eBay creates a rich internet app using AIR

If you’re into technology and gadgets you almost have to be into eBay as well. How else would you get rid of that older gear that you had to have at the time, that isn’t as cool anymore?

eBay is my favorite site for not only cleaning out my basement and garage, but it’s also a site that I use to find good deals on new gear. So anything I can do to make that experience go faster or better, I’m all for it. eBay Desktop lets you create your own eBay environment to track the items that you’re interested in. You can do searches, place bids and have it continously update while you are connected all without ever touching your web browser.

eBay decided to use Adobe’s Integrated Runtime (AIR) technology which allows anyone to create rich internet applications that are cross platform and stand alone.

"We wanted for a long time to create a desktop presence. Previously, our team agreed it was too expensive and couldn’t be done. Then along came Adobe AIR."
– Alan Lewis, Product Manager, eBay Desktop

AIR lets developers leverage HTML, CSS, AJAX, Adobe Flash and Adobe Flex technologies.

You can download the new FREE eBay desktop here. You can learn more about AIR here.

Apple and iPhone ringtones, ARGGGH!

This is really getting old fast! As I wrote yesterday, I was happy with the latest iPhone 1.1.1 update. Since I don’t have a hacked iPhone I was free to put the update one without fear of losing the ability to use the phone. However, what I wasn’t expecting (I don’t know why) was that Apple would once again wipe out my custom ringtones! Yep, Apple clearly wants to OWN and CONTROL adding ringtones to the iPhone.

 

I get it, ringtones are big business

I know, I know, ringtones are a potentially huge source of revenue. There are issues with the record labels wanting ANOTHER cut of the song you already bought because they view ringtones as a different use. I’m not going to argue this no matter how ridiculous I think it is because I won’t win. It defy’s all logic in my mind that if I can put a song on my iPhone and play the whole song through the built-in speakers that I would have to pay the full price of the song AGAIN just to hear a small portion of it on the same iPhone when the phone rings!

Although I don’t want to continue this losing argument I will give you some more food for thought as to why Apple’s approach doesn’t make sense to me: Let’s take the iPod for example. It’s an MP3 player and Apple sells music, videos, TV shows and movies through the iTunes store. However, if you never bought a single thing from iTunes, you would still be able to rip your own CDs and convert your own videos to a compatible format and put them on the iPod. Heck, iTunes evens facilitates this FREE of charge. Let’s say you’re a musician and you record your own music. You can even do so with Apple’s own Garageband software that comes with all new Macs and put that music on your iPod too. Because the iPod is so free in this respect, Apple has sold millions of units. Now imagine if Apple started selling iPods that ONLY allowed content from the iTunes store. How many iPods would they sell then? So if I can put my own music and movies and sounds on the iPod or the iPhone and Apple doesn’t care, why would they care about where the sound comes from that I hear when the phone rings? If I record myself saying "ring ring" (which I didn’t, I’m just making a point), clearly I have ALL RIGHTS to that sound and there is nothing in the technology that should stop me from making that sound my ringtone. As a matter of fact, I could do this with my Treo and I could with my RAZR without too much effort. Before yesterday, I could even do this with my iPhone thanks to the help of iToner. Yet, Apple seems hell bent on taking away this basic ability away in favor of their own very limited (only a very small fraction of songs available from iTunes are ringtonable. Only 500,000+ songs out of the over 6 million songs available) paid ringtone service. Under the current model let’s say you bought an Earth, Wind and Fire CD years ago and you ripped it into iTunes. Let’s say you wanted to make a ringtone out of “In The Stone”. You’d have to go to the iTunes store and buy the “In The Stone” track AGAIN. Then you’d have to spend another 99¢ to convert part of it to a ringtone. So technically you would have bought the song 3 times.

 

I’m not cheap…

It’s not a matter of the cost of a ringtone. In fact as far as ringtone businesses go, Apple’s is actually cheaper than the other guys (Sprint, Verizon, etc.). They’re even fairer in their approach in that you get the whole song, you get to pick which portion of the song that you want to use as the ringtone and the ringtone doesn’t expire after so many weeks/months of use. The problem is not price, it’s selection! Even if I wanted to give up this "cat and mouse game" and just say "screw it" and buy the 3 or 4 ringtones I wanted to use, none of the ones I want are available as ringtones on iTunes. If Apple had the songs or sounds that I wanted to use, it would actually be CHEAPER for me to just buy them from iTunes than paying the $15 for iToner. So it’s not the money.

Let’s say I was a musician and wanted to use my own music as a ringtone. The way it works now, I would first have to cut a deal with Apple and HOPE that they approved my music for sale on the iTunes store as an independent label (wish me luck, espcially if you’ve heard me sing). Then I would have to buy MY OWN track from them for 99¢ or 1.29¢ and then buy the right to convert it to a ringtone for an additonal 99¢ and it’s my own song!

Apple needs to abandon this monopolistic approach on the iPhone if they want to continue to build good will and continue to have loyal customers. If you build the best iPhone ringtone service, you’ll get your fair share of the business from those out there who buy ringtones. You don’t have to block every attempt from your CUSTOMERS to spin their own.

iPhone firmware 1.1.1 update released

As promised Apple released a new feature update for the iPhone. The new features include:

  • iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store
  • Louder Speaker Phone and Receiver Volume
  • Home Button double-click to phone favorites or music controls (hey, that’s a Terry White feature – see below)
  • Space bar double-tap shortcut to intelligently insert period and space
  • Mail attachments are viewable in portrait and landscape
  • Stocks and cities in Stocks and Weather can be reordered
  • Apple Bluetooth Headset battery status in the Status Bar
  • Support for TV Out
  • Preference to turn off EDGE/GPRS roaming internationally
  • New Passcode lock time intervals
  • Adjustable alert volume

These updates are very welcomed. I’m very happy that Apple implemented one of my suggestions! If you remember, I wrote an iPhone Review and has been very well received and ranks in the top five iPhone reviews on Google. In that review I said:

So I’m very happy to know that I helped the iPhone development in some small way 😉

I’m also happy that there is now a preference to turn OFF EDGE/GPRS roaming internationally. There are people who are traveling abroad and coming back home to monstrous roaming bills (some over $1,000) because their using their iPhone’s data capabilities internationally without realizing the outrageously high data roaming charges that some carriers charge. To simply check your email could cost you $5. Viewing a web page or two could cost you another $5-10 without knowing it. So this should help this situation quite a bit.

 

There is still room for more

I’m still very happy with my iPhone, but there is still lots of room for improvement. Most of the things I want should be relatively simple fixes that can be done via software – My Wish list:

1 – Sync Notes
2 – Cut/Copy Paste system wide
3 – Email anything (besides notes, photos URLs) Contacts, maps, directions, etc.
4 – MMS
5 – Consolidated Mail in Box and easier way to jump between accounts
6 – My OWN ringtones
7 – Flash support in Safari
8 – Video and Voice Recording
9 – Color coded or Separate Calendar view
10 – Searchable Contacts
11 – To be able to assign ringtones to groups
12 – Syncing iPhone to Computer over Bluetooth
13 – Voice dialing
14 – Dial-up Networking (use the iPhone as a modem)
15 – iPhones on AT&T corporate plans

Hopefully we’ll see more updates frequently to continue to add new features.

Hackers beware! It appears that the update restores the phone back to its original state from the stand point of needing to be "Activated" again (which it did automatically. No need to walk through the process manually). It doesn’t remove any data including my custom Non-iTunes ringtones, but if you’re not using an AT&T SIM card, you may be hosed!

Apple also posted this video on the new features…

Amazon strikes back!

It’s no secret that Apple and Steve Jobs dominate the digital music player business and it’s also no secret that the iTunes store pretty much dominates the digital music business. One could even argue that Steve started the digital music revolution with near flawless execution and creating an almost impenetrable fortress with iTunes, the iPod and the iTunes music store. Everyone that tried to compete in this space has failed to make a serious dent in Apple’s armor. This due largely to the iPod being a closed system that only works with a few audio formats and and ONE music store. Most DRM (Digital Rights Managed) solutions from competitors not being compatible also makes them less attractive. However, at the heart of the iPod, it’s an MP3 player! So if you have an MP3 file you’re all set.

Steve even made a very compelling argument against DRM (if you buy an audio CD it doesn’t have DRM protection on it) and EMI blazed the trail by offering tracks that are DRM free on iTunes for $1.29. That’s right for 30¢ more than the standard 99¢/track you can purchase a song in AAC format that is free from DRM protection. This means this track will play on your iPod, your computer and any other device that can play AAC files including competing music players. You could even convert the track into other formats. This is great! However, if you want a song not in the EMI catalog, you’re pretty much out of luck or if you want to play that song on a player that doesn’t support AAC you’ll have to convert it to a different format first. So it would seem that Apple is unstoppable in the music business. Had you asked me this last week I would have said that "Apple is very hard to beat at this music thing. They get it!" That all changed for me yesterday!

I kept seeing the headlines that Amazon.com started selling DRM free tracks and I really didn’t pay much attention to this. After all we’ve seen online music stores come and go and so why would this be any different? Also in the past attempts to unseat Apple, the stores were either not compatible with the iPod or not compatible with the Mac which was a complete turn off for me. Then I saw one more headline about Amazon MP3 and happened to notice something I didn’t notice the first 100 times and that was "in MP3 format!" Woah! Wait a minute! This is game changing! MP3 is the most widely accepted digital music standard. So If I can buy a track that is DRM free in MP3 format then that means it will work on just about anything.

So I headed over to Amazon MP3 and decided to give this new music store a shot. I was floored not only by how easy it all worked, but also by the PRICE! Amazon’s DRM free MP3 tracks average between 89¢-99¢. I found a track that I wanted (it was 99¢) and I clicked the Buy button expecting the world to explode. I was prompted to download a "downloader" app and low and behold it was for the Mac (it detected my platform automatically). Once I downloaded the downloader, Safari (my browser) fired back up and took me right back to the song I was buying (Party Starter by Will Smith). I bought it and then something else pretty amazing happened. The song downloaded neatly to my Music folder in a newly created Amazon MP3 folder and like iTunes it organized the song by Artist, then Album then Track.

This was all going so well that I decided to go for broke. I opened iTunes and simply dragged the song over to my library and it imported it. Not only did it import it, but it automatically downloaded the Album Art for me. Thanks iTunes! (Note: The downloader is supposed to add the track to iTunes automatically by default. For some reason that didn’t happen for me on this first purchase. I’ll try it again later.)

Amazon only has 2 million tracks as opposed to iTunes’ 6 million tracks. However, the Amazon collection of DRM free tracks is MUCH larger than the EMI collection on iTunes.

Apple should be afraid, very afraid! This is the first SERIOUS competition that they’ve had. The service not only works with their iconic iPods/iPhones, but it’s also CHEAPER! The song I downloaded was in MP3 format which many would argue doesn’t sound as good as AACs from the iTunes store. However, it was sampled at 256kbps which should be very close if not on par to the DRM protected tracks you’d buy from iTunes which are at 128kbps at the same price. The iTunes DRM tracks cost more, but they are sampled at 256kbps in AAC format which probably sound better. So if you’re an audiophile, then the iTunes tracks are probably going to sound a bit better to you. For me, I’d have to weigh the cheaper price and more compatible format of Amazon’s MP3’s. That coupled with
Amazon Unbox service which allows me to rent movies and download them directly to my TiVo HD, iTunes is starting to slip a little (ok a lot) off that pedestal. Yes, there is a new contender Apple and they’re gunning for you! Apple, unless you match Amazon’s price, why would I buy any new music from you? Competition is good! This move by Amazon will benefit us (customers) the most.

Why I’m not in the market for a new iPod

This is probably the first time since before the 3rd generation iPod (the one with the 4 buttons across the top) that I’m not in the market for a new iPod. My first iPod was the original 5GB iPod back in 2001. I skipped all the upgrades until the 3rd generation iPod for one simple reason. All of the iPods that came after the first generation didn’t solve my biggest issue and that was storage. Apple released a 10GB iPod and a 20GB model and I passed on those because they still wouldn’t hold my entire music collection and provide room for growth. It wasn’t until April 2003 when Apple released the 3rd generation iPod with the dock connector and it came in a 30GB capacity that I decided it was time for a new iPod. That was TWO YEARS of using the same iPod! No battery issues either folks.

I’ve been buying each iPod upgrade since then and even an occasional shuffle, mini and nano along the way. Why? Because each iPod that was introduced after the 3rd generation increased significantly in storage and capabilities. Sure I’d  pass the older ones on to family members and friends. However, when the iPhone came out in June, although it was sorely lacking in capacity, I decided that I was going to try to make due with ONE device. I no longer wanted to carry around my 80GB iPod video AND a cellphone. So I decided that I would forego carrying every song and video I own and judiciously sync playlists of my favorite tracks and clips. It’s not easy and it’s even sometimes frustrating living in only 8GB of iPod storage when I’m used to 80GB’s. I’m usually down to only 500MB of free space on my iPhone at any given time. However, I’d rather do this than carry two devices. So my 80GB iPod lives on an iPod speaker in the recreation area of my home and my iPhone is on my belt whenever I leave the house.

 

The new iPods look great, but…

The new iPod nano, classic and touch look like some pretty nice upgrades. However, when I look at each one I just have no interest in them. Let’s start with the shuffle. The only real difference here is color. I already have a shuffle now (a couple if you count the first generation models) that I don’t use. Then that brings us to the nano. I could see maybe getting a new nano. I have a 4GB nano now that stays in the car 99% of the time connected to my iPod integration kit. I like the nano because it’s the only iPod that works with the Nike+ kit. I haven’t been running as much this year as I did last year and when I do, I just take it out the of the car and use it. Having a new nano that plays video would be a waste for this application. I certainly don’t need video in the car while it’s tucked away and I don’t need video while running either. Since I already have an 80GB iPod that holds my entire iTunes collection with plenty of room left over, the new higher capacity 160GB iPod classic has no appeal to me what so ever. Lastly there’s the iPod touch, which most of you know is basically the iPod from the iPhone and since I already have an iPhone that I love, there is nothing to be gained here either.

So Apple if you want some more "i" cash out of me, bring on the iPhone 2.0 with 16GB of storage (or more) and 3g support. When you bring out that device, I’d be first in line (well probably not, I hate lines!, but you know what I mean).

A new Creative Suite Podcast is born

The good folks who bring you Layers Magazine have launched a NEW video podcast called "Layers TV". Layers Magazine is dedicated to all learning all things Adobe. While Photoshop User TV is a great show, it was lacking in other Creative Suite content. So now you’ll have another great show hosted by Corey Barker and Rafael "RC" Concepcion. These guys will be convering all of the products in the Creative Suite.

You can check it out here on the web or here in iTunes.

iPhone early adopters get your $100 credit FAST

Today Apple released the details on getting your $100 Apple Store Credit if you bought AND activated an iPhone before August 22nd. I have to admit that I was expecting Apple to make it harder than this. I was expecting to download a PDF, fill it out, mail it in and wait 4-8 weeks for a snail mail certificate. Apple could teach the world how to do rebates! Go to the link above on your computer and you basically enter your iPhone phone number and serial number. You then get a SMS text message on your iPhone with your code. You input your code on the same page you were on above and a couple seconds later your rebate certificate is there in your browser (on your computer) for you to print!

Kudos Apple, the whole process took about 15 seconds and now I have two $100 store credits (for our two iPhones) in my hands!

Lightroom 1.2 & Camera RAW 4.2

Adobe has released two important updates today. One being Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.2 and the other being Camera RAW 4.2 (for Photoshop CS3, Photoshop Elements 4 and 5). Lightroom 1.2 offers an array of bug fixes, but also brings new camera support on board:

Canon EOS 40D, Fuji FinePix IS-1, Olympus EVOLT E-510, Panasonic DMC-FZ18 and more. Of course the Camera RAW update also supports these cameras too.

Download the updates here.

Adobe keynote at Photoshop World

Terry White & Lesa Snider-King introduce the Histograms

Terry White and Lesa Snider-King introducing the Histograms

 

I had a blast at Photoshop World – Vegas last week and while I still going through all the material and shots that I took, I thought I would share with you the Adobe keynote address by Adobe’s SVP Johnny L. The keynote was great and you’ll see Johnny L introduce the new Photoshop brand as well as some never before seen technology. However, you’ve got to check out the humorous intro that Scott Kelby did which shows us what Photoshop would be like on the iPhone.

See the video here.

Johnny L rolling out the New Photoshop Brand

Mount your AirPort Extreme N

I’ve learned that wireless routers work best when mounted higher. The original AirPort Base Stations came with acrylic mounts for mounting on walls and ceilings. However, the newest AirPort Extreme 802.11n doesn’t. This is due largely in part to the antenna array that is built in. The experts say that the new Extreme Base Station is best positioned into a horizontal flat orientation. Knowing this doesn’t change the fact that your range will increase drastically when positioned higher.

One of the base stations that I manage is located in a garage just outside the meeting room that MacGroup-Detroit meets in. Luckily the ceiling is open and I have access to the rafters. This meant that I could mount the AirPort up high for maximum coverage. However, the beams are only 2 inches wide and the AirPort is much wider. So I turned to the folks over at H-Squared who make the tvTray for the Apple TV. They enhanced their Air Mount product for the new AirPort Base Station. This mount is custom designed for the AirPort Extreme and therefore is a PERFECT FIT.  It comes with the base and the screws for mounting to a wall or ceiling.

I mounted it horizontally up high and like I suspected, this position provides coverage for the entire area. They even make an optional $15 USB backlight to add a little flare to your AirPort Base Station. However, since this one is mounted where no one will see it, the light would go unappreciated.

The bottom line is that if you need to mount your Apple gear there are no better mounts than those from H-Squared. The Air Mount is $37.99.

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