SciTechBlog
March 19, 2010

What does your phone home screen say about you?

Posted: 11:15 AM ET

After noticing that he had exactly 911 unread e-mails on his phone, a colleague of mine, Victor Hernandez, decided to share this moment of emergency info overload with his Twitter posse.

He posted a photo of his iPhone home screen online, and that photo was met with reactions he didn't expect.

People didn't care about how many unread e-mails he had.

They just wanted to see which apps he had on his home screen.

"Love seeing what is on the front screen of people's iPhones," one of his followers wrote, noting that she found it funny that Hernandez had prioritized the iSamJackson app. "Says so much about you."

Hernandez stumbled into a possible cultural trend: Phone home screens have become yet another marker of a person's identity. iPhone and Android phone users download an average of nine apps (mobile phone programs) per month, according to a February report by AdMob (PDF). But only 20 apps will fit on the iPhone's rigidly organized home screen, and people tend to put the apps they use most often, or think are the most important, on that starter screen. Maybe the way people arrange these home screens says something about their daily lives and preferences.

Apple, always quick to draw links between its gadgets and its users' personalities, has an entire Web page devoted the iPhone home screen and how to make use of it. So does Google's Android platform.

Hernandez and CNN iReport asked our readers to send in photos of their phone home screens. They were excited to find that no two submissions were alike. Many are quite similar, however, since the iPhone does come with a number of apps preset to run on the home screen, and most of the submissions iReport received were from iPhone owners.

Some home screen submissions highlighted games; others put news apps out front. Some "jailbroken" phones featured customized backgrounds.

Take a look at these photos and let us know what you think. Does a phone home screen really say something about who a person is, or is that corporate and contrived? If it is significant, what types of apps are most essential to you, and why? Does it matter that phone home screens are usually hidden to everyone except the phone's user?

Maybe that secrecy is part of the allure.

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Filed under: Android • Apps • iPhone • smartphones


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March 5, 2010

Sony to launch challengers to iPad, iPhone

Posted: 12:26 PM ET

Sources have told the Wall Street Journal that Sony is planning on making a challenger to Apple’s iPad that will have all the capabilities of a netbook, a Sony Reader and a PSP, the company's handheld gaming device.

At a Sony news conference in Tokyo, Sony’s CFO Nobuyuki Oneda didn’t provide any details but expressed the company’s desire to compete against Apple’s newest gadget, due in stores next month.

"That is a market we are also very interested in. We are confident we have the skills to create a [great] product," said Oneda. "Time-wise, we are a little behind the iPad but it's a space we would like to be an active player in.”

The WSJ also reported Sony is making a new smartphone - containing Sony Ericsson mobile technology and capable of playing PSP games - to compete against the iPhone. Both devices are expected to work with Sony Online Services, an online store due to launch in March and sell music, movies, books, and other downloadable applications for mobile products.

The iPad challenger and the new smartphone are expected to launch sometime in 2010, but no details about specs, price or design have been released.

Sony has tried to get into the phone/gaming gadget arena in the past. A patent was filed in 2006 for a device that looked like a PSP on one side and a smartphone on the other, but such a device has never hit the market.

Apple sold 8.7 million iPhones in the last three months of 2009. The company announced Friday that the iPad will be available April 3.

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Filed under: Apple • iPad • iPhone • smartphones • Sony


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March 3, 2010

Apple sues Google phone manufacturer

Posted: 01:42 PM ET
HTC CEO Peter Chou speaks at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
HTC CEO Peter Chou speaks at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Apple has filed a lawsuit against Google phone manufacturer HTC, claiming many of the company's popular smartphones infringe on patents related to the iPhone.

Apple alleges HTC violates as many as 20 patents, including multi-touch support, screen rotation, and "unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image."

Ars Technica notes, "Apple is seeking treble damages for willful infringement, punitive damages, interest, and attorney's fees in addition to a permanent injunction barring HTC from making, using, importing and selling devices that infringe on Apple's patents."

Apple's press release includes a brief statement from CEO Steve Jobs:

"We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We’ve decided to do something about it,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours."

The lawsuit does not specifically name Google as a defendant, but Apple's claims against HTC indirectly attack Google's Android operating system and its new Nexus One handset, which is produced by HTC.

In an email to TechCrunch a Google spokesman supports HTC, "We are not a party to this lawsuit. However, we stand behind our Android operating system and the partners who have helped us to develop it."

Fortune's Philip Elmer DeWitt gathers online reaction to the lawsuit in this post.

The full lawsuit can be read here (pdf).

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Filed under: Apple • iPhone • smartphones


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February 23, 2010

Apple bans most (but not all) sexy apps

Posted: 11:58 AM ET
The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit app is still available in the app store.
The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit app is still available in the app store.

Apple has tightened its restrictions on sexy or suggestive apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and many of the most popular programs in the iTunes app store have been removed.

While speaking to the New York Times, Apple executive Phil Schiller explained, "It came to the point where we were getting customer complaints from women who found the content getting too degrading and objectionable, as well as parents who were upset with what their kids were able to see."

Several days ago the developer of the Wobble app posted the results of his discussion with Apple on his blog. The Wobble app, which adds a jelly-like wobble motion to any user supplied photo, was recently removed because advertisements suggested it could be used on photos of breasts.

I have spoken with Apple, and the following are the new rules:

1. No images of women in bikinis (Ice skating tights are not OK either)

2. No images of men in bikinis! (I didn’t ask about Ice Skating tights for men)

3. No skin (he seriously said this) (I asked if a Burqa was OK, and the Apple guy got angry)

4. No silhouettes that indicate that Wobble can be used for wobbling boobs (yes – I am serious, we have to remove the silhouette in this pic)

5. No sexual connotations or innuendo: boobs, babes, booty, sex – all banned

6. Nothing that can be sexually arousing!! (I doubt many people could get aroused with the pic above but those puritanical guys at Apple must get off on pretty mundane things to find Wobble "overtly sexual!")

7. No apps will be approved that in any way imply sexual content (not sure how Playboy is still in the store, but …)

While most apps containing bikini-clad women are threatened, Phil Schiller defended the Sports Illustrated app to the Times. "The difference is this is a well-known company with previously published material available broadly in a well-accepted format," he said.

As of this morning, a Playboy app was also still available, suggesting Apple may accept sexual content if the developer is associated with a strong brand.

Apple has struggled to keep the app store clean, but these new policies remove many of the store's most popular programs. Parents can enable the app store's parental controls and adults can simply choose not to download content they do not approve of.

In a blog post today, Fortune.com columnist Philip Elmer DeWitt linked the purge to next month's release of the iPad tablet computer, which will run iTunes apps and which Apple plans to market for home and school use.

How do you feel about Apple's decision? Should material that is so widely accepted be banned because it is objectionable to a relative few?

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Filed under: iPad • iPhone • iPod • mobile phones • smartphones


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January 26, 2010

Hacker says he's unlocked the PS3

Posted: 03:35 PM ET

More than three years after its initial release, the PlayStation 3 has allegedly been hacked.

George Hotz, aka "GeoHot," recently announced the feat on his blog. "I have read/write access to the entire system memory, and HV level access to the processor. In other words, I have hacked the PS3."

The practice of hacking or "modding" a video game console is fairly common. Directions to modify the Xbox and Xbox 360, and even instructional videos, can be found online. But the PS3 has remained largely secure.

"It's supposed to be unhackable - but nothing is unhackable," Hotz told BBC News.

Hotz, a 20-year-old American who is famous for his iPhone jailbreaking and unlocking software, has not yet released the PS3 exploit, but claims updates are coming.

Unlike cell-phone unlocking (which receives an exemption from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act), bypassing the DRM security of a video game system can be considered a violation of the DMCA, and "modders" have been arrested for circumventing anti-piracy measures in the past.

While speaking with BBC news, Hotz admitted the hack could allow people to run pirated games or homemade software, but says his motivation was primarily curiosity at "opening up the system."

"To tell you the truth, I've never really played a PS3," he said. "I have one game, but I've never really played it."

Update (1/27/10):

Hotz has decided to release the PS3 exploit on his blog: http://geohotps3.blogspot.com/

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Filed under: DRM • Gaming • iPhone • piracy


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December 10, 2009

AT&T rethinks unlimited iPhone data plans

Posted: 02:37 PM ET

Unlimited iPhone data plans and popular high-bandwidth video offerings are causing headaches for AT&T. In some saturated markets, such as New York City and San Francisco, the company's wireless network is unable to keep up with demand and transfers slow to a crawl.

AT&T President and CEO of Mobility and Consumer Markets Ralph de la Vega
AT&T President and CEO of Mobility and Consumer Markets Ralph de la Vega

According to the Wall Street Journal, AT&T's head of consumer services Ralph de la Vega blames high-bandwidth users for these network shortages, and, in a recent meeting with investors, hinted at the end of unlimited data packages.

“This is going to get fixed,” Mr. de la Vega said. “In both of those markets, I am very confident that you’re going to see significant progress.”

With about 3 percent of smartphone customers driving 40 percent of data traffic, AT&T is considering incentives to keep those subscribers from hampering the experience for everyone else, he said.

De la Vega did not elaborate on what "incentives" AT&T plans to enact, but you can bet the agenda will have more in common with data caps and speed limits than free toasters.

Bandwidth-hungry iPhones may be the cause of AT&T's network problems, but they are hardly to blame. iPhone users are forced into unlimited data packages costing at least $30 a month. I don't think AT&T has any right to complain when a few of those users fully utilize their purchase.

Who do you feel is responsible for the struggling wireless networks? AT&T, high-bandwidth users, or both?

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Filed under: Apple • cell phones • consumer tech • iPhone • Uncategorized


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November 11, 2009

Wi-Fi scale tweets your weight loss (or gain)

Posted: 12:29 PM ET

A new WiFi-enabled scale from Withings encourages users to lose weight by sharing their body weight, lean & fat mass, and calculated body mass index (BMI) on Twitter.

WiFi scale shares results with Twitter.
WiFi scale shares results with Twitter.

Personal metrics have been shown to help people reach their fitness goals. And Wired.com recognizes new devices like the Nike+ can get people moving.

Noone is now running four times a week and just did her first 10-mile race ... And she attributes much of her newfound fitness to the power of data. "I can log in to Nike+ and see what I've done over the past year," she says. "That's really powerful for me."

But will sharing embarrassing weight-fluctuation info help dieters in the same way fitness data has encouraged runners?

A press release from Withings confirms that the scale will not share your information without your consent. "By default, the Twitter feature will not be activated when you purchase your scale ... Only the users that enable this feature will benefit from the online peer motivation."

Engadget is not impressed with the scale's social abilities:

Not only does this bad boy register your weight, body fat, and BMI, but you can now configure it to send your stats to "the Twitter" either daily, weekly, monthly, or each and every time you weigh - and your followers will start dropping faster than even you could imagine.

What do you think? Would you be willing to share your weight-loss struggle with the Twitterverse if it could inspire you to become the next Biggest Loser? Or is this one Fail Whale you would prefer to keep private?

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Filed under: consumer tech • Internet • iPhone • social-networking sites • Twitter


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November 3, 2009

Adobe not happy about iPhone's lack of Flash

Posted: 05:00 PM ET

Adobe is not happy about the iPhone's lack of Flash support and the company is accusing Apple of unfairly restricting the technology.

iPhone users who visit the Flash installation site are greeted with a not-so-subtle message claiming:

Flash Player not available for your device.

Apple restricts use of technologies required by products like Flash Player. Until Apple eliminates these restrictions, Adobe cannot provide Flash Player for the iPhone or iPod Touch.

Adobe Flash is a multimedia platform commonly used to add interactivity to Web sites. While it has been criticized for being resource intensive, Flash is still the most popular approach to to integrate animations and video into Web pages.

Since the iPhone's debut, the device's Safari browser has been unable to play Flash, and users routinely lament the loss of nearly all online video content.

Wired.com writes:

Apple declined to comment, but some iPhone developers speculate Apple opted against a full Flash experience because of technical problems it could raise on the handset, such as battery drainage or sluggish web browsing.

Last summer's release of the speedier iPhone 3GS did not ease Flash restrictions. Apple may have chosen to block Flash not for performance reasons, but because interactive Flash applications and games could compete with the iTunes App store.

Do you agree with Adobe that Apple is unfairly restricting technology by limiting Flash on the iPhone? Or is the message on Adobe's Web site simply propaganda aimed to shift the blame from Flash's performance to Apple's anticompetitive nature?

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Filed under: Apple • cell phones • consumer tech • Gaming • iPhone • iPod • mobile phones


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October 16, 2009

Will Net neutrality end unlimited bandwidth?

Posted: 09:48 AM ET

Net neutrality policies that prevent Internet service providers (ISPs) from managing network traffic based on content may end the age of unlimited Web use. Without the ability to intelligently manage their networks, ISPs are increasingly using data caps, often as low as 5 GB per month, to preserve bandwidth.

A year ago the FCC was breathing down Comcast's neck for throttling Internet traffic related to BitTorrent, the file-sharing protocol. With the threat of Net neutrality regulations looming, Comcast and other ISPs, agreed to drop BitTorrent traffic-management programs and generally treat all Web traffic as equal.

However, the Net neutrality concession wasn't free for consumers. AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner all rolled out monthly data caps shortly after the agreement.

Without neutrality, ISPs are allowed to manage network traffic by restricting content. They may do so intelligently, or they could slow streaming video, disrupt P2P services and even block rival Web sites - which would be highly anti-competitive. Though frustrating, the data caps allow ISPs to conserve their limited bandwidth without relying on network-management techniques that violate net neutrality.

Now the FCC has its sights on mobile broadband providers. FCC Chairman Julian Genachowski is a strong supporter of net neutrality and believes it should also apply to mobile providers. But with much less bandwidth available in the wireless spectrum, net neutrality could mean sluggish speeds and far more restrictive data caps.

In a Washington Post interview, Carnegie Mellon Computer Science Professor David Farber argues net neutrality isn't practical: "We've always said the Internet has infinite bandwidth, but the economics of running a network don't allow you to do that."

Net neutrality policies haven't crippled terrestrial Internet in the way Farber fears, but mobile broadband is not as plentiful. Wireless carriers may have trouble complying with neutrality regulation.

If every smartphone customer suddenly began to take advantage of his unlimited data plan with bandwidth hungry applications like VoIP calls or streaming video, and wireless carriers are not allowed to manage this sudden demand for content, the network would suffer.

Gizmodo thinks net neutrality will eventually cause smartphone users, like those with the iPhone, to lose their unlimited broadband:

You will pay for every ounce of data that you use. And if you're "crowding" the network by downloading a bunch of stuff, you're gonna get slowed down because that's the easy "net neutral" way to keep users in check. How much better is that, really?

Proper network management would be ideal, but there is no guarantee ISPs will manage our internet traffic effectively and fairly. So are you willing to give up your unlimited bandwidth for Net neutrality, or do you trust your internet provider?

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Filed under: computers • Internet • iPhone • online video • smartphones


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October 7, 2009

AT&T approves VoIP for iPhone

Posted: 09:44 AM ET

In a press release Tuesday AT&T announced it will now allow iPhone VoIP apps, like Skype, to run on the cellular network.

AT&T previously restricted all VoIP apps, which transmit voice calls over a data network, for use only when an iPhone was on a Wi-Fi network. With these restrictions dropped, iPhone customers can now use AT&T's 3G data network to make calls without using their wireless minutes.

AT&T claims this change was due to customer demand:

In late summer, AT&T said it was taking a fresh look at VoIP capabilities on iPhone for use on AT&T’s 3G network, consistent with its regular review of device features and capabilities to ensure attractive options for consumers.

“iPhone is an innovative device that dramatically changed the game in wireless when it was introduced just two years ago,” said Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO, AT&T Mobility & Consumer Markets. “Today’s decision was made after evaluating our customers’ expectations and use of the device compared to dozens of others we offer.”

Recent FCC scrutiny over Apple's rejection of the Google Voice app, as well as a congressional push for net neutrality are likely also responsible for AT&T's change of heart.

New VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) apps that take advantage of 3G capabilities should be available soon. However, AT&T's 3G network where I live in Atlanta is about as reliable as the Detroit Lions, so I doubt I will be dropping my traditional voice service any time soon.

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Filed under: Apple • consumer tech • iPhone • online news • Uncategorized


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Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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