A week with the iPad and my family

Normally I spend my time surrounded by people who are completely comfortable with technology. They are – we are – people who work at computers all day long. That’s not a small thing. It changes your perceptions of how you approach problems, how you find information, how you communicate, how you get from A to B and how you shop.

Crucially, I think working with computers teaches you that they’re fun: it’s in those drifty moments at work when someone sends you a video of Dinner Time With The Dog-Man or that you spend time organising drinks for a friend’s birthday or marvelling at The Big Picture that you learn a sense of computers as enjoyable. Modern desk jobs force you to sit and stare at a computer for eight hours a day, so this hardly surprising: any time people are forced to do anything they find a way to have fun, whether it’s doodling in the margins of maths books or inventing games to pass the time at the checkout.

My life is changing, so I recently took a week off and went North to visit various members of my family. I took my bike so I could get out in the countryside, and I took the iPad so I could talk about some of the new things I’m doing at work. The people I visit do lots of different jobs – my Aunt’s a teacher, my cousins are retail managers, mechanics, academics and my Grandfather is rather actively retired. None of these are the 100% desk-and-data jobs my friends and I do, so it was fascinating to see how they got on with the iPad.

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Two cool Japanese iPhone apps

Via App.itize.us, a new iPhone apps blog, comes 51 Japanese Characters. Simple but fun, it features 51 Japanese “characters” – otaku, samurai, gyaru etc; give it a shake and it’ll mix and match their body parts.

Secondly, from the Japan Graphic Designers Association (JAGDA) and Heidelberg Japan K. K.,  “(^_^)365(O_O)” (Hello 365) tear-off calendar for 2010. 365 varying images from a variety of designers which the app makes it easy to export, so they’re ideal for use as iPhone wallpaper. The image above is from the 2nd of Feb, and it’s the one I’m currently using.

Better iPhone earphones


A work post, this – at the end of last year, Dennis bought Bit-Tech, and this year, Custom PC and Bit will be working together on quite a few projects. The plan is to share a lot of what we do behind the scenes to come up with articles suited to print and articles that really work on the web. The new issue of Custom PC, Issue 68, contains a couple of pieces by the Bit guys, and I’ve written a round-up of iPhone headphones for the site. Nice to be back – I previously wrote for Bit on a freelance basis a few years ago (difficult games, politics and technology and unique game controllers).

Ebooks are inevitable

Three Ebooks links:

1. ArsTechnica posted an excellent article on ‘the once and future Ebook‘ that’s worth reading start to finish. Suffers perhaps from some Apple fanboyism (I’m not 100% convinced as it claims, that the iPhone/iPod have such huge potential as Ebook readers, certainly not in their current state, and it seems a bit down on the Kindle). The article is quite right that Ebooks are inevitable, though.

2. Meanwhile, Google has launched a mobile version of Google book search, formating classic books for mobile phone browsers.

‘What if you could also access literature’s greatest works, such as Emma and The Jungle Book, right from your phone?’ (And for free). Nice formatting in the iPhone browser, and something I’m going to try reading from in the next couple of weeks.

3. Official-looking Kindle 2 pictures; hopefully there will be an international launch this time. Sensibly, Amazon also appears to be considering opening up access to the Kindle software/infrastruture. This is actually the way I got hooked on the iPod (and then the iPhone) – I got iTunes for free, like it a lot, and later bought the hardware.

How to create on-the-go playlists on the iPhone

Creating on-the-go playlists on my old 4G iPod was easy – just hold down the central button on song – and as with deleting podcasts, it took me a while to figure it out on the iPhone. As you’d expect, it’s actually pretty straightforward, and more powerful than before, as you can add and delete songs later on, plus change the ordering of tracks.

1. Load the iPod app, then go to Playlists.
2. Find ‘On-The-Go’ – slightly confusingly, it’s no alphabetised, it’s right at the top of the list.
3. You’re then in song picking mode, and although you’re initially presented with a massive A-Z list of all your iPhone’s tracks, you can use the filter buttons at the bottom to search by artist, album etc.
4. Find the song you want, hit the blue + next to it to add to the playlist.
5. Press Done at the top right when you’ve finished.

And that’s it, really. You can also go back to the playlist by selecting it on the list of playlists, and hitting the big grey edit button at the top. This will allow you to re-order tracks, delete (the red minus symbol next to each song), or add more with the + icon in the top left.

The only limitation I can see, compared to older iPods, is that you appear to be limited to just the one on-the-go playlist – you can’t keep on spawning new ones as you could previously.

Previously on the Wired Jester:
* How to delete podcasts on the iPhone

A post in 2 parts: Mark Rothko and Camerabag

It's very black

It's very black

Took the shot above yesterday at Tate Modern, and it’s the first one I’ve got from the iPhone’s camera that I’ve been really happy with. It’s from Tate’s excellent Mark Rothko exhibition

Part 1: Overheard at Mark Rothko
Well, I say it’s excellent, but that’s if you like Rothko. If you don’t, it’s fair to say it’s not going to change your mind about him. It’s not like there’s a secret room of photo-realistic portraits or delicate watercolours in the middle of it. Despite the fact Rothko is one of the few 20th century artists to be widely known, plenty of people there seemed annoyed, offended and upset by what they found. Best exchange I overheard was a father leading his 10 year old son through the rooms, at pace, saying:

“Right, so the last room was the purple and black series. This one is the grey and black series. You see the difference?”

In close second:

(Man, looking at a massive canvas that’s absolutely covered in paint) “Well, it’s not really painting, is it?”

Part 2: The Camerabag iPhone app
You do get some interesting people at exhibitions. Families with babies that literally look like they’ve just come out of the hospital, perplexed French tourists and people who appear to have dressed solely to look like cliched art fans. It all makes for great photos, but unfortunately you have to contend with the gallery guards and the no photography rule. This meant the SLR was out, and the iPhone was in. I’ve written about the iPhone’s camera before, and as it’s not brilliant, I’ve tried out a few apps to see if they could improve it. By far the best has been one called Camerabag; it’s cheap, regularly updated (most of the bugs have now gone) and allows you to apply a series of filters to pictures you take with the camera. The idea is that the filters mimic certain camera styles – Lomo, Polaroid, monochrome etc – and it’s easy to use, and as you can see from the picture I took at Tate, allows you to get a bit more out of your phone pics. Well worth the £1.79 cost. For more, check out the Camerabag Flickr group.

Previously on the Wired Jester:
Art: Visiting Tate Britain’s Holbein exhibition.

How to delete podcasts you’ve downloaded to an iPhone with 2.2

The new 2.2 system software for the iPhone allows you to download podcast episodes straight to the phone (previously it just copied episodes downloaded via iTunes if and when you synced with your home computer). This is great, but there are some problems with the process – namely that podcasts downloaded directly to the iPhone don’t show up in iTunes, so you need to delete them on the phone.

It isn’t immediately obvious (i.e. It’s completely hidden) how to do this – but it’s quite simple when you figure it out. In the iPod program, go to the list of episodes of podcasts, swipe your finger (as derisively as possible, of course) over the episode you want to get rid of – and the delete button will magically appear 🙂

On the quality of the iPhone’s camera

Autumn in the shire
Originally uploaded by Sifter

I’d been weighing up getting an iPhone for a while, ever since the new and improved 3G one launched. My existing contract with Orange featured rapacious data costs and distinctly rubbish data speeds, so the iPhone/02 combo of Exchange email, a decent mobile web browser and all-you-can-eat 3G data was tempting.

A couple of things put me off:

1. The iPhone’s camera looked rubbish, and I’m a big fan of mobile phone cameras – I remember paying to upgrade my phone back in 2002 just to get one of the first phones in the UK with a camera.

2.Several people at work told me the iPhone’s call quality was poor.

3. Crappy battery life.

Points 2 & 3 were quickly rendered null by the fact I couldn’t believe anything would be worse at these than my dreadful Samsung Windows Mobile machine…

And point 1? Well, I got the iPhone a week or so ago, and it’s all up and running now, synced with Exchange, hooked up to my number that I’ve had since the late 90s and… well the camera’s ok.

On the downside:

* There are zero controls over it (no white balance or exposure comp) which is annoying – although Apple could, presumably, add these in a software update.
* No flash.
* No video (also could possibly be fixed in software).
* It’s only 2 megapixel.

On the plus side:

* It meshes really well with the rest of the iPhone – it’s easy to email photos, for instance.
* It performs reasonable well in daylight
* And best of all, the speed at which it freezes the video into a picture when you press the photo button means you can create some nice mindbending pics like this one.