset on October 21, 2013 |
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Just a quick helpful hint for those of you that enjoy using your iPhone or iPod Touch while exercising. While not necessary, there are a wealth of accessories to not only help you run that extra mile or keep your pace a little longer, they make your iOS device an integral part of your workout. Look no further than dedicated devices like the Fitbit or Nike + for hardware that adds to your device’s ability to track, analyze, and maximize your exercise of choice. Then there are the ancillary devices; neoprene arm bands to hold your device (loosely bouncing around in a pocket is fine for walking, but not for any other task) and Bluetooth headsets to enjoy your content without the hassle of wires.
I have a Motorola Bluetooth headset, but at the time it was paired to my iPad, so I decided to go old school. I switched from the Bookbook case to an iFrogz, slipped it into my Arkon iPhone sleeve (easily one of my favorite and most useful accessories) and plugged in some earbuds. Usually being active while listening to your device via earbuds (even those designed not to slip from your ears) is an unfortunate game of how long can you go before something (be it a swinging hand or the lawmower you’re pushing) catches the dangling cord of your earbuds and snatches them (sometimes painfully) from your ears.
The answer is as simple as it gets- eliminate the dangling of the cord. Simply run the cable of your earbuds from your device (in whatever mount or sleeve you use) into the sleeve of your shirt and out of the neck, gathering any extra cable inside the confines of your clothes- no more catching the cable on anything as you move, no more undue tugging on the earbuds making them fall out easier, and much less extraneous noise from the cable dangling and rustling as you move.
Have a simple solution you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments section below. Sometimes the best solution to a problem is the easiest!
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Posted in News, tagged Angry Birds, apple, Bluetooth, Infinity Blade, ios, iOS 7, iphone, Kickstarter, Mobile device, Video game on September 9, 2013 |
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Gaming on iOS devices should take a quantum leap with the release of iOS 7 and the new i-devices thanks to the revealed support for Bluetooth controllers. One of the stumbling points for gaming on iOS devices (or any touchscreen device) was the inability to successfully translate certain gaming interfaces. iOS devices of all flavors can replicate most older arcade and console games, but the lack of tactile feedback via a D pad, joystick, and buttons has harmed the overall gaming experience of those favorites. While the touch screen and motion/positional sensors inherent in all iOS devices has allowed clever developers to come up with new and innovative concepts, like the combat interface for the Infinity Blade games or the slingshot for Angry Birds, it still doesn’t feel like a complete solution for mobile gameplay.
Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, there is an answer for those that can’t wait for Bluetooth controllers (or don’t want to carry a second device solely for input)- the Invisible Gamepad. The Invisible Gamepad is a decidedly low tech answer to a high tech problem; it solves the issue of lack of tactile feedback by providing a series of clear, laser-etched overlays you place on the screen of your device. Various shapes and patterns are provided to suit any combination of inputs without interfering with the non-gaming functions of your device. The overlays allow for a measure of ‘feel’ allowing you to sense the placement of your on-screen controls via touch and not splitting your visual concentration between the game and the location of your controls on the screen.
I had been alternately excited and disappointed in the experience of various old games like the Atari Arcade. While they do look and perform perfectly, the missing tactile element really detracted from my overall enjoyment. Those that just want to enjoy a quick game on the go will appreciate the minimalist design, and gamers that don’t want to invest in a Bluetooth controller may be swayed by the price of Invisible Gamepad- just $12 at this writing. They are stated to work with any touchscreen device, and will even operate with a screen protector. For more in depth product information just see the official product page.
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Apple had announced a few months back during their iOS 7 release statement made it known that they consider the automobile a growth area for the iPhone. Several car makers have agreed to work with Apple to implement a true hands free, Siri-based user experience that eschews the iPhone’s native screen for visual information for a display in your car’s center console. While very promising, it’s still in the development stage (and even when in production most of us can’t upgrade our cars as often as we upgrade smartphones).
In the meantime, there are still options for taking advantage of the power and utility of your iPhone safely while behind the wheel. Your car’s Bluetooth handsfree is the first element- many states have made traditional cell phone use illegal while driving, making Bluetooth the only way to utilize voice communication. If you have a recent model car you may be able to take advantage of Bluetooth streaming via your car’s audio unit as well- a very handy feature for those that listen to digital media like podcasts often.
Even if it’s not accessible via your steering wheel controls, Siri still makes for a fine means of interaction with your iPhone while driving. The only caveat is you need easy, eyes-free access while driving; this requires a good car mount. I’ve been using a Panavise PortaGRIP in my current vehicle, but had previously used a Mountek mount in my Mini Coopers. The textured dash and low positioned cup holders made mounts that used either site impractical, and since I haven’t used the CD player in my cars for almost a decade now the Mountek’s use of the dash optical drive as a mounting point made for a great experience. My current Hyundai Genesis Coupe‘s sloped dash and LCD touchscreen made using the CD slot for a mounting point impossible, so I switched to the Panavise. Now, Mountek is back in the game with their latest version of their mount, the nGroove Snap.
The new Mountek product improves on the previous model in a few ways; first (and most importantly) by expanding the possible mounting points. The CD slot is still the primary site, but the nGroove Snap can also be placed in any seam or tight groove in your car’s dash (without the use of suction cups or adhesives). Want to use it elsewhere? You’re in luck- it’s also usable as a desktop stand, tripod clip, and will mount on laptop monitors as well.
The nGroove Snap doesn’t appear to use the same universal adjustable gripping ‘fingers’ that the previous model employed, but the actual mechanism isn’t covered in the product announcement- just that it’s compatible with a wide range of devices, including the iPad Mini (per the product photo gallery). While the actual mechanism isn’t advertised, the FAQ does state that the nGroove Snap is compatible with a wide range of cases (the Otterbox is cited as one of the test cases).
I enjoyed using my previous nGroove, and this version appears to be a significant improvement. Having your iPhone easily accessible while driving can be very useful (provided that use is with safety in mind). The various GPS apps, multimedia, and communication (including Siri-centered text messaging) make the iPhone a valuable part of any road trip.
The nGroove Snap is an Amazon exclusive preorder with a stated ship date of August 31st, and is listed for $29.95 (a discount of $10 from the list price). If you’re looking for a good auto mount, you should seriously consider the Mountek nGroove Snap.
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Posted in News, tagged apple, Ben Jacobs, Bluetooth, canine owners, Dog, Fitbit, gadgets, iphone, old english bulldog, San Francisco, technology, TUAW, Whistle on June 6, 2013 |
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Is your pup feeling left out of the smartphone and tablet revolution? Looked over due to their lack of ability to use a touchscreen (or pockets to keep their iPhone in)? No worries- San Francisco based Whistle is here to bring your dog into the post PC era (courtesy TUAW).
According to an interview with Ben Jacobs, CEO of Whistle, the organization sought to fill the lack of information that canine owners could provide their vet. While I dote on Emma (my Old English Bulldog- shown here at age three weeks) when it comes time to visit the vet I do admit there’s naught I could relay but any abnormal behavior I’d observed, and with my work schedule there’s plenty of the time during the day that I can’t monitor her. Whistle allows you to monitor your pet’s activities via a small device attached to their collar- varying degrees of active or resting. The data is collected over time to provide insight into a dog’s activities; changes or trends could signify an issue before it is readily obvious.
My initial impression is that this is an accessory for the helicopter parent masquerading as a pet owner (and I admit, I dote on my pup slavishly) but Whistle does have merit. The source report from TUAW states that it will collect information from all devices to create a baseline for different breeds and ages, as well as connecting via bluetooth and wifi to ensure connectivity whether at home or out and about. It’s not an impulse-driven development, either; Whistle is being created with input from some well-known veterinary clinics, academic organizations, and an advisory board comprised of a range of veterinary specialists.
The accessory is slated for release later this summer; keep your eye on TUAW (I highly recommend their RSS feed) for the first hands-on review.
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This in from the good folks at Engadget: yet another use for the electronic Swiss Army knife known as the iPhone. I’ve seen some unexpected uses for the iPhone, from digital wallet via apps like Lemon Wallet (currently in testing, review pending) to finding the cheapest nearby gas via apps like Gasbuddy (one I’ve used recently to good effect, resulting in a savings of almost 10 cents per gallon thanks to a store by my workplace I wasn’t even aware of), to control and datamining of my home’s Nest thermostat (not inexpensive, but easily the best product in its category).
Now you can even use your iPhone as a means of egress, thanks to the Kevo from Kwikset. This clever product utilizes the Bluetooth signal of your iPhone 4s or later (or a special key fob for the smartphone-less) to enable you to lock or unlock your door via a simple touch. Need to grant access to someone else? Not a problem; just send an eKey to them so that their iPhone can allow them to unlock the Kevo as well. The free companion iOS app allows you to manage your keys (and key fobs) remotely, eliminating the need for the cliche traditional key hidden under the doormat or false rock.
The Kevo is battery powered, using 4 AA batteries that will have an estimated one year life before needing replacement (Kwikset ensures that the Kevo provides ample early warning of low battery power). In the worst case scenario of complete power failure happen the Kevo can still be operated as a traditional deadbolt lock with a physical key.
This intriguing device isn’t available yet, but you can sign up for product news and release date info at their site.
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I’ve been fortunate enough to have owned or tested a lot of different devices. I’ve been exclusively Apple for some time, after coming to the realization that the benefits of homogeny far outweigh the benefits of piecing together my arsenal of tools, toys, and oddities. While I get a lot of use out of my collection of electronics, one thing has been a constant- to get the most out of your stuff, you need some swag. There are numerous categories, but regardless of what you have there’s always a little something extra to help make it better.
Take the iPhone for instance: one of the most popular devices Apple has ever made; powerful, versatile, and durable. Yet those with even momentarily clumsy fingers know the outcome of dropping an unprotected iPhone 4 or 4S- shattered Gorilla Glass on either the front or back of the handset. Even the aluminum-encased iPhone 5 can take a beating from unintended drops. Accidents like these (and the universal desire to personalize possessions) is one of the reasons I’ve recommended to just about every iPhone owner that they should find the iPhone case that suits their needs best. Whether it’s maximum protection, extra utility, or personalization there’s a case out there to suit your needs.
As for the iPad, not only would I recommend a case (although it’s not as risky using a la carte in my opinion), I would also point out the galaxy of other iPad accessories available. Whether it’s the larger screen size or the different form (tablet versus communication device) I used my iPad for many tasks that could have been done with my iPhone, but not as well. Bluetooth keyboards, speaker docks, mounts, styluses, the list goes on and on.
Then there’s the flagship of Apple’s portable lineup, the MacBook. While not as sliver thin or light as the iPad, all but the now discontinued 17 inch MacBook Pro are excellent full computers for those on the go. The Air lineup excel in this role, especially the diminutive 11 inch model (although I’ve been more than pleased with the portability of my 13 inch Retina model). Just as with Apple’s other mobility-minded devices, you may want to consider a case, sleeve, or bag for your MacBook. I’ve seen many owners sporting the Speck Candy Shell on their laptop- while the unibody aluminum construction is very strong, it’s not immune to scratches and considering the typically long life of the MacBook, it doesn’t hurt to protect the resale value for when you’re ready to upgrade. I’ve written recently about my Brenthaven ProStyle Plus; the combination of protection, extra portability, and storage made it the perfect choice for what I use my MacBook for. Just as with iPhone cases, there’s a plethora of options out there to suit your specific needs.
If you’re going to invest in a quality device like an iPhone, iPad, or MacBook, logic dictates that you’d want to both protect and enhance that investment. Best of all, the popularity of these devices has drawn innovators and manufacturers from every corner of the globe just waiting to provide a solution to any problem you can think of (and often some that you may not have). Whatever your need, be it mobile, tablet, or laptop, give friend of the blog GearZap (and sibling to MobileFun) a look. I think you’ll be glad you did.
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Posted in News, tagged apple, Bluetooth, Hyundai Genesis, ios, iphone, iPhone 4, ipod, IPod Classic, PanaVise, Samsung, Siri, smartphone on April 19, 2013 |
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I’ve been fortunate enough to get my hands on a wide array of iOS accessories over the years I’ve been blogging. One category that I hadn’t seen much of was automotive-based solutions for the iPhone. I hadn’t had factory Bluetooth in a vehicle until I picked up the iPhone 4, but now the lack of it would be a dealbreaker when shopping for wheels. Tight integration with my handset was one of the factors that made me choose my current car: a 2013 Hyundai Genesis GT. I’ve been able to forgo my trusty iPod classic thanks to the Genesis’ ability to stream audio via Bluetooth from my iPhone (and this prompted me for the first time to upgrade from the 16 gig model as well).
Since my phone was now playing a larger role while commuting or pleasure driving, I needed a suitable place to store it. Keeping it a pocket was extremely problematic as I still needed to reach dig for it should I need to interact with it (remember kids, Siri is your friend when driving. Texting behind the wheel is bad news). I made do with a Belkin TuneDok I had left over from my iPod-listening days. While not designed for the iPhone it fit well enough if the phone had a case, but it was a poor solution overall. It took up one of the two cup holders (strategically placed behind the shift knob, making the position even less than optimal should I want to switch from automatic transmission to manual for more aggressive driving) and the position made it necessary to divert my gaze from the road at times, even though I rely on Siri for most interaction.
While there are many car-based iPhone stands and mounts, I was fortunate to come into contact with what could be one of the first manufacturer to enter the market- PanaVise. Amazingly they’ve been in the game as long as there have been cellular phones- all the way from 1990 when they released the PortaGrip for the ancient brick-style analog portable phones. The company began in 1954 as a tool and die manufacturer, spurred by the patenting of founder Otto Colbert’s split ball mount to allow the rotation and positioning of dies during the manufacturing process. The patent bred further innovation that created their business of mounts for multiple products and uses. Their long line of phone mounts has evolved over the years to the current model, the PortaGRIP 15504.
The PortaGRIP 15504 is a jack of all trades- while advertised as an iPhone mount, the adjustable dock will accommodate most current smartphones (even the huge phablet Samsung Galaxy Note II). The mount offers several points of articulation, permitting it to be configured for a wide range of positions and placements- perfect for my situation as my car has a steeply sloped windscreen and textured dash that would not permit me to affix a mount in the places typically shown by manufacturers or other reviewers. After some reflection I chose the upper right corner of the windscreen, with the articulation points adjusted to position the majority of the mechanism in line with the window’s border column. My iPhone was now kept in an easily accessible spot that didn’t require me to divert my gaze should I need to reach for it, and didn’t block any view of the road. The mount is held surprisingly firmly in place by a suction cup in the base, but can be disengaged for stowing or placing the mount in another vehicle.
The PortaGRIP 15504 holds your phone securely via adjustable rubberized grips below and on eitherside of the device. All surfaces that touch your phone sport the same rubberized coating to protect your device from scuffs or scratches (should you be one of those brave souls that choose not to have a case). A button on the left side activates the quick release mechanism for easy removal when you reach your destination. Having the PortaGRIP has been a boon; its made storing and interacting with my iPhone both practical and safer, and the prominent placement ensures I won’t forget my device when I sleepily arrive at work in the morning. Better still, even after a week of testing the PortaGRIP 15504 has held as firm as the first day of use- something I can’t say about other car mounts I’ve tested.
The PortaGRIP 15504 isn’t a work of art, my admiration for it comes from its utilitarian functionality. Regardless of what handset you prefer or where you decide is the optimal placement, it can serve you and your smartphone perfectly, and do so reliably thanks to its lifetime warranty. My only issue during testing was that my placement spot didn’t allow for recharging of my iPhone, but should I place it close enough to the power port in the center console the PortaGRIP would readily allow this as well whether you had the slim Lightning cable or the traditional 30 pin connector.
Like all good ideas the PortaGRIP comes in many flavors. The universal phone bracket can be had with numerous mount bases, from several versions of the suction cup with various arm lengths and points of articulation to pedestal mounts, air conditioning vent clips, to a twelve inch floor fixed flexible shaft. For those that like the form of the PortaGRIP but don’t care for my mount positioning they have a model specifically for sloped windscreens. They even offer vehicle-specific in-dash models that do not impinge instruments, vents, or airbag deployment. Need a mount for a different device? No worries, Panavise has you covered there as well- regardless of the device or where you need to place it. The PanaVise 15504 is available online through Smartphone Experts (online or toll free 888-599-8998), or directly from PanaVise customer service: firstname.lastname@example.org or toll free at 800-759-7535.
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Posted in Reviews, tagged App Store (iOS), apple, Bluetooth, british accent, cable isp, gadgets, ios, iphone, itunes, Regional accents of English, Siri, Sisyphus, technology, Winston on February 17, 2013 |
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The real world has yet again put a damper on my ability to write, but I have attempted to keep up with new apps and accessories for the Apple ecosystem. One in particular that piqued my interest was the outbreak of rave reviews for a new Siri-like news app dubbed Winston. The app acts as a nonvisual portal to your news and social media, reading articles and posts to you via a synthetic voice sporting a British accent. While the concept sounded intriguing, the demo video was even moreso:
I was immediately sold. My aforementioned limited time impacts my ability to keep up with current news and trends, and this app coupled with my car’s ability to stream from my synched iPhone over Bluetooth seemed like a perfect commute-friendly way to do so. As with any of the other dozens of apps I’ve picked up from iTunes the download and installation was quick and hassle-free.
When first activated Winston goes through a personalization routine, asking for permission to access location services and querying you on the types of information you’re interested in, from headlines to sports. After identifying the prerequisite categories, it then attempts to download final information to act as your new eyes-free portal to information. Or it would, if the app could perform the task it claims to be attempting.
On my first attempt the app hung up in its final download phase for about a half an hour, forever at about 90% complete. The app states that for fastest downloading your iPhone should be connected to a wifi network, which mine was. Hoping that perhaps my wifi was the issue, I disconnected and used my device’s LTE connection (often just as fast as my home cable ISP) but the change had the same result. Thinking there was some sort of glitch in the app, I exited and force quit it from the background app switcher to insure that I could start fresh. When relaunched the app went through the same preliminary stages, only to hang up on the same final page with a fraction of the claimed necessary download complete.
Rather than just give up I took the iOS nuclear option of deleting the app, rebooting my iPhone, and reinstalling Winston. Sadly, nothing changed; I remained stuck on the final download screen as before. On a lark I let my iPhone run it in the background for two days, checking periodically to see if the app ever finished its Sisyphean task but if there was an progress it wasn’t perceptible on the download status bar.
While I’d love to add Winston to my must-have app list, I can’t review much less endorse an app that simply won’t run. The user reviews on its iTunes App Store page range between two poles- those that have used and love the app, and those like me that randomly can’t get it to even start.
ADDENDUM: After one last attempt I finally got Winston working. Apparently the issue was selecting too many of the Interests options during installation. After only selecting Headlines the app was up and running after a short installation download. A full review is forthcoming.
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