Innovation comes in many guises, some of them more outlandish than others. The various iOS devices over the past few years have sparked a legion of accessories of all kinds to support and improve the use of those devices. The iFlask (courtesy of Mashable), while clever, doesn’t fit that description.
Smartphones of various makes have become ubiquitous; in the few short years since the release of the first iPhone they’ve become almost a requirement for many. I would find my daily life severely constrained without my handset- it provides communication, information, and entertainment no other single device could. The iFlask takes advantage of the commonness of today’s smartphones for the purpose of subterfuge; as the name suggests the “device” is in fact a drinking flask masquerading as a faux iPhone.
The iFlask is constructed of stainless steel and polycarbonate, and built to loosely resemble one of several smartphone profiles. At a glance one wouldn’t suspect it was a ruse, containing up to 5 ounces of whatever fluid one would like to conceal. The headphone jack is actually the opening for the flask, opened by a sliding switch. The makers of the iFlask even kindly provide a collapsable funnel to fill the container.
The iFlask began as a Kickstarter campaign, but even though it failed to reach its funding goal the makers have found a way to being manufacturing and are accepting preorders via their website. This curious product could serve in many somewhat illicit functions- sneaking alcohol into sporting or other group events where drinks are either prohibited or prohibitively expensive is the first that comes to mind. It would make for a clever gag gift as well. I’m just thankful it wasn’t around when I was younger; it could have been the origin of a great deal of trouble for me and some of my friends.
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Time for one last outburst of wailing and gnashing of teeth for the pending demise of Google Reader before I can put it behind me, and some retrospect for all the other failed products Reader will be joining in obscurity.
A recent article from Slate (courtesy of the best/most entertaining news aggregator online Fark) pays homage to the surprising number of discontinued services Google has spawned over the years. Quite a few (like Jaiku, Google Talk Chatback, and Google One Pass) I’d never heard of. Others such as Google Video were created to compete with a popular service, only to be retired when the competition (YouTube) was brought into the Google fold. So what gives- do so many failed ventures mean Google is on shaky innovative ground? Do they even know what they are doing?
Thankfully, the answer is of course they do. Google’s business strategy and corporate culture are both to blame for the many discontinued services and the fantastic innovation that has brought us the host of nearly invaluable services they offer. Creative chaos can be a powerful tool, and Google has long been celebrated for the working environment they have fostered for their staff. Unlike traditional business models, Google encourages staff to use productive company hours for “pet” projects, and doesn’t shy away from releasing beta projects to the public without extensive research, polishing, and planning. Much as Samsung has done with their handset lineup, Google often takes the ‘throw it all against the wall and see what sticks’ approach to services. While it sounds inelegant, it does provide a nurturing setting for creativity that other business models lack. They remain the web’s biggest provider of search and are a core component of almost everyone’s web experience, so you can hardly argue against such a successful track record.
Sadly, as Google matures they do have to make hard business decisions, and the end of Reader looms. Google hasn’t made public the factors behind the move; it could be an effort to funnel interest into Google Plus, their (to date not all that successful) Facebook competitor. It may very well be because usage of Reader has fallen, although from the public outcry I sincerely doubt it. Perhaps they just weren’t generating revenue from the platform and wanted to spend the resources devoted to it on other projects. Regardless of the true reason, I do admire Google for being able to offer so much to their user base for my favorite price- FREE.
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Posted in Advice, News, tagged apple, Data mining, Email address, Facebook, Forbes, Gmail, Google, Jedi on June 26, 2012 |
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I typically confine my musings to the Apple-verse (or at least things affiliated with it), but a recent move by Facebook annoyed me to the point of action.
Facebook has reached critical density in the realm of social networking; those few that don’t have a Facebook account stand out as lonely voices in the wilderness, their absence a protest of one sort or another. As they’ve grown, Facebook has attempted to slowly absorb other facets of online life- casual games, movie rentals, instant messaging, and now email. A while back Facebook launched the @Facebook email service that few heard of, and those few promptly ignored the new service in favor of the equally ubiquitous Gmail. Stung by the rejection, Facebook has since decided to be more Sith than Jedi and have quietly fostered their email service on everyone with an account, without consent.
If you do have a Facebook account, check your contact info; chances are your contact email has been replaced with an @Facebook address (information courtesy Forbes.com). At first glance the change seems to be a benign one; it’s done without consent but as long as your experience doesn’t change no harm, no foul- right? Wrong. The service isn’t even true email, as asserted by Forbes.
Taking this sort of liberty with your account and information they gather about you is a very poor precedent. An organization that thinks this little of obtaining your consent (or even notifying you of the change) wouldn’t think much of enacting other changes without it. Then there’s the elephant in the room of data mining- Google does so in their services, but manages to make it fairly unobtrusive and without compromising your sense of privacy. An organization with an already tainted privacy record spurred by the desire to show more income generation for stockholders burned by a very poor IPO likely won’t have the same sensitivity to its users sensibilities.
If you’d like to change your contact information back, just follow the tutorial at the Forbes article. I completely understand a social outlet like Facebook attempting to increase user reliance by offering more services and value, but this latest move is far too devious to be acceptable.
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It may be news to most in North America, but Google has been in the social network business before Google Plus and the ill-fated Google Buzz. Orkut was their first foray into social networking, but the awkwardly named service never took off in my home country. Contrary to what some of my countrymen think, the internet doesn’t end at the border. Orkut became the dominant networking site for much of South America; as of 2011 59% of the reported 66 million Orkut users hail from Brazil, followed by India (27%) and Japan (about 7%).
The end draws nigh for Orkut, if only in name. In a recent report Engadget revealed that Orkut is being merged with Google’s Plus network. The unification will allow Orkut users to merge their profiles into Plus; the report didn’t state what would become of holdouts that refuse to be assimilated.
I’ve had a Google Plus account since the service was publicly available, but I admit I don’t use it nearly as much as Facebook. The layout and navigation are actually preferable, but as many have stated Plus just hasn’t achieved the sort of daily activity from its members that Facebook has. With Facebook showing signs of vulnerability due to its poor IPO and reports that some younger users are turning away could be the opening that Google needs to get their own offering competitive.
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Posted in News, Reviews, tagged Appstore, Facebook, Google, iMac, LinkedIn, Stephen Fry, Wolfram Alpha, YouTube on May 24, 2012 |
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While OSX comes well equipped with useful applications, I’ve found over time that there are a few must-have add ons in the App Store. Some are simply convenient (Day-O), some are functional (Moom), and some make my daily iMac experience that much more powerful (MacX DVD Ripper).
Liquid Words manages to include aspects of all three of the aforementioned aspects. It provides a measure of information and assistance I haven’t seen in any other OSX application- acclaim for the app come not only from media outlets like CNN and BBC but from celebrities such as Stephen Fry (national treasure!)
At first glance Liquid Words seems like a simple dictionary plug in. Select any text and hit Command-Shift-1 to open a reference panel capable of accessing Google Definitions, Wikipedia, Wordnik, Wolfram Alpha, IMDB and Etymo Online. While this alone would make the app worthwhile, it does more-much more. Liquid Words allows quick searches of Google, Google Images, Google Maps, YouTube, Flickr, Amazon, and LinkedIn. It also provides translation services between dozens of languages via the same method you use to access reference sources. It will even calculate any equation in the text bar including conversions between currencies and temperatures, area, speed, distance, volume, weight, and just about any other numerical data you can want.
When the built-in keystroke commands are used the app becomes even more simple to use. For instance, highlight text and hit Command-Shift-1 followed by t, e, and j to translate the selected text from English to Japanese.
Best of all, the app is a paltry 99 cents via the Apple App Store. For those of you that would rather try it before you buy the makers provide a free Firefox and Chrome plugin that includes a sharing feature compatible with your email client, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress and more. If you use your Mac for more than just browsing for the latest LOLcats Liquid Words is a great addition to your App arsenal.
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Posted in News, tagged Angry Birds, app store, Board game, Facebook, Facebook features, games, ios, ipad, iphone, Plants vs Zombies, Tile on April 26, 2012 |
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I’ve had the privilege of reviewing a lot of iOS games in my short time blogging. iOS games tend to come in a few varieties; currently the tower defense (think Plants Versus Zombies or Tiny Heroes) and physics puzzlers (Angry Birds or Where’s My Water) reign supreme in the App Store. It’s refreshing to have something truly new to peruse, even more so when it’s actually fun to play.
Groundcontrol ApS does just this with their game Blocker. The concept is both complex and simple. At it’s core Blocker is a digital board game, sporting elements of Chess or Go blended with the social aspect of iOS gaming. The game field is a segmented hexagon, the object is to connect opposing colored tiles with game pieces advanced from the edges. Each player is allotted twelve color-marked tiles that can be pushed into the field of play from the edge of the board; each tile will push any tiles ahead of it but no tile can be pushed off the board- once a row of spaces has been filled those spaces are locked. They can be freed by setting off one of the six Destruction Zones that will remove all tiles save “protected” tiles that touch another of the same color.
This fairly simple game quickly became very difficult as I tried to form a strategy during test play. I stuck to playing the game’s AI (available in easy, medium, or hard modes) and had to play a couple games before I won my first round. While the game is compatible with most iOS devices, I preferred to play on the larger screen of my iPad- more real estate made for a better gaming experience. Once I had a feel for the rules the gameplay was just as absorbing as some of the board games I loved when I was younger. You’re not stuck playing faceless AI- Blocker is capable of connecting to others via a dedicated Facebook page where you can play your friends or post to the wall for a random challenge. One addition I’d like to see is GameCenter integration to make the game even more social.
As a final bonus, Blocker is available as a free ad-supported version for the curious with an optional in-app to upgrade to an ad-free pro version offering enhanced AI and a two player offline mode. If you’re looking for something new to whet your iOS gaming appetite on, give Blocker a try. It’s available now via the iTunes App Store for the iPhone and iPad.
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Courtesy of MacRumors: a poll by ChangeWave Research reveals that the new iPad has earned an impressive 98% (82% completely satisfied, 16% somewhat satisfied) satisfaction rate with users; an increase over the prior iPad 2′s 95% (74%
completely satisfied, 23% somewhat satisfied). The article fleshes out the key points that purchasers like about the new iPad, such as the Retina Display, long battery life, and the option of LTE connectivity. Dislikes focused on cost; both of the iPad and of the data plans offered by cellular companies. The recent media furor over the alleged heat issues weren’t on the minds of those polled, seeming to reinforce the findings of MacWorld that the new iPad’s operating temperature was similar to competing Android tablets and never an issue with testers.
My experience parallels the findings of the poll. While the joy of unboxing a new toy was tempered by the fact that the new iPad is visually indistinguishable from the iPad 2 (although the difference in weight is somewhat noticeable), the Retina Display is a definite wow factor. App updates are coming in flurries as developers scramble to take advantage of the higher resolution (such as the Facebook iPad update released today). In daily use I do notice a slight improvement in performance (GIF images load faster and play smoother, for instance) but it’s not the eye-opening betterment that the new pixel-dense screen provides. Other improvements like the better rear-facing camera are nice, but not central to my daily use. If you’re a new iPad owner how do you feel about Apple’s latest iOS offering? If you’ve held off on upgrading what have your reasons been? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!
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