Glympse: Real-Time, Private Location-Tracking May be the Winning Formula

A Redmond-based startup is introducing a location-based social sharing service called Glympse. With a mobile application that works on iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile devices, users share their location (aka a "Glympse"), allowing their friends to see that location on another phone or on any other Internet-connected device. Senders can customize who gets to see the Glympse they post, whether the recipient is just one person, a group, or even everyone they've added as a friend on a social network like Facebook or Twitter.

The interesting twist to this service isn't the location-sharing aspect, of course - there are dozens of companies that allow for that today - it's the service's real-time nature and the thoughtfully included privacy features. Using a patent-pending timer option, Glympse users specify how long their location is visible to which select group of friends, with a maximum time of four hours before the location data expires.

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Location is Not a Game, It's a Utility

Unlike the current crop of location-based social networking services (think Brightkite, Loopt, Gowalla, Foursquare, etc.), Glympse isn't designed to find nearby friends, share tips about local businesses or collect rewards for check-ins. It employs no game mechanics to encourage participation - that is, you aren't given badges or points the more you use it. You don't get to become the "mayor" of a place by checking in there the most, like you do in Foursquare. In fact, Glympse can hardly be called a "mobile social network" at all.

Glympse is more like a utility, and that may what ensures its success long after everyone tires of "checking in" just because they can.

There are a number of scenarios where Glympse may prove useful. Their PR team says they've seen its earliest users sharing locations related to cross-country road trips, marathons, paragliding flights and afternoons of skiing.

Although those standout occasions may give Glympse a "wow" factor, it's in answering the everyday "where are you?" type questions where Glympse could prove be the most useful.

In the "What is Glympse?" introductory video, the company says sending a Glympse is easier than making a call or sending a text. That's not necessarily true, though. Calls and texts are sent with the push of a button where Glympse requires a multi-step process that begins with installing the application on your mobile device, if supported.

But as mentioned later in the video, many states have banned texting or making phone calls while driving. That's where Glympse comes in. Before you leave work, school or your home, you could send out a Glympse. For the time you specify, those permitted to see your location can track where you are at any given moment in real-time courtesy of your phone's GPS capabilities.

Live Updating Maps and Privacy Features

That's right - Glympse doesn't "check you in," it tracks you. Much like those pricey "family locator" cell phone add-on plans do, but for free.

The service also addresses the privacy issues surrounding location-sharing, even going so far as to work with a safety group called ConnectSafely.org when designing the service. In Glympse, adding friends isn't an "all or nothing" endeavor. That is, you don't choose whether to just accept or reject friends. You accept friends, then group them accordingly ("family," "friends," "work," etc.). Later, when you're ready to share your location, you choose which group or groups should see it. Only want the spouse and kids to tune in? Share a Glympse with family. At a large conference where you want to meet up with colleagues? Send a Glympse to your "work" group. And so on.

Facebook Integration: A Plus, Not the Selling the Point

Much of the news coverage related to Glympse's launch has to do with its Facebook integration. That's an interesting option to be sure, especially since Facebook plans to announce their own location-sharing service later this month, according to reports.

But whether or not Facebook users actually care to see the locations of their friends is another matter entirely. Many Facebook users simply use the network to catch up with friends and family they don't get to see every day by posting on their wall, chatting via Facebook's IM service and by browsing their shared photos, videos and links. Whether or not a friend is on their way to a meeting right nowmay be completely irrelevant information to these users. Like the intrusions from other apps and games, Glympse's Facebook updates - which come via a large, embedded map placed in the News Feed - could very well end up being hidden from view by Facebook users who simply aren't interested in seeing that sort of data.

In other words, it's arguable that Glympse's Facebook (and Twitter) sharing features aren't necessarily the key selling points of its service. Real-time live data, the utility aspect of the tool itself and its built-in privacy features, however, are. Hopefully, mainstream users will understand that before mistakenly dismissing it as just another Facebook app clogging up their News Feed with noise.

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See Xtify’s New Geo-Notifications in Action on Android

Xtify's recently launched geo-messaging platform is demonstrated in a new YouTube video created by Motorola, makers of popular Android devices like the Motorola Droid smartphone. The Xtify geo-location platform and its associated SDK (software development kit) was announced at February's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. With the SDK, developers can integrate geo-targeted messaging into their applications, starting with Google's Android mobile operating system and later arriving to the Blackberry, Symbian, Windows Mobile and iPhone operating systems.

Prepare for your mobile apps to get a lot more pushy.

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Xtify: "Geo-Relevant" Messaging for Android

With Xtify-enabled applications, messages can be customized and sent to users based on their exact location. For example, local search and discovery applications could send you messages about businesses close by. Shoppers could be sent mobile coupons as they walked through the mall. Restaurant guide applications could ping you with recommendations about top-rated nearby establishments. Travel apps could pop up interesting facts about landmarks, historical sites and other points of interest as you went sightseeing.

While obviously marketers are going to glom onto the opportunities a local-aware messaging platform like this offers, Xtify's SDK, as you can see in the examples above, could be used for more engaging mobile messages than just coupons, ads and geo-spam.

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Why on Android First?

It's not surprising that Xtify launched first on Android instead of iPhone. Just prior to the platform's debut, Apple announced that location-aware ads would not be allowed in all of its mobile applications. Likely concerned with the potential for abuse, Apple posted a notice to their developer center reading:

"If you build your application with features based on a user's location, make sure these features provide beneficial information. If your app uses location-based information primarily to enable mobile advertisers to deliver targeted ads based on a user's location, your app will be returned to you by the App Store Review Team for modification before it can be posted to the App Store."

Android has no such restrictions due to its nature as a more open platform where apps don't have to go through a review process prior to arriving in the app marketplace. That should help Xtify get a head start since developers can simply take the SDK and run with their ideas without fear that their app will be rejected.

The Demo Video

A few weeks ago at the CTIA Wireless conference, Motorola had the chance to demo the Xtify geo-aware push notification platform for Android and recorded a video of that experience. Motorola Program Manager Randy Ksar has just now posted the demo to the Motodev blog here. As the video shows, notifications can be completely customized and then tracked on the backend, displaying what notification was sent, when, to who and what actions were taken after it was sent. (Skip to minute 4:10 if you just want to see the message demo on the Android phone itself).

Xtify can also be integrated with existing content management systems or CRM systems, or it can run independently. On the platform, developers can create campaigns, trigger rules, run scheduled events, create personalized, dynamic messages, set geo-fences (e.g. apps know when you're at "home" versus at "work" and adapt accordingly) and access advanced reporting and analytics for evaluating a message's success and the campaign's ROI.

According to Xtify's VP of business development, Joshua Schiffman, the company has several very large media companies that are close to launching, but is not permitted to announce who and when at this time. He does note, however, that Xtify has seen interest from some "online and mobile publishers with tens of millions of users each month and location-relevant content," including those running movie booking services, restaurant review services, city event finders and travel services. They've also fielded inquiries from some big-box retailers, national brands, mid-size companies with a few million users and traditional publishers looking to deliver news updates.

Image credit on original post: FoneHome.

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Intel Announces Android Ported to Atom Chips

Apple sold over 500,000 iPads in its first week, but that trend doesn't have execs at Intel convinced that the iPad is at all ushering in a new era of tablet computing. Speaking to the Intel Developer Forum in Beijing, David Perlmutter, co-general manager of Intel's Architecture Group, seemed a bit down about the whole touch-based computing thing. "These new categories are hard to predict," he said, and then went on to talk about how well netbooks were doing.

What has us confused about this negative sentiment isn't the fact that Intel downplayed the tablet market - after all, its chips aren't present in a good many of the tablets emerging now on the market. It's that they came at the same time as a rather important announcement from the chip giant: Intel has ported Google's Android operating system to its Atom microprocessor.

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Intel: Jury's Still Out on Tablets

Android Toys, credit: FoneHome.co.ukPerlmutter wasn't the only Intel exec to downplay the tablet upsurge. According to an IDG News report, Justin Rattner, head of Intel Labs, also had this to say:

"The jury is still out" on tablets. Although he conceded that the new round of slate computers "probably has some legs," he also reminded everyone that, "this is by no means the first attempt at tablets." It's more of a "third epoch," he said.

While that may be true, comparing ye ol' tablets of days yore to the iPad and its offspring - the Android-based tablets, the JooJoo, the rumored Chrome OS tablets, the WePad, etc. - seems a bit ridiculous. Technology has evolved so much since the first tablets launched years ago. No longer are these clunky, heavy behemoths that require pen-based input, have batteries that barely last for a few hours, or run so hot that they get uncomfortable in your lap.

Plus, doesn't the upcoming HP Slate have Intel inside? According to a leaked spec sheet, it does. HP's first entry into this new tablet era includes Intel's integrated UMA graphics, and sports a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom Menlow Z530 processor - a chip that actually beats the iPad's custom ARM A4 1 GHz in clockspeed. Maybe the Intel execs could have mentioned something like that instead?

Intel Ports Android to Atom

What's even more odd about these negative remarks is that they were made at the same conference where Intel announced it had ported Google's Android OS to its Atom chips. According to Renee James, SVP and general manager of Intel's software and services group, the company has Android running on Atom-based smartphones and already has some customers interested in it. "Intel is enabling all OSes for Atom phones," James is quoted as saying in PC World. The move is important for the company since currently most Android phones use ARM processors.

Of course, Android is also a popular choice for many tablet computers - which is why the execs' remarks seem so out of place. Shouldn't Intel be promoting how Atom chips could run on tablets, too?

It's worth nothing that Intel isn't the first to get Android onto the Atom chip. Acer, for example, ported Android to netbooks last year. And MIPS ported Android to run on set-top boxes, digital TVs, mobile Internet devices (MIDs), mobile handsets, home media players and VoIP systems.

Image credit on original post: FoneHome.

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Goodbye, Gears – Google Docs Boots Plugin for HTML5 on May 3rd

Uh-oh, Google Doc's offline mode is going...well...offline. Starting May 3rd, offline access for Google Docs, the Internet search giant's web office suite, home to an online document editor, spreadsheet editor and slideshow creator, will be disabled. Previously, users had been able to take advantage of the offline functionality provided by Google Gears, an open source browser extension which allowed for both the viewing and editing of files when an Internet connection was not present. Soon, the Gears-enabled feature will be no more. But have no fear - this setback is only temporary..at least that's what a company blog post says.

In the plugin's place, there will be a "new and improved" HTML5-based offline option which will replace the former solution, but its exact launch date is still unknown.

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Considering all the new features that arrived in Google Docs on Monday, including things like real-time edits, faster performance, collaborative drawing tools and improved document fidelity, it's no surprise that the mention of the improved offline mode (way down at the bottom of the post) was a bit glossed over in the rush by news editors to detail all of Docs' new functionality.

However, it's the introduction of HTML5 offline mode that may be the biggest and most important change of them all.

From Plugins to Web Standards

To understand why, you have to first look at how Google handles offline access now, a feature also found in Gmail and Google Calendar in addition to Docs. At the moment, these web apps go offline if and only if you've installed the Google Gears browser plugin. Unfortunately, not all browsers can properly run this plugin. For example, Mac's Snow Leopard OS and Safari 4 web browser introduced some features which were incompatible with Gears on newer Mac computers. Internet Explorer users could never view spreadsheets offline and users of "alternative" browsers, like the Mozilla-based Flock for example, had to jump through hoops to make it work. And Google Gears on the iPhone? Forget about it.

A better solution is HTML5, the next revision to the markup language used to code the web. The benefit to making this switch is obvious: HTML5 is a web standard, not a browser plugin. That means it will be supported across web browsers and operating systems, assuming users have updated to a modern browser instead of continuing to run IE6 (who are you people, anyway?!) It also means that Apple can't kick it off the iPhone and iPad the way they did with Adobe's Flash plugin. In fact, it means that Google doesn't have to worry about Apple's restrictions at all, the way iPhone and iPad application developers do. Google just has to build a mobile-friendly website using standards-based technology. The end result will be an Internet-based document creation tool and editor that can work anywhere, anytime, even when the Internet doesn't.

And that, in a nutshell, is the future of the web. Mobilized applications that behave like desktop apps, available with or without an Internet connection and that work on any device. Even the iPad. We can't wait to try it out.

No word yet on how long, exactly, we'll have to go without offline access in Docs before the HTML5 solution is ready, but Google's hosting a webinar next week to share more. Hopefully, further details will arrive then.

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What Websites Do You Like? New Twitter Tool Will Tell You

The Website Taste Predictor is a new Twitter tool that analyzes your Twitter account in order to recommend websites you would like. The project uses Twitter's OAuth authentication protocol to access your Twitter account so you don't have to enter in your username and password in order to try it out. How exactly it works, we can't say. There's no "about" page, "FAQ" or other explanation. In fact, there's not even a credit as to who made it, only a URL. But the URL is a big hint: it's hosted on the MIT.edu domain underneath the subheading ~peretti. And just who is ~peretti? Only the co-founder of the Huffington Post and the viral tracker BuzzFeed, Jonah Peretti.

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Peretti is a graduate of the MIT Media Lab, has taught at NYU and the Parsons School of Design, consulted for major brands like Sony Pictures and Procter & Gamble and created several viral experiments like the Nike sweatshop email and FundRace.org. However, he's best known for co-founding BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, ContagiousMedia.org, and the Eyebeam Open Lab. So if this "Website Taste Predictor" is also his creation (we've contacted him to confirm), you know it's not going to be your run-of-the-mill Twitter tool.

For what it's worth, we're nearly 100% sure about Peretti's involvement. The tool is hosted under his account on MIT's servers, he tweeted about it back on April 7th and he responded personally to a comment about it over on Digg (the fact that this post never hit homepage it a testament to all that is going wrong over there). However, while these clues seem to point to Peretti as the creator, you can never be too sure. We'll wait for an official word and will update accordingly.

Website Taste Predictor in Action

So what does the Taste Predictor actually do? Well, it doesn't just parse your Twitter history to spit back a list of links you've tweeted. That would be too easy.

It appears to delve deeper than that to function as a true recommendation engine. Whether it looks at keywords, follower lists or sites related to those you post links to, we can't be sure, but we do know this: the app gets it right on the money. And I mean downright scary right.

In my case, for example, the list returned included a large group of sites I read regularly consisting mainly tech-focused blogs and mainstream media sites plus a handful of sites I've been known to check out less often. What I don't know is how it figured out that I've been known to gaze at the occasional lolcat, fail photo, web comic or celebrity gossip post when my brain needed a break from all this tech. I certainly never tweeted about those things nor do I follow people who do. So how did it know?

More importantly, though, the tool actually pointed me to a few sites that I really should be reading more often like the image-heavy online paper Newser, the op-ed content network True/Slant and mobile app analytics site Localytics whose blog I just subscribed to.

In other words, the Website Taste Predictor is accurate and useful, or, as Peretti recently tweeted himself: "I think this is the kind of awesome new Twitter App @FredWilson was talking about!"

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OffiSync Introduces Real-Time Co-Authoring Between Microsoft Office and Google Docs

OffiSync is launching an all-new version of its Microsoft Office to Google Docs synchronization tool, a plugin that's a "must-have" for anyone still straddling the two worlds of office suites: that is, the desktop-based world of Microsoft software and the web-based world of Google Docs. In the updated version of OffiSync, set to arrive minutes from now, you'll be able to co-author documents in real-time between Microsoft Office and Google Docs, no matter what version of the Office software you use. There are a few other new features too, including improvements to search, added Google Sites support and the ability to store any file type, but it's the co-authoring feature that's today's biggest reveal.

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Real-Time Co-Authoring!

Previously, the OfficSync plugin integrated into Microsoft Office's toolbar, appearing as a new menu or tab in its ribbon interface. From here, you could choose to open, save, search or share a Microsoft Office file in any of the suite's flagship programs (Word, Excel or PowerPoint).

However, when it came to the "collaboration" aspect - the standout feature of Google Docs, OfficSync only provided the tools that gave others' access to files hosted on Google Docs. It didn't provide the real-time editing capabilities, such as those found in Google's spreadsheets program (or, as of yesterday, in Google's documents program, too).

But now, OfficSync users can use the software of their choice - Office or Docs - and their changes are sent to the other collaborators in real-time. The changes don't magically occur, keystroke by keystroke, but are pushed to others when the "Save" button is clicked in Microsoft Office or when changes to the Google Docs online version are saved. Office users will see a pop-up message informing them the file was changed and they can then preview the changes, ignore them or update the file. That message is sent in real-time to all users.

You can see the co-authoring feature in action here on YouTube

Other Features

In addition to the standout real-time collaboration feature, OfficSync also now includes a few other features worth mentioning too, such as:

  • Support for any file type: OfficSync now supports Docs' ability to store files of any type. What this means for Office users is that you can chose to store your Office documents in their native format without "converting" them to Google Docs format. This is ideal for preserving some of the advanced formatting that Docs doesn't support.
  • Improved Google Sites Support: OfficSync automatically detects all the Google Sites you have access to and lets you edit those files. You can even create new Google Sites from within Office.
  • OfficSync Task Pane: A sidebar panel for Office that shows collaborators, recent documents, documents starred in Google Docs, recently shared documents and more.
  • Improved Integrated Search: The new version includes improved integrated Google Search/Google Image Search functionality, available from the toolbar.
  • Beta support for Office 2010, the next release of Microsoft Office software, itself still in beta, too.

To download the newly updated OfficSync plugin, visit offisync.com/download (available at approximately 12:30 PM EST today).

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What’s a Little Cyberbullying Among Friends? Facebook Launches New Safety Center

"Safety is Facebook's top priority," writes Facebook's Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan on a company blog post introducing the social network's new Safety Center, a revamped help portal featuring educational information for users, with sections dedicated to parents, teens, teachers and law enforcement professionals. It's a somewhat ironic statement from a company that recently prompted its 400-plus million users to accept "recommended" changes that opened up their data - including status updates, photos, videos, links and friend lists - to a public audience, revealing details that many users assumed were private.

Around the same time as the "privacy debacle," as we like to call it, unfolded, Facebook also announced a "Safety Advisory Board," a group whose purpose is to review safety-related procedures and documentation as well as make suggestions regarding best practices and other procedures. How about this safe practice, Facebook: don't publicize people's private information?

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Are we bitter about Facebook's changes? OK, maybe a little. After all, many of us joined up with the network when it was in its fledgling stages. When it was a place to hide from mom and dad, not communicate with them. When you could complain about work in a status update and not worry that your boss or an HR department would see it.

Facebook Safety Center: Educating Users on How Facebook Did Them Wrong

But the world changed and Facebook changed with it, or at least that's what CEO Mark Zuckerberg claims. The oversharers of the iGeneration have generally shrugged their shoulders at the threat of their private photos and updates having gone public. Their outrage? Practically non-existent. After all, this is the same group who grew up around sex offender scandals on MySpace, posted sexy "MySpace angles" photos mom and dad would be shocked to see, and who developed the trend of "sexting," texting revealing pictures to their crush du jour. So their status updates are public? Who cares?, they think.

Ah, but they should. The publicizing of private data has led to a host of issues in its wake, including harassment and cyberbullying, to name a few. Cases of teens committing suicide after becoming victim to abuse via social networks have also occurred, unfortunately.

No one could argue that cyberbullying and the like could occur among groups of friends, whether or not Facebook remained a private network. It's a valid contention - the dark underbelly of the human condition allows such behavior to exist, even amongst friends. But by exposing every little detail, photo and link to a user base that seems oblivious to the need of plugging the privacy holes, Facebook is simply allowing there to be more opportunity for someone to actually see the nasty comment made about them on a wall post... or the embarrassing photo of someone cheating on their boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse. It provides the fodder for the cyberbullies and the tools for those who seek to stalk, monitor or control another's behavior. It provides more avenues for abuse.

At the very least, it should provide a few tools to the potential victims, too.

Safety Center: Q&A's on Abuse Prevention, Reporting

That's what the Safety Center is for, at least in part. With Q&A's for how to deal with abuse, stalking, cyberbullying and unwanted wall posts, messages and chats, a good bit of the Center's guidance is aimed at reporting and stopping this unwanted behavior. Even in other Safety Center sections outside of "safety for teens," this information is essentially just rehashed for others, like parents and teachers, for example. (Teachers and law enforcement professionals get a few extra tips about Facebook, too, like how to maintain a professional presence or how to report a sex offender).

According to the Facebook blog post, the Safety Center's overhaul now features quadruple the information as in the prior help center, plus a "cleaner, more navigable" interface. The launch is one of the first initiatives from the Facebook Advisory Board, a new coalition of members including Common Sense Media, ConnectSafely, WiredSafety, Childnet International and The Family Online Safety Institute. Together, the board members will "accelerate our efforts to make Facebook a better and safer place to engage," notes Sullivan.

But Facebook already had an opportunity to make itself a safer place and they blew it. Private networks of friends and family sharing content amongst themselves doesn't lead to as much harassment, abuse and victimization of its users beyond the typical family brawl or fight amongst friends. But when you can see anyone's content - especially the stuff they thought was private - problems are going to occur. Facebook's new Safety Center is the result of the company having to deal with the fallout from that choice.

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Nokia Expands its Geolocation Plans with Location Services Buy

Nokia acquired location-based services company MetaCarta on Friday, a service with two distinct focuses: geosearch and geotagging. With MetaCarta's geosearch technology, the service finds content, data and information about a place and then presents it in a single mapped-based view using any map server, whether one from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, ESRI or another company. The geotagging technology, on the other hand, lets MetaCarta pull geographic references from online content and then allow that information to be used in other applications.

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One of the more notable examples of MetaCarta technology is the NewsMap application, a hosted mashup that extracts the geographic information found in news articles and displays those locations as icons on a digital map. Users can then zoom in and out on the map to see where the news is happening and what stories correspond to the map icons.

For a real-world example of how Newsmap works, you can visit DailyRecord, a news site which features an embedded "news map" at the bottom of their homepage. For another example of a similar technology, see Bing Maps's Local Lens application, a map layer that identifies news stories by city and neighborhood and maps them out using the Bing Maps service. (Bing Maps does not use MetaCarta's technology, it's just similar.)

Although news maps like those above are somewhat interesting, the most intriguing thing about this new acquisition is not the map app, but the technology behind it. Basically, the geotagging aspect to the MetaCarta service can add location data to existing information that previously had none. In doing so, a company could build up a geo-database that could function as the backend for all sorts of location-based services from social apps to local search tools and more. And the need to have an accurate, rich and complete geo-database is going to be a key component to winning a top position in the emerging location-based services market.

Nokia hasn't specified exactly how it plans to use the newly acquired company's technology, only saying that "MetaCarta's technology will be used in the area of local search in location and other services." It's not a leap, though, to assume that MetaCarta's technology could be integrated into Nokia's free Ovi Maps mobile application.

Nokia has had a clear focus on location-based services as of late. The company acquired the social travel service Dopplr in September of last year and later launched turn-by-turn navigation for Ovi Maps in January. However, the company's largest mapping-related acquisition to date is still the $8.1 billion purchase of digital map provider Navteq in 2007.

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Google’s Latest Acquisition: Plink, Mobile Visual Search Startup

Google's newest acquisition is Plink, makers of a visual search application for mobile devices called PlinkArt. The app "recognizes almost any work of art," claims the app's homepage, "just by taking a photo of it." In addition to the visual identification aspect, Plink users can also discuss the art within the app, send images to friends or order prints of the artwork.

On its own, Plink sounds like an entertaining and educational tool, but one whose real-life implementations would probably be limited to a tour of an art museum or a late-night cram session for an Art History exam. But Google didn't just buy Plink for the art it can identify - that's just an added bonus. It's likely that Google bought the company more for the algorithm that powers the smart application and brains of those who invented it.

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According to a post on the Plink company blog, developers Mark Cummins and James Philbin, Oxford PhD students whose company was only four months old when acquired, will now join Google to commence work on the search giant's "Google Goggles" project. This ambitious, futuristic mobile search application is already available for Google's own mobile OS, Android, in a limited format. At the moment, you can use Google Goggles to take pictures of real-world objects like landmarks, logos, books, contact info, places, wine and - oh yes - artwork, too. The mobile application then recognizes the images and objects in your pictures and that, in turn, kicks off a Google search for whatever item it finds.

While on the one hand, it does seem amazing that a mobile application can "see" the world like this, the reality is that this sort of mobile search experience is still in its infancy. Unlike with Google's text-based search engine, there's no guarantee that the app will be able to recognize the image in your photo. Was the photo too blurry? Too dark? Or was it a building (book/place/etc.) that the app doesn't know yet?

But just as how the original tablet computers were heavy, clunky, inelegant devices that blazoned a trail that led us to the sleek and shiny iPad, a tablet some now claim will "revolutionize" computing, Google Goggles could one day lead to a world where everything we see - including people! - can be identified through the eyes of camera and an algorithm.

That's a somewhat frightening concept, but one that's also incredibly exciting at the same time, we have to admit.

Plink will now become a part of that effort, enhancing Goggles' artwork search engine while the engineers bring their talent and ideas to forward the project as a whole. "There are beautiful things to be done with computer vision," reads the blog post signed "Mark & James." "It's going to be a lot of fun," it concludes. For us, too.

(Originally reported via the Guardian)

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Firefox Lorentz: Now Firefox Crashes More Like Chrome

Firefox has released a new beta of their web browser called Firefox "Lorentz," a test build of Firefox 3.6.3 that's designed to minimized crashes. Previously, when a plugin caused a crash in Firefox, the whole browser went down in flames too. But in Lorentz, this will no longer be the case. The page running the errant plugin will offer you the ability to submit a crash report while the rest of the browser remains up-and-running like usual. The improved stability is due to Lorentz's process isolation, a feature which runs plugins as processes separate from the web browser itself.

Does this sound familiar? It should, if you're a Google Chrome user.

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Google Chrome, the speedy little web browser from the Internet search giant, introduced the idea of isolated processes when the browser launched back in fall 2008. As explained by a Googler on the company's official blog, Chrome put "each tab in an isolated sandbox," so it could "prevent one tab from crashing another."

The same philosophy is now seen in Firefox's latest. The Lorentz build, which initially focuses on just Adobe Flash, Apple Quicktime and Microsoft Silverlight, isolates plugins in separate instances, too. The end result? A browser that doesn't completely tank quite so often.

If you do end up with a page that goes rogue, however, the screen turns grey and you're notified of the plugin crash by way of a text message and a sad-faced lego-like logo. (See picture).

This image also seems to be cribbed from Chrome's playbook as it closely resembles the sad tab image that accompanies Google Chrome's "Aw Snap!" message that appears when something goes wrong with a web page. (Then again, a sad computer icon isn't anything new, as Mac users will certainly tell you.) But in this case, it's another reminder of how Firefox, once thought to be leading the way in browser innovations, now seems to be following in Google's footsteps.

That said, Firefox enthusiasts are sure to welcome this change. And if you want to get all hacker-ish, you can even configure Firefox to isolate more plugins, too, as the Mozilla Links blog explains (via LifeHacker):

To have the Adobe Reader plugin running on its own process, create a boolean preference in about:config, name it dom.ipc.plugins.enabled.nppdf32.dll, set it to true, and restart. For Java, the preference must be named dom.ipc.plugins.enabled.npjp2.dll. You just need to know the name of the library (which you get from about:plugins), and create the preference accordingly.

To try Lorentz for yourself, you can grab the latest build here.

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Is Gmail Giving Up on Tagging?

Gmail Labs, the "Settings" section featuring optional, experimental features for Google's webmail program has just received two new additions: "message sneak peek" and "nested labels." Now the sneak peek we definitely like - it lets you preview a message without opening it so you can take immediate action. Handy!

But nested labels is a somewhat curious addition. It turns Gmail's once-revolutionary "tagging" system into something that more closely resembles the traditional folder structure found in email programs like Outlook. So now you can drag-and-drop your email into these so-called labels and you can create hierarchies, too? Oh, c'mon, Gmail, let's just call them folders already and be done with it.

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The Tagging Revolution

Wait! Before you rush into the comments and declare your love for nested folders, the option you've been waiting for since the day you got your Gmail invite back in 2004, hear me out.

I get it - nested folders are great. I'll probably even use them. (I am nothing, if not a Gmail filter junkie. Nearly everything get tagged upon arrival and a lot gets pre-filed, too).

The point is that these labels were introduced as a major improvement over folders because you could - Wow! - tag email messages with more than one label. That means mail could be tagged "Travel," "Coupons" and "Southwest Airlines" all at once. And wasn't that just amazing?

But the problem with Gmail's tagging system is that there's no easy way to surface the combination of these tags. For example, what if you want to see all mail tagged "Work," "From Boss" and "Project X?" Quick! How do you do it? (And don't tell me to type in some long, complex search query with colons and Boolean operators, either. Tell me how the average email user would do it). The answer? Most people don't know how. They're just going to enter a few search terms into the "search mail" box at the top of the screen. Or maybe they'll head over to the "From Boss" folder and then search for "Project X."

Missed Opportunity

Sadly, it seems that Gmail really missed an opportunity to take labels to the next level. For example: why can't there be an easy-to-use function somewhere at the top of the inbox to filter your mail by labels? Why isn't there an email intelligence system that learns how you label your mail and then starts auto-tagging it for you? Why can't Gmail figure out that if a particular message matches a filter you designed to label your incoming mail that means the message is not spam? 

No, instead of integrating a sense of intelligence into its filtering mechanisms - efforts that seem well within Google's capabilities - Gmail's labels are turning back into the ever-so-innovative folders they were meant to replace.

That's fine, I guess. I never really thought folders were that bad - it was filtering that needed an overhaul. (Have you used filters in Outlook? Gmail's are much easier.) But let's call a spade, a spade. Sure, you can label an email with 10 different tags if you want, but don't expect to find it later via some sort of advanced filtered search. Gmail's labels are folders. And tags, god bless 'em, are dead. 

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Can the iPad Go to College?

Should college students consider buying an iPad to use in place of netbook or notebook computer? Since the release of the new Apple slate device a week ago, this question has weighed on the minds of students, parents, teachers and school administrators alike. On the surface, the iPad seems like it could be the ideal device for mobile computing on campus with features like its optional iWork office suite, an Internet-connected bookstore called iBooks which supports the commonly used DRM-free ePub format, the 160,000+ applications available via iTunes, many of which are educational in nature and, of course, access to the greatest research tool ever invented: the Web.

However, despite the iPad's pluses, there are still some issues that students should consider before purchasing this device.

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Problem #1: Wi-Fi Access (or Lack Thereof)

The iPad comes in several models, each with varying storage sizes and Internet connectivity options. At the bottom of the lineup is the $499 Wi-Fi only 16 GB iPad, the model that money-strapped students can just barely afford, if they can afford an iPad at all. But without a 3G data connection, Internet access may be limited. In fact, students may not even be able to connect to their own college's Wi-Fi network.

For example, George Washington University's I.T. Communications and Marketing Manager Rachel Blevins recently told a reporter at the school's independent newspaper that the university's wireless network would not work with the Apple iPad. The problem, explained Blevins, is "both a security and a support issue, because many of the small [personal digital assistants], smartphone, and pad systems use sign-in security, which is currently not compatible with our systems."

What Blevins is referring to is the VPN client software currently used at the university to connect students to resources typically limited to campus use only. Although the iPad software has built-in PPTP, IPSec, Cisco VPN software many universities (and of course, businesses too, as we pointed out earlier) use SSL VPN, a more secure solution which is not supported by the iPad.

That means that students with the Wi-Fi only iPad may not be able to connect to their college's network - often the only method of Internet access available in classrooms and other on-campus hangouts.

Update: SSL VPN support was just announced as coming in the next iPhone OS update, due out this fall.

Problem #2: Writing Papers

The iPad doesn't come with a keyboard. Although one is available as an optional $69 accessory, the included keyboard on the iPad is a virtual, on-screen keypad. In tests, many iPad reviewers found this keyboard was surprisingly easier to type on than they expected, especially in landscape mode, but for students writing long term papers, it may still fall short. A generation from now, after kids have grown up with touchscreen technology, that may no longer be the case. But at the moment, most college students will likely prefer hardware keyboards.

Another issue: when the paper is complete, many professors still require a printout, not an electronic document. However, the iPad doesn't include a printing function. There are a few third-party applications that offer this ability (WSJ's Walt Mossberg recommends Print Online's $5 app, for example), but none are as simple as a built-in technology would be. (Side note: printing support may be a feature added to the upcoming iPhone/iPad software Apple is announcing later today. Check back for an update).

Problem #3: iWork Doesn't Work for Students?

The optional iWork applications (Pages, Sheets and Keynote) are Apple's version of Microsoft Office's Word, Excel and Powerpoint. However, some are already finding them difficult to use for their purposes. One example: in the tests documented here, creating files on the iPad went well, but the sync solution provided by iTunes caused issues for the reviewer.

We also noticed some problems ourselves, documented in an early review by Frederic Lardinois:

"While you can easily import and export documents (Pages and Word) by email or through iTunes, complex documents don't always survive this move intact," Lardinois explained. "Footnotes and endnotes, for example, are simply deleted, making Pages for the iPad almost useless for a lot of students and academics. Tables of content simply become part of the text, which means that they don't auto-update any more." He also noted that Pages on the iPad doesn't offer a word count, something many college students need in order to know if their paper meets a professor's requirements.

Finally, Apple's document-sharing service iWork.com, while great for sharing files with other people, doesn't function as a way to sync files between devices.

Problem #4: No USB Port

iPad's lack of a USB port may not be an issue for some - so much of what we do now is web-based, after all. However, for college students who have become accustomed to porting their files around on keychain drives, the missing USB port requires a change in their workflow which may not fit in with their current lifestyle.

Instead of being able to plug in a portable flash drive to the iPad as they could with their Mac or PC, files can only be sent to the iPad via iTunes sync, email or web download. There are some third-party applications that can help, but again, nothing is as good as a built-in solution.

Conclusion: iPad's a Great "In-Between" Device, But Not a Notebook Replacement

Despite these disadvantages, the iPad still has a lot to offer college students as an additional device, if not a PC replacement. For example, Blackboard's free iPad application looks quite useful. From the app, students can check grades and assignments, add discussion board comments and blog posts and email instructors and classmates.

Plus, the iTunes Application Store has thousands of educational applications like advanced calculators, reference guides, dictionaries, note-taking apps, planners, utilities and much more.

The iPad also plays podcasts, like those offered via iTunesU, the collection of audio and video presentations created by many universities to distribute recorded lectures, films, schedules, syllabi, notes, maps and other information to students.

However, given the issues listed above, it's clear that the iPad and its software - at least in its current form - is not able to fully replace a notebook computer. Some of the problems may be addressed in time with revisions to the device's software, but for now the device remains a great "in-between" mobile gadget, not a next-gen notebook computer.

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SublimeVideo Adds Flash Mode to its Universal, HTML5 Player

SublimeVideo, an HTML5-based video player from Switzerland-based development and design firm Jilion now includes a "fall back to Flash mode." This means that when a web surfer using a browser that doesn't support HTML5 visits a page that uses the player, it will automatically switch over (aka "fall back") to Adobe Flash, the plugin-based technology that older, non-HTML5 web browsers use.

Why is this important? In addition to providing a path to move from one technology to the next, a transition that will take years at best, SublimeVideo could ease the workload for developers tasked with creating web pages that the entire web audience can access.

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Moving from Flash to HTML5

The problem, as it stands today, is that some web browsers support HTML5 and Flash, while others only support Flash. And yet websites need to be accessible by all, no matter what browser is used.

The Safari browser on the Apple iPad, for example, only supports HTML5, forcing many mainstream media sites to rapidly push out new and separate HTML5-ready versions of their site. The WSJ and NPR were among the first to release iPad-only websites, in advance of the launch of the Apple iPad. Others soon followed, but there are still so few big names doing so that Apple can list them all on their "iPad-Ready Websites" page, which now features 20 name-brands like CNN, Reuters, Time, MLB, flickr, Nike and others.

What SublimeVideo Does

Jilion's goal is to create a "universal video player" that works in all browsers, regardless of the technology supported. That means that users with the outdated Internet Explorer 6 browser could watch the same videos as those who use more modern browsers like Google Chrome (4.0), Firefox (3.6+), Safari (4.0.4+) or the upcoming Internet Explorer 9.

Regardless of which version of the player was viewed - either the HTML5 version or the Flash one - the same user interface would be presented. This includes on-screen controls to play and pause the video, a button that takes it to full-screen mode and keyboard shortcuts that play, pause, and launch or exit from full-screen.

While the SublimeVideo player is an arguably brilliant technology development, what it lacks - at least in its current form - are the features that many large companies have come to expect from the Flash experience: advertising and analytics. For companies in need of these types of tools, they'll likely go with an HTML5 video platform provider like Brightcove, who has advertising and analytics on their 2010 roadmap, MeFeedia, Ooyala or the new solution from mDialog.

Those interested in seeing SublimeVideo's Flash page in action can visit the new demo hosted here.

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Want to Insert Ads Into Your iPad-Enabled, HTML5 Videos? There’s a Service for That

mDialog, a four-year-old Canadian-based video platform company, is announcing the launch of their new Apple-focused service, an "HTML5 adaptive video streaming service with dynamic ad-insertion." In a nutshell: it lets you stick ads into videos that work on the iPad and iPhone. The ads can be pre-roll, post-roll, mid-roll and precisely geo-targeted to fit an advertiser's needs. They can also be swapped out and replaced in real-time. The service's ad-insertion features put mDialog's platform more on par with that of Adobe Flash, a plugin-based technology that doesn't run on Apple's mobile devices.

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The mDialog service uses Apple's adaptive streaming specification in combination with the mDialog ad platform to deliver targeted videos to mobile device owners, whether they carry an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. And by the second quarter of this year, the same technology will be made available to the Android mobile OS as well.

For advertisers, the necessary features for managing an advertising inventory are present. On the back-end, you can customize settings like device frequency capping (how many times an ad is delivered to a unique device), time restrictions (when an ad should be played), a target impression goal (how many times a video is served), ad placement (pre-, post- or mid-roll) and geo-targeting. That last feature is incredibly easy-to-use thanks to an integrated Google map. Drop a pushpin, set the radius in miles. There's also DoubleClick integration for those who use it.

With mDialog, advertisers can get almost creepily specific, similar to the way Facebook ads seem to know far too much about you. Imagine targeting all the people attending a game at a football stadium, Greg Philpott, mDialog's President and Founder, suggests. Or watching an automobile ad that directs you to the dealership nearest you...and by "nearest" you, we mean not just those in your hometown, but those nearest to your precise location at this exact moment. As an aside, Philpott tells us that, in fact, the auto industry is very interested in just this sort of thing.

HTML5 Video vs. Flash: Ads and Analytics Needed

mDialog's Apple angle is due to the fact that it's focused on HTML5 video, both live and VOD (video-on-demand). For those who have somehow missed the news: the iPad doesn't play Flash video. This has put advertisers in a quandary since HTML5, the upcoming but still-not-solidified standard for web markup language does not currently support in-stream advertising and real-time analytics features in its video feature. But when there's a hole to be filled, the industry will fill it. Brightcove, for example, has advertising and analytics on their 2010 roadmap, MeFeedia's platform allows for HTML5 video and ads, entertainment community Break Media announced the same and white label platform Ooyala offers real-time analytics, advertising and live-streaming tools. Others are sure to follow.

A few of mDialog's features, including CPC and interactive overlays have yet to arrive. This detailed chart shows them as "coming soon." Philpott tells us "soon" means within the next 60 days, so advertisers won't have to wait too long. In the meantime, developers can use mDialog's application SDK to get started on their video integrations. Interested parties can get in touch with the company via their website.

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iPad Hits a Bump: Wi-Fi Woes Point to Apple Bug

Some new owners of Apple's slate computer, the iPad, are having issues with the device's Wi-Fi connection. Multiple forum postings, both on Apple's own support site and elsewhere, have users reporting that they're experiencing weak signals in an area where their other Internet-connected devices have no issues. Another common complaint, which appears to be related, is a dropped connection. Some iPads lose their connection to the Wi-Fi network, then prompt the user to re-enter the network password. But doing so doesn't work. The only "fix" seems to be either shutting Wi-Fi off and back on again via the settings, or worse, rebooting the computer...err...iPad.

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Network Password?

There doesn't seem to be any determinable factor connecting the users experiencing the problems - different models of the iPad are in use, different routers, different security settings, etc. However, one name came up dozens of times in the forums: Verizon FiOS. A number of the complaints came from customers of Verizon's high-speed, fiber-to-the-curb service known as FiOS. Along with TV and phone, Verizon provides Actiontec-branded Internet routers to establish the home's Ethernet (cabled) and wireless networks.

We got in touch with the company, who had yet to hear of the problem at the time. After much research on Verizon's part, including speaking with members of their hardware teams and call center operations, it appears the issue has simply not crossed their radar.

According to Verizon's Media Relations Director, Jim Smith, the call center has not received calls from iPad owners about failed connections on the iPad, although some have phoned in for help setting up WEP security connections on the devices. He did, however, hear from one person on his team who said Apple had advised iPad owners to turn off WEP security. We could not confirm this to be the case, but it does match up with a few of the recommendations found on user forums. Those forums are hosted on Apple.com, so this is where the confusion may lie. For example, a customer reading the forums may have mistakenly assumed these were suggested fixes from Apple itself, and not from other affected users.

Smith also told us that, as of now, Verizon has no evidence that the connection issues iPad owners are experiencing are related to Verizon's broadband services in any way. iPad users among the company's own employees have also not reported any trouble, he says.

Apple Bug Resurfaces

We typically believe that statements like these are just PR gloss-overs of an issue, but in this case, we tend to believe Verizon. The reason? This Wi-Fi bug is not a new issue. It happened to iPhone users, too, when the iPhone 3.0 software, a mobile operating system upgrade released via iTunes, was launched a year ago. Several iPhone owners then experienced issues that mimic those now being reported by iPad users. In July 2009, owners of the latest iPhone, the iPhone 3GS, which had launched the prior month, also reported similar issues. Despite rumors that the fix would be included in iPhone OS 3.1 in September 2009, the issues remained. There have even been three additional minor OS upgrades since then, to no avail.

Apparently this is a bug that Apple just can't quash.

As far as we can tell right now, some people are having limited success by either disabling WEP altogether on their wireless network - not a good idea from a security perspective as it opens up your home network to public access - or by setting their routers to "G" only, when formerly set to B/G or "mixed" mode. (To the non-technical, those letters refer to wireless networking standards. "G" routers are newer than "B" routers, but older than "N" routers. Routers can broadcast in B mode, G mode, N mode or a "mixed" mode where they support connections to devices of varying ages and supported standards.) For what's it worth, neither of those workarounds resolved the issue in my tests.

Unfortunately, adjusting router settings isn't something everyday, mainstream users would think to do. Many of them buy Apple products because they're marketed as devices that "just work." Hopefully, Apple will soon live up to the image they've created for themselves and fix the Wi-Fi bug for good. In the meantime, learn how to reboot your iPad.

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Android App Growth on the Rise: 9000+ New Apps in March Alone

According to recent statistics from AndroidLib.com, the Android Marketplace saw 9,331 new mobile applications added to its app store during the month of March, 2010. This number is even more phenomenal when you look at the Android Marketplace's historical growth. In December of last year, for example, there were 3,807 new applications added to the Android app store. By January, 4,458 more were added. In February, 5,532 arrived. And now, 9,331. If this trend continues, we could possibly see a month this year where the number of new applications tops 5 digits. And with numbers like this, Android could soon give Apple a run for its money.

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Since the launch of the Google Android Market in October 2008, the developer ecosystem surrounding the OS has seen rapid growth. One week after the Market's launch, there were just 167 applications available for download. That may seem like a lot, but when you positioned it against Apple's App Store - now with over 160,000 applications - it was clear that Android had a long climb ahead.

But climb it did. By September 2009, the Android Market passed 10,000 applications. By February of this year, Android Market share doubled again, positioning the Google Mobile OS to overtake Palm and the Market size grew again to include 19,897 applications. Today, the number of Android applications has reached 27,243 and there's no sign of its growth slowing down.

Although Apple still has far more mobile applications available for download, relative to the number of apps housed, Android is actually one of the fastest-growing mobile application stores on the market today. According to mobile analytics company Distimo, Android hasn't quite reached 30,000 yet, but in a statement last month from a Google representative, the company claimed there were "approximately 30,000 free and paid apps." Maybe they were just rounding up?

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iPad Mags: Amazing or Confusing?

One of the iPad's biggest selling points is its potential as an e-Reader. The included iBooks application and the optional downloadable Amazon Kindle app, for example, provide hundreds of thousands of books to read, all in a relatively standard format: swipe horizontally to flip a page. iPad magazines, however, are trying to be far more creative. As we've mentioned before, the new magazine-style applications include everything from video to music within their pages, plus interactive features and clickable ads. But one problem with these innovative new 'zines is that they each do their own thing, in their own way. While this early adopter applauds the innovations we're seeing on the iPad platform, the mainstream user may find the variations confusing.

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Mini-Movies and More

First up: the heavily praised interactive VIV mag, a standout among online newstand Zinio's offerings. Early demos were decidedly exciting. This wasn't text - it was a multimedia experience! The article featured in the demo video, a sex-ed advice guide, used actors against a green screen to produce a mini-movie illustrating the article's main points. Worried about AIDS? A women writhes against a bull's-eye as knives fly at her. Afraid of pregnancy? A women casts a worried glance at the man entering the room while pressing her hand to her stomach.

In practice, however, this format is not as much fun as expected. The cover features clickable links, one that reads "Enter Issue" and another that says "Click to VIVIFY this cover!" Sorry - what? Now I know that they mean "launch interactive content" but mainstream Dicks and Janes may not. And the iPad, if anything, is targeting these so-called "everyday" users - the content consumers whose tech-savviness is a bit lacking, if I may say so kindly. But if you don't "vivify" the mag, you miss the movies - the main attraction. (There is a "Vivify" button at the bottom of each page, too, in case you didn't see it the first time around, but the text next to it says "Tap on the 'V' to read more." Read? How about "watch" or "see?")

Another problem with VIV? I'm not sure if it was an app glitch or an iPad one, but the first movie got stuck "downloading" at 16%. Future, here I come?

Next is TIME magazine. A gushing editor's letter talks about the publication's embracing the new slate-computer platform of the iPad. But how they've done so is already attracting some criticism. One of the problems is that TIME decided to go with vertical swipes for reading articles but horizontal swipes for navigating from one article to the next. This is not intuitive. On an eReader, whether book or magazine, we expect to read left to right. Vertical only works on the desktop-based web.

Condé Nast's GQ magazine is another specialized iPad creation I examined. It doesn't start off well: upon launch, a progress bar displays how much of the magazine has download so far. Will the mainstream user know that you don't have to wait for the download to complete before you tap "read issue?" I'm so not sure. They've also chosen to go with vertical navigation for reading articles and horizontal navigation for scrolling between sections.

Meanwhile, Car & Driver's "iPad Interactive Edition" returns you to plain ol' horizontal flipping. In fact, the magazine looks so much like a color PDF that we almost missed the interactive features. Obviously, two white squares overlaid on an image surely means "launch photo gallery," right?

One app that gets it right is NPR....although that's probably because it's not really trying to be a magazine, despite the company's claims that it uses a "magazine-style presentation." While it's true that you can flip from page to page, horizontally of course, the app is more than a mere digitized mag. There's an audio player, playlist creator, program and station finder and more. The news items with an audio track feature buttons for listening and adding to your playlist. Straight text-based items do not. Simple and easy, and overall, well-done.

At the end of the day, these magazines are still more fun than their analog counterparts, but, clearly, they're all in very experimental stages right now. The navigation and interactive features differ from magazine app to magazine app, with some getting it better than others. Will they eventually standardize their presentation in an effort to simplify their features? Should they? It's too early to tell what format readers will prefer: mini-movies, some interactive bits sprinkled throughout or straight-laced e-reading. In the meantime, it will be interesting to try out all the variations.

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iPad: The First Real Family Computer

With the iPad's arrival this weekend, a holiday weekend for many Americans, this new iPad owner had the chance to see the device in action. In fact, "see" is the operative word here. Not, "play with myself," as is the case with most new tech gadgets I purchase. Instead, I simply watched from a distance as, over the course of the day, the iPad found its way into the hands of nearly every family member from ages 4 months to 87 years old. The incredible thing? No one walked away confused, frustrated or disappointed. It did precisely what they wanted it to do and with such ease that my tech support was not required - not even once - allowing me to sit back and relax...with an old-fashioned, paper-based magazine.

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After hearing the hoopla from the iPad launch, the crowd of "not-so-early" adopters has likely been left wondering if this is a case of media over-hype or if something revolutionary has truly occurred. If you count yourself among this group, then perhaps the spec-filled, analytical reviews won't sell you on the device's potential.

You already know what the iPad can do: apps, games, eBooks (or rather, iBooks), media and so on. But what can it do for you? How does it fit in with your life? This anecdotal review may help you to answer that question:

A Day in the Life of an iPad

The morning after the iPad's arrival - incidentally Easter Sunday here in the U.S. - I spent the first half hour of my day with the iPad in one hand and a baby bottle in the other. While the little one ate, I read the New York Times. For free. Well, at least some of it. Although a full-featured paid application is on its way, the "Editor's Choice" app available now is a great way to hit the highlights from the paper's top sections. The iPad's weight here was a bit of an issue - 1.5 pounds may not seem like a lot, but holding it aloft away from baby's grabby fingers was a bit tricky, especially because, unlike an actual, dull grey-colored newspaper, the iPad's glowing screen and colorful images is an invite to touch that can't be denied.

Morning Newspaper

Later, in the car to the family gathering, I finished reading the articles I missed in the NYT's offline mode. I have the Wi-Fi version of the iPad, so Internet access is limited. But the articles were still available, cached to the device for just this situation. I then passed the time with a game of iMahjong. Like most iPad games, Internet isn't needed to play.

Upon arrival at our destination - the sister-in-law's house where extended family would meet, dine and relax, I mistakenly imagined that the only two people who would be interested in my latest purchase were the teenage nephews, already iPod Touch owners and avid gamers. Although they were immediately engrossed, to be sure, they weren't the only ones who would spend time with this new device, as I would later find out.

Game-Playing Device

The first question from the oldest nephew: "I heard iPad apps are a lot more expensive than those for the iPod Touch - is that true?" Unfortunately, it is. For whatever reason, iPad developers have mistakenly assumed that a bigger screen means a bigger price tag. This is not how the minds of penny-pinching, allowance-earning tweens and teens think, though. And although they may not be the target market per se, their moms and dads are. A game priced too high will simply be ignored - or worse, torrented, the nephews tell me. There are plenty of iPhone apps on torrent sites, I'm being told - referring to the online stores of cracked, hacked and otherwise ill-acquired software programs, movies, TV shows, music and media made available for download for those running free torrenting client applications on their computers. iPad apps will soon appear here, too. Should developers be worried about this black market for their super-sized creations? Yes, possibly. Unlike the more moderately priced iPhone apps, iPad apps can be much more expensive. And if their prices extend beyond the comfort levels of today's consumers, you can be sure the apps will leak out on backchannels such as these.

With pricing in mind, I tell the nephews they could download anything they wanted so long as it was free. And so they set forth upon their iPad adventure. After playing a number of games, including the Guitar Hero-like "Tap Tap Radiation," a tilted maze in "Labyrinth Lite," the role-playing game "Aurora Feint 3," some sort of shoot-em-up called "EliminatePro," and several others, my iPad was soon filled with a screen of apps I knew I'd never touch but would be regularly accessed time and again at subsequent family functions.

Child's Plaything

Once the older nephews had their fill, it was the 5-year-old's turn. With adult supervision, he enjoyed Disney's interactive book app, Toy Story and created works of art fingerpaint-style via Doodle Buddy. (He got a real kick out of the sound effects that accompanied the paste-in clip art in the program, too. Animal sounds, apparently, are incredibly funny).

We mistakenly thought that the Marvel comics book application would also be a fun diversion for this second-youngest of the family. (Don't laugh - comic book aficionados we are not.) But after a second-page reference to "Girls Gone Wild" in the free Spiderman comic and a third-page image of our favorite superhero shouting "Shut the @#*% up!," we realized that, at some point, comics must have grown up. These one-time children's past-times are now adult graphic novels. Oops. App closed. Back to doodling.

Grandma's Photo Album

Later, with bellies stuffed by Easter ham and dessert, the iPad found its way to the baby's grandmother. One guess what she looked at? Yes, baby pictures. "Can you email me some of those later?" Of course I could, but not later, now. Like the iPhone and iPod Touch, photos (a max of 5 at a time) can be sent directly from the iPad's built-in Photos application.

...And Everything Else

Now hours had gone by, and the iPad was still in circulation. With nothing else to do, I opened a wrinkled, balled-up magazine I had thrown into my bag precisely for this reason. I didn't expect to get much iPad-time myself, I just didn't realize that it would literally never return to me. As one person played on the iPad - reading, watching a video, playing a game, etc. - others relaxed with TV, a book of Sodoku puzzles, toys, and (gasp!) even printed newspapers.

On the iPad, someone was playing cards. Then someone was watching Netflix. Grandma is showing great-grandma more photos. Look! The baby is doodling! Now someone is trying an iPhone app on the iPad. (Verdict? Not a good experience. Forget the fact that the iPad runs all the iPhone apps - they look awful. Don't bother.) Interestingly enough, one "app" that was never launched was Safari, the iPad's built-in web browser.

By nightfall, the iPad had been in rotation for hours upon hours and still had nearly 40% battery remaining. The battery longevity claims (10 hours+) are true, it seems.

A Family Computer

Debates about the iPad's worth as an eReader, aside, fears that it will somehow transform us from a population of content creators to passive consumers (most of us already are just that), hopeful claims from big media that it's the "future of publishing" - I'd argue that none of these are reasons to buy or not to buy an iPad.

Simply put: the iPad is the first real family computer. No longer is computing an isolated experience with one person staring at one screen, fingers clacking away on the keyboard while the rest of the family does something else. The iPad was shared between brothers, giggled over by children, and downright snuggled up with by parent and child. It was no more isolating an experience than someone reading the paper in the next chair over. It was easily just another everyday object. And that may be its biggest selling point yet: the iPad hides away the technology, and makes content king. And at the end of the day, that's not really such a bad thing.

Disclosure: The New York Times is a syndication partner with ReadWriteWeb.

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What’s a “Universal” iPad App and How Do You Use It?

Do you already own an iPhone or iPod Touch and are planning on buying an iPad, too? Then you need to know about the new "universal" applications now available in the iTunes App Store. These combo apps for Apple's line of mobile devices are basically "buy one, get one free" deals except for one small difference - both apps are bundled into one download. When you run the universal application on a small-screened device, you'll see the iPhone version and when you run the app on your iPad, you'll see the larger, iPad-only version. And these won't just be blown up, oversized iPhone apps either - they'll be custom designed apps made specifically for the iPad.

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How To Find Universal Apps

When searching through the application store, you can identify the universal apps by the small plus sign that appears to the left of the application's price in the search results.

Or, if viewing the description page for an application, the left-side column will read "This app is designed for both iPhone and iPad" underneath the app's icon and price.

There are a few applications already available which support this new pricing format, for example, Pandora, Instapaper Pro, Evernote, WordPress, LogMeIn Ignition, IMDb and Now Playing. Some other applications even include the word "universal" in their application title. Unfortunately, Apple's own e-Reader application, iBooks, is not one of them.

There is no addition configuration needed in order to choose the right version for the device you have plugged into your Mac or PC prior to syncing. If you're syncing your iPhone, the iPhone application is copied over to your device. If you're syncing your iPad, the iPad application will copy over.

App Sharing: This is Why the iPad Doesn't (Yet) Replace Your PC or Mac

The only problem with this configuration is that it does require that you actually sync your iPad to your computer. Yes, you need to hook up your new tablet computer - you know, the one designed to replace your notebook or netbook - to your computer. That's the only way to make the universal app available to your other mobile devices via your iTunes library. 

You cannot plug your iPhone into your iPad to share apps.

Perhaps that should seem obvious, but it's not. After all, this is the device meant to oust the netbook entirely (or so says Steve Jobs - "netbooks aren't better at anything") and is generally being positioned as the "future of computing." But to your computer, the iPad is just another gadget. Just another device.

This issue may be resolved when Apple puts into place their anticipated "cloud" service. Having purchased the online streaming service Lala.com in early December, Apple is in a position to one day migrate your iTunes library to the "cloud," the catch-all term meaning, in this case, to make your library available online from any Internet-connected device (or at least any Internet-connected Apple device). This would allow you to access your purchases whenever you needed them without having to buy terabyte hard drives in order to archive all those HD TV shows and movies you've been downloading.

Until then, though, if you want to share apps between devices as, you'll need to sync the iPad too. 

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iPad’s Top Apps and Early Trends

What applications are the earliest testers of the Apple iPad trying out? Even though the "official" launch day for the new slate touchscreen computer isn't until tomorrow, April 3rd, several journalists and even some celebrities have already got their hands on one. And what are the top applications for folks like this? There are the usual suspects, of course: The Wall St. Journal, iBooks, Netflix (yes, it was true!), USA Today, ABC Player, NYT Editors' Choice, NPR and others. But all these apps are free, big-name brands and precisely the sorts of things the iPad was designed for. What's more interesting is a glance at the paid applications list for the iPad.

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iPad's Top Apps the Day Before Launch

Yesterday, iPad applications became available in the iTunes App Store. They appeared in searches for terms like "XL" and "HD" - the new acronyms developers are using to denote which of their mobile apps have been reconfigured for the slate's larger screen. And although very few people actually have their iPad yet, a number of iPad apps have been downloaded, either by the early testers themselves or by those who are preparing their collection for tomorrow's first-time sync.

In the free applications list, there are few surprises. From one to ten, the top free apps are: iBooks, Netflix, ABC Player, USA Today, The Wall St. Journal, NYT Editors' Choice, NPR for iPad, Twitterific for iPad, eBay for iPad and Shazam for iPad.

Early Trend: iPad is Used for More than Media Consumption

However, the paid applications list hints at two early trends that may bode well for the device's future and one that may not.

First, the good news. The iPad, despite its consumer appeal, is already making headway as a productivity application.  Half of the top paid applications are either categorized as "productivity" or "reference." These include the individual apps of Apple's own office suite (Pages, Numbers and Keynote), as well as the note-taking app Bento and the reference app World Atlas HD.

Another early trend is games on the iPad. Four of the top paid applications are entertainment-based offerings including Scrabble for iPad, Plants vs. Zombies HD, Flight Control HD and SketchBook Pro. As with the iPhone and iPod Touch, it's clear people are willing to pay to have a little fun.

iPad Games: Are Prices Too High?

That's where the worrisome part may come in...at least for iPad owners: the prices. Apparently "XL" means super-size the price too. PocketGamer took an early look at the prices for announced iPad games and found that, although 99 cents remained the most popular price point, 55% of iPad games were priced $2.99 or higher (including the 1% that charges a monthly subscription). And 30% were $4.99 or more, making the average price of an iPad game $3.52. 

They then compared these prices to same versions of the games on the iPhone and found that, ignoring "universal" apps, developers were typically charging $1-$2 more for the iPad version of their game.

This trend holds up in the current top 10 list, too. Scrabble for the iPhone, for example, is $2.99. Scrabble for the iPad is $9.99. The same goes for Plants vs. Zombies. But besides having to redesign the apps for the larger screen, what exactly is it about them that makes them worth more?

It could be just a case of developers needing to recoup their investments. The true user base of the iPad is still unknown, although analysts predict anywhere from a million to six by quarter's end. If the iPad becomes as widely popular as the iPhone, prices could come down a bit as the market becomes more competitive.

Game developers also have to wrestle with their pricing plan for their various versions. Do they sell the iPhone version separately from the iPad one or do they combine them both into a "universal" app? (Universal apps are apps you buy once and sync to any device, iPod, iPhone or iPad. The correct version of the app will be automatically copied over to whichever device you have plugged into your computer at the time of syncing).

Of course, keep in mind that none of these early trends, from pricing to app popularity, indicate the iPad marketplace's permanent course. It's far too early to determine that at this point. (Perhaps "trend" isn't even the right word here). But these are interesting indications of how people are starting to use the iPad, what apps they deem "must-have" and what prices they're willing to pay. The next few months should definitely be interesting to watch.

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