iPhone App of the Week – Amazon Mobile


You may have noticed that I’m a fan of Amazon.com. I use Amazon quite a bit for my shopping needs. I like them because they are basically a one-stop-shop for just about anything. The prices are usually competitive and they have been very dependable for me. Now I’ve never tried to return anything or reach customer service, so your mileage my vary.


Needless to say, when I saw that they had an iPhone app, I had to check it out. The Amazon Mobile app is a iPhone/iPod touch version of the store. You can search, price compare and even order all right from your iPhone. I actually used it to order my Logitech Playstation 3 Bluetooth keyboard. It was so convenient because of Amazon’s 1-click feature. I didn’t have to enter any credit card or shipping info. So far, nothing too exciting right?


An Amazing New Way to Shop


Take a picture of the item you’re interested in! That’s right! Your iPhone has a built-in camera, so you can take pictures of stuff. Hidden in the Amazon Mobile app is a feature that allows you to take a picture of an item and have Amazon figure out what it is and therefore how much it costs. The reason that I say this feature is hidden is because it’s tucked away under the “Remembers” button. I’m not sure why they call this feature “Remembers” and I would have NEVER thought to look there for it.



How well does it work?

Like I said you snap a picture of the item you want and that’s pretty much it. Once you snap the picture and confirm it, it is automatically uploaded to Amazon.com. I have to image that a human on the other end (probably under paid and in a 3rd world country) figures out what the picture is and then replies with a  link to the actual item (provided that Amazon carries it). Although one of mine was so far off that it may not be a human after all. Now they don’t claim to be 100% accurate. As a matter of fact they claim to find the “closest match.” My first 3 pictures were of simple things that were already boxed and clearly marked. It got all 3 within reason. Then I gave it more of a challenge by taking pictures of items laying around that I already owned. One of those items was my Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VR lens and what came back wasn’t even close. It wasn’t even a lens. So that makes me think that it may be automated after all.

Out of the six items I threw at it, it got four of them dead on. The two that it got wrong, one was the lens which was not even close and the other was a portable hard drive and it came back with the desktop version. The results are sent back pretty quickly. In my case under 5 minutes (probably closer to 3 minutes). My buddy Dave tried this by taking a shot of something in the Skymall catalog and it came back with the right item. He was floored that it worked with a picture of a picture.


How useful is this really?

If you know what you want, then doing simple text search in the app is probably going to be faster and more accurate. However, I’m intrigued by the use of the technology and that’s why it’s my pick this week for the iPhone App of the Week.

Amazon Mobile is a FREE download for the iPhone and iPod touch. You can get it here from the App Store.

Macworld Expo: Toast 10

If you’re a Mac user and you burn DVDs or CDs, you’ve probably heard of Roxio’s Toast application. While you can burn DVDs/CDs right in Mac OS X, Toast just offers so many more features beyond the basics. I was very curious to see what the new version(s) had to offer so I caught up with the Toast product manager and asked him:

Macworld Expo: 17″ MacBook Pro

One of Apple’s big 3 announcements during the Phil Shiller keynote was the newly redesigned 17″ MacBook Pro. As you know I reviewed the 15″ MacBook Pro earlier and the 17″ has all of those same features but adds a little more…
The one thing that I find very attractive is the ability upgrade the 17″ MacBook Pro to 8GB of RAM!!! That’s unheard of on a laptop. Although I’m still not ready to carry a 17″ laptop again, I find the new very tempting. Apple also allows an “Antiglare screen” option which should make the professionals much happier. The use of a glossy screen has been a point of contention with many users. Although this will be welcomed, the NEW controversy will be the fact that the battery is built-in and not user removable or swappable. Granted the battery life has been drastically improved (Apple is claiming 8 hours!), it will be interesting to see if people buy in to the fact that they can carry an extra battery on long trips or to do work in the field.

Also check out Apple’s other New MacBook:

Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard

Macworld Expo: Leave it to Google :)

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that with thousands of Mac users in town for Macworld Expo, there would also be thousands of iPhones in use! As a matter of fact there are so many iPhones here this week that AT&T’s data network was brought to its knees on Tuesday during and after the keynote. You could make calls, but you could just about forget about using the EDGE or 3G network.

Google is showing how they think ahead by providing an iPhone charging station for up to 8 people to charge their iPhones in the Google booth at a time. Obviously you’re not going to leave your iPhone unattended, so what are you going to do while you wait? Check out the stuff that Google has to offer. Genius!

Macworld Expo: Neat Receipts Update

I’m here at Macworld and I got a chance to check out the new software update to the Neat Receipts scanner that I reviewed in 2008. One of the number one questions I got then was “can the software (which rocks) be used with other scanners like the Fujitsu Scan Snap series. Now the answer is YES!

Macworld Expo: Joby Gorillapods

I’ll be posting some video updates over the next day or so of cool things I’m checking out here at Macworld Expo. I’m going to start with a product I’ve been meaning to review here. It’s the Joby Gorillapod SLR. Although this is a great portable, travel tripod for your Digital SLR, I found out today that it has some other cool uses. Check it out!

Live Coverage of the 2009 Macworld Expo Keynote

Today is Apple’s last Macworld Expo! I’m here live getting ready for the Apple/Phil Shiller Keynote at Macworld Expo. I’m going to attempt live updates from the keynote just like last year. If all goes well you’ll get a blow-by-blow on what’s being announced.



So if you don’t see the updates above, Click Here to follow the Live Blog starting at 9:00AM PST.

UPDATE: Apple has posted the Keynote Video – Watch it here.

Lastolite Triflector MkII



Although I’m not big on getting gifts on holidays, I did get one very cool gift. I got the Lastolite Triflector MkII. This handy compact unit comes with two adjustable side arms and three reversible (white/silver) panels that easily and quickly attach. Once setup (less than 5 minutes) the whole thing sits on a light stand (not included).


Why use a tri-flector?

If you do any type of beauty or fashion photography, a tri-flector gives the ability to light your subject from underneath and from the sides without the need for additional lights. It also provides some very distinctive catch lights in the eyes. By putting it on a light stand you can adjust the hight to your taste. Your subject/model can either stand or sit depending on your needs. In my setup above I used the Nikon D300, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens (shot 125th/sec f/8.0), Elinchrom 600RX (triggered with their awesome Skyport system) with a midi-octa softbox and the Lastolite Triflector MkII on a small light stand.


I used the above setup to produce this shot:





The interesting thing about the Lastolite Triflector is that it’s not easy to find. I never saw it at any of my usual sources for photography gear. However, it is available here at Adorama. Oddly enough Adorama doesn’t show the included stand or carrying case. However, I did a search for their SKU# LSTLPKWS (which is on my packing slip) and that’s the one that comes up. Pay no attention to the picture. It’s the right one. If you shoot portraits, beauty or fashion, you’re gonna want one of these!

Makeup by Renata.

My Top 10 Favorite iPhone Apps of 2008

While it’s certainly no secret that I’m a fan of the iPhone, I’m starting to become even more of a fan of the amazing 3rd party apps out there for the iPhone (and in most cases for the iPod touch). I currently have 69 3rd party apps installed. I’ve actually downloaded/purchased more than that. However, the 69 ones that I have currently installed are the ones that are my favorites and that I use on a regular basis. Each week I get exposed to more and more new apps and my favorites are always changing. So out of those 69, which are my absolute favorites? Which ones can’t I live without? If the iPhone was suddenly limited to only 10 3rd party apps, which would I keep? Here are my Top 10 Favorite iPhone Apps of 2008:


#1 i.TV



Although this was already a great app when I first reviewed it, it just keeps getting better. The latest update practically eliminated two other apps I was using and added a feature that I’ve been waiting for since day one and that’s the ability to remotely schedule my TiVo HD to record shows from anywhere I happen to be. i.TV is a TV listing, Movie listing, Netflix queue manager (search for a movie and you can either see the show times for it or add it to your Netflix queue), and now TiVo scheduler all it one! It’s an amazing app and it’s FREE (yes, it does display ads). 



#2 Remote



Remote is one of Apple’s apps. This App turns your iPhone/iPod touch into a Wi-Fi remote for iTunes running on your Mac or PC and your Apple TV. Change songs, switch playlists, control which Airtunes speakers the music will play from and even use the iPhone’s keyboard when you need to type things on the Apple TV like passwords, searches, etc. Very well done and definitely one of my favorites.



#3 Say Who-Dialer



I’ve tried to use various voice recognition technology through the years and most of it has been a disaster when it comes to recognizing MY voice. However, Say Who-Dialer does an amazing job in letting me say the name of the person I want to dial AND the particular number for that contact I want. ie. “Bruce Mandel Mobile”. It’s gets it right 99% of the time for me.



#4 AroundMe



I’m not sure how I missed this one earlier. AroundMe is one of those location based apps that tells you (by category) what’s near your current location. Need the closest coffee shop, bank, gas station, etc. While that’s not really too amazing, this one does one thing that I haven’t seen in the rest. It actually has a feature that I’m shocked Apple hasn’t done yet as a separate app. It will tell you where your closest Apple Store is. This is a GREAT app for travelers!



#5 Accuweather



If you’ve been following my “iPhone App of the Week” posts each Friday, then you know that this was last week’s pick. It is by far the best weather App I’ve used to date! I’ve even moved it to the main Home screen in place of Apple’s Weather App.



#6  Mobile Banking



If you’re a Bank of America customer, then this app is a MUST HAVE. Not only does it let me check my balances of all my BOA accounts, but it lets me transfer funds and even find the closest BOA ATM or branch. I hate paying ATM fees!



#7 ToDo



I’ve tried the free ones and others that cost too and my favorite task manager is “ToDo”. I like it because the UI is simple, yet powerful. It has all the features I want in a task manager without being overly complex. It works the way I do. I rely on this app all the time.



#8 SuperBall 2



I have a few games on my iPhone and it was really a toss up between this one and my Blackjack game. However, SuperBall 2 for me has been the most addictive and once I finished the free version, I had to have more! With this game, I’m never bored when I have to stand in a line or have some time to kill.



#9 Facebook



I’ve been dabbling in social networking this year and have settled on Facebook to keep tabs on friends and family. So having a native Facebook app on my iPhone is very nice. This app now in its second major release has been great. There is one major thing missing though. While it’s easy to see photos, upload photos, see/write on your friend’s wall(s), etc., the one thing that seems to be missing is the ability to send a friend request right from the iPhone. I find this to be odd. I can accept friend requests, but can’t initiate them. On more than one occasion I have been standing with friends only to discover that they are on Facebook and have to wait to I get back to my computer to add them. Otherwise, it’s a great app and if you use Facebook, it’s a must!



#10 BigTipper



A tip calculator? Is this really necessary and wow, it cost money? Necessary? probably not. However, I just love the way that this one is designed. I’m a sucker for a well thought out UI and on those occasions when I’m not going to tip 20%, it’s great to have. I use this all the time. It’s the best one I’ve seen to date.



Missing in Action!

We saw a lot of progress in less than 6 months time! Although I have a lot of favorite iPhone apps, there was one that I was hoping for that we didn’t see in 2008 and that was a native Slingbox App for the iPhone. Nor did we see a native Sirius/XM radio app. Of course I’d like to see the iPhone itself updated with Cut/Copy/Paste, Flash, MMS messaging, video recording and more. Hopefully we’ll see these things and more in 2009! Happy New Year!


Also be sure to check out Time Magazine’s Top 10 iPhone apps of 2008. We clearly have different tastes 🙂

TSA makes me go huh?

I’m traveling today for a family visit and once again I decided to use the new option at Northwest Airlines that allows me to have the boarding pass sent to my phone instead of printing one out. See my earlier blog post on it here. However, today things didn’t go as smoothly. I got to the TSA security desk and for some reason the scanner wouldn’t scan the barcode on my screen. They said that it hadn’t worked all day.

So I was wondering what would happen next? You guessed it, they made me go back to the ticket counter (or in my case the electronic kiosk) and print a boarding pass. Luckily I had plenty of time and the airport was not crowded today. Once I returned to the TSA desk, they looked at my “printed” boarding pass, initialed it and I was on my way.


No big deal right?

This got me thinking, why did I need the paper? If you think about it, you can print a boarding pass at home right? You could even fake one (don’t! it’s against the law!). So what was different about a piece of paper vs. my iPhone screen. Granted the scanner, scans the barcode on my iPhone and then displays my name which will match my ID and even says which flight I’m on, but the paper never gets scanned. They just look at it. They spend more time scrutinizing your ID. So couldn’t they just look at my phone? Or wouldn’t it make more sense just to use your ID and have a computer there that says which flight your on? The funny thing was that when I got to my gate, I asked if the scanner was working with phones and they said yes and instead of using the paper boarding pass, I used the electronic one on my iPhone and got on the plane no problem.

I continue to be amazed by the lack of thought that goes into this whole airport “security” thing!

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