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Daring Fireball: Vesper, Adieu

Love him or loath him, Gruber is brutally honest about Vesper's failure:

What went wrong was very simple. We never made enough money.

Here's why:

Our basic plan was:

  1. Build Vesper for iPhone. Sell it for around $5.
  2. Build a sync system, either on top of a service like iCloud or Dropbox, or by rolling our own system.
  3. Build Vesper for Mac. Sell it for around $20.
  4. Build Vesper for iPad.
  5. Maybe build a web version. (Would depend largely on how we implemented syncing in step 2.)

In hindsight, I am now convinced this plan was fundamentally flawed. 

If I could do it all over again, here is what I would do differently...The plan would have looked like this:

  1. Build Vesper for Mac. Sell it for around $20.
  2. Build a sync system.
  3. Build Vesper for iPhone.
  4. Build Vesper for iPad.
  5. Maybe build a web version.

The biggest advantage to this plan would have been that (I think) we’d have made far more money in step 1 than we actually made by doing Vesper for iPhone first.

An iOS only notes app was always going to be a challenge. I use a mac, iPad but also use an Android phone, so I would go further than what Gruber states:

A notes app is only of interest to many people if it’s available both on their desktop and mobile device.

It doesn't really matter how the popular notes apps were built, what matters today, is that they are all cloud based and cross platform. So the question is, can you build a sustainable notes app based startup on iOS first/only?

Going dark: online privacy and anonymity for normal people

Crafting an identity

Consider the data that many sites request on signup: name, location (possibly your exact address), date of birth, phone number etc. If protecting your identity is indeed important to you, consider what these values should be. If there's never any adverse recourse from fabricating them then do just that - make them all up. Make sure you record them though as they may be required for identification purposes later on, for example your date of birth is requested as part of an account unlock process. Don't put them in a text file on your desktop called "my secret online identity", put them in an encrypted keychain such as 1Password's.

Will HTML5 web books change the way we view the web?

4 min read

HTML5 has been touted as changing the web for a while now, but will it change the way we read books?

20 Things I Learned about Browsers and the Web

Last year Google published the HTML5 web book "20 Things I Learned about Browsers and the Web" but I largely ignored it. Why would I want to read books in my browser? I read books on my phone and iPad, but even for me reading a novel through the browser might be a step too far.

However, as much of a digital convert as I am, I had not factored in just how quickly HTML5 adoption would take place in a year. Google is really pushing the adoption of HTML5 with it's Chrome desktop browser and beginning August 1st Google Apps will only support modern browsers. This means that if you're a Gmail user, you will have to be running either the current or prior major release of Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari or you will not be able to get the most out of gmail.

This summer will see offline working arrive for Google Apps through the Chrome browser. This is powered by HTML5. You seen HTML5 is more than just a web page. While HTML5 allows designers to create beautiful pages and layouts, they can also build in more functionality (to the website) without requiring the user to download or install any additional software. The user simply requires a 'modern' browser. If you are using the web browser 'Chrome' you will always have the latest version. This is because Google wants (and needs) its users to be running the latest browsers so its users will get the best experience. They therefore built Chrome to auto update itself. The other major browsers already support HTML5 and will continue to do so.

So how will HTML5 make me read a book on my computer?HTML5-web-book-screenshot

I don't think I could actually read a novel on my desktop computer and I don't think HTML5 will change that. However, the web is evolving fast and is in more and more devices now. HTML5 will drive adoption of web services on devices such as phones and tablets. You know, that smartphone that you download all those apps for might not need apps in a year. When the iPhone launched without an App Store, Steve Jobs stated that with the mobile version of Safari users didn't need apps, they could do everything through the browser. While that was true to an extent, we the user and developers weren't quite ready for that. However, users are becoming used to sophisticated websites and are used to the 'app' experience. It will be easy to transition users to the web full time in a few years. There are already a lot of apps that are really just a webpage. At the end of the day, do you as a user care what the technology that drives the app is? No. All you and I care about is the experience and HTML5 will make that experience sweet!

Take Kindle as an example. Here is an app that let's you read books on any device, on any platform - and they all sync and work together to get you the best experience. You can bet your last pound (£) that Amazon will be one of the first companies that adopt HTML5 web books, if for no other reason than it will reduce their development costs. Instead of developing for many platforms, they develop for the web and the user just points their browser to their Amazon account. Simple.

There are lots of content based sites (like this one) that will benefit from web books. I could see newspapers adopting web books on masse just so they can replicate the 'paper' version. TV companies can produce slick sites that recreate that 'living room tv' set up.

My mum doesn't need to know about HTML5, she just needs to know that her experience of using the web will get better if she uses a modern browser and the sites she visits build their site with HTML5 in mind. So, to answer my own question, HTML5 web books will definitely change the way we view the web.

Mobile apps will not save journalism

5 min read

Last week something happened to me. I felt so compelled by the content of an article on the Belfast Telegraph website that I registered so I could comment.

The articel in question is this one: "Can Mobile Apps Save Professional Journalism?"

The short article explains the 'appification' of the Internet and the effect it is having on media companies. Users can now download music, read books and make purchases all through apps and on mobile devices.

However, at no point does the author suggest how apps themselves are going to "Save Professional Journalism", which as you recall is the headline of the article.

Strange.

Except it is not.
You see, media companies are so busy saving their industry that they fail to see that the professions that make their businesses are as strong as ever.
Is the quality of music worse now than what it was 20 years ago?
What about the quality of fiction? I read more books now than I did as a child, because I use the kindle app. Technology has made this possible and in particular the Internet.

The investiagtive quality of journalism is not in question, nor is the ability of a journalist to report the facts. Quite simply, journalism does not need to be saved.
A quick search reveals that professional journalism (we are told) is at death's door, succombing to an unsustainable business model.
The internet opens many doors and the opportunities for a journalist to create and distribute content are almost endless. The trouble, of course, is how do they monetise this content.

Naturally publishers i.e. newspapers should change their business model and charge for access to their content. Except that is a massive risk and is surely doomed to failure.

We are a generation who consume masses of content with little regard to the content owner or the creative mind behind it. We are so disloyal that if we are offered a freebie, we grab it regardless of whether we need it or not. The chances we'll come back (to the product) are even lower.
The only way you can compete is to offer truely interesting content and a service that users can rely on.

Back to apps.
I do not see apps saving anything, certainly not 'news'. You see apps are little silos of data and when you are inside a silo you cannot see what's going on around you. This is a problem for an internet user.
I accept that apps are a major force at the moment and I would suggest (on my own usage) that most iPhone or Android owners have 50 apps on their phone.
I only use about 5-10 regularly.
For apps to save 'meda' the consumer needs to be using their app regularly. The guardian app I reviewed in a previous post is a good example. However, if I was asked to continue to pay a subscription I would have to consider the potential benefits and the competition. Indeed on my Android device I have full access to the Guardian website and no longer have a need for an app.

So I've paid for the app, but on a different device (with a better browser) I no longer require the app. Do you see the potential problem in this business model?

The BBC have been given the go ahead to release mobile apps, so what wont they offer (for free) that other paid models will? Again, how do you compete with free?

To jump back to the article, I was shocked by this statement: "Apps present a business model with much greater revenue potential than a website."

Really? How So? These questions are not answered.
I want to know what the author means by an app. Is it specifically iOS apps or mobile apps in general?
Is it also desktop applications or even web applications?
Why would a company move away from the web to make apps for so many different systems, when one website can serve them all?

If we accept that an app is different to a website (it's not, they're both content delivery systems) how can any business expect to make more money from their app than their website?
Presumably by errecting a pay wall or removing content.

You can place an ad in an app. Brilliant. You can sell more advertising space on a website than you can on an app.
There is nothing that you can do on an app that you cannot do better on a website.
Ah, but maybe I'm not getting the point. The author is suggesting that mobile use will become so widespread that overall usage of mobile browsing / apps will overtake desktop browsing. I agree, it most definitely will.
However, why do I need an app to view content? I can already view websites on my mobile browser.

Web apps can save the content business by making content available to the same user across multiple browsers and devices. This choice makes the service more compelling to the user (see the kindle app as an example) and ensures the content owner drives traffic to one single source.

This traffic should be enough to generate the revenue required to keep content owners happy. But if it's not, they can always erect the wall and go the way of the Times. It's not pretty.
Can there be anything worse for a journalist than not being read?

How to blog from your mobile phone

2 min read

No matter what your chosen blog platform may be there are many ways to post to your blog when you're out and about: you can use your phones browser and either access the main site or a mobile version; email your article to a special address or use an app that's been specifically designed for your phone.

Here are four of my favourite blog platforms.

With Blogger you will be able to access the dashboard from your phone's browser, but my experience of this has been poor. I prefer to either email or use an iPhone App.
To setup email you need to access the 'Email & Mobile' tab in the settings menu. From here you can specify an email address where you can email your future posts. Posts can either be published immediately or saved as draft for later.

If you have an iPhone, there are several apps that will enable you to blog on the go, my favourite being BlogPressLite, but you can also try iBlogger, BlogWriter Lite or altBlogger.

Wordpress seems to offer similar ways to update your website to blogger, namely through the phone's browser, via email and through a mobile client. To setup email login to your dashboard and complete the steps in the 'writing' section.
On the iPhone I'd recommend installing the official Wordpress 2.0 App which offers a clean UI and the ability to fully manage your blog from your iPhone.

Posterous is perhaps the easiest way to blog, just send an email to post@posterous.com and Posterous will do the rest. You can enable your Posterous account to autoupdate blogger, twitter, facebook, flickr, wordpress and a host of other social networking sites, which makes blogging much simpler to manage.

Tumblr

Tumblr lets you effortlessly share anything. Post text, photos, quotes, links, music, and videos, from your browser, phone, desktop, email, or wherever you happen to be.

I'm relatively new to the platform, but with an iPhone App and the ability to email updates, it seems competitive with the others above.

AirTunes: My media streaming solution

2 min read

I recently added an Airport Express Base Station to my wireless network at home, with the primary aim of streaming music to the Hi-Fi in the kitchen, but I experienced mixed results.

My set-up comprises the following: Mac Mini and a Linksys WRT54GC

The initial set-up was complicated by the inclusion of an install cd and instruction booklet which as it turned out was only required by windows users. Instead of reading the instructions (as I did), all I needed to do was plug it in and activate multiple speakers in iTunes! Once this step was completed the Mac took over and automatically set-up AirTunes. I was able to hear immediate results and I was impressed by the sound quality.

However, music playback would stutter repeatedly to the point that I was beginning to think I had made a mistake in purchasing the router. I resorted to google. A quick search posed more questions and quickly pointed me to advanced settings in the airport utility where I was able to manually configure the router.
While the problem eased it wasn't resolved, further investigation returned many users complaining about something called IPV6. This post: solved all of my problems using the following steps.

1. Open System Preferences
2. Open Network pane
3. Select Airport in the left list
4. Click the Advanced button
5. Go to the TCP/IP tab
6. Set the "Configure IPv6" field to Off.
7. Click "OK"
8. Click "Apply"
9. Let iTunes connect to you're Airtunes speakers

During the process of trial and error I came across a wifi utility called inSSider. This programme (windows only) scans your locality for other wifi users and provides detailed information like which channel they are using and if it's likely they are causing interference on your network. I found another network using the same channel as me (6) so I therefore switched channels (11).

AirTunes is now working flawlessly and I am able to listen to my iTunes library throughout my house.

What my ideal phone would be like

4 min read

Full disclosure first: I'm an iPhone fanatic.
I've been a mac user for 2 years and I honestly couldn't imagine using anything else now. The link between the iPhone and the Mac is seamless, if hard wired! I can honestly say that the iPhone 3G and now the 3GS are the best phones I've ever owned and used.

However! There are lots of things that annoy me about the iPhone.

1. The OS has taken a long time to get to where it is today and it's still locked down. Why should I have to jailbreak to get functionality that comes as standard on other handsets?
2. While I think Apple are exceptional at what they do, they are also total control freaks, which really annoys me as a consumer. I buy the hardware, I should be able to do what I want with it.
3. I have a love/hate relationship with the App store.
4. In order to backup, I have to sync with iTunes which requires the data cable. This isn't a problem for me as I download lots of podcasts which require syncing via cable.
WAIT hang on, that's another bug bear of mine.
5. The iPod app doesn't wirelessly download your podcasts on the fly. You can download over wifi, but only one at a time. My Nokia N95 was able to do that task.
6. The iPhone should be able to backup and sync over 3G or wifi even if you have to buy MobileMe.
7. The iPhone isn't that easy to use. Trust me, novices will find the entire ordeal troublesome and over complicated. I'm referring to those who only text and make calls on their current handset, of which there are many.
The iPhone essentially requires users to modify their use of a mobile phone and learn to sync their phone to their computer and to interface with the device via desktop software. This is a good thing however, and more people should learn to do this with their existing 'dumb' phones if only to avoid loosing data.

So what exactly is my ideal phone?
Hardware
At least 3.2MP camera - I really do not need more mega-pixels on a phone, but I do want a good sensor. A flash would be handy.
Expandable memory via MicroSD card or suitable alternative.
The size and shape of the iPhone, perfect for my hands and a big enough screen to watch films on the plane/train!
15 hour battery life from constant use. I can recharge at multiple opportunities throughout the day, but 15 hours of constant use is enough to get me through any arduous day or to most destinations.
3.5mm headphone jack.
Touchscreen

OS/Software

I'm getting very excited about Android. As well as being an Apple fanboy, I'm a total Google love child. My life is in constant sync with gmail/calendar/contacts/tasks and therefore Android is just begging to be tried.

Android is now maturing as a platform and being released on many new handsets and is therefore getting more and more support. Developers are going to port iPhone Apps and many developers will choose to develop for Android ahead of other platforms given the potential size of the Android user base. Therefore by having an Android device you will have the widest choice of apps available.

OS X is very nice, but the way Apple control the operating system always leaving me wanting more and therefore I will tire of it very soon.

Windows Mobile 6.5: let's just say that it would take a miracle for me to buy a winmo device - it's just not for me.

Network
A really important consideration for me given my experience on O2. I would ideally buy the handset unlocked for use any network, which would then allow me to buy a suitable 30 day sim only tariff. I would require a network with decent 3G coverage.

To conclude, my ideal phone would be of the hardware spec above running android on either Vodafone or Orange.

Of the handsets currently available I would only be tempted to ditch my iPhone 3GS for the HTC Hero which is a capable handset.

I suspect that my dream device is only around the corner in the shape of the rumoured google phone, but in the mean time I will continue to 'make do' with my 3GS as my ideal phone.

Chrome for the Mac: fast but unreliable

2 min read

As a google fanboy and a Mac user it's frustrating that Chrome for OS X is still very much an alpha version.
For those who forget what Chrome is, here's the official blurb:

Chrome is a web browser that runs web pages and applications with lightning speed.

Speed: Fast to launch, fast to load web pages
Simplicity: Designed for efficiency and ease of use
Style: Themes to add colour and delight to your browser

Firefox has been my browser of choice for many years now and with version 3.5 Mozilla have made significant progress in terms of speed, but Chrome is still faster. As someone who users gmail and other google apps it would make sense to use Chrome with these services. However, on the Mac at least, they cause Chrome to crash, gmail not to load and generally perform like a dog!

Am I done with Chrome? Not yet and I'm actually optimistic about a future Mac release. General browsing is very slick and with HTML5 support you can see the direction the browser is taking. When google iron out the problems, this browser will become the tool of choice for all my google apps.

You can download Chrome from the official site: http://www.google.co.uk/chrome

SSH into your iPhone

3 min read

As a long time jail breaker of my iPhone it came to my attention that I've never made use of OpenSSH. Those jail breakers who are so called power users swear by the SSH option.
So what is SSH and why should you use it?
SSH allows data to be exchanged using a secure channel between two networked devices.  OpenSSH is an open source alternative to the proprietary SSH.  OpenSSH basically allows you (your computer) to talk to your iphone in a secure manner.
OpenSSH allows you to access the iPhones file structure and therefore make changes that apple would not not normallly allow; changes such as custom SMS tones.
Do you need to be a geek to do this? It helps, but no you don't!

A quick google shows up hundreds of sites offering guides and YouTube is full of selfhelp clips. I'll provide the steps necessary for you to create your own custom SMS tone on a mac.

You need to have a jailbroken iPhone for this.  A guide on how to do this can be found here.

1. Firstly you need OpenSSH. Open cydia and go to all packages and search for it. Once found, install it.
2. You need to know your iPhones IP address. You find this in settings, wifi. Press the blue arrow and in the next screen you will see your IP address.
3. If you don't already have cyberduck on your mac, download and install it.
4. Open cyberduck, open new connection.
5. Make sure that you have SSH FTP selected and enter your iPhones IP address.
6. Now enter your username and password. These are the same for everyones iPhones. Username is root and the password is alpine.
7. In may take a while for your mac to connect to your iPhone.
8. Once connected you will be able to browse your iPhones file structure.

To change your message tone follow these steps:

1.Trim MP3 files using Audacity (usually SMS notification should be shorter, roughly 3-4 seconds should be good)

2. Import the MP3 file to iTunes
3. Change the iTunes import to AIFF
4. Find the AIFF file and copy to desktop
5. Change the extension to “.caf”
6. SFTP to the iPhone using Cyberduck (Mac)
7. Navigate to the following directory: “/System/Library/Audio/UISounds”
8. Change one of the “sms-received.caf” file to
“sms-received_.caf” where is an integer from 1 to 6
that is least preferrable
9. For example: Rename “sms-received6.caf” to “sms-received_6.caf” to replace the Electronic with custom sound
File name mapping to notification name:


sms-received1.caf - > Tri-tone
sms-received2.caf - > Chime.caf
sms-received3.caf - > Glass
sms-received4.caf - > Horn
sms-received5.caf - > Bell
sms-received6.caf - > Electronic



Upload the file on the desktop using the old name of that was changed
For example: if “sms-received_6.caf” is changed to “sms-received_6.caf”, upload the file using the name “sms-received6.caf”
Choose on your iPhone, the replaced tone.
For example: if you replaced sms-received6.caf, then you should choose Electronic.

Thanks to Life in 0 and 1 for the guide.

Google Apps users are no longer second class citizens!

2 min read

Gmail users have been able to use the "labs" features for a while now, but "labs" had been broken for google apps users, that is until...ok not quite today, but sometime last week!

We still do not have themes, which are coming, but all the other cool features now work, including calendar view and tasks.

This upgrade of gmail really makes it a powerful tool, and a viable option to any desktop client.  If you are a windows user and have installed chrome, then gmail could actually function like a desktop client.  This is made possible by gmail operating inside it's own browser window and outside of the general browsing expereince.

I'm a big fan of the google calendar and now you can view upcoming events inside gmail, but a lab feature might just be the making of gmail - tasks.  It really is simple, working in a similar way to Chat, you just click on tasks and create a to do.  That's it.


"To enable Tasks, go to Settings, click the Labs tab (or just click here
if you're signed in). Select "Enable" next to "Tasks" and then click
"Save Changes" at the bottom. Then, after Gmail refreshes, on the left
under the "Contacts" link, you'll see a "Tasks" link. Just click it to
get started."



The folks behind gmail really do keep coming up with great new features and this is just another reason why you should give it a try.