Palm: Free Apps For The Web, Free Development For Open Source, And Free Phones!

-1I’m here in San Francisco for a meeting Palm has called to give its newest employees, Ben Galbraith and Dion Almaer, who both came over from Mozilla, a chance to talk a bit about the state of the webOS platform.

The two, along with Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein and some other executives spoke at length about the hardware, the platform, and the plan going forward. The message was pretty clear: Web development is the future, and openness is the way. They also made a few big announcements.

The first is that they’re allowing developers to fully distribute their apps via the web. What this means is that developers can simply submit their apps to Palm, and Palm will return to them a URL that they can then blog, tweet, do whatever they want to share it. When a person then clicks on that URL they can easily install the app, bypassing any kind of store. And while Palm is providing the URL, it is not going to be reviewing the apps in any way — a clear dig at Apple’s approval process.

Palm did note that they will still offer their App Catalog (their app store) for developers who want that too. Presumably, any app developer who wants to charge for their app will still have to go through the store. And for those developers, Palm will charge $50 for the apps to go into the Catalog.

The next announcement is that Palm is waiving the $99 yearly fee it normally charges to developers to make webOS apps if those apps are going to be open source. Galbraith and Almaer with their Mozilla backgrounds are big proponents of open source, as are many that were in the audience tonight, so this move drew cheers.

On top of that, Palm is opening up all of its analytical data to any developer who wants to access it. Again, this is different from Apple which keeps much of the analytical data for itself, and shares little.

And finally, in an effort to spur development for the platform, Palm announced that it is giving to every developer in the audience a free Pre, and its new wireless charger. On top of these, everyone will get a month free of Sprint service to use the device and tinker with developing for it. “Just hack on it,” Galbraith said.

So now Palm has had its “Oprah moment,” just as Google did a few months ago at Google I/O where they gave a G2 to everyone in the audience. That was a much bigger audience, but the gesture is still a good one from Palm. Here’s the takeaway from tonight: Galbraith and Almaer are the new sheriffs in town and they want to open things up an get you developing for webOS.

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iPhone Erotica: Looks like Apple’s okay with it, as long as it’s tiny.

Looking for nudity in the App Store? Well, it exists. Contrary to what hundreds of application denials might have implied, it seems that Apple’s perfectly okay with showin’ the goods within an application – so long as said goods are shown in itty-bitty (though zoomable) thumbnails.

Before we dive too deep, we should make it clear: We’re very much in the “This shouldn’t be an issue” boat. We don’t mind at all that a collection of pixelated chests have found their way into the app store. To be completely honest, we think there’s a damned absurd amount of money to be made if Apple embraced a “Well, as long as it’s legal!” mindset and opened up an age-restricted section for those who’s interests swung that way.

That said, we’re also very much in the “Apple needs to figure out their damn rules” boat.

Read the rest of this entry >>

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Yammer 2.0 For The iPhone Finally Pushes Past The App Store Watchmen

-1It seems like we’ve all been waiting forever for the new version of Yammer’s iPhone app, version 2.0. And we really have, it had been about a month and a half since we announced it was sitting in the App Store, waiting approval. But today, finally, it’s here — and it’s great.

The big addition here is Push Notifications. This is really a key feature since you now can see whenever someone in your network says something without having to open the app. And there are Push settings to allow you to see all messages, replies to you, direct messages, “liked” items, bookmarked items, events, and editorial items — and combinations of any of those. You can also set whether or a not a sound plays when the notification comes in (it seems to say “Yam”), and set “quiet” times; times when you don’t want to get any notifications (such as at night).

Here’s a little refresher of the other new features:

  • A completely revamped compose area, including the auto-saving of drafts
  • A landscape mode option
  • A new camera option to attach images to Yammer messages
  • A new section to see replies to you
  • Much better performance since old messages are now cached
  • The ability to see conversation threads

The app remains free. If you use Yammer and have an iPhone, this is clearly a must have. You can find it here.

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Google Injects Ads And User-Generated Content Into iPhone Maps

IMG_0568Last night, I was out with some friends in search of a particular bar. Naturally, we did the 21st century equivalent of asking a gas station attendant for directions, we pulled out our iPhones to look it up in the Maps application. The result was odd; the bar we were looking for was there, but there was another result in the same spot, labeled as “User-created content.”

Yesterday, Search Engine Land noted that sponsored links (ads) are starting to show up in the Maps application on the iPhone. It would appear that Google is slowly adding some new features. But what’s odd is that these features are showing up without warning, and, as far as I can tell, without a way to turn them off.

While clearly, Google is not going to let you turn off sponsored links, the user-generated content element is odd. These pins show that some random person I don’t know was at the place I’m looking for, at some random time. It’s simply not useful at all.

I also wonder how Apple, which loves to have total control of its devices, feels about these additions. Google helped Apple build the default Maps application, but it is still one of Apple’s own apps and now it seems that Google can simply inject any content it wants into Maps from its end. Also a bit odd is that this particular piece of user-generated content comes from the location-based social network Plazes, which is owned by mobile rival Nokia.

I’m all for Google injecting user-generated content into Maps on the iPhone provided that it’s useful. So far, it doesn’t appear to be. There also needs to be a way to turn it off if you don’t want to see it. Without those two things, Maps on the iPhone could become a cluttered mess of useless information quickly. Perhaps that’s why Apple bought its own mapping company this summer.

IMG_0569 IMG_0570

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Mighty Mouse 2: Apple Planning To Upgrade Its Ill-Fated Mouse?

I wanted to like the Mighty Mouse, Apple's no-button mouse with tiny little ball on top. I was totally ready to make it my mouse of choice for years to come. We'd grow old together. We'd have children. Sadly, the Mighty Mouse was a mess. The ball got crudded up fairly easily and it stopped tracking and ended up in the big pile of junk in my office. But that's about to change.

Apple Gets A Mapmaker. Where Does That Leave Google?

2179435712_3d2a50fb64In case you haven’t had enough location-based news tonight, here’s another very interesting bit. It looks like Apple has very quietly bought an online mapping company, Seth Weintraub of Computerworld reports tonight.

Apple’s purchase of Placebase actually took place this past July, and a founder of a partner company that was using Placebase maps tweeted about it. But it slid under most people’s radars as that was the only news out there about it. But Weintraub dug up Placebase CEO Jaron Waldman’s LinkedIn profile tonight, and sure enough, he is now part of the “Geo Team” at Apple.

Here’s why this is very interesting: It could well signal yet another rift in the relationship between Google and Apple. At the very least, the fact that Apple bought a Google Maps competitor, was probably yet another reason why Eric Schmidt had to step down from Apple’s board of directors (which he did in August). But the bigger picture is that such a purchase could potentially allow Apple to move away from its dependency on Google Maps, which it uses on the iPhone and also its iPhoto computer software.

Obviously, much has been made about Apple’s rejection of the Google Voice app, but remember too that they also rejected (or did not approve, whatever) Google’s Latitude app, forcing Google to make a browser-based version. The reason Apple gave for not approving it was that it would confuse users with the built-in Maps application on the iPhone — the one that runs, yes Google Maps.

And Google actually helped Apple build the entire Maps application, aside from just letting them use their mapping data. So this whole episode has been bizarre, to say the least. But it may be over soon with the Placebase purchase.

Or maybe not. It is certainly possible that Apple simply realized the importance of geolocation, especially in the mobile space, and wanted to acquire talent in that field. While Placebase was a competitor to Google Maps, it also was slightly different, focusing on different layers and customizations.

[photo: flickr/Manitoba Historical Maps]

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BumpTop Goes Multi-Touch. Um, Awesome.

Screen shot 2009-09-30 at 6.47.36 PMWhat if the desktop on your computer was just like your actual desktop? That’s the core idea behind BumpTop, a really nice looking graphical overlay for Windows-based operating systems. But as cool as BumpTop looked, you still had to use your mouse and keyboard to manipulate it. As I made clear yesterday, I want those to die. So good news for me today: BumpTop is adding multi-touch support. And the result is awesome.

When we think of multi-touch right now, most of us think of the iPhone. But really, with such a small screen, there are only so many gestures you can do. Multi-touch BumpTop greatly expands that roster, and includes several gestures that it claims to have patents for. Basically, they have gestures that use all of you fingers, and both hands, and even the side of hands. You can “lasso” things, “shove” them, “scrunch” them, and “crop” them.

This graphic below shows a list of the gestures BumpTop offers that competitors don’t, including the ones that they apparently have patents on (labeled as “BT”).

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Naturally, for these multi-touch capacities to work, you’ll need a computer with a touch screen surface that supports multi-touch. Right now, those aren’t widely available. But all indications are that soon enough, there could be a range of devices on the market with such capabilities (sadly, this is Windows 7-only — so no, it won’t work on an Apple Tablet). If you don’t have one of those however, BumpTop will continue to work on a majority of Windows-based PCs just fine with more traditional input devices.

The most obvious use of Mutli-touch BumpTop is with media, as you can easily manipulate images (watch the video below). But the service also works with documents (dragging them around, bunching them together, Google Gadgets, and even webpages as widgets. Also, there is social networking support, so if you edit an image in BumpTop, you can easily upload it immediately to Facebook or send it to Twitter.

I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that as soon as I have a computer that can run this, I want this. If not, you’re crazy, just watch it in action below. And below that find more examples of its multi-touch gesture support.

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iPhone Developer Steals Customers’ Phone Numbers, Calls Them

Company calls customers in attempt to sell paid version of mobile app

Within iTunes' user ratings section of iPhone application mogoRoad, a real-time traffic monitoring tool available in Switzerland, several users claim to have received phone calls from the development company behind the mobile software. Reportedly, the company is asking the app owners if they would like to purchase the paid version of the application. While unsolicited sales calls are annoying and intrusive, the bigger issue here is how did the company get its customers' phone numbers to begin with? According to mogoRoad, the information came from Apple.

Sponsor

The recipients of the unwanted calls said that they were contacted a few weeks after the initial installation of the mogoRoad application. An operator would then try to sell them the paid version of the mobile software. If pressed as to how the company got access to their phone number, the operator would generally respond that the information was provided by Apple.

That seems unlikely since Apple does not provide this sort of private information to App Store developers nor does it provide direct access to that information via the iPhone SDK (software development kit), the tool used by developers to build their mobile apps.

Apple Doesn't Provide Phone Numbers, but They Do Provide Access

However, it's not entirely inaccurate of the company to say that Apple did provide them with the customers' phone numbers. Although Apple doesn't directly give out this info, they do provide a relatively easy way for any app developer to retrieve mobile numbers from the phone. In other words, Apple didn't give out the numbers in question, they just provided access to them. 

Although mogoRoad won't admit it, the most likely explanation as to how they retrieved the phone numbers involves the use of an undocumented feature which allows any Apple iPhone/iPod Touch application to access the phone number of the device on which it is installed. In an article on tech blog Ars Technica from earlier this year, the process of doing so was described as "a shockingly easy thing to do:"

Apple sneaks in a hidden symbolic link between the app's sandboxed preferences and a global preferences property list...Peek in Library/Preferences with "ls -a". You'll find a symbolic link to /private/var/mobile/Library/Preferences/.GlobalPreferences.plist, which is where (among other items), you'll find a preference called SBFormattedPhoneNumber. This preference provides exactly what the name implies: the user's phone number formatted to the current locale.

In checking with multiple iPhone developers this morning, we confirmed that the trick still works as described above.

It's Not a Bug, It's a Feature

Believe it or not, this isn't actually a security hole in need of patching - it's more of a feature. "It's important to remember that perfectly legit applications can reach your phone number plus your entire address book as well," Ars Technica blogger Erica Sadun wrote back in January. "Applications can also obtain personal information from most of the iPhone file system..."

While the large majority of app developers out there would never do anything quite so nefarious as what mogoRoad did and undoubtedly wouldn't want to risk alienating their customers in this fashion, it's unsettling to know that they could. And every time you install a mobile app, you're putting yourself at risk.

As of now, Apple hasn't officially responded to requests for comment as to how they will proceed with regards to this situation, either to us or to the blog originally reporting this story, French site Mac4Ever. However, given that the development company has clearly abused an undocumented feature, that should be enough to get them booted out of the App Store...hopefully for good.

Many thanks to MacWord, which pointed us to this story.

Discuss


Touching: All Rumors Point To The End Of Keys/Buttons

523179243_8d45df6fe2Anyone who has followed Apple news/rumors/patents over the past couple of years has probably noticed a certain trend emerging: Apple seems to be slowly shifting its entire line of products to touch-based computing. That is to say, it’s moving its products away from buttons and keys, towards manipulation through a touchscreen interface.

While obviously, MacBook trackpads have used some level of touch for a long time, this trend really started with the iPhone, which presented the first excellent use of multi-touch in a consumer device. From there, Apple slowly began adding multi-touch support to the aforementioned notebook trackpads, to the point where they all now feature it. And then of course, there’s the iPod touch, which is an iPod with multi-touch support.

But where things really start to get interesting is when you look at Apple’s patents and the rumors that spin out of them. If you name any Apple product now, you’re almost for sure able to find some sort of rumor that it will be gaining touch support in the future. In fact, a few more have hit just this week; including a touch screen remote for the Apple TV and a new multi-touch enabled mouse.

Touch Remote

These latest two make varying degrees of sense. Apple’s current remote (that tiny white one), which comes with the Apple TV and as an additional add-on with any Mac, is pretty bad. It’s especially bad for the Apple TV, which now has so much content on it, that it can take dozens of clicks to find what you want. And God-forbid you have to search for anything (nothing is worse than text-input on that thing). But Apple came up with a very smart solution for it: Turn the iPhone and iPod touch into a remote. The result is brilliant.

AppleRemoteBut would Apple really create create a new touch device that is only a remote? Such a peripheral would undoubtedly be exponentially more expensive than what it costs to produce the current Apple remote. But if Apple is finally ready to consider the Apple TV a real product (rather than just a “hobby”), it could well put in the effort to perfect a new kind of remote for a new kind of living room experience.

Boy Genius Report, which is reporting on the rumor, says it comes from the same source that was dead-on in naming some of the iTunes 9 features weeks before that product launched.

Touch Mouse

A touch-enabled mouse is much more interesting to me. Some of you may recall my rant a few months ago against Apple’s Mighty Mouse. The device, quite frankly, sucks. And really, it continues a line of Apple mice (or whatever the plural of “mouse” is) that have been laughably sub-par. And what’s interesting about that is the reason they have been sub-par: Because Apple did not want to add multiple buttons to the thing.

So in that regard, a multi-touch mouse makes perfect sense. It could eliminate the need for Apple to add more buttons to make a competent mouse, while at the same time adding new input functionality that we probably don’t even realize we’re missing with current mice (swipe left, swipe right, pinch to zoom, anyone?).

And the worst part of the Mighty Mouse, in my opinion, is the track ball. The reason it’s awful is because it gets dirty way too easily, and it’s annoying to clean. Again, a mouse with say, a multi-touch top, would eliminate that ball, and thus, the headache.

Touch Tablet

Of course, the big fish in the touch sea is Apple’s long-rumored tablet. More rumors today suggest that device could be announced in January 2010 (which is what earlier rumors suggested as well), and would be released sometime around the middle of 2010.

I don’t think I’m going out on any limb by assuming the device is real at this point (we, along with many others, have been hearing about it for months now). So when it does launch, it will likely be the most important test yet of Apple’s touch goals. For all intents and purposes it will be a computer that is just a 9 or 10 inch screen. It undoubtedly will not have a physical keyboard, which means it will be entirely touch-based.

isamu_sanada_macbook_touch_concept_2How consumers react to this will be important. I would bet that at first, many will wish there was a physical keyboard to go along with it (and maybe Apple would even offer such an accessory as an option add-on). But then, as they get used to it, many of those people will forget all about the keyboard.

The same thing has happened with iPhone. While plenty of people still bitch about its lack of keyboard, most of those people seem to be those who don’t actually have one (yes, there are exceptions), and/or haven’t used the touch keyboard extensively. Many iPhone users I talk to thought they would hate having no keyboard, but now would just consider it a waste of space.

Touch Beyond

And the idea that a physical keyboard is a waste of space is an interesting one, and one that I definitely agree with. The notion of a physical keyboard in this day and age is kind of silly. Back in the day they made sense as keyboard keys were physically connected to typewriter letters, and pushing one would produce type. But today, on computers, touching a key simply triggers a digital signal. Really, the keys are not necessary beyond our desire for tactile feedback. And they are a huge waste of space.

While it may be hard to imagine right now, eventually there will not be physical keyboards. Apple’s tablet may well be the first product that will get users accustomed to this idea. And yes, as I said, plenty will bitch. But eventually, technology will improve, and virtual tacile feedback will improve, and there will be no need to take up so much surface area on any device with physical keys that really serve no purpose.

That’s not to say that all computers will look like tablets. Certainly, there is something to be said for the ergonomics of the notebook — the keyboard on the bottom with screen on top. If you had to type long emails on a tablet, you’d either be looking straight down or your arms would get very tired. But eventually, notebooks will be folding devices with two screens, one where the current screen is, and one where the current keyboard is. This bottom screen could then be turned into a virtual keyboard as needed. Otherwise, it would be a touch manipulation area — or even just a screen.

Or another idea is to have a tablet computer which could be converted into a keyboard with a screen that is then projected on some surface. Or vice versa; a screen with a virtual keyboard projected on some surface. Stuff like this graces the pages of publications like Popular Science every month, and it’s probably closer than we think, and certainly closer than some of us would like to think (remember: people don’t like change).

co1Touch Microsoft

Of course, Apple rival Microsoft is working on a lot of interesting things with touch computing as well, including the Surface and touch-support in Windows 7.

Microsoft’s first true test of touch in its consumers products is the Zune HD. Early reviews are good, and you can probably expect Microsoft to pass along its notes on the device to some of its phone-making partners.

Meanwhile, the Surface is an interesting device but it’s still too much of a gimmick at this point. There needs to be third-party software support (we’ve been told that has been coming forever), and more importantly, the thing needs to be thousands of dollars cheaper if anyone is ever expected to actually use it.

Microsoft’s TouchWall is probably the much more interesting technology to watch as it relates to consumers. But there hasn’t been much word on that in a long time.

Microsoft’s touch device getting the most buzz the past couple of weeks is the Courier tablet. Unlike Apple’s tablet, which is expected to be media-centric, it appears the Courier will be a virtual notebook of sorts that you manipulate with both your hands and a special pen. It looks very cool, and it’s apparently running Windows 7. And that means it’s likely much closer than the mock-ups and videos may have you believe.

In fact, it could come as soon as mid-2010, just like Apple’s tablet, sources tell Mary Jo Foley. If that’s true, Microsoft looks to be at the leading edge of the touch revolution right alongside Apple. But because Apple has much tighter control over its entire ecosystem, it will undoubtedly be able to fully shift towards touch computing first, and as such, could well become synonymous with the technology (just as the iPhone has with multi-touch, even though other devices use it).

Screen shot 2009-09-29 at 1.52.17 PMThe Golden Age Of Touch

Computing, as we know it, is on the verge of a transformation. The input devices of yesteryear finally look ready to be replaced by methods that are not based on technologies that are decades (the mouse) or even centuries (the keyboard) old.

It won’t happen right away, but it is starting to happen already. We just need devices like the ones listed above to serve as gateway drugs to touch.

I, personally, can’t wait for my Minority Report-style computer system (yes, I seem to bring this up every few months). But for now, I’ll settle for a multi-touch mouse. Oh, and a touch tablet. No matter who makes it.

[Minority Report images: 20th Century Fox/Dreamworks]

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Dropbox Meets The iPhone; Access Files On The Go

Dropbox, the easy to use file access manager which syncs your files across all your computers and the web, has introduced an iPhone application to make it even easier to access your files anywhere in the world. After almost 7 weeks of waiting, Apple has finally approved the application. With this new iPhone app, users will get access to all their Dropbox documents, PDF’s, pictures, videos and much more. Dropbox also introduced offline viewing in the iPhone app, with “Favorites.” If you add a file to your ‘Favorites’, they’ll be accessible at any time. To do so, just hit the star at the bottom of any file, and it’ll be added. Otherwise, your files stay in the cloud.

One of Dropbox’s core features is sharing your files and folders stored in the cloud with anyone else who has a Dropbox account, and the iPhone is no exception. Users can easily share their Dropbox files and folders from their iPhone to any other Dropbox user by putting in their email address, just like on the web. The app allows users to upload photos for 3G users, and videos if you have an iPhone 3GS.

What’s really cool about Dropbox’s iPhone app is that you can even stream music and movies from your Dropbox straight to your iPhone, without any noticeable delay. Dropbox’s app is also heavily integrated into Apple’s camera API with straight photo and video uploading available too.

Just a few days ago, Dropbox reached 2 million users. Dropbox was a finalist at the 2008 TechCrunch50 conference.

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Apps For Everything: Apple Continues To Try To Improve App Discovery

Screen shot 2009-09-29 at 2.10.23 PM

Apple today has rolled out a new series of pages on the iPhone section of its website called “Apps For Everything.” The idea here is to create an easy way for consumers to find apps based around certain categories that they may be interested in.

The categories are:

As you can see, all of these seem geared towards your average consumer across varying demographics. That’s hardly surprising seeing as with 2 billion app downloads (and counting) now, Apple clearly has a very wide reach.

But app discovery has been a problem for Apple in the past. It’s a good problem to have — it exists because there are so many apps (85,000) — but Apple is clearly realizing it needs to do something about it. The App Genius feature was one step, this hand-picked curation is clearly another.

I’ve asked Apple how it picked the topics for these apps, as well as the apps themselves, and will update if I hear back. But I suspect that just like the other areas where Apple highlights certain apps (such as in the App Store itself), it is doing so based on (what it deems to be) merit and the ability to show off some cool functionality of the iPhone and iPod touch.

As Jonathan points out in the comments below, this is also a great way for Apple to expose apps to the broader web, for users who don’t have or don’t want to load up iTunes to learn about some apps.

Much of the apps featured seem to be ones that Apple has featured in the past in the App Store or even in its commercials. It should be no surprise that developers who have been a part of this attention in the past say that the spotlight has helped drive sales through the roof.

Screen shot 2009-09-29 at 2.10.14 PM

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DoubleTwist Remakes Apple’s Classic 1984 Ad With A New Dictator: Steve Jobs

On January 22, 1984 during the third quarter of the SuperBowl, Apple broadcast one of the most famous television commercials of all time. Based on a dystopian future George Orwell described in his novel 1984, the ad features a procession of soulless drones trudging into a large room to listen to the unquestioned words of their dictator whose face is being projected on a large screen. Moment later, a beautiful woman bounds into the room, evading capture by armed guards by only a few meters, and hurls a large hammer into the screen that explodes in a dazzling display of light. And so we were introduced to the Macintosh, Apple’s new weapon to take on the monolithic IBM.

What a difference 25 years can make. Now Apple has grown from underdog to a tyrant in its own right, preventing other devices from tapping into its iTunes software and restricting what users can install on the iPhones that they’ve purchased. And doubleTwist, which makes software that lets you use iTunes seamlessly with other devices, is calling it out in spectacular fashion. They’ve just unveiled their new commercial (embedded below) that’s nearly a shot-for-shot remake, featuring an army of iPod-wearing clones sitting in silence as their master — sporting Steve Jobs’ familiar round glasses — commands that “no other choices shall detract from our glory”.



The ad closes with the statement that “on October 6th, doubleTwist brings you Choice”. The company says that a major new release will be coming out that day for Mac users (followed a week later for Windows), but said that the new feature they’re unveiling is a surprise.

This isn’t DoubleTwist’s first direct attack on Apple. In June, the company pulled an incredibly gutsy move and legally purchased ad space for one side of San Francisco’s flagship Apple Store that invited passersby to “try The Cure for iPhone Envy”, that could put your iTunes library on any device. Apple pulled strings and had the ad quickly taken down. Soon after doubleTwist managed to have it put up once again, only to have Apple pressure the advertising company to have removed for a second time. Talk about Big Brother.

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Apple Rejects “Politically Charged” iPhone App

A 22-year-old iPhone application developer by the name of Red Daly is claiming that Apple rejected his new application from inclusion in the iTunes App Store due to its political nature. His app, iSinglePayer, was designed to educate its users on the benefits of a single-payer health care system, a hotly debated issue here in the U.S. In addition to data-filled bullet points, the app also taps into the phone's GPS to determine who the user's local congressperson is, how much money the health care sector donated to their campaign, and a "tap to call" button to connect app users with lawmakers.

According to Daly, an Apple representative spoke to him by phone to inform him that the rejection of the app was due to its "politically charged" nature. Well that, and the fact that Apple doesn't allow political apps from single developers.

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Where Does Apple Draw the Line when it Comes to Politics?

Apple may understandably want to distance their company from any hot-button political issue such as health care for fear that accepting political applications would damage their image (at least among those with opposing viewpoints). However, in this case it's a matter of them arbitrarily deciding that one political app can't make the cut when many others already did. For example, during Obama's campaign, there was an "official" Obama application which included news, event listings, media, and details on where the candidate stood on various issues. Was that not politically charged? McCain supporters probably thought so.

Daly also notes that Apple currently carries "Drudge Reader," an app that allows for mobile reading of the "The Drudge Report" website. While this is a news-based application, the site is generally regarded as being conservative in tone. So again, this could be considered a politically charged application, especially among those who disagree with Matt Drudge's opinions and views.

So where is Apple drawing the line? Daly says that the app's rejection is, in part, due to the fact that it's a product of a single developer. At least, that's what he claims Apple told him. Apparently, political candidates are allowed to release apps expressing their views, but single developers are not.

Why Not Allow Political Apps?

The real question here is why not? Let's say that Apple approved the application, what would the fallout be? Would those against the views expressed in the app actually refuse to purchase an iPhone or iPod Touch? Would they dump their Apple devices for a politically-neutral Pre, Blackberry, or Google Android smartphone? All but the most excitable zealots would not. In fact, the result would probably be the release of another application from a different developer expressing an opposing viewpoint. Would that be such a bad thing?

Considering how the rejected application's design tapped into the phone's GPS to deliver personalized, localized political information, it could have really set the stage for a slew of grassroots apps that used the mobile platform to rally the public to various causes or issues. Tap to call your congressperson, tap to customize and send an email to your senator, for example. In time, it's likely that both sides of every issue would be properly represented, keeping Apple out of the spotlight as supporting any particular political opinion themselves.

To date, it's been Apple's MO to distance themselves and reject anything remotely controversial, whether that's mature apps, apps from their competition, and obviously now, politics too. Ironically, by doing so, they actually invite the scrutiny and ill will they were trying to avoid. At the end of the day, though, Apple's iTunes Store is not the Internet where anyone and everyone can have their say - it's a closed, tightly regulated platform where developers have to play by Apple's rules or not play at all.

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IPad Rumors Abound! Apple To Announce On January 19! Device Shipping In May!

Jeremy "The Animal" Horowitz just posted a list of exciting new rumors about the iPad including the announce date - around January 19, just in time to relegate CES news to the dustbin of history - and that it will be available in May. The device is just awaiting Steve Jobs' signature on the dotted line. There will be two devices, a 3G and a non-3G version and the resolution will be 720p or so on 10.7-inch screen. It will also run iPhone OS and have dedicated media systems as well as an ebook reader built in.
TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

Apple Shares App Store Stats: 85k Apps Available, 2 Billion Downloads So Far

Apple has announced that the App Store for the iPhone / iPod Touch has now seen more than 2 billion downloads of applications, with a half billion programs in the last quarter alone.

In addition, the company revealed that the total number of apps in the store currently exceeds 85,000, and that they are now available to more than 50 million customers in 77 countries.

AppleInsider does a fine job crunching the numbers. Most noteworthy fact is that the App Store hit 1 billion downloads on April 23 of this year and 1.5 billion last July, which means the rate of daily downloads is quickly accelerating.

Anyone want to make a bet for when the number of downloads will top 3 billion?

Crunch Network: CrunchBase the free database of technology companies, people, and investors

TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

The coming tablet wars

tablet wars
I’m going to try writing longer form stuff for the weekends, sort of to stretch the old mental legs a bit and share a bit of the stuff that is floating through my transom, man, about tech and especially mobile and portable electronics.

Come back with me to 2001. A young man got up on stage one afternoon in November to announce something new and amazing: an operating system dedicated to tablet computing. That young man was Microsoft’s Bill Gates and that operating system was Windows XP Tablet PC edition.

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Chances are that is the first and last time you saw a working tablet computer. Laptops, then, were monsters. They were heavy – 10 pounds or more – had small, bad batteries, and WiFi was just a dream for most people. It seemed, in those dark years, that laptop manufacturers could shave off pounds and complexity by removing the keyboard and offer a pen-based OS. After all, this was a post-PalmOS era when handwriting recognition was an input option we all knew and understood.

The thinking was this: if you can streamline appellations – data entry applications being the target here – you could sell smaller, more expensive computers to medical and business clients. It didn’t work and Windows Tablet PC has been little more than a clever solution to a nonexistent problem.

So what’s with all the tablet talk lately?

We have entered an era of the thin and light computer and, rather than worrying about power we’ve become obsessed with the concept of thinness. This is why Apple, in their wisdom, created the MacBook Air and the iPod Touch. This is the same reason we are all salivating over the thought of tablets thinner than an issue of BusinessWeek and this is why laptop manufacturers – and Michael Arrington – are rushing to make them.

The Apple Tablet (or iPad or Tapplet) is real. It will have a capacitive touch screen and manufacturing difficulties are slowing down the tablet’s release to a crawl, thereby preventing us all from having one. It will be thin and, like the abhorrent HP DreamScreen, will focus on media. The extant tablet verticals – mostly in the medical industry – will still exist.

Note this new focus. Rather than trying to create a business machine, manufacturers understand people want bigger screens on which to consume web and media content.

So what can we expect in the next year? Well, first we have the CrunchPad. When all the bugs are worked out, it will be an amazing device – I’ve seen it. And I’m not just saying that because I’ve been intimately involved in the design process, because I wasn’t – that gives me a bit of perspective. Expect the CrunchPad to be a excellent device for blogging – that’s what Mike made it for – and for web apps. Don’t expect much in the way of media.

Then there’s the iPad. This will eclipse the industry and for the rest of the year that’s all you’ll hear about. Trust me. Apple could require you to give this device three drops of blood every morning in order to satisfy the demonic hell-beast soul trapped inside it and we would, gladly. The release will be on par with the iPhone release and they’ll sell a million of them.

Then you have Microsoft’s Courier. It’s impressive, but it’s Microsoft; don’t expect that thing to take shape for two years and don’t expect it to take off until the second generation. Like the Zune, Microsoft will make a product but they won’t make it good until they have a little time to mull it over. I don’t think the Courier will be a player in 2010.

As for the rest of the devices, expect slow uptake by price conscious consumers and folks who don’t think it’s “cool” to own “name brand” technology and are real “hackers” (read: teenagers and European students). Archos, a9_front_11for example, is doing a lot of good work in the tablet space but they’re an also-ran. They are going the Tablet OS route, which is no good. Creative has some devices planned and it’s also clear that ChromeOS could power a nice device – provided HTC makes it.

As for connectivity most of these will have a 3G option – although I doubt the iPad will have 3G built-in. WiFi is an obvious second-best.

As for size, tablets, at least with capacitive screens, are weighed down by a huge hunk of metal that shields the electronics from the screen. This hunk of metal – and the glass – prevents us from getting a bigger iPod Touch and is what is keeping the iPad from coming out sooner. Once the world’s (i.e. China’s) scientists solve this problem we’ll get what we want. Until then it’s resistive all the way.

So prepare yourselves for the coming tablet wars and sock away a little cash because things are going to get interesting in 2010.

Crunch Network: CrunchBase the free database of technology companies, people, and investors

TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

Chinese iPhone Pricing Revealed: It’s The Exact Opposite Of Ours

China Unicom, the country's second-largest carrier, will offer the iPhone starting in mid-October. And in pricing that is rather the opposite of the low upfront cost and high monthly pricing at AT&T, they'll be selling the device almost at cost and pairing it with plans that make ours look positively extortionate. Prices will start around $300 for an 8GB iPhone 3G, which seems a bit high until you consider the fact that they'll be paying less than $20 per month for service.
TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

Spotted: Ultimate Apple Fanboy Visits The Mothership

photoPeople always send in tips about Steve Jobs‘ Mercedes being spotted (usually parked at some weird angle or in the handicap spot) at Apple HQ in Cupertino, CA. But today we have an even better Apple parking lot tip.

Just look at the license plate of the car that was parked at Apple HQ this morning. For those non-religious readers, or those less versed in comedy, I’ll go ahead and spell it out for you. WWSJD stands for What Would Steve Jobs Do? — a take on the popular religious meme WWJD? which stands for What Would Jesus Do?

Yes, this person is directly relating Steve Jobs to Jesus. And yes, they’re at Apple HQ today. Steve Jobs, if you are reading this, you may want to hide in your office. Stalker alert!

Or what if this person actually works at Apple? Awkward.

Crunch Network: MobileCrunch Mobile Gadgets and Applications, Delivered Daily.

TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

Apple’s Dashboard Widgets Comatose As iTunes App Store Skyrockets

Prior to the debut of Apple's iPhone, software developers wanting to make miniature applications to reach Macintosh users had a direct route to customer's desktops through the development of Mac OS X Dashboard widgets. Billed as major functionality debuting in Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) in early 2005, Dashboard, much like Konfabulator before it, featured widgets including weather forecasts, stock updates, calculators or simple utilities, like a dictionary or thesaurus. Over time, developers managed to make a number of creative uses for these apps, from delivery updates to flights' status, or even lightweight arcade games.

But four years later, Dashboard is dormant, while not yet completely dead. A quick calculation of the total number of widgets listed on Apple's Web site is just over 4,500, of which 820 are international. In remarkable contrast, Apple's iTunes Store loudly proclaims its haul to be more than 75,000, of which a massive 1,394 were posted just last Friday.

Want to know how many new Dashboard Widgets were posted last Friday?

Zero.

Interestingly, Apple's Dashboard Widgets site highlights the last 50 "Just Added" to the Web site, and for whatever reason, between September 9th and September 21st, no Dashboard Widgets were posted. Maybe the one guy whose job it is to get them approved was on a two-week vacation?

And in the week, starting with Monday, only 39 total Widgets made it into into the directory, including fascinating titles such as the "Iowa Hawkeyes Football Schedule" widget or the "Countdown to Thanksgiving" widget.

With iPhone app developers having a fast-growing audience of millions ready to spend real money on applications for their mobile phone, the idea of creating a miniature application for the desktop, for free, probably doesn't have much pull. It's no secret that the iTunes App Store's runaway success has played a big role in making any discussion about Dashboard completely unnecessary.


The louisgray.com Widget as posted in 2007

Just a few years ago, many thought widgets were going to be the next hot thing in desktop apps. Konfabulator was purchased by Yahoo! and turned into Yahoo! Widgets, which claims nearly 6,000 desktop widgets. And way back in 2006, I even made a dashboard widget for louisgray.com, which I later updated in 2007 and still works. But the talk of widgets faded, as people primarily chose to use the Web browser and their iPhones as the conduits for Web data, preferring not to have a gazillion little widgets floating about their screens.

Considering the dramatic drop-off in buzz around Dashboard widgets, and a corresponding meteoric rise in iPhone deployments and penetration, it's no surprise to me that you see this gulf, which now measures almost 20x in favor of iTunes applications. It's enough to wonder if Apple will ever bring up the Dashboard again, except maybe to provide a place where iTunes applications purchased for the iPhone today can sometime live. They won't kill it outright, but it sure looks like a dinosaur, after only four years.