Archive for the ‘iPhone’ Category

iPhone 4 Accessories: Case and Protective Film

July 5th, 2010 1 comment

Because I’ve heard that the iPhone 4’s “super-tough” glass, now on both sides of the device, may be somewhat prone to shattering when dropped on hard surfaces, I figured it was time to invest in a case. I bought a case for the 3G a few years ago, but immediately discarded it–it was one of those silicon jobs, rubbery to the touch. I hate those–it makes the phone catch on the material in your pockets and makes it a chore to shove the phone in and drag it out. You either have to be super careful, or else taking out your phone will turn your pocket inside out and spill everything else in it. I’d rather risk going without than deal with something that makes just taking out my phone an ordeal. Also, they tend to pick up lint. Seriously, I don’t know how people deal with those things. Another dislike is the massive kind of case, the ones that look like they increase the bulk of the phone by double or better.Tunewear 01

I went in to Ikebukuro to see what I could find. I tried Labi first–despite the huge store, they had a paltry selection, and nothing really very good. I picked up what I figured would be a backup case, a “Rasta Banana” cover (image here) which is a compromise between soft silicon gel and harder plastic. I should have waited for Bic Camera, which had the same case but in more colors. I probably will wind up rarely using it, in any case (or maybe Sachi will want it when she gets her iPhone 4).

I forget where, but I recall someone mentioning that Bic has the best selection–and that’s the case, at least in Ikebukuro. They had every case that Labi had and more. Like Labi, however, they failed to have any samples out. That’s what I hate about these accessories–sellers rarely allow you to see what they look like on the device, making it next to impossible to judge well. But they did have a Tunewear “Carbon Look” case for about ¥2500, and though I couldn’t get at it, it looked like exactly the case I was looking for: slender, just a bit soft, but smooth enough on the outside that it won’t make it any harder to get the phone out of my pocket.

Better, it didn’t overwhelm: it covers the edges and enough of each side so that, if dropped, it will absorb what it will of the impact–but otherwise, it gets out of the way and doesn’t make it hard to press the buttons. The case grips the phone strongly, so there’s no worry about it falling out. Also, it’s form-fitting and thin, making any change in form hardly noticeable.

In fact, it even seems to make holding the phone better: the case is just soft enough to make the phone more comfortable in your hand, dulling the sharp edges as well. In fact, it helps me keep the phone straight: since the iPhone 4 has glass on both sides, it’s very hard to tell which side is the front of the phone just by feeling. Before I got the case, I kept pulling the phone out backwards, missing the power-on button which, by habit, I try to press without looking. While any case would probably resolve that problem, I still appreciate it.

In short, the Tunewear is just the right combination for me, and I highly recommend it. If you can find the brand sold near you and have criteria for cases similar to mine, pick one up.

I also got some screen-protection films. Although the films I tried for the iPad failed miserably, I have been using a film on my 3G for two years and it’s done a great job. Not being able to get the same film now, I knew that it would be a crap shoot buying a new one–without seeing a floor sample, it’s next to impossible to judge how the thing will look. I want one that will simply protect the screen and otherwise get out of the way. It should not be harder for your fingers to slide over than the original screen, nor should it pick up prints more. But what I will absolutely not abide is any film that degrades the image.

Knowing that I might get stuck with a loser, and not wanting to make an extra trip in to Ikebukuro, I decided to pick the two best-looking candidates. From Bic’s wide selection, those were the ASDEC screen-protection film (which claimed to be fingerprint-resistant), and the Buffalo “Super Smooth Touch” film, which promised a relatively frictionless surface. I tried the ASDEC first: it failed. It failed because it created that sparkly-grainy distortion I have seen a lot with matte films. I hated looking at it, so I just tore it off and set it aside. Then I tried the Buffalo product, and liked it well enough. It was easy enough to apply, and had only minimal distortion. As advertised, the surface is very dry and smooth, not rubbery so that it catches your finger; it’s even better than the iPhone’s screen in that respect. And it even resists fingerprints as well as the other film which advertised that out front, though the Buffalo film says nothing about it. It’s hard to notice any prints on it, and when you do (usually in just the right light when the screen is off), it’s a cinch to wipe clean. (I discovered later that the Tunewear case included a screen film; it would have been my third try had the Buffalo product not worked.)

(Not that you can see the protective film…)


As a side note, Bic also excelled in another way: the Ikebukuro mobile branch had rows and rows of iPad cases, with each case model and color having a sample dangling by it. Very nice. The problem: none seem very good. I couldn’t find any that would seem to work better than the case Apple makes. Still, kudos to Bic for making the effort.

Bic Ipad Cases

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iMovie for iPhone

July 4th, 2010 Comments off

Imovie Icn-2I just downloaded Apple’s $5 iMovie app. While I’m not going to do a full review right now, I thought I might make a few notes for the benefit of anyone thinking of downloading the app.

First off, don’t expect a full-featured movie editing program. You may have heard about this app’s themes, titles, transitions, background music, and all the rest, and thought, “Wow! That sounds like it’s almost like iMovie on the Mac.” Well, it’s not. Most reviews of the app focus on what you can do, but it’s perhaps more important to focus on what it can’t do. Not as a way of putting down the app, but instead as a way to not get your hopes up too high.

For what it is, it’s excellent: a way to take videos you shot on your iPhone and piece them together with a few nifty effects before you shoot it off to YouTube or email them to friends. Had I had this last year when we went to Europe, I no doubt would have done a mini-movie for the day and sent it off to family. One can imagine all kinds of cool ways to use this app.

However, one should not get too excited about its abilities to make full-featured movies; it is definitely not good for that.

Yes, there are themes–five of them. Probably none are exactly what you’d like. You don’t have the option to choose no theme–but if you avoid any titles or theme-specific transitions, the theme won’t even show up.

Yes, you can put titles–but only three different kinds, and probably not the kind you wanted. You can’t center titles, for example, nor can you change size, font, or color. You can only use one of three variants determined by the theme, mostly titles along the bottom with graphic splashes along the theme’s style. But nothing else, not even simple stuff–only pre-packaged glitz. For example, I wanted to put a nice, plain centered title over a close-up of a fabric texture. Nope.

Yes, you can add transitions–but only one of two: a cross-fade or the transition determined by the single theme used for a single movie. You can set the length, from 0.5 to 2.0 seconds. And you can’t add a transition, like a fade-out, to the end (a strange omission by Apple, it’s a no-brainer, really).

Yes, you can add music–but only one track; try to add another and it just replaces the previous one. There is no looping, so when the music is over, it’s over–this is not an app for long movies. And you can’t trim the song or make it start at a certain point. There is built-in music for each theme, but each only runs about a minute long.

Also, you can’t import video clips (unless there’s some special work-around I haven’t heard of yet); you’re limited to what you shoot and have available on the phone. Nor can you import movies made previously with iMovie as clips in a larger movie–which actually would be a simple way to get past many of the app’s limitations. [Edit: I seem to be mistaken on that–although it did not show up at first, eventually a video I made did appear in the import window. This will allow for mixing of themes and, I would suppose, multiple soundtracks.] Nor can you export projects from the iPhone into iMovie on the Mac, you can only export finished movies.

You get the idea: it’s great for a quick edit-and-send, but far too limited for any serious or considered project. But for what it is, it’s nice, easy to use, and pretty spiffy. Swipe back and forth along the timeline for easy review, tap-and-drag to extend or trim individual clips. Add still photos, and you can stretch them out to longer times and even add the Ken Burns Effect. Drag and drop items, flip through iPhone menus, etc.–it’s all pretty intuitive and easy to figure out. You will probably have to refer to the instructions to understand how to use it fully or at least not take five minutes to puzzle out how to do certain things.

One more note: iMovie seems primed for expansion. I can easily imagine Apple adding features, themes, transitions, and the like, especially as future iPhone models come out and have better processing power. But Apple also has a tendency to keep things simple. I don’t think iMovie for the iPhone will ever be too powerful.

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More Impressions of the iPhone 4: Cameras & Display

July 4th, 2010 2 comments

2Phones 05

I got to shoot the phone in daylight this morning, and had time to do a few more comparisons between the 3G and the new phone. Then Sachi and I went to Iruma and I tested it in taking movies and photos.

Even if I had not read about it the previous night, I would have quickly noticed a flaw with the iPhone 4’s camera: under certain indoor lighting conditions, the 4’s camera (in movies as well as stills) shows a strong yellow tint, very distracting. Hopefully, Apple can fix this with an OS update.

On the brighter side, I was relieved to find that I will not be nearly as limited in taking movies as I thought. The movies taken by the iPhone 4, despite being a high-def 1280 x 720 and 30 fps, only take up 80 MB per minute–less than I expected. That means you could take 12.5 minutes of video per GB, and if you have 10 GB free (which I currently have on the 16 GB device), you could shoot up to 2 hours of video on this thing without saving it to a computer. I was worried that the 16GB model might not have space enough to take more than five or ten minutes of video; I worried needlessly. Images, at the 5 MP resolution of 2592 x 1936, take up anywhere between 1 to 2.5 MB.

My observations, thoughts and impressions of the Camera capabilities of the iPhone 4 are below the fold. I’m putting it all there because the post is pretty long and has a lot of images. Read more…

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iPhone 4: Some Immediate Comparisons

July 3rd, 2010 2 comments

So, after getting the call from SoftBank this morning, I quickly finished my morning routine and went down to their local branch to pick up the phone. It takes a while; there’s a lot of paper signing and computer data entry and so forth. But at the end, I walked out with the new phone.

Your first impression is that it’s somewhat more like a slab than before. Not “slab” in a bad way, just descriptive of the basic shape and feel to it. It feels heavier, and while it is, it’s just by 4 grams, not enough to account for the apparent difference. The heavy feeling probably comes from the same weight being in a smaller package.

You get the feeling that it’s taller than previous models, but actually it’s a shade shorter–but it is slimmer, by 1/10th of an inch (or 3.5 mm), so it just seems taller. and you will notice the lack of a curved back, losing about 25% of the phone’s depth. It makes you much more aware of the hard edges, but also makes it feel slimmer.

Another immediate impression: the screen shows better blacks even when turned off. When inactive, the 3G’s screen is noticeably lighter than the black frame; not so with the iPhone 4. And the increased contrast shows just as much when the screen is turned on.


The screen’s resolution is all that people have been saying, but here’s an odd thing that I noticed immediately: you don’t see the difference so much when looking at the phone casually. Without the two side-by-side, you might sometimes forget that it’s higher resolution. But when you do look, the differences pop out significantly. The images on the screen are much richer, finer, and more detailed. Text is not at all pixellated. If you look closely at the 3G’s screen, you can notice the screen-door effect of the pixel grid, especially in light areas; the iPhone 4 looks more like a seamless image, as if printed on glassy paper in sharp relief. Whatever the technical aspects of human vision may be, I’m certainly never gonna be able to discern pixels on the 4’s screen.

The difference is quite visible on the Calendar icon. First, here’s an image I shot with a DSLR camera, showing the same icon on both phones, shot at the same distance and under the same conditions:


Not hard to see the difference, is it? Here’s a different view of the same thing–a screen shot of the icon from each camera, with the 3G’s icon artificially expanded to match the 4’s icon size:


Nor is it surprising: the 4’s screen is essentially 4 times as many pixels. This stands out when you lay a screen shot of the 3G’s whole screen on top of a screen shot from the iPhone 4; the image below is reduced, but you can click on it to see a full-sized version:


Having just come from the 3G, I love the camera. It may be less impressive coming from a 3GS, but I have been stuck for two years with a lousy 2 MP camera which can’t focus closer than 8 inches away and can’t take videos at all. To be able to tap to focus, to take sharp photos of things just a few inches from the camera, to be able to take videos in 720 (and the video is very sharp, excellent quality) and switch between front and back camera… it’s all light-years ahead of what I’m used to.

Of course, the processor is fast, faster than the 3G was even before I upgraded to iOS4. While the startup (after shut down) times may not seem much faster if you’re not paying attention, they certainly are different–my 3G takes a full minute and a half to start up, while the iPhone 4 took just 30 seconds. Google Maps is almost as fast as it is on the iPad (which is really fast). Most notably, there’s no lag anywhere any more. For example, on the 3G, there was always a long lag when starting to type in Japanese. Most often you would see it by typing the first letter and having the typed key-tab freeze on the screen for 10 or 15 seconds; you could type more and have it show up later, but it would always freeze at the start. Not a split-second of hesitation on the iPhone 4.

My device has none of the “major” problems or issues so many people are reporting. No yellow spots or streaks, and no reception loss. Really, I have tried everything I could think of, and I can’t get the reception to drop. I have watched the online videos where they show how you hold it and how the reception drops–I couldn’t make it happen. When bars did drop, it was normal variation that would happen whether I held it or not. I even tried moistening my palms and fingers a bit before gripping the frame in many places, waiting the requisite ten or more seconds for the bars to drop–nothing.

So, so far, so good. It’s hardly a life-changing upgrade, but it is very nifty, and nice relief to finally lose many of the frustrating problems the 3G has always had since day one.

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Late, But Not Excessively So

July 2nd, 2010 1 comment

Just got the call from SoftBank–eight days after the initial release, they finally got it in. Hopefully I’ll have enbough time to go in and get it this morning…

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iPhone 4 Seems to Be Coming Out Big in Japan

June 29th, 2010 3 comments

First, of course, there were the huge lines for the pre-order, and of course the computer systems having trouble keeping up with the load. Then SoftBank had to stop taking orders. Then the huge lines again the day the phone came out. All these were pretty big indications of a blow-out sale.

Yesterday, a smaller indication: I saw the first iPhone 4 in the hands of a user, on the Seibu-Ikebukuro line–where I still haven’t seen a single iPad yet. I’ve seen iPads on the subway and Yamanote lines, but the Seibu Ikebukuro seems to be a bit more conservative. Even despite large releases, it does take time before you start seeing new devices popping up randomly in public here and there. Still, it could just have been a coincidence.

Another small indicator which annoys me is that I still haven’t gotten my iPhone 4 yet–despite having pre-ordered one from SoftBank the second day of pre-ordering. Considering that the first “day” of pre-orders was just three hours long, and that I was first in line the second day, the phone must be selling out pretty thoroughly. It could be that supply is really short, or my branch is not getting hardly any supply, of course.

But the site that tracks sales now has figures that include the iPhone 4, and the iPhone takes up three of the top 5 slots: the iPhone 4 32 GB is #1, the 3GS 16GB is #4, and the 16GB iPhone 4 is at #5. What is most remarkable about this is the fact that the numbers do not track pre-orders, but rather actual delivered products (the iPhone 4 was not on the lists at all last week), and the week covered only includes 4 days of iPhone 4 sales. I expect that next week, the iPhone will show even better–and considering backlog, will probably maintain that for a while.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2010, iPhone Tags:

Cheap iPad Dock

June 27th, 2010 1 comment

I was in Akihabara with a school club group checking out computer parts stores when I came across an interesting find: an iPad dock/stand. Apple sells this for ¥2,980 ($29), but this one–a cheap knock-off made in China–cost just ¥1,280, or about thirteen bucks. I figured, what the heck. I’d like one but I don’t want to spend thirty bucks on what is essentially a hunk of molded plastic with a small iPod cable embedded in it. You can buy iPod cables for a buck at the 100 yen shops, so you know the device itself must cost chump change to make; even $13 probably includes a healthy profit margin.

So I figured I’d get one, hoping that it wasn’t going to simply refuse to function when I got home. I chose a white one because the black ones have this horrendous “MADE IN CHINA” sticker on the front, god knows why. So I paid my money, took it home, and it works. Not with just any cable, mind you–some of the 100 yen cables don’t work so well in terms of connecting to the computer, even directly–but one of my cheapo cables, in addition to the original Apple cable, worked fine. There’s even an audio-out port on the back in case you want to add speakers.




So this will work nicely as a charging stand/picture frame holder. Sometimes you can find some really nice stuff in the small shops in Akihabara, for good prices. You just have to look around to see if you’re really getting the best price. In this case, the shop I found it at was the only one selling this–I found one other store selling an iPad stand, but they were charging $30 for it. This one will do nicely. Even my iPhone 3G will dock on it, though just barely. (Makes a good stand for taking timed photos, though.) Wonder how he iPhone 4 will do. I dunno–I’m still waiting on it, damn SoftBank.


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iPhone 4 (Non) Issues

June 25th, 2010 6 comments

Two major issues seemed to come up about the iPhone 4, and then became just as quickly resolved. First, many users were noticing screen discoloration–uh oh, the iMac 27“ fiasco all over again? No, it turns out the iPhones were simply too fresh–the coloration was a bonding agent in the glass that shows while the agent is not fully dry; the coloration disappears within a few days.

Then there were reports of signal loss when holding the iPhone in a certain way. And while this was found to be true enough, it turns out that it’s simply the way many cell phones are, not just the iPhone, and can be solved either by using a bumper case or not holding the iPhone in a particular way.

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June 23rd, 2010 Comments off

SoftBank called. They won’t have the iPhone ready for me on the release day–nor would they promise it any time soon. The waiting begins….

A contrast from my prior experience–I got an iPhone 3G the very first day they came out. Of course, the iPhone is way more popular here now.

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It’s Never Gonna Sell…

June 23rd, 2010 3 comments

Apple just sold 3 million iPads in 80 days. It is estimated that, even on the lowest-priced model, Apple gets a bit over $200 in profit. If that’s the case, Apple just made over $600 million in less than three months on one product.

Not too shabby.

In the next few days, the iPhone 4 is coming out, and Apple makes maybe $300 a pop for each one of those. And Apple seems to estimate that for the first quarter, it will move an average of 3 million of those per month. Reviews are now out, and all rave, calling the iPhone 4 the best smartphone on the market (MossbergPogueUSATodayEngadget).

Hey, here’s a blast from the past:

“The iPhone is nothing more than a luxury bauble that will appeal to a few gadget freaks. In terms of its impact on the industry, the iPhone is less relevant. […] Apple will sell a few to its fans, but the iPhone won’t make a long-term mark on the industry.”

–Matthew Lynn, Bloomberg, Jan 13, 2007

He wasn’t the only one. Ah, it brings back the memories from the days when people were predicting Apple’s imminent demise every other week, or so it seemed. Here’s a prognostication from May 2003–this after the iPod was a success and the Mac market share was on the rise:

“Is Apple doomed to fail? If I had to bet on it I would say they absolutely are. No one at Apple has the guts to correct the mistakes of Steve Jobs. Apple is a toy for Steve, and a way to massage his ego. Right now no PC company makes hardware that looks as good as Macs, and no OS looks as good as OS X. That can, and will, change very soon. The PC world has gotten the message, and they’ll soon drive the final nail into the Apple coffin.”

–John Manzione, MacNet, May 08, 2003

Gee whiz, kinda sounds like what they’re saying about iPads now, doesn’t it? It’s cool, but just wait, all those other manufacturers are coming out with much better stuff real soon!

And from just a few days later:

“Many close observers of the legendary Silicon Valley company believe shareholders shouldn’t be selling the stock. They should be buying it, they say, in order to press the 48-year-old Jobs to split Apple into two separate companies built around its hardware and software lines of businesses, or get new management that will. ‘Given what their valuation currently is, I think this is something they will eventually have to do,’ argues Rob Enderle, a research fellow at Giga, a research unit of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Forrester Research Inc. ‘They have to dig themselves out of the going-out-of-business cycle they are currently in.’”

–Joshua Jaffe ,, May 12, 2003

Needless to say, Apple didn’t split into pieces.

On May 9, 2003, Apple’s stock price was at $9, up from about $7 a week before. But let’s say you bought it at $9 at that time, and invested $10,000. Taking into account the stock split in 2005, you’d have over $600,000 in Apple stock right now.

Me, I waited way too long. I started thinking about it back in ’03, but chickened out, and have seen what I got only triple in value. Coulda shoulda woulda.

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Upgrading the 3G to iOS4

June 22nd, 2010 3 comments

Ios4Scr3GApple released iOS4 this monring. Even though I have less than a week before my iPhone 4 comes in, I decided, what the heck, and updated my iPhone 3G this morning.

My first piece of advice to others who want to do this: don’t expect too much. Two of the most-anticipated features, multitasking and wallpapers, don’t work with the 3G. Among the smaller features, screen rotation lock and bluetooth keyboard syncing won’t work either. This leaves folders and Mail’s consolidated inbox as the top features you’ll enjoy, with a few other small features thrown in that you’ll stumble over in time, like playlist creation in iTunes, or digital zoom for your camera (not worth it).

My second piece of advice: don’t panic. That is, don’t panic when iTunes tells you you have to “restore” the phone; iOS4 on the 3G has to do that–just back up as best you can. And don’t panic when it takes an hour, or more (some people say it took 3 hours)–that’s also normal. Most of all, don’t panic when the 3G seems to freeze or go glacial after your update–it does that, but after a few minutes, it settles down and starts zooming along as quickly as ever.

At least it did with mine. But I had a bit of worry there at first. Right after the restore, the start/unlock screen sat there, frozen, then the phone crashed. Restart: the unlock screen comes up, and the shimmer animation for the unlock slider is maybe 1 frame per 2 seconds, and it doesn’t work. Restart again, and it works, but its incredibly slow–but at least it works, and I can jerkily go from slide to slide. Two minutes later, it has slowly smoothed out and everything works fine. So just give it time.

A warning: after restoring and upgrading to iOS4, before you sync your iPhone for the first time, check the settings–I forgot to do so. All of your music and videos and other stuff are kept through the update and restore, but iTunes then forgets these settings, erasing most of your data upon first sync. It took me an extra hour or so just to put the stuff back on.

I have to say, the folders feature alone is worth it. I hate scrolling across nine screens. I made the first screen mostly my main apps with one folder for important stuff I don’t use every day; all of my games on the second page, the 4 most-played at top and the other more than 30 in categorized folders; the third page with good but not-often-used apps not in folders, and then the fourth page nothing but folders. And then the crap after that. I am finding this makes it a hell of a lot easier to organize things the way you want to, and access a wide variety of apps with ease.

The unified inbox and mail threads seem nice, but I think that’s something I’ll get used to over time. There are other things–the photo app now recognizes faces and places, but I don’t use those usually. When emailing a photo, you get to choose the size now. Stuff like that.

Oh yeah, and it looks like the international store issue is still open–I am able to access the U.S. store from my iPhone just like I am from my iPad, both of which were not possible before May.

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SoftBank Freezes Pre-orders for iPhone 4

June 19th, 2010 Comments off

So says The Japan Times. Apparently they hit a limit or something. Softbank will not say when one can expect your pre-ordered iPhone (if you got your reservation in before they stopped taking them) will get to you–they just say that they’ll call you when it’s ready. In the U.S., they were putting deliver dates of mid-July on orders taken most recently. I got my order in first thing Wednesday morning, after SoftBank had taken just 3 hours of orders the previous night.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2010, iPhone Tags:

Getting One

June 16th, 2010 3 comments

Well, ordering started in Tokyo today. It was a pain–they were on sale for three hours only, as sign-ups started at 5pm and ended at 8pm. As it happened, I had a school activity that started at 6pm and ended after 7, right smack in that window. I tried to stop by a Shinjuku SoftBank store on the way home, but they were packed–the shop was filled up and people were waiting out on the street, despite moderate rainfall. I took express trains back to my local station but could not get to the shop before closing time–still, they let me in and gave me a slip of paper to sign, and told me to come back the next morning at 10 am.

Looks like there were lines all over Tokyo. The iPhone 4 will not only bring in lots of new customers, but tons of old ones like me–especially since SoftBank is essentially giving away the 16 GB phone for free. People with 3G contracts will have no reason not to get an upgrade, unless they need to leave SoftBank for some reason.


The Shinjuku person who told me the day before that there would be a 300 yen surcharge for keeping the same number appeared to be mistaken–the Hibarigaoka shop sales person had never heard of that, and I am hearing reports from others that they did not have the surcharge applied. Strange.

Reports are from all over the world that iPhone 4 pre-ordering is huge. Lines everywhere, servers crashing from the overload. SoftBank computers went down as well yesterday. Looks like Apple has a hit with this phone.

Addenda: Signed up for one. No 300-yen surcharge, but they did tell me that my remaining 3 months paying off my iPhone 3G would be without the 1,830-yen discount, which will end up costing me an extra 1,530 yen a month for three months–about $50 all told. Meh. No biggie.

The lines, continue, by the way–I stopped by two SoftBank stores tonight to see if I could ask whether my 3G could still be used as a second phone on the same account (no, it can’t–I found out later by phone), but both offices were filled with people waiting to sign up for the iPhone 4.

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SoftBank & iPhone 4

June 14th, 2010 37 comments

Iphone4SideI went to SoftBank to check out whether or not I should get an iPhone 4, and surprisingly, it looks like I will. My two-year contract & obligation to pay off the iPhone 3G has 4 months left to it, and I figured that I would have to wait until that was out before I could think of getting the next one, and maybe have to pay extra for it as I was not a new customer. However, it would appear that SoftBank is making it easier for existing customers to upgrade than I thought. If I understood what the clerk was saying, I can get an iPhone 4 now, and simply start paying for it subsequent to the previous contract running out.

In fact, the new iPhone will be even cheaper; two years ago, the iPhone 3G (the first iPhone to be released in Japan) was going for ¥960 ($10.50) per month for 24 months, for a total of ¥23,040 ($250) for the low-end 8GB model. This time, the low end iPhone 4 (16GB) is free with the 2-year contract if you get a new number with it.

Sounds great, but there are caveats. As I expected, existing customers do get hit, though not very much: if you continue to use the same phone number as before (as most existing customers will no doubt want), you have to pay ¥300 ($3.25) a month for the 16 GB iPhone, for a grand total of ¥7200 ($78.50) over two years. (As if it costs them that much to not change your phone number!) Still, less than eighty bucks for a new iPhone–not bad at all. A pretty good deal in fact–I did not expect SoftBank to run with such a low price immediately upon release.

Another caveat: SoftBank is offering two plans for the iPhone 4, the “Basic” and “Value” plans. For both plans, you get the whole package, but the Value plan gives you only the flat rate of ¥4410 ($48) per month for your data plan (the price seems a bit inflated mostly due to the current strong yen). In the Basic plan, you have a sliding scale where the data plan could cost as low as ¥1029 ($11.20) per month, and you max out at ¥4410 if you use too much data. In exchange, you have to add ¥480 a month, or about $125 over two years, to the price of the iPhone. The Basic plan sounds good–if you try, you can cut down your data usage to the minimum and save as much as $900 over two years, right?

Wrong. The Basic plan sounds cheaper, but SoftBank conveniently hides the relevant data. They do tell you that if you use no more than 12,250 packets, you just pay the eleven bucks a month for data. Cool! 12,250 is a lot! Um, actually not. You won’t find it on the same page which describes this plan, but SoftBank defines a “packet” as 128 bytes. 12,250 packets is a measly 1.6 MB–less than a single digital camera photo at full size. You reach the maximum rate of ¥4410 by using 52,500 packets, or 6.72 MB–something you will certainly do if you do normal stuff like check email and use the Maps app while out and about. Especially if you browse web pages–six megabytes can be used up pretty quick. Just as an example, in May, according to my SoftBank bill, I used over 750,000 packets. No way in hell I could go below the 52,000 limit, save for turning off data use under 3G except in emergencies.

In short, don’t fall for the “cheaper” Basic plan: you’ll only wind up paying an extra $125 over two years.

So, going for the “Value” plan makes sense, and for Japan, the whole schmeer is pretty reasonable–especially the iPhone 4 for just eighty bucks plus what you’d pay normally anyway. At first, I thought that SoftBank would sock it to people they already had on contract, making them pay full price or pay a penalty for early adoption, but it seems not. Again, unless my Japanese led me to misunderstand the clerk; I will be checking up tomorrow, seeing what is or isn’t possible. The SoftBank stores in Omote-Sando and Shibuya have English-speaking staff, and the iPhone 4 reservations begin at 5pm. One drawback: they’ll only have the model in black if you get it right away. That’s OK with me, the new phone looks goofy in white.

If I do get the new phone, then my 3G will be off the phone grid. In other words: Jailbreak time!

Categories: Focus on Japan 2010, iPhone Tags:

iPad Fever in Japan

June 10th, 2010 2 comments

I am consistently surprised by the level of interest and often sheer enthusiasm for the iPad in Japan. The iPhone received some good attention after it was released, but with the iPad, things are almost at the crazy level. I have people coming up to me all the time asking to see it, and showing an even more positive reaction to it than people did with the iPhone when it was first released here. Just yesterday, a teacher asked me to come in and demo it for his class, which all eagerly gathered around and made a lot of noise every time something new was done. In short, they loved it. Studentshiba-1I am getting similar reactions on trains, with people making comments to each other, often stealing glances and sometimes asking questions. I thought the interest would subside soon after the release of the iPad in Japan, but if anything, it has only gotten stronger.

On another Apple mobile device front, my students are getting the iPhone in droves. Initially, they wanted it but stayed away since SoftBank’s plans didn’t allow for cheap calling of their friends, who mostly had non-SoftBank contracts. But then SoftBank initiated a special student plan, and now the students are buying them in droves. Sadly, many bought in with a recently discount plan–not knowing that iPhone 4 was just a few weeks away. I told a few of my students who just got iPhones about this until I noted I was just disappointing them, then I shut up.

Still, SoftBank and Apple mobile products are just getting stronger and stronger in Japan, building on both brand recognition and new devices and features.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2010, iPad, iPhone Tags:


June 8th, 2010 1 comment

So, what’s going on at WWDC?

iBooks is already being updated, sometime later this month. You can add notes, bookmark pages (instead of just text), and iBooks will read PDFs. Whether it will be able to recognize text in readable PDFs is another question, as is the note-taking feature. If it does, then this will be a pretty big thing for iBooks in terms of students using the platform. Note-taking during reading is something students do a lot. How those notes can be read back will also matter–will you be able to combine all your notes and print them out on a single sheet, no matter how they’re spread out in the text?


The big news, of course, was the new iPhone–the “iPhone 4” (couldn’t be the “4G” because the “G” refers to cell technology, not the generation of cell phone). Huge feature–as reported recently–4 times the resolution. 326 ppi, a stunning 960 x 640 display, almost more information than the eye can accept at the distance you would hold a device like that at comfortably, so Apple claims–ergo their name “retinal display.” When they bring this to the iPad, it’ll be unbelievable. Imagine a 2048 x 1536 display in your hands!

The new phone, again as leaked previously, has the front-facing camera for video chat (WiFi for now, 3G later), LED flash on the back, and the back camera is now 5 MP, with better light-gathering than before. 720p / 30fps video recording. The phone is about 25% thinner than the 3GS. There’s an extra mic for better sound pickup and noise cancellation. A new CPU. Better battery performance. Most of these things were known or guessed at.

What was not known: the “gyroscope,” an added motion sensing system, which makes the phone even more sensitive to movement, more able to respond to how you hold it and move it around.

iMovie for the iPhone: edit movies on the phone. Ken Burns effect for photos, scene transitions, titles, music tracks, themes, geolocation–and then upload the movie to the web, without going home or moving anything to a computer. Jobs mentioned that it’s pretty hard to remember what cell phones were like before the iPhone, and this app pretty effectively demonstrates that difference. Four years ago, I could barely figure out how to call up a photo taken with my cell phone, and the resolution was practically postage-stamp size. The features were few and horrifically complex to learn. Now, you’re editing movies on your cell phone, with a screen resolution better than some desktop monitors had just a few years ago.

One of the down sides of the leaks we’ve seen is that there’s little new to find out about. iMovie & iBooks for iPhone, the gyroscope, and a few other small and insignificant features were all that were new. Which is too bad, because there’s a ton of fantastic, even stunning new developments with the new iPhone. The high-resolution display, the new cameras, the new CPU, the new design, the new OS with multitasking, folders, and so on. Contrary to past keynotes, this was the most new features and goodies presented with the least surprises or new information that I can recall.

One other thing that this makes me think of–there’s so much new stuff on this phone, what’s left to add to the next-gen iPhone a year from now? Seriously. It’ll be hard to make it much slimmer; doubtful they’ll up the screen resolution; no more cameras to add, or video functionality; no more wireless stuff to add that I can foresee. The iPhone 4 didn’t up the flash memory, nor did it add colors, so that could change, but those are relatively mundane “upgrades.” So, what could be added next year that could compare with this year? The iPhone 4 will be pretty damned hard to beat, even for Apple.

One note, by the way: the iPad does not seem to be included in the devices that can get the iOS4 upgrade. It will come to the iPad, it will just come a bit later–exactly when is anyone’s guess.

An interesting turn of events at the keynote: so many people were livecasting and uploading photos, they overloaded the WiFi in the building a Jobs had to ask everybody to shut off their WiFi so he could do the demos. Here’s an idea, Steve: bring back the live video webcast. It’s shown online several days later, but you can get around the livecasting metablogs or whatever and speak directly to people around the world that way.

Categories: iPhone Tags:

Using the iPhone App Store as a Campaign Tool

May 25th, 2010 Comments off

During the 2008 election, Obama used an iPhone app to help spread his message, raise money, and generally help win him the election, as part of a much broader Internet campaign strategy. Since then, many politicians and parties have published their own apps on the App Store, left- and right-wing alike.

Ari David, the Republican challenger to Henry Waxman in California’s 30th District (Malibu, Beverly Hills, & Santa Monica), is trying to win himself some free publicity by violating Apple’s App Store policy and then crying over how he’s being denied “free speech.”

Apple’s policy on this is:

3.3.12 Applications must not contain any obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, etc.), or other content or materials that in Apple’s reasonable judgment may be found objectionable by iPhone or iPod touch users.

One may presume that Apple would rather avoid being held culpable in libel suits, or perhaps, in the same vein as keeping porn off its mobile devices, just wants as nice and calm a playground as they can manage. There is nothing at all keeping David or anyone else from publishing positive statements about their own records, but when you start smearing an opponent, Apple steps in and tells you to take it elsewhere.

Waxman claims that Apple singled out specific statements as being defamatory, and lists them. Included in the listing are allegations that Waxman “would have brought us $7 a gallon gas and … would make electricity rates ‘necessarily sky rocket.’” … “would severely hurt seniors” … “jeopardized the US and Israel” … and “TRIED TO STRANGLE family farms with insane Soviet-Style regulation.”

Yeah, that’s not defamatory.

Now, we can debate whether Apple can and/or should have such a policy, but one thing here is pretty clear: David is just using this as political fuel. Sure, maybe he was just clueless and figured that a vehement attack app would get approved. But I think it is much more likely that the entire app idea itself is a ploy to get free publicity, and make David out to be that favorite of favorites for right-wingers: the victim.

Here’s how I see it happening. At a session among his staff to see how they can get some good, free press, someone brings up the App Store policy. Political cartoonist Mark Fiore had his political cartoon app initially denied under the same policy, but after a good deal of controversy, Apple reversed itself and let it go through. Apple has a history of relenting when put under pressure. So somebody on David’s strategy team gets the idea of making an iPhone app intentionally designed to trigger the policy–enough so that it gets stopped, but not enough to look completely outrageous. When Apple inevitably rejects the app, David’s campaign goes all over the media shouting about how Apple is censoring their speech and denying them their First Amendment rights.

Right there, they have a winner: they (1) get free publicity, (2) get to play the victim, and (3) get their attacks printed free. There is zero chance that no one will listen to a story like that–at the very least, Fox will cover it, and likely other networks will follow. It’s sure to get on the local news. David’s campaign can’t lose.

They add another dimension, though: they insinuate that Apple is secretly a liberal bastion which allows Democrats to bash Republicans, but not the other way around. They try to build up an image of Apple as being populated with liberal elitists working for Democrats:

… Apple is now making an in-kind contribution to Henry Waxman by denying his competitor a modern tool for political communication. They are stifling my right to free political speech and they are carrying water for the Obama administration … Apple pulled all of their advertising from the Fox News channel … Clearly people who work at Apple are likely to be the kind of creative people who may tend to vote Democrat and hold liberal views, but this goes far beyond that. This experience with Apple clearly shows that there is a political agenda going on within the culture of the company, and business decisions are subject to Apple’s political views. … it would be interesting to see what iPhone apps Apple has approved for Democrats in which negative statements about Republicans are made, and what standard Apple has held those statements to before approval.

Never mind that Apple would reject any app with attacks like this integrated into it, Democratic or Republican. Never mind that Apple pulled its ads from Fox because Glenn Beck told people not to go to church if they heard certain words spoken there–as did dozens of other advertisers. (I guess that Geico, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, AT&T, Bank of America, General Mills, Mercedes Benz, Subaru, Toyota, Volkswagon, UPS, and Radio Shack are also in on the conspiracy.) No, forget that the claims are specious and self-serving.

This goes hand-in-hand with playing the victim card–you get double the juice if you can show that you are being crushed under the heel of liberals, with Apple being transmogrified into a Silicon Valley version of the Liberal Media™.

Beyond the hopes that this story catches fire, David’s campaign undoubtedly hopes to get Apple to eventually succumb to pressure. The MSM usually caves in almost immediately when charged with being liberal, and since Apple is known to not act on such rejections until a lot of pressure is applied, the David campaign is probably hoping for the story to be out there long enough to be milked–and then the icing on the cake would be for Apple to cave and allow the app. David is trying to compound that win for himself by asserting that all of his statements are “factual” and therefore not defamatory, presumably so that if Apple succumbs to pressure and allows his app, it will appear like Apple is admitting that his statements are factual.

As for David’s final swipe that Apple probably lets Dems bash GOPers while denying right-wingers the same freedom, just do a search for “GOP,” “liberal”, “conservative,” etc. on the iPhone App Store and you’ll see that this is a baseless charge. There are a lot more right-wing apps than left-wing ones, and a lot of the right-wing ones tend to get pretty nasty–though they do not defame specific individuals within the integrated app data, the act which runs afoul of Apple’s policy.

Interestingly, try to search for “Republican” and you get a hundred apps (the limit for a search), most of them being pro-right and/or anti-left; search for “Democratic” and you get 14 apps, only a few left-wing; a search for “Democrat” scores more–88 apps–but not many are left-wing apps.

I found a few Democratic congressional campaign apps, but they were completely inoffensive. Mike Oliverio’s (D-WV) app is just a poster showing a debt clock and a link to his site. Alan Mollohan’s (also D-WV) app includes a calendar of events and a bio, but is just as inoffensive. Felton Newell has a much more sophisticated app helping him run for CA-33, a Democratic safe seat, and that app also is positive only.

Republican Chris Cox, trying out for New York’s 1st District, is a Republican; his app allows you to read a short bio, donate to his campaign, and has a little game where you catch money “leaking out of the White House”–not really hardball, but it is a negative swipe at Obama rather than a positive statement about himself. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL) has an app with news and pages for volunteering and contributing (though she recently announced that she’s retiring). And Bob Latta (R-OH) has an app with mostly just links and contacts–but also a News section, in which he–guess what–attacks Democrats, accusing them of various evil-sounding misdeeds.

Those were the first three Democratic and Republican politicians I found with iPhone apps–all Dems were only positive, two of the Republicans were critical of Democrats. So much for Apple as a liberal wing of the Democratic party stifling Republicans while allow Democrats to savage right-wingers without restraint. (In fact, Al Ramirez, a Republican running for Senate in California, has his own app–and he set up residency in Ari David’s district to run for office.)

But here’s the real tell concerning Ari David: you can get political attacks into your iPhone app. Just either make the attacks general (against a party, for example), or include a News section which you can later fill with feeds of political attacks. Either that, or build a web app for the iPhone, which is not subject to Apple’s approval.

In short, David’s insinuations about Apple are patently false, right-wingers seem to be more numerous and negative in their political apps, and David could have easily have made an app which allowed him to smear Democrats and probably even Waxman–but he was either stupid, or more likely, geared his app with the intention of getting it rejected.

Again, we can debate whether Apple should have this policy at all–but whatever the outcome of that argument, Ari David is probably just another whining, conniving smear artist hoping to get his fifteen minutes.

The Best Angle

April 30th, 2010 5 comments

Brian-HoganThe finder of the prototype iPhone has been identified as one Brian Hogan of Redwood City, and he’s taking about the best tack he can on the story: that he did not “sell” the iPhone to Gizmodo, but instead accepted money for giving Gizmodo “exclusive access to review the phone.” As to whether that’ll save his bacon is the question; he still pocketed five grand for something that wasn’t his instead of handing it over to the police as the law requires. And even though he claims that he did not sell the iPhone but instead sold the rights to an exclusive review, such a review was still not something that was his right to sell.

At the end of the day, he held on to something that wasn’t his, actively shopped it around to tech publishers, and then sold it for cash. It’s kind of hard to put a very good spin on that. His attorney is pushing the storyline that Gizmodo assured him that there was “nothing wrong in sharing the phone with the tech press,” but that shouldn’t really afford him too much cover. It falls under the “ignorance of the law” rule, which we have to follow or everyone could say that they were assured there was nothing wrong with committing a crime.

I mean, think of it–what if the president of the United States wanted to violate the Constitution, and all he had to do to clear himself was to get a lawyer to go on record as assuring him that it was OK?

Oh, wait.

Categories: iPhone, Law Tags:

iPhone in Japan: Top Seller or Not?

April 29th, 2010 3 comments

You may have seen reports that the iPhone now commands 72% of the smartphone market in Japan, and if you read this blog as well, then you may be wondering why I haven’t commented on that yet. Here’s the reason why: the smartphone market in Japan isn’t all that big. I knew that the iPhone’s penetration in Japan wasn’t even close to 72% just from what I see on the street. Sure, I see an encouraging number of them–one can spot several during any subway ride nowadays–but absolutely not a majority. So far from one, in fact, that it was immediately apparent that the sub-market Apple got 72% of must not be all that big. And here’s a blog post showing that to be true: Apple’s actual share of the cell phone market is 4.9%. That sounds just about right–1 out of 20 seems to match what I see on the trains and on the streets these days.

Now, if you go from being incredibly impressed at 72% to being greatly unimpressed by 4.9%, remember that the iPhone was supposed to fail horribly in Japan, whose people were supposed to hate it, and that 4.9% in less than two years is a rather impressive showing, especially in such a tough and competitive market, and when your product is only sold by the least popular of the top three service providers.

It will be interesting to follow the iPhone over time, and see how the iPad–even more of a cypher for Japan before the fact–does here as well.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2010, iPhone Tags:

Unpublished Dilbert

April 27th, 2010 Comments off

Scott Adams says that he wants his strip to not be too far out of sync with what he’s writing about, but could not resist writing two strips which he could not publish in time to meet that rule. So he published the drafts exclusively in his blog. Click on the first frame to see the two strips:

Screen Shot 2010-04-27 At 10.28.11 Am

You can see where it’s going, right?

Categories: Entertainment, iPhone Tags: