April 21, 2010

Geek Out!: Considering the lost iPhone

Posted: 03:14 PM ET
Gizmodo got the iPhone
Gizmodo got the iPhone

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

When it comes to shiny gadgets, there are some constants that geeks should all be aware of:

1. Your new thing will be outdated in months when the next new thing comes out, and it will be faster, sexier and cheaper than your current thing.

2. There will always be rumors of the next new thing from Apple.

The rumors begin months, sometimes years, before Apple announces an actual device. There were rumors of an Apple phone years before it came out. An Apple tablet device like the iPad is a similarly old rumor.

With each announcement, speculation about the next version begins before the freshly removed cellophane on the current model has had time to float to the floor.

Some prognosticators are better than others, because they have a better idea of what is most likely - usually not because of any real secret insight from within Apple. Apple is notorious for their tight security (the KGB and CIA could take lessons).

So it was utterly unbelievable that not only had a new Apple device been spotted in the wild, but that a site as well known as Gizmodo had their hands all over it.

It was amazing that Gizmodo was talking about it and had even torn the thing apart for the morbid amusement of many a fanboy.

In the meantime, the revelations about the device weren't too shocking for those already speculating about the device:

  • A flash for the camera on the back of the phone was an obvious inclusion (it's lack has been a major oversight in many opinions).
  • A larger battery is a surprise to almost no one. And it'll probably last even longer than its increase in size would imply.
  • A higher resolution display would also be an obvious addition. And might foretell HD video capture for the camera (putting the iPhone as a stronger competitor for devices like the Flip Cam).
  • But the overall design was somewhat surprising. The iconic iPhone has evolved into a sleek, less curved, device with a metal band around the perimeter. Solid metal buttons for volume. The SIM card slot has been moved to the side, and now apparently uses the same micro-SIM used in the iPad 3G being released at the end of this month.

    Will the micro-SIMs be swappable between the iPad and the new iPhone? The iPad offers 250MB or unlimited data monthly plans with no contract from AT&T. I suspect it will be locked down somehow.

    The back of the device seems to be different as well. Speculation seems to point to an Apple patent for a ceramic case, which is transparent to electromagnetic waves used by WiFi and cellular devices.

    Probably the biggest surprise is a forward-facing camera in addition to the standard rear camera. The only obvious purpose for this will be for video chatting. but just as the accelerometer was applied to unforeseen applications, don't be surprised at the uses some developers may put the new camera (control apps with the wave of your hand).

    Apple requested, and received, the device back, which all but proves that it is a legitimate Apple produced device. But is it a final design? Many companies produce several different designs for new products. Is this the final configuration for the device?

    The iPad has a space for a forward facing camera, but one wasn't included in the released product. Will this delay the release of the new product? Doubtful as Apple likes to keep to their timetables.

    And more importantly, will the poor engineer who lost the phone in the first place ever be released from Apple purgatory? Will his career ever advance beyond mop-pusher? Will he be re-located to Apple’s secret research facility at the South Pole?

    What do you think, fellow Apple geeks?

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    April 8, 2010

    Geek Out!: In search of a better comic book app

    Posted: 12:03 PM ET
    Comic book apps
    Comic book apps

    Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

    One of the more anticipated uses for the iPad was as an eBook reader for books, magazines, and newspapers. But comic books are one of the most popular print-format periodicals - and there has been little mention of the iPad as a comic reader.

    Luckily for those of us wanting to use it as such, Marvel Comics put out the Marvel app in time for last week's release.

    I’ve had my iPad for just over four days now. One of the first things I did was download the Marvel app and take it for a test drive.

    The convenience of downloading your comics while sitting in a coffee shop, or anywhere else, is great. And the panel-by-panel flow lives up to the hype, although it doesn't really make reading comics on the iPad a new experience. Honestly, I could live without it.

    So far, my personal favorite app for comics on the iPad is ComicBook. They have a pretty good desktop app for the Mac (ComicBookLover), which is very similar to iTunes (imitation... flattery... etc.).

    Their iPhone app is in early alpha (0.3) but it is more than usable and available for free on the iTunes app store. You upload your files to your iPad over WiFi using either a second app on the Mac (ComicBookLover Sync) or by FTP (file transfer protocol). This will probably change since the iPad offers better file syncing through iTunes.

    ComicBook hasn’t been updated for the iPad yet, so the user interface is built for the iPhone’s screen (you have to pixel-double to fill the screen). But once you open a comic, you forget about the zoomed look.

    Comics look great. They don’t have the automatic panel-to-panel feature of the Marvel app, but you can easily double-tap to zoom, and swipe to move around and change pages. I’m happy enough to just read them full screen though.

    The apps, both made by Comixology, are indeed amazing - as long as you only want to read back issues (the Marvel app, obviously, only offers their own titles).

    There are several other publisher-backed apps, but they don’t come close to the quality of the Marvel and Comics apps. The list of available publishers, titles, and issues is small. For example I have yet to see any DC [a Time-Warner Company] titles, and I really need my Batman!

    That’s where independent apps come in. While they don’t have deals with publishers, they do let you read CBR and CBZ (comic book RAR and comic book ZIP) files, and in some cases even PDF files. CBR and CBZ files are ZIP or RAR compressed files that contain JPEG images of each page of a comic. So an entire issue is packaged in one file.

    But how and where you get these files is the real moral dilemma. You can’t buy them online. So you either have to scan your own comics or find them in shady Internet back alleys and download them with programs like BitTorrent.

    The music industry already had this battle with downloaded music files. Once they figured out they could sell music and make money, they backed the music downloads. The movie industry is just getting up-to-speed on downloadable and streaming video (Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, etc). So how about the comic book industry? It seems the publishers are ignoring history.

    I’d be more than happy to pay cover price (maybe a bit less) for current titles. I’d even pay a bit over cover price to get my comics early. Maybe a monthly fee for all-you-can-eat (like Rhapsody and Zune do with music)?

    And they can feel free to put as much DRM on the files as they want (although iTunes has removed DRM and the world hasn’t ended just yet). Just let me back up the files if I’ve bought individual issues - don’t make them expire in three years - and let me read them on my computer and my mobile device. My bag, board, and long box collector days are way behind me, but I still like the stories.

    What's your favorite comic book app? Anything you're looking for that the current apps don't provide?

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