Apple still isn’t going to kill Amazon’s Kindle, or any other ereader

jobsSteve Jobs’ latest mouthing off about the market for electronic books and dedicated ereader devices like the Amazon Kindle has sparked the usual conflagration of comments, interpretations and predictions. Some are way off-base, others quite savvy. But after seeing a bit on Techcrunch claiming that everyone was misinterpreting Jobs, it seems like some further clarity is needed. Top Apple folks like Jobs sometimes speak less than honestly about the company’s views and intentions. But in this case, Jobs was just stating the obvious and getting in a few digs at Amazon. There’s still not going to be an Apple-branded ebook business and Apple’s still not going to “kill” the Kindle.

So where to start? The story really begins back in January, 2008, when Jobs first commented publicly about the Kindle. But let’s go in reverse chronological order, starting with the goofy Techcrunch post by MC Siegler:

Basically, most people are interpreting what Jobs said about eBook readers to mean that Apple plans to completely stay away from the market. But that’s not actually what Jobs said at all…Translation: We’re making a tablet, and eBooks will be a part of those. Jobs isn’t saying Apple isn’t interested in eBooks, he’s saying that Apple isn’t interested in making a stand-alone eBook reader.

I’m always a little suspect when someone claims to be refuting what “most people” are saying without identifying or linking to any of these supposed people. In fact, for the past three years or so, the question has never much been whether Apple would make a single-purpose, dedicated ereader device (Astute commenter Rex Hammock notes that there was such a debate in mid-2006 over an Apple patent filing but that predates the release of both the Kindle and the Sony Reader). The argument has always been over whether Apple would start selling ebooks on its own out of the iTunes Store, in its own proprietary format, as it does for music and movies. That would require Apple to negotiate directly with book publishers, as it does with the major record labels and Hollywood studios. So here’s what Jobs actually said¹ to Times’ reporter David Pogue the other day:

“I’m sure there will always be dedicated devices, and they may have a few advantages in doing just one thing. But I think the general-purpose devices will win the day because I think people just probably aren’t willing to pay for a dedicated device. You notice Amazon never says how much they sell; usually if they sell a lot of something, you want to tell everybody.

We don’t see that it’s a really big market at this point. And in the future, the more general-purpose devices will tend to win the day. I’m not sure that Amazon, as an example, really cares that much about being in the hardware business. If I were Amazon, I’d love selling stuff where I didn’t have to have a warehouse, didn’t need UPS.”

So does this somehow revive the theory, popular at one time, that Apple is about to start its own line of ebooks, one that will be so successful that Amazon would be forced to drop its entire Kindle effort, stranding Kindle customers with a dead format and useless hardware? Not at all. It’s the status quo all over again². Apple will allow others, including Amazon, to offer ebook readers taking a cut of sales when and where it can. There’s almost nothing newsworthy about what Jobs said!

I used to have to argue against this Apple ebook domination theory all over the place but then in March, 2009, Apple allowed Amazon to post a free Kindle-compatible ereader app in the iTunes app store (several less well known ereader apps had already been approved). That’s when people saw the writing on the wall and conceded. Apple was content to allow others to take all the risks, fight all the fights and see if there was a serious market for ebooks.

Jobs recent comments also sound like he was listening back in June when Jeff Bezos told the Times that Amazon planned to make profits from both Kindle devices and Kindle ebooks — that Kindle was essentially in two different markets:

“The device team has the job of making the most remarkable purpose-built reading device in the world,” Mr. Bezos said. “We are going to give the device team competition. We will make Kindle books, at the same $9.99 price points, available on the iPhone, and other mobile devices and other computing devices.”

Apple’s decision to allow others to sell ebooks for the iPhone/iPod Touch platform isn’t inconsistent with Jobs’ January 2008 comments. Like many others (cough – Forrester – cough, cough), Jobs predicted utter failure for the Kindle, also in an exclusive interview with David Pogue:

Today he had a wide range of observations on the industry, including the Amazon Kindle book reader, which he said would go nowhere largely because Americans have stopped reading. “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

Of course, the Kindle didn’t go nowhere and the whole conception was hardly flawed. And in Jobs more recent comments, he’s apparently upgraded his view of the ebook market from “nowhere” to not “a really big market at this point.” Maybe in another year, he’ll concede it’s “almost colossal” or something.

In Daring Fireball-fashion, I have two addendum/footnotes:

¹ As MC rightly points out, David Pogue’s post inrterviewing Jobs was altered from the original, deleting several comments. But the change is irrelevent to the points made here. Pogue cut the following direct quote: “We don’t see that it’s a really big market at this point. And in the future, the more general-purpose devices will tend to win the day. I’m not sure that Amazon, as an example, really cares that much about being in the hardware business. If I were Amazon, I’d love selling stuff where I didn’t have to have a warehouse, didn’t need UPS.” And he replaced it with this summary: “He said that Apple doesn’t see e-books as a big market at this point.”

² Please don’t bring up that story about the new music comic book in the iTunes store to argue that Apple’s getting into ebooks, either. Please. (Update: Internet smartie Rex Hammock brings it up in the comments. Frak! Now I’ll have to take a closer look but I think it’s more like fancy liner notes and digital “extras” to sell music tracks than the future of the next Stephen King novel)

Prior coverage:

Apple gives stage to overpriced ebook developer Scrollmotion (6/9/2009)

Insanely great Kindle on iPhone needs one big improvement (3/4/2009)

Apple will not slay Amazon’s Kindle, not even close (8/20/2008)

Insanely great Kindle on iPhone needs one big improvement

kindleiconjpg(Updated 3/5) Wow – just wow. Pretty much ever since Amazon announced its nifty Kindle e-book reader in November 2007, people have been predicting that Apple would jump into the e-book game and blow Amazon away. Today, Amazon decided it wasn’t going to wait around and introduced an e-book reader program for the iPhone and iPod Touch that likely blows anything Apple might do away. The new program uses the same book format as the Kindle. In other words, you can now read every Kindle book you ever purchased on your iPhone or iPod.

The look and feel of Amazon’s program is much like other e-book readers available for the iPhone/iPod touch platform. It opens onto your library of books. Click on a book and start reading. Swipe across the screen to turn the page. You have the same multiple-size font choices as on the Kindle. You can mark a page with a bookmark just like on the regular Kindle. It doesn’t appear that you can save clippings or add notes yet, however.

img_0002The coolest thing of all is the automatic synchronizing of books you’re reading between your Kindle and your iPhone. Taking in that new Danielle Steel best-seller before bedtime? Say you’ve read a couple of chapters before you stash the Kindle on the bedside table and get some shut-eye. The next day, you find yourself waiting endlessly at Midas Muffler for your car to be ready. Simply whip out your iPhone, bring up Danielle’s book in the Kindle app and, automagically, you’re exactly where you left off the night before. I’ve tried it both ways and it works. Read a few pages on the iPhone  and switch to the Kindle – it’s up to date right where you left off. Read a few pages on the Kindle and switch to the iPhone – same deal.

Of course, this 1.0 version isn’t perfect. The most important flaw — and it’s a pretty annoying one — is that you can’t buy books or search for new books or really access the Kindle book store at all from within the program. You can, as I said, download any book you ever purchased from the Kindle store, wherever you may have it now, onto your iPhone. But to buy new books, you have to use a web browser. You can do that on the iPhone’s web browser but it should be more integrated.

img_0003I’d also ding the Kindle for iPhone for not including automatic access to your own documents that you may have uploaded or emailed to your Kindle. And there’s no access yet to magazines, newspapers or blogs subscriptions. I also noticed a glitch with some cover art not displaying properly.

Still, even with those caveats, the Kindle iPhone reader certainly blows away the other iPhone readers (like Stanza) in terms of book selection and book pricing. As I’ve explained before, no other book store has anywhere near the selection as Amazon’s 240,000 (and growing) Kindle store. And no other book store has Kindle’s low prices. The vast majority of Kindle books, more than two-thirds, are priced at less that $10. Even in the over-hyped, well-publicized cases where Amazon is selling books for more than $10, the price is less than the price of buying a comparable hardcover in almost every instance.

I’d also say that the Kindle iPhone reader is at least as good or better than most of the other reader program in terms of its user interface and ease of use. It’s behind Stanza in font and color choices, but Stanza’s 1.0 version lacked many features at the start, too. For ease of eye strain, zillion-times better battery life and a few other reasons, I will always prefer reading on my Kindle to the iPhone, but it’s great to have this added capability when on-the-go and traveling light. The only thing that needs fixing is the buying experience, so let’s get on it Amazon.

UPDATE: Wow, even Walter Mossberg likes it, pointing out you can now get access to Amazon’s Kindle store without having to buy the $359 Kindle:

If you’re an iPhone or iPod Touch owner who has yearned for a Kindle but balked at its $359 price, or a Kindle owner with an iPhone or Touch already, this new Kindle app is a good bet, even if it is bare-bones.

David Rothman, on the Teleread blog, has a good rundown of the implications of Kindle on iPhone for the Digital Rights Management (DRM) formatting wars that continue to harass e-book customers:

Short term at least, this should do exactly what Amazon says: expand interest in e-books. I just hope Amazon in time will offer ePub capabilities in hardware and software and also be less fixated on DRM. Significantly, Mobipocket softwatre can at least import nonDRMed ePub. Can the new Kindle software for the iPhone and iPod Touch?

p.s. I think this development means I “win” my sort-of bet with publisher and blogger Rex Hammock about whether Apple would get into the e-book selling business. And we’re now, I think, both on the same side hoping that Apple introduces a larger version of the iPod Touch, an eBook Touch or some such.

UPDATE2: Rex Hammock, who I often describe as an Internet smarty for his thoughts on the future of publishing and journalism, agrees I win the bet and also find the new app quite compelling:

I think I’d use the App even if I didn’t have a Kindle. I’d probably not purchase dense novels, but it’s perfect for short-stories or something like a David Sedaris collection of humorous essays — things you’d read while stuck in a line. If you already own a Kindle and an iPhone, download the app immediately. If you don’t own a Kindle, I’m still not ready to declare it a must-have gadget unless you haul around lots of books or don’t have anymore room on your bookshelves.

Prior coverage:

Exciting e-book progress from Amazon and Google (2/6/2009)

Amazon: Follow Apple’s lead and don’t blow Kindle opportunity (1/27/2009)

Fictionwise improving its e-reader and web site for iPhones and iPods (8/27/2008)

Apple will not slay Amazon’s Kindle, not even close (8/20/2008)

Fictionwise e-reader for iPhone equals new Kindle competitor (7/10/2008)

Last minute gift ideas for iPod owners and the gadget deprived

Not much time left before the year-end holidays are upon us. Still stumped for the perfect little gift for your gadget-loving friends and relations? Here are a few suggestions based on things we actually bought and used this year around Casa Links below are mostly to manufacturers’ pages, but I’m sure you can find all of these items on Amazon and many at the local Best Buy, too.

I was going to start by raving about how great the iPod Touch is now that we have the app store and all the many new & great programs expanding its greatitude in all directions. But you knew that already. I do have a few less obvious suggestions that go great with iPods, though.

Audio technica ath-anc7 active noise cancelling headphonesI swear by active noise-canceling headphones but they typically cost a couple of hundred bucks a pair. This year I found some cheapie headphones for under $100 on Amazon made by Audio-Technica, the ATH-ANC7, that do just as great a job at blocking unwanted noise as far more expensive models. They are also quite comfortable to wear, if you don’t mind looking like a total audio geek.

I don’t think the sound quality is quite as fabulous as fancier models but it’s still quite good. They also came with a nice semi-hard carrying case that protects them from getting squished in your bag. Absolutely invaluable if you do much travel on airplanes.

apple airport expressI got an Apple Airport Express this year to play music on our living room stereo from files sitting on an upstairs iMac. The Airport Express connects wirelessly or via ethernet cable to your home network and streams songs from any computer running iTunes to anything with RCA jacks or a headphone port. It also can extend your existing wifi network or create its own, aiding efforts to sit on the couch and surf the web. With an iPod Touch or iPhone, you can download the free Apple Remote app to gain full iPod-like control of what’s playing, too. We also set up the Airport Express with this handy Airbase stand from Griffin so it doesn’t have to hang off the wall awkwardly sticking out of an electrical socket.

giftjpgWhile we’re on the subject of iPods, did you know that instead of giving friends an iTunes gift card, you can get a lot more involved and actually gift any specific piece of content? There’s a little gift box icon next to the grey “buy” button. Click it and you are whisked off to the gift giving screen. All you need is your recipient’s email address. There’s even a way to print out a gift sheet with a code number that you can hand someone instead of just letting them know via email about the gift. Among stuff I watched and listened to this year from the iTunes Store, I’m very high on AMC’s “Mad Men” television series, the movies “WALL-E” and “Iron Man” and a bunch of music I’m too embarrassed to disclose.

Power, power and more power. All geeks need more — to keep their iPods and other gadgets charged, that is. I found two useful recharging gadgets that might make good small gifts for iPod owners.

belkin portable mini surge with usbBelkin’s Portable Mini Surge with USB is great for people who travel with multiple gadgets. It turns one outlet into three and adds surge protection and a couple of USB charging ports to boot. That means you can leave your iPod charging plug at home. It’s smartly designed so its electrical prongs can rotate to different angles and fit in the tightest spaces.

The Griffin Powerdock2 has a simple mission, letting you charge two iPods/iPhones at once. It’s very pretty sitting here on my desk in a silver tone that matches my Macbook Pro. There’s also a four iPod/iPhone model. It includes the usual bevy of plastic iPod adapters so the chargers can hold all the various sized versions. Warning: It does not support the most recent versions of the iPod Touch and iPhone which altered the way power flows into their 30-pin connectors.Griffin powerdock two

Beyond the iPod ecosystem, I came across a few other giftable treats this year. My wife needed to do some quick videos for work so we got one of Flip’s original “Ultra” series camcorders. It’s cheap and easy and has it’s own USB plug and software built in. Record videos with the simple controls, plug into a Windows or mac computer and start editing away. The Ultra has since been replaced by some spiffier models, the Mino and MinoHD. Flip has a good web page comparing all the various models. The original is even cheaper now and still pretty nifty. Our kids love it, too.

The wordpress hoodie in actionWordPress is, of course, the platform du jour for blogging but it’s free software. Can’t make much of a gift out of that. But the good folks at Automattic, publishers of WordPress, are selling a line of authorized tee shirts, coffee mugs and hoodies. I have the dark blue hoodie and it’s fun to walk around town and get quizzed about what sport “WordPress” plays. Order big, as these guys tend to shrink.

If you want to buy a gadgeteer a completely captivating yet non-techy gift, we did greatly enjoy Julia Sweeney’s one-woman show (available on CD and DVD) called “Letting Go of God.” Julia may or may not find spiritual bliss on her journey but you’ll be laughing for the entire thought-provoking trip. (Get a little preview in this video from the TED Talks site)

Finally, as I mentioned the other day, I’m hooked on Fran’s Salted Caramels. I got mine at The Cheese Shop in Wellesley Center but check Fran’s web site to buy them online or find a retail location near you. Yum! UPDATE: Careful, some readers are finding them highly addictive.

And that’s the 2008 list of gift ideas. If you’ve got other suggestions, please drop a note in the comments. Thanks and happy holidays.

Acrylic Software’s Wallet, great password manager for iPhone

(Updated 12/3) To keep track of all the various web site passwords, log-ins accounts, serial numbers and other top secret secrets in my life, I’ve been using the OS X version of Acrylic Software’s Wallet program (Acrylic was formerly known as Waterfall Software). It’s one of the best looking and best performing password managers I’ve seen. And today, the long-awaited version of Wallet for iPhones and iPods Touch arrived in the App store, accompanied by a 3.0 upgrade to the main OS X version. It was well worth the wait.

Like all password managers, Wallet is essentially just a locked or encrypted database. Assign one very long and hard to crack password to the database and all your secrets are secure. Unlock the database with the single password and you can see all your secrets. Wallet automatically locks up if your computer goes to sleep, too. Both the iPhone and OS X versions allow you create as many sub groupings as you want to better organize your secret information. I split my secrets up between serial numbers, web stuff, login accounts, credit cards and “other” but you can set up any organizational scheme you require. Then within each group, you can further customize data fields however you’d like. There’s a great search function that looks across all your groups, too. And you can get your data out by exporting in a variety of formats if you ever want to switch to a competing product.

The best new feature is synchronization. If you have a MobileMe account, you can have various versions of Wallet on Macs, iPhones and iPods all keeping each other up to date through your MobileMe account. When I loaded Wallet onto my iPod, it took several attempts to get the program to see my already-hefty, saved database on MobileMe and download it. But once it did, I had all my passwords available on my iPod. If you don’t have a MobileMe account, Wallet can sync between your Mac and iPhone/iPod over local wifi. You can set Wallet to sync every time you quit, every time it locks the database or just when you tell it to manually.

There are a few glitches. As I mentioned, I had to re-enter my MobileMe information four or five times before it took. And each time, when I went to re-enter my account name and password on my iPod, I got a confusing dialogue box asking if I wanted to wipe out the data on the local device or clear data stored at MobileMe. The wording should be clearer, because if I wiped out the MobileMe version and synced to my Mac, I might lose everything. I also have used a dashboard widget on my Mac to access my Wallet data quickly, but the widget doesn’t seem to be able to read the upgraded version 3.0 database format. I emailed Acrylic but haven’t heard back from them about a possible fix.

UPDATE: Acrylic’s Dustin McDonald responds to my question, confirming that the old Wallet widget is incompatible with the version 3.0 updated database format, adding “most likely be updating this soon.”

Here’s a screenshot of the new main app (with some fake data showing). Clicking on one of the plus buttons creates either a new subgroup or a new item within a group. The little cloud and arrow button manually syncs your database.

Finally, this is not a free app. The new iPhone version costs $3.99 and the OS X version is $20 or $5 for those of us already using version 2. But to keep your secrets safe and your mind free of too much gunk, Wallet is well worth the price.

Fictionwise improving its e-reader and web site for iPhones and iPods

ereader online bookstore for mobile devicesE-book publisher Fictionwise opened a new, mobile-friendly version of one of its online bookstores today at the address (tip o’ the cap to jkOnTheRun). It’s certainly a step in the right direction, especially for people reading e-books on their iPhone or iPod Touch. But it’s another piece of Fictionwise’s confusing and, at times, not very consumer-friendly e-book ecosystem. As Microsoft learned the hard way in the digital music realm, sometimes a simpler, more unified model beats one that ostensibly offers more variety and consumer “choice.” In this case, Amazon’s Kindle has Fictionwise beat by a mile for the book buying experience in terms of ease of use, selection and pricing.

Fictionwise was one of the first to distribute an e-reader program that works on new iPhones and iPods Touch, as I mentioned last month. One complication is that you can’t actually buy e-books from within the app. Instead, you have to jump from e-reader to a browser and surf to one of the Fictionwise-compatible web sites. Buy an e-book at the web site, return to the e-reader app and download the e-book there. Simple? Not exactly. But the new mobile-friendly web site greatly eases the task of buying new e-books directly from the browser on your iPhone or iPod. The old site, intended for viewing on much larger computer screens, required an awful lot of finger squeezing to navigate around and increase the font size. The new site is properly sized to be viewed on a tiny screen without any need for finger manipulation.

The e-reader itself, now at version 1.1, is a pretty good app. You can change fonts and font size, search for any words in the book you’re reading and turn pages with a simple finger flick. You also get the iPod/iPhone backlighting so you can read in bright sunlight or a darkened bedroom. On the downside, you can’t search for words across several books, highlight passages or take notes. And the biggest downside of all — the app simply eats battery life. Fictionwise claims 6 to 8 hours battery life if you turn the brightness down but I’m a pretty fast reader and I have not been able to read a whole book without recharging my fairly new iPod Touch at least once. I get about 3 hours of reading on a charge. This is in stark contrast to Kindle, which lasts for days and days on a single charge (and even longer than that if you turn off the wireless while you’re reading).

We could also argue about which is easier and more comfortable to hold in the hand for long periods while reading. I prefer the Kindle, which has a larger screen, more area to grip and seems more book like. Others may prefer the more compact dimensions of an iPhone/iPod. The Kindle also flickers for a second when you turn a page, while the e-reader app offers a smoother transition.

But the Kindle runs circles around Fictionwise when it comes to finding and buying e-books. The Kindle connects directly to Amazon’s e-book store, where the selection is immense and prices are dirt cheap, especially for new hardcovers. You can read reviews and see star ratings from other Amazon readers right from the Kindle. A free sample of the first chapter or two is available for every book. And after you click to buy, the book is available a few seconds later. No jumping back and forth between apps.

By contrast, Fictionwise runs or supports a variety of different e-book stores, with different policies, technologies and sign-in accounts. The company protects e-books you buy at its eReader site, including the new mobile site unveiled today, with its own DRM that is only compatible with its e-reader software. Thankfully, the program is available on many platforms including Windows, Mac OS X and now iPhone/iPod. But the company doesn’t make its own hardware and you can’t read books bought at the eReader store on a Kindle, Sony or other proprietary e-book devices. And there are no reader reviews or free first chapters, needless to say.

The confusion starts when you go to other Fictionwise sites, like its main bookstore at Some of the books there are described as “multi-format” and don’t appear to be locked by DRM. They can be purchased in a dozen formats, including ones compatible with the Kindle and the Sony e-reader. But other books are sold in a so-called secure format. You have to choose from among one of four secure formats. There’s e-reader, for the company’s own software platform along with ones for DRMs produced by Adobe, Microsoft and Mobipocket (which, ironically enough, is a company owned by Amazon now). I may be wrong but it seems like you have to choose one of these four secured formats when you buy an e-book and that’s all you get per purchase. And it seems like some books aren’t available in every format.

This is reminiscent of the bad old days of digital music before Apple created a dramatically simplified customer experience with its iTunes music store. Remember when only some music files could be burned to a CD and some could be burned five times but others could be burned seven times? Messy and confusing.

It might be okay if all this confusion and “choice” resulted in a huge selection of e-books or amazingly low prices. Sadly, Amazon has Fictionwise beat on selection and price. Take a popular book that’s available in both stores. Want to read the final book in Stephenie Meyer’s vampire saga, Breaking Dawn? On Kindle, it’s $9.99. It’s $17.24 at eReader (with 10% off if you enter a code from the site’s weekly newsletter).

At Fictionwise itself, Meyer’s book is $22.99 with a “rebate” of 50% bringing the price down to $11.49. The “rebate” goes into an account that can only be used to buy more e-books on the site, so it’s not a true rebate. If you belong to Fictionwise’s book club for $29.95 a year, the price starts at $19.54 and drops to $9.77 after the “rebate.” Following all this insanity? Newsletter secret codes that change weekly, rebates that can only be used at the same web site and a costly club memberships for further discounts. Ugh.

But that’s only when both sites have the book you want. Amazon’s Kindle store is up around 160,000 items versus about 54,000 that show up at Fictionwise and about 38,000 at

Overall, Fictionwise has a long way to go to catch Kindle. The new mobile site is good first step.

First impression of WordPress iPhone app: a solid B

Wordpress releases iphone appThis short post comes to you courtesy of the brand new WordPress app for iPhones and iPods Touch. It’s short because typing on my iPod gives me a headache but my first impression of the app is a positive one. Set up took under 30 seconds and I was ready to post. There are fields to fill on in for the title and text of a new post plus a place to add tags and a nifty multi-touch scrollable list of all your categories. Personally, it is hard to imagine writing much more than this on the tiny keyboard (and the app didn’t switch to landscape mode when I tried). But on in a pinch or on-the-go I give WordPress a solid B for this version 1.0.

UPDATE: Phew, back on my laptop and the typing is easy — well, as easy as it gets for old two fingers here. Here’s a link to WordPress’s description page of the new app. I couldn’t figure out how to add a link to a mobile post in the app or grab an image from the web, so I did both of those functions just now from the full, webby version of WordPress.

When working on or editing a post, there are just four buttons at the bottom of the screen: write, photos, preview and settings. Write brings up the keyboard. Photos takes you to an (in my first use)  empty image library with the opportunity to add photos from the iPhone/iPod’s regular iPhoto-linked library or to take a new picture with the built-in camera. If you go to your regular library, you can choose any photo from any album. The preview button takes you to a view of the post on your blog in an embedded browser. And settings lets you edit the publication date and time or set a password for the post. Pretty simple but entirely useful, as long as you keep it short.

I think we’re going to need to have some link functionality added, however, as that’s a core function for blogging, obviously.

UPDATE2: Zdnet blogger Michael Miller makes the obvious and most excellent point that the real failing with the app is Apple‘s failure to include cut and paste support or allow external blue tooth keyboards.

Getting excited for upcoming iPhone/iPod apps

There’s plenty to love already in Apple’s app store for iPhones and iPods Touch but I’m chomping at the bit for a few “coming soon” programs that can’t get here soon enough. First and foremost, as I mentioned the other day, I’m looking for a blogging app to write entries for this blog (which runs on WordPress). Both WordPress and outside developer Daniel Jalkut (of Mars Edit fame) say they’ll have an app real soon now.

Next, I’d love to have an encrypted password, PIN code and serial number manager app. I use Waterfall Software’s awesome Wallet on my Macs and they’re promising to have an app version out “this summer.” Fellahs, it’s hot and sweaty here – definitely summer. Key feature, without which it’s not worth having: synchronization from Mac to my iPod Touch and back.

Also, while the New York Times and Bloomberg (via have pretty good news apps, how about the Wall Street Journal? I pay good money to subscribe online and I’d like to get better access than the mini-web page version. Both the Times and Bloomberg have good user interfaces and access to lots of stories and data. What else? What apps are you waiting for?

Getting Verizon’s Actiontec to play with Airport Express and Remote App

Apple\'s Airport Express with stereo connected(Updated 5/13/2010) With Apple’s new Remote App for the iPhone and iPod Touch, the teeming masses who couldn’t afford hyper-expensive schemes (cough – Sonos – cough) to connect their digital music collections to their stereos suddenly had an alternative. If you load Remote onto your iPod, you can control iTunes on the Mac in your office from the couch in your living room. And it’s pretty full control, choosing what to play by album, artist or play list as well as a simple search function. You can even adjust the volume.

Now, suddenly, Apple’s $99 Airport Express is an incredibly great and desirable little piece of equipment. This mini wireless base station has a stereo out connection. The idea is you keep your music library wherever it is and virtually hook it up over wifi to your stereo system or even just a pair of powered speakers somewhere else in the house. Before now, that wasn’t a great solution because you had get up from where the stereo lived and go back to the computer where the music lived to change songs or select a new play list. Now, your iPod or iPhone can function as a super-smart remote control with all the visuals and you don’t ever have to run back and forth. Couch potato nirvana!

Simple, right? So I loaded the Remote App on my iPod Touch and got an Airport Express. I plugged in the Express and connected it to my stereo with a simple audio cable. Then I pulled up Apple’s Airport Utility program on my laptop and set up the Express and…hmm, not so simple after all.

Seems that Airport Express and the Actiontec wireless router that Verizon makes us use with their otherwise awesome FIOS system don’t play nice together. You can’t actually use the Airport Express as a wifi network extender, my original plan. The Actiontec is already running a wifi network in the house and even sends decent reception down to the stereo closet. But the Express and the Actiontec don’t speak the same language, although they both as only the Apple product supports “Wireless Distribution Standard,” or WDS (UPDATE: I used to think both did but Actiontec now clearly says they do not support WDS). In fact, when I used the Airport Utility to set the Airport Express to “extend a network,” it froze up, couldn’t be reached anymore and I had to unplug it and press the factory reset button. Youch. Don’t try that one at home, kids.

In the end, I had to be a bit klugier than I had hoped. I plugged one of Netgear’s great Powerline HD adapters (which run ethernet over the electrical wiring in your house) into an outlet by the stereo, ran an ethernet cable to the Airport Express and set the Express to run its own wifi network. That means setting the Express to “Create a wireless network” under the “wireless” menu in the Airport Utility. Key detail: the Actiontec router is still in charge of dealing with the Internet and handing out network addresses so the Express also has to be set to “bridge mode” on the connection sharing setting which is under the “Internet” menu in the AIrport Utility (see below).

Setting an airport express to bridge mode

Once I got all that working, I went upstairs to my Mac and in the lower, right-hand corner of iTunes a new selection menu appeared letting me designate where to output the sounds from iTunes. The choices were my computer, the new living room Express or both at the same time. Apple calls this feature AirTunes, I believe. I set iTunes to send music to the Express.

Then on my iPod, in the Remote App’s settings, I selected add a new library. On my Mac, the iPod appeared under devices in iTunes and asked for a four-digit PIN code. Sure enough, the iPod was displaying the code and, once I typed it in, the Remote app was “paired,” or linked to, that iTunes library. You can pair the remote with multiple libraries and choose which to control – just remember to assign your libraries different names under iTunes’ “Shared name” setting. My laptop and desktop Macs had defaulted to the same name in both copies of iTunes. MacWorld has a more detailed run down of using Remote here.

So…after just an hour or so of fiddling, I finally had my amazing set-up set up. I recline on the couch, beverage in hand. I sip and put the drink down. I grab the iPod Touch and meander  through my entire music library, including all of the zillions of tracks I bought from the iTunes store that are locked up with the Fairplay DRM. Even the Sonos can’t play Fairplay-protected tracks. I select a track or an album or a play list and it starts to play instantly on my stereo. Even though I’m viewing the music library that sits upstairs on my Mac, it’s much like looking through the local collection on my iPod Touch. I can shift the volume, as well. I pull up Dire Straits album Communique, put down the iPod, pick up my drink and drift off to the fantasy land of tech nirvana where everything works right and all the children are above average.

Yes it’s no use saying that you don’t know nothing
It’s still gonna get you if you don’t do something
Sitting on a fence that’s a dangerous course
Ah, you could even catch a bullet from the peace-keeping force
Even the hero gets a bullet in the chest
Oh yeah, once upon a time in the west

Useful info getting out on new iPhone apps like e-reader

The iPhone coverage tsunami continues unabated and, thanks to the long-tail of new media and blogging, we can find people writing about just those aspects of this mega-story that we find most interesting.

For example, the What’s on iPhone blog has a lengthy review up of the new Fictionwise e-book reader for iPhones and iPods Touch. The reviewer notes that you can download books you’ve already purchased directly onto your device but that you do have to use the web site to buy new books and the web site is slow, especially when searching (“Searching for a book takes almost as long as it took the author to write it”). He ends with a quick comparison to the Kindle:

I briefly had a Kindle a few months ago. I loved the selection of books and the prices were amazing. Unfortunately, I hated the device itself. eReader, on the other hand works on a wide variety of devices but the selection is okay but not great and the prices are much higher than on the Kindle. For example, James Patterson’s new book is under $10 on the Kindle and, while available for eReader, is almost twice the price. That’s a big difference. Big enough, in fact, to allow for the purchase of, say, an extra iPhone game. In all, the eReader for works well. If you are like me and like reading on a device that is small, light, convenient and always with you, it is certainly worth a look.

I’m also getting excited about the Remote app. My idea is to grab a cheaper model of the iPod Touch running Remote to get almost all the features of the Sonos household music distribution system at a fraction of the price. CNET’s Crave blog has a detailed review of the Remote app up already, though I think they’re missing just how powerful the combo of an iPod with Remote and an Airport Express connected to your stereo will be. Brad Mohr also has a conceptual comparison of Sonos and Remote app, noting that the Sonos hardware is getting more than a little dated.

Getting an iPod Touch would also let me try out most of the other new gee-wizzy apps, I think. Sadly, there’s no GPS in the iPod, though, so the really cool astronomy program Uranus won’t be a go.

Fictionwise e-reader for iPhone equals new Kindle competitor

Via a quick tweet from John Siracusa, I see that electronic book publisher Fictionwise has released a free e-book reader program for iPhones and iPod Touches (or should it be iPods Touch?) running Apple’s 2.0 operating system. This could be a big deal as Fictionwise is one of the more established players in the e-book game and claims to have 50,000 titles available including works by major authors like Stephen King and Ken Follett.

Interestingly, Fictionwise is a hardware-agnostic publisher. Its web site says books are available in four different locked formats plus unlocked books can be downloaded in 11 formats including one that’s compatible with Amazon’s Kindle e-reader. It’s unclear to me from the description (see picture below) whether you can actually buy and download books from Fictionwise directly using your iPhone, one of the Kindle’s current big advantages over competing readers.

Rex Hammock has been predicting that Apple could eviscerate Amazon’s Kindle with a sexier hardware platform (to oversimplify Rex’s Apple/Kindle post from a few months ago a bit). This isn’t that but it’s certainly a step in that direction. I still see the Kindle as a far superior platform for reading and purchasing ebooks than the current iPhone/iPod Touch gear.

UPDATE: Siracusa says you have to download buy books via a web browser (which of course, the iPhone and iPod Touch have) but can’t do so directly within the e-reader. You then download within the e-reader, he says.

New fictionwise e-book reader application for iphones