The iPhone has lost its lead and needs a rethink, not a retread

“iPhone is a revolutionary and magical product that is literally five years ahead of any other mobile phone,” Steve Jobs, Jan 9, 2007

Introducing the iPhone

From the first version of the iPhone through at least a couple of revisions of its hardware and software, the thing stood so far ahead of any other phone in existence that anyone without one just cried and moaned and if you had the chance to get one you jumped. If your mom or your cousin or the guy three cubicles down asked which phone to buy, you replied without hesitation: get the iPhone.

Starting a few years ago, other phone makers started to catch up and the choice got harder — or at least more interesting. You paused for a few seconds, thought about Android or maybe web OS, but gave the usual advice: get the iPhone.

But finally, in the past year or two, the choice of smart phone got a lot more complicated, especially if you weren’t already deeply invested in Apple’s vast iTunes ecosystem. Among other recent and obvious evidence, check longtime Mac columnist Andy Ihnatko’s column about switching to Android, uber Apple booster Matt Siegler’s positive review of the Google Nexus 4 and Macworld writer Lex Friedman’s general praise of the Nokia Lumia 920 phone running Windows Phone 8. What’s next? Long time Apple blogger John Gruber admits he’s head over heels for Samsung’s Bada-Tizen hybrid phone love child?

Sixth anniversary celebration, anyone?

Personally, I finally got rid of work-mandated Blackberries and got an iPhone 3GS in 2009. But curiosity and a predilection for Google services got the better of me and I switched to a Nexus S running Android in December, 2010. I tried to switch back via the iPhone 4S for a few months in late 2011, but ended up not liking it, mainly for software-related reasons. Lately, I’m quite happy with a Galaxy Nexus and looking forward to trying the Nexus 4 soon.

None of this is to say that the iPhone is about to collapse or immediately decline in popularity. But what’s happened is others have closed the gap and have been able to grab more share in the still fast-expanding global market for smart phones. Eventually, those gains can’t help but eat into Apple’s future sales.

Given how Apple let its early lead in personal computing slip away, but did not let an early lead in iPods evaporate, the company knows what it needs to do, I suspect. Apple slipped in PCs when it ignored where the market was headed and what customers wanted (more recently, its fortunes revived with cheaper models and a broader range of choices). In the case of the iPod, Apple broadened its line by adding offerings at various sizes, colors and price points while still innovating at the cutting edge with the iPod Touch. Competitors were left no empty spaces to get a toe hold.

For a while, the iPhone was so far ahead of the competition that Apple’s simple product line was more than enough to capture huge market share. But as Android phone makers have caught up, the iPhone’s worldwide share peaked and started to slip. Apple so far has left several “open spaces” in the market, allowing competitors like Samsung to thrive by offering phones with larger screen sizes and at lower prices (even the “free” iPhone 4S in the United States costs $450 without a subsidy from a wireless carrier).

At this juncture, I expect the next iPhone will be a 5S-ish upgrade and will do quite well in isolation. But Apple should do what it did with the iPod and hit more price points and physical outlines. The software could use a lot more than that, updating a look that’s grown stale. Otherwise, it could be back to the PC future for Apple.

Teenage wasteland? Defending the iPhone, dissing the Droid

(As promised, here’s my teenage daughter’s rebuttal to my iPhone 4S whining. Added bonus: she threw in a rant against her brother’s Droid 4)

iPhone world

Listen to your favorite new song by that British boy band you and your friends have become recently obsessed with stream out of your pocket. Fumble around in your pocket until you pull out your phone- streamlined, smooth, made of metal- classic and practically indestructible-but you keep the adorable designer phone case on it anyways. Slide the lock open to answer the call, talk to your best friend as she moans about how she knows no boys.

Decide to get some homework done while she mumbles on- email your french teacher about the new french vocabulary and your math teacher about that simple interest rate equation that nobody on Facebook can remember- as you’ve already checked multiple times in your super-secret group you set up for your class 5 minutes before. Finish talking to your friend and then send your mom directions to [another school] — she’s picking you up there later after the winter play.

Get on the bus ride home- the 6th graders are having a bus party and offer you a cupcake. Someone has their radio and you decide you love the song they’re playing. Go onto iTunes, the largest database of music for mobile devices in existence. Buy the song, it downloads in seconds. You also have a second copy on your computer automatically, just in case you need some homework motivation later.

Open up Pages, and continue writing that English essay that you started last night on your computer- finish it and save to all your devices. One more thing done.

Listen to music from Youtube — and play Temple Run, your new favorite game, at the same time. Get totally distracted from the awesomeness of the game, until Siri reminds you to get some work done, you idiot. Go to the [another school] play and get totally lost on campus.

While jogging through buildings you don’t recognize, tell Siri to text your friend for directions. The text is sent easily, and Siri calls you cupcake, making you smile. Finally get a call from your friend who goes to [another school], he gives you directions and you make it on time.

Enjoy the play, switching your phone to silent with a flip of a conveniently located switch on the side of your phone. Download all the pictures you took on your phone to Facebook. Show your friend that dress you’re planning on wearing to her Bat Mitzvah next weekend using the Nordstrom App. Take silly pictures with friends at the cast party with your amazing camera and make them your wallpaper for your phone, making you laugh every time you take it out. Get an email from your friend- your skit for drama class has been chosen for the Arts assembly this fall. Yes. Beat your friend in words with friends. Double yes.

Go to bed feeling giddy.

Droid World

Hear the cliche wind chime noise emit from your phone- well, it could be yours, but who knows? everyone you know has the exact same ringtone. Curse under your breath as the awkward lock- 9 circles- won’t open because you’ve forgotten your overly complicated lock pattern. Again.

When and if it finally opens, see the cliche wallpaper on your phone- weird black and grey lines- your phone obviously trying to cater to the overly “manly” and wannabe gangsters. You groan. You’d change it to one of the pictures you took with your friends last weekend with Apple Photo Booth, but you can’t connect your phone to your Mac. You also have a horrific camera, so that keeps you from making it anything cool either.

Waste way more money than you should because you have to re-buy every piece of music that you have on your computer. Accidentally log yourself out of your father’s Spotify account and mope. You have no music. Try Youtube, but you can’t do anything else if you do that — the music stops automatically when you close the app. Ugh.

Try and send your sister a text using a voice command app, but it won’t work. On top of that, you can’t even find anything because it’s all jumbled together- there aren’t any categories for easy access like there are on your sister’s iPhone. Stinks for you.

Drop your phone as you get on the bus. The cheap plastic of your cheap case cracks, which you were pretending was protecting the cheap plastic of your phone, although you know it wasn’t. Try and find your Google Maps app to find your way to the Starbucks where your meeting your friend uptown today.

But… where is it? You flip through countless pages of apps that you never use and are all seem to do the same thing. You start to question your purchase of this phone- something you should have done a while ago. More than half of these pages of apps are all Verizon technical stuff. What on earth is “My Verizon”? Are trying to sell you something all over again? ugh. And what is “Let’s Golf!” ? You never bought that. And TMZ? this stinks. You have an app to turn on your vibrate… this is pathetic.

Go to bed and try to set a reminder to go to the Apple store tomorrow and get this atrocity out of your life. But, alas, it doesn’t recognize the the word iPhone. Or any of the others, for that matter. See? Even your phone is in denial.

Go to bed crying about how terrible your life is.

A Day in the Life: iPhone versus Nexus

(People are wondering should I get the iPhone 4S or is the Galaxy Nexus better. Am I a man or am I a muppet, smartphone style. Everyone’s got their own needs and wants from their gadgets. Turns out, mine are best met by the Galaxy Nexus phone. The iPhone 4S? Tried it for a few months and got fed up. One man’s experience comparing and contrasting.)

Pleased with the galaxy nexus

Hearing the the slightly muffled tones of Cee Lo Green’s “F–k You” emanating from your pocket, you slip out your phone with your right hand without putting down the New York Times business section in your left. There’s that familiar, comfortable feel as you reorient the phone rightside up in your hand and then glance over and use your thumb to flick across the screen and answer the call.

Done chatting with Uncle Abe, pull down the notifications screen and see what’s up. Thumb flick away notices from Twitter and Facebook – you’ve got work to do.

But looks like you missed a call earlier – must have been driving through the Ted Williams Tunnel. Google Voice has got your back. The notice shows who called and the start of a transcription of the voice mail they left. Just the dentist’s office reminding you of next week’s appointment. Even if you hadn’t seen the notification, it’s right there on your home screen thanks to the Google Voice widget, too.

No need to call back but let’s make sure that oral appointment is down, shall we? Hit the big fat button for the list of all apps. CalenGoo is right where you expected it, sitting in alphabetical order. Handy. Looks like the appointment is all set. Hit the back button and you’re back in the list of apps.

Near by the Calengoo icon, there’s something new. Last night, after the kids went to sleep and you finally got your hands on the iPad, you read about a new Android app for Twitter that sounded cool, Boid. Zipping over to the web version of the Android Market — oops — Google Play Store, you checked it out and sent it to install on your phone right from the iPad. Play around with Boid for a few minutes and then back to work, salary man.

At lunch time, walking down the street, you decide to text the wife and tell her she’s sweet. Pull out the phone, swipe unlock and hit the microphone icon. Say “Text Whitney Connaughton I love you baby.” Watch as the phone calls up a blank text message and transcribes almost in real time. Hit send. Dictation fails when there’s no signal but you’re comforted that Android warns you immediately without making you waste time bleating into the void first.

Thinking of the wife, she wants you to get on your contractor, Chris, about those new windows. Hit the phone icon, then favorites. Scroll past those cute pictures of your favorites and there’s a handy-dandy list of frequently called numbers Android keeps up to date automagically. Of course, Chris is here — he’s not the world’s most reliable contractor. You can also get to him quick via the contacts app. There’s a button for groups and you’ve got one set up with all the numbers of folks working on the window replacement project. Done harassing Chris, it’s time for a sandwich. Pocket the phone and dig in.

On the walk back, call up some tunes in the Amazon MP3 player. It’s got everything — everything you ever bought from Amazon, saving a ton of bucks from Apple’s not-so-customer-friendly prices, and everything sucked up from iTunes, too. New Springsteen album got mixed reviews but we’re going to check it out for ourselves, aren’t we? It’s not on the phone yet, so hit the “Cloud” tab instead of “Device,” scroll to “Wrecking Ball” and start streaming it. “Heaven knocking on the door that holds the throne…”

Time to go home. Check how bad the commute’s going to be with a glance at the traffic widget on your phone. Yellow? Not good. Better grab a podcast. Love that awesome Pocket Casts app. It’s Friday so there’s a new episode of Hypercritical. Download it in about 30 seconds over Verizon’s super-fast LTE network.

After dinner, kids having grabbed all the iPads, you’re left surfing the Internets on your phone. Boston Globe too pessimistic about the Celtics chances this year? That got your juices flowing for a strong counter-argument to mount for your buddies on Facebook. Hit the share button, type in your unbeatable refutation and post. While you’re at it, jump over to the photo gallery and post that picture of your bike ride from last weekend to Facebook, too.

Time for sleep. Hit the microphone on the phone and say “Set alarm for 7 am.” Click okay. Head hits the pillow before the phone’s out of your hand.

Fade to black…we fade back in to: Three months earlier

Frustrations with the iPhone 4S

Hearing the familiar if far away bleating of the “Marimba” ring tone, you do nothing. Must be someone’s iPhone around here. But the music doesn’t stop. Better check your phone. Grab that sharp slab of metal encased glass and take a look. Upside down again? Flip it over and answer the call.

Done chatting with Uncle Abe, pull down the notifications screen and see what’s up. Try to hit those tiny little buttons to get rid of the Twitter and Facebook stuff – you’ve got work to do. Stab madly a few times and finally give up. Make a mental note to change the default on notifications for Twitter and Facebook so they don’t hog so much of the notifications list.

Back on the home screen, looks like you missed a call earlier. Back to the list of notifications. How did you miss that Google Voice listing? Must have been pushed down below all the Facebook and Twitter junk. Here on the notifications screen, Google Voice tells you who called and adds a transcription of their voicemail. It’s a reminder for your haircut. Wonder for the fortieth time why the notice always adds “Voicemail from [the caller]” at the beginning of every transcription – it already told you who called on the line above. Tap, tap, tap at that tiny “x” to try and clear the listing. Never mind, you just hit the home button.

Got to check the calendar about that hair appointment. We’ve got CalenGoo on the iPhone, too, you self-satisfied Android fanboys, you think to yourself. Now where the heck did you put that icon? In the folder called “utilities” on your home screen? Nope. Slide over to the left, second screen, nope, third screen, nope. Wait, wasn’t it back on screen two in the folder called “organized life”? Right. Okay, tap CalenGoo and you’re all set.

Back on the home screen, seeing the icon for the official Twitter app reminds you of something you were reading last night on your iPad. You bought a new Twitter client app. The app store downloaded it to your iPad, but where is it on this phone? Oh right, just go to the app store app, click on update and then purchased items. Hit the “Not on this iPhone” tab and wait…and wait. Here’s the list, tap the new app and it’s downloaded and installed. Enough time wasted — back to work for you.

At lunch time, walking down the street, you decide to text the wife and tell her she’s sweet. Pull out the phone, hit the home key twice to call up Siri and say “Send a text to Whitney Connaughton I love you baby.” Wait a few seconds, then a few seconds more. “I’m really sorry Aaron. I can’t do that right now. Please try again later.” Doh. Resisting the urge to hurl Siri into the Fort Point Channel, you call up the messaging app and type it in.

Next tap the Google Voice app to call that contractor you just hired to put in the new windows. Hit contacts and a huge list of your iPhone’s contacts come up, straight out of the Address Book on your Mac. Ugh. Google Voice on the iPhone still can’t get to your Google Voice contacts? Right. But don’t worry, you’re syncing Google contacts with Address Book and you have the contractor in the group called “Window Project.” Hit the groups. Oh right, the syncing feature doesn’t sync groups so that group’s not here. Back to the list. Scroll down the list to find his name. Sure is neat-o the way it bounces to a stop.

Grab a sandwich and on the walk back it’s time for some tunes. Bought the new Coldplay album the other day. Is it on the phone? Check the music app. Not here. Purchased? Hmm, weird not there either. You’re so sure you bought it. Oh right – it was on sale at Amazon for like $5 bucks less than iTunes. Wasn’t iTunes Match supposed to match stuff even if you didn’t buy it from Apple? But on the phone iTunes Match can only show either every single song in your entire library or just what’s on this phone. And since the setting to change the view is buried somewhere, you’ve got it just showing local stuff.

Head back to settings, dig around, flick the switch. Wait a while for everything to get up to date. Find Chris Martin’s latest without thinking about his sham marriage to G. Paltrow. Hit play. No, no play – that’s download. Wait for the songs to download. Deep sigh. Wonder about Verizon’s faster LTE service while you wait. Unhappy thoughts. Hit the app store to install Amazon’s MP3 app. No go — it’s not available. Wouldn’t it be cool if Apple’s music app had tabs for on the device and in the cloud? Deeper sigh.

Time to head home and you’re wondering about the commute. Find that darn maps app on side screen four, open it up and click on the traffic overlay. Looks pretty messy. Let’s grab the new episode of Hypercritical. Downloading, downloading, downloading, some day my Siracusa will come.

After dinner, surfing the net on the phone, the urge hits to post an article about the Celtics to your Facebook buddies. Hit the share button. Hmm, no Facebook here, just Twitter. Can’t you just add the services you want? No? Not at all? What the…okay, well then let’s load a photo to FB. Can’t do that either, just Twitter again. Damn you Twitter, how much did you pay Apple for this annoyance-enhancing exclusivity? Go to FB app and post the pic. Then go back to laboriously cut and paste the Celtics article URL into another FB app post. Annoying.

Time for sleep. Double press the home button and say “Siri, wake me up at 7 am tomorrow.” “I’m really sorry Aaron, I can’t…”

Screen wipes to dead TV channel static.

(Coming later, my teen-age daughter’s rebuttal and why she loves the 4S and hates her brother’s Droid 4 with a passion)

A true marketplace for privacy in mobile apps

A huge controversy erupted the other day when a savvy programmer discovered that an app on the iPhone called Path was secretly uploading the entire contents of users’ address books to Path’s own servers. Then stories spread that many apps on the iPhone uploaded the contents of the address book. Turned out Apple had left the barn door open on address book data. Oops. But how could ordinary users tell if any of their apps were raiding the address book? No way to know for sure.

Here’s what’s not a great idea to solve the problem: add another alert dialogue box like the one apps must present if they want to access a user’s location. Sure, today’s crisis revolves around the address book but what’s the next piece of important personal data people will want protected? And the one after that? The dialogue box permission model is right out of Windows Vista. Shoot up enough and people will completely ignore it.

Another problem with the dialogue box permission model is it only presents the information to the user after they’ve already gone ahead and installed the app. There’s no way to compare app privacy policies – or personal data snatching policies – when choosing among different apps. And that’s a lost opportunity because if privacy is important to a lot of potential customers, there’s an incentive for apps to compete on the basis of better privacy protection.

The better solution is the one Android already employs in its market. Issue a standardized list of permissions and then list all the permissions an app wants in the app market. And if the permissions subsequently change in an update, the app is required to notify the users specifically about what has changed.

The obvious benefit is that everyone knows before they download or update an app what data it will access. It’s not only crystal clear disclosure to app customers. It also allows marketplace competition on privacy protection as a feature, a reason to pick this Twitter client over the myriad others or that sports news app over all the others. Developers also have the chance to explain why they need certain permissions and how they will use any collected data on their app description page.

As an added benefit, whenever a controversy or rumor arises, users can go back and check which permissions their apps required.

UPDATE: Sounds like the California Attorney General has secured an agreement from all the mobile platforms (Amazon, Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Research In Motion) for just such a system:

“This agreement will allow consumers the opportunity to review an app’s privacy policy before they download the app rather than after, and will offer consumers a consistent location for an app’s privacy policy on the application-download screen. If developers do not comply with their stated privacy policies, they can be prosecuted under California’s Unfair Competition Law and/or False Advertising Law.”

Without Siri, the iPhone reminder app stinks

One of the cool new features of the iPhone 4S — and the most hyped in Apple’s advertisements — is using the digital assistant Siri to set reminders. When you use Siri, you can usually speak as if  you were talking to another person and Siri will figure out what you mean. Tell Siri “Make an appointment with my dad for next Tuesday at 3 p.m.” and Siri is capable of assessing who your dad is and the date of  “next Tuesday.”

But there’s a big glitch by Apple with this system and that’s when Siri is offline as “she” frequently is. Then you are left to set the reminder by hand. And the problem is that the new Reminders app absolutely stinks. Here are the steps and clicks to set one reminder without Siri:

1. Click on Reminders app

2. Click plus sign – almost never registers first click, so click again with verve.

3. Blank reminder comes in – type in content of your reminder.

4. Be puzzled about how to set the date and time. The virtual keyboard is still up. There is no indication of how to set the date and time.

How to add date & time??

5. Tap uselessly on the reminder text you just typed. iOS helpfully offers to select a word or paste.

6. Get frustrated and click “Done” even though you’re not done.

7. Back to the list of all your reminders. Click again on the reminder you just wrote. Now iOS shows a screen to get to the part where you can set the date and time or other details of the reminder.

8. Click on “Remind Me”

9. Slide the “On A Day” switch to “ON”

10. Click on the day and time. Use the slider control to reset the day and time (be prepared to slide forever if the reminder is not close to the current date).

11. Click “Done” to get out of the time setting slider

12. Click “Done” to get out of the reminder setting screen.

Phew! That’s a minimum of 10 clicks and slides to set one reminder. And the biggest problems with making the app so unintuitive and hard to use is that, usually, you’re using the excellent Siri interface to set reminders. So you only have to wade into this morass occasionally and, when you do, you never quite remember all the different steps and tricks. Yuck.

Using an iPhone 4S without iTunes – ever!

For reasons that shall be dealt with later, I’m the owner of a new iPhone 4S. Having had more than my fill of iTunes annoyances, delays and freezes, I’m trying to go without ever syncing my new iPhone to my Mac. In the first few days, it’s mostly gone smoothly.


I’m using both Apple’s iCloud (converted from MobileMe) and Google’s various web services right now. Since I’ve been on an Android phone for almost a year, my Apple contacts and calendar are a bit dated around the edges compared to my Google stuff. It’s sort of a bake-off and if the phone works well with Google services, I’ll probably phase out the iCloud.

Adding iCloud was easy and everything appeared quickly. To get the best of all possible experiences with Google, I’m following the advice from some support boards to use the iPhone’s default Google settings for Gmail and Google calendar and an Exchange account pointing to Google servers for contacts. Directions for the Exchange bit are here. That also seems to have worked without a hitch.

Inside my contacts app, I can choose any of the groups set up in my iCloud contacts lists (which mostly originate from the Address Book program on my main Mac) or my Google contacts. I cannot access different groups I’ve set up in my Google contacts, but I can’t do that on my Android phone either. On the iPhone’s phone favorites screen, I can select any number or email from any of those many lists. Very handy and smooth so far.

Previously purchased music and apps

As soon as I activated my new phone and signed in with my iTunes identity, the iTunes store app had a tab for previously purchased music and TV shows. I could download any of the thousands of tracks or shows I’d bought from Apple over the years. Very spiffy. Of course, music purchased elsewhere was nowhere to be found and there’s no Amazon Music Player app for the iPhone that I could find. If I agree to pony up another $25/year, Apple will shortly solve this problem with “iTunes Match.”

Apps were a bit trickier. There was no tab in the App Store app and for a few minutes I was stumped. It’s not intuitive but previously purchased apps appeared under the Updates tab. They seem to be listed in the order in which you first downloaded them — the most recently purchased app is at the top, the oldest stuff is at the bottom — with no sorting choices. Annoyingly, selecting any app for installing on the phone took me off the purchased apps screen, out of the App Store app and out to the iPhone’s home screen where the app was being installed. I had to double-click the home button and hit the App Store icon to jump back.

I haven’t previously backed up app data to iCloud from any iOS device so the apps all arrived in a virginal state. It took a good couple of hours to sign in and set up all the apps. Thank god for 1Password (which, not coincidentally, was among the freshly downloaded apps that needed to be reset).

Files and documents

It’s actually pretty easy to get access to any document I need on my phone using Dropbox. Some day this may be doable with iCloud. But so far iCloud is only syncing documents from one iOS device’s versions of Apple’s office suite apps, Pages, Keynote and Numbers to another iOS device’s versions. That’s the iOS versions — not the desktop versions.

Another key app for on-the-go documents is Evernote, my reliable digital shoe box that stores copies of notes, web pages and other kinds of files and makes them auto-magically available on all manner of devices and computers.


Well, I may be screwed. Apple’s previously purchased download policy doesn’t apply to movies. I can watch some flicks streamed via a Netflix or HBO app, but that’s not an optimal solution. And it leaves the movies we’ve previously purchased in iTunes out. The iPhone has wifi syncing with iTunes but that’s still iTunes syncing, not to mention it requires an initial USB sync. Yuck.

So, overall, it’s been a pretty smooth experience being PC free with a new iPhone 4S. So many apps and services are built for the cloud and do their own syncing that I may not need iTunes at all.

Cool and useful Android apps that aren’t on the iPhone

I’ve only been an Android phone convert for a few days, but I’m coming to appreciate the Google portable OS more and more on my new Nexus S. The notification system, the widgets and the far greater opportunity for customization are all welcome changes from my iPhone. Integration with Google Voice and my Google contacts is awesome, as expected. Freedom from AT&T’s overpriced and unreliable mobile network is a bonus.

It’s not all better. One of the biggest negatives I expected from leaving the comfy iPhone ecosystem was the loss of favorite apps including Instapaper, Evernote, Angry Birds, Kindle and so on. I quickly discovered that many, but not all, of my favorites had Android equivalents. Some, like Angry Birds and Evernote, are direct from the original developers. Others, like Goodreads and Instapaper, are native clients written by outsiders.

But I wasn’t expecting to find many Android-only apps of merit. John Gruber has blogged and tweeted extensively about his failure to discover for worthy Android-only apps excluding those made by Google.

I’m happy to report that I’ve done a bit better (and p.s. the Google apps are awesome!). Here is a first round of Android-only apps I’ve already come to use frequently. Please don’t get too excited about the why’s and wherefore’s, as this is simply a listing exercise.

1. Verizon FiOS apps, including visual home voicemail and on-demand mobile video. A game-changer for we the FiOS minions. Perhaps coming to Apple when the Verizon iPhone hits?

2. Podcast catcher Listen. I may be an iPhone idiot but it seems like I can’t easily download new podcasts I subscribe to through iTunes directly to my phone (Update: there is a 3rd-party iOS app called Podcaster). With Listen, I can subscribe to any podcast and get all the new episodes while on the go.

3. PinBoard. I’ve replaced Yahoo’s on-again/off-again bookmarking site with the Gruber-endorsed site Pinboard. There’s a great app for Android called PinDroid but I couldn’t find one for the iPhone.

4. Amazon’s MP3 store. Here’s one you are guaranteed never to see in the iTunes app store. Buy cheap MP3s on your Android phone with no fuss and no muss.

5. Baseball Prospectus. Not sure why my favorite Sabermetrically-inclined baseball site has an Android app and not one for iPhones, but there it is. Read all the articles, listen to podcasts, etc.

6. Silent VIP. This is a cool and crazily useful little app that does one thing well. Set your phone to silent mode but still have it ring when a particular caller (or set of callers) is on the line.

What’s still missing? I’d love a native Android app for my preferred photosharing site, Zenfolio. It’s just okay in the browser and the phone’s native gallery app only seems to connect with PicassaWeb. And where is LinkedIn (UPDATE: Coming soon, it seems)? As many have previously complained, there’s no easy way to take a screenshot, for some odd reason (the two apps in the market require a rooted phone!).

And my most annoying switch was caused by the lack of an Android version of Acrylic Software’s Wallet program. I had to move all my passwords over to 1Password for its multi-platform goodness and a simple export/import didn’t work. And, of course, I’ve lost the ability to buy an app once and use it across all our phones, tablets and iPods.

True report: AT&T just doubled mobile data prices

(Updated 6/3) As I’m sure you’ve read all over today, AT&T announced major changes to its wireless data plans. But, I think because AT&T’s iPhone plan differed from other plans it offered, the reporting of these changes has been a little wacky. AT&T may have eliminated its “unlimited” data plan for the iPhone but it did not have unlimited plans for other devices. Those with non-iPhone devices and phones faced a cap of 5 gigabytes a month, similar to limits imposed by Sprint and Verizon on virtually all of their customers.

Under the new plan, which applies to the iPhone and all other AT&T phones, the maximum offering is 2 gigabytes for $25 a month with $10 charged for each extra gigabyte of data. Compared to the typical 5 GB offering, the price would be $25 plus $30 or $55 a month. iPad customers really get the shaft, as they were getting 5 GB per month for $30 and now that much data is $55.

The other option is $15 for 200 megabytes with $15 charged for each additional 200 MB. I checked my iPhone data usage over the past six months and darn it if the average wasn’t 221 MB. Right back to $30 a month. Hmm.

Among other implication for heavy data users or people with both an iPhone and an iPad, the strategy of Internet smarty Rex Hammock to pair a mobile wifi hot spot like Sprint’s Overdrive with other portable devices looks a little smarter.

One of the few sharp analysis pieces I read on today’s move was Dan Frommer’s observation: AT&T Just Put A Bullet In Mobile TV. I suspect that the future of mobile broadband-delivered video will be a return to the wireless carrier’s anti-innovation, walled garden strategy. Verizon already offers its V-CAST 10-channel/$15 a month service. AT&T’s less advanced (or maybe just less publicized) service called Mobile TV costs $10/month for a smattering of shows from seven networks.

Just a couple of week ago, the Federal Communications Commission in its annual assessment of wireless phone industry reported a decline in competition due to consolidation. Now we can test the accuracy of that verdict. Will Verizon and Sprint cut back 5 GB plans to 2 GB? Let’s hope not.

Addendum: Speaking the night before the price hike was announced, Apple CEO Steve Jobs cryptically said he expected the problem of congestion on AT&T’s wireless network would get worse before it got better. Maybe he was implying that the new 2 GB limit will only last until AT&T gets its network in order. Fourth generation wireless broadband is already available in some places from Sprint and coming “real soon now” from AT&T and Verizon. Hopefully, data allowances will rise again.

UPDATE: Uber Mac blogger John Gruber offers his own analysis and he is particularly peeved about the new $20 charge for tethering (which lets you use your iPhone as a 3G modem for your laptop). The extra 20 bucks doesn’t come with any extra data — you’re still stuck using up the same 2 gigabytes.

There’s a small blind spot in Gruber’s analysis of the Hammock Mifi/iPad strategy, however. With a 3G iPad, you’re stuck with AT&T’s generally horrific network. With a Mifi, you can get online via Verizon. So the trade-off of longer login time and shorter battery life may be more than offset for many folks who can’t rely on AT&T’s network.

Recommending the Vers 1.5R clock/radio for iPod

Just a quick entry today. We’ve been looking for new something or other to put on the bedside table that’s iPod-compatible, nice looking and includes an alarm clock and AM/FM radio. Turns out, that’s a tougher slate of requirements to fill than expected. Most of the iPod-compatible clock/radios are either on the ugly side or don’t have AM/FM radios.

Then I discovered a cool offering from Vers Audio. It’s called the 1.5R radio/alarm clock for iPod. It’s small and comes in a couple good looking wood finishes like cherry, walnut and bamboo or a white glossy look. The front is very plain, with the black cloth speaker grill, small bluish clock/radio display and two friendly dials (which control volume and tuning). Most of the controls, including the incredibly important and easily reached “snooze” button are on top.

Feature-wise, the 1.5R has two alarms, an iPod dock that fits all the usual dock adaptors, a backlit LCD display and so on. It has plugs on the bottom for audio in and audio out (3.5 mm). The dimensions of the whole unit are 8.2″ long by 6.7″ deep by 5.6″ high.

The sound quality is superb for such a small device, which I’m sure relates to the design but I’m not enough of an audiophile to explain why. Bass seems to emanate from a separate speaker bit in the back. Vers offers quite a bit of explanation but I have no idea if what they’re saying is accurate.

There are a few extras. The remote control is, well, fine. Not much need for it so far. There are also external AM and FM antennas which can be attached if the internal antennas aren’t adequate for reception in your local area.

For what it’s worth, when I plugged my iPhone into the dock, the iPhone beeped and told me it might interfere with the reception of my device and did I want it to go into “airplane” mode. Handy. Not sure I noticed any difference in radio reception with all the iPhone’s various wireless bits running, bit glad to know someone is watching out for me.

And that’s about it. A handsome, full-featured clock/radio that’s iPod compatible. Check.

p.s. Changed my header image today with a Spring update. Taken with the awesome new pocket cam, Canon’s S90. More on the camera here for now — blog review coming soon.

Zenfolio iPhone photo app is great – finally!

The kids and I have been watching an old Bill Cosby routine lately — chocolate cake for breakfast. Of course, my favorite part is after Bill has given his kids cake for breakfast and they start singing: “Dad is great, gave us chocolate cake.” I found myself humming the tune after I downloaded and installed Zenfolio’s new iPhone app. It’s a great mobile front-end to one of the best web site services around for photographers. I only wish they had issued it sooner!

As you can see from the main screen below, the app has three basic functions. You can access your previously saved photos from the site. You can access your iPhone camera to take a picture. And you can upload pictures you’ve taken on your iPhone to Zenfolio. Each of those functions seems basic and obvious but each is enhanced with connections to Zenfolio’s existing web services with a few clever extras.

Accessing your existing photos is pretty straightforward. You can navigate through your galleries and collections in typical iPhone fashion. When you open a gallery, all the thumbnails download, which can take a minute or two depending on the number of photos. But the app saves a cache of previously downloaded thumbnails, speeding up the process after you download them once. Individual pictures can viewed with the usual pinch to zoom or emailed or downloaded to the iPhone to use as background wallpaper.

From within this section, you can also access some of the Zenfolio web site’s features, like sending out email invitations to view a gallery, adding or deleting photos from a particular collection and editing metadata like a caption or keywords.

The uploading module lets you chose a previously taken photo from the iPhone’s camera roll or take a new picture. You can add a title, keywords, a caption and apply your existing category tags from the web. You can also set access controls (to prevent an uploaded photo from being viewed by everybody), pick a gallery to upload to and select whether to upload full size or a smaller versions of each photo.

Even better, there’s a button marked “save and  upload later” which lets you assemble a queue of photos you want to upload all together. That’s very convenient if, for example, you want to wait until you’re within range of wifi.

The third button, to access your camera, is handy if you want to be able to add photos to your Zenfolio upload queue right after taking them (which means you can also add all your metadata right then, too).

As a final note, I’d just add that while there are many photo sharing sites, including Google’s darn good Picassaweb, Zenfolio is where many serious photographers go to post their work. It has many, many options for displaying and selling photos that make everything look great. Prints come from a great source, Mpix Labs, that provides much higher quality than the average CVS store. There’s a good selection of other printing options, too, from tee shirts to mugs to giant posters. You can easily set up password-protected galleries. You can even use Google Analytics to track visitors to your galleries.

And now that finally we’ve got a great iPhone app, too, Zenfolio is better than ever.