iPhone is missing a task list

I have had my iPhone for 12 hours now. I’m getting used to the keyboard enough to attempt to blog from it. I was impressed by the registration process. There’s no going back to my old phone. Apple saw to that by disabling the sim.

My big complaint right now is the the complete lack of a task list. There really should be a todo list to sync with my iCal. I use my task list heavily in conjunction with OmniFocus to track my todo list.

Another missing widget is an address book. All my contacts are there but how do I get at them directly. Let’s say someone hands me their business card. How do I add this new contact? How can I edit notes on a contact? Hopefully I am missing something. I have found I can get to the contacts inside of Mail but that is not natural for me now that I am used to a stand-alone address book program.

iPhone: No SIM? No games?

I’m confused. Is it a GSM phone or isn’t it. What happens to my old SIM? Is my old SIM still live on my phone number? What if I ever get to travel overseas?

It also appears that the iPhone does not support Games. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before new games are designed for the iPhone using Web 2.0. It would require a virtual scroll wheel to make existing games work on the I phone. Apple is silent on anything regarding games on the iPhone.

CVS Buys Email Addresses

If you’re like me you probably have a half dozen little tags hanging from your keyring so you can get discounts at places like Kroger’s and Border’s Books. These kind of frequent shopper programs are nothing new. They have certainly become more prevalent lately as companies realize how easy it is to track their customers and how valuable that information could be. This too is not thing new. I worked on a web site project in 1997 for a consumer product review magazine. The entire business plan of this magazine’s web site was to allow customer’s to search and compare products and harvest the type of information that people wanted to find. The company died in 2001 when the internet bubble burst before that model had a chance to mature. A decade later it is mainstream.

In the beginning was the punch card. Every time you visit, you get your card punched. When your card is full you get a free whatever. Those same guys started to ask you to put your name and address on the back of the card when you converted this card into a prize. This was to help prevent abuse and it was to collect basic information on who their customers were. Today we have little cards and keyfobs that can be optically scanned to identify the number on the card in an instant.

These little keyfobs come in two forms. The first kind and generally the older model is the keyfob that tracked you anonymously. You probably got the card with very little or no information. You carry the card because when you look at the price label on the shelf there are two prices: one for people with cards and a much higher price for everyone else. The lower price is the price you probably consider normal or its the sale that got you to come into the store in the first place. Every time you use this card the company knows general and anonymous information that can be used to create a model of a shopper like you. This is the critical distinction. They do not care about you per se. They only care that people in a particular zip code who buy winkies also buy Diet Coke. And they know that these same people may show at a few specific stores. When you take this model and statistically compare it to other models you can then start to mine this information and then you can sell this information to your suppliers and advertisers depending on your business model. The customer is happy because they are getting a perceive discount and the company is happy because they are generating another revenue stream.

Some of these same companies may have asked you to fill out an application but that application was not validated or in some cases even required. Some stores may give you a new card anytime you ask or the cashier may scan their own person card just to give you the discount. As a rule, I never give real identifying information if it is not required. I will take their card and their discount. I’m not so paranoid that I pay with cash but I trust that the CISP rules prevent them from tracking me by my credit card.

In the other type of card you have to give your personal information up first and then you will get coupons based on your past purchases. This is preferred by the customer because there is only one price. You have to decide if the discount or benefit is worth the loss of privacy. Depending on the agreement that you sign that company can do pretty much anything they want with the information they collect. Since they are not extending you credit they are not governed by the consumer laws related to credit cards. The benefits can add up. A couple examples of this are Staples and Best Buy. You have to sign up for their points card and then some time later you get a discount on a future purchase. The company now not only has a really good model of your spending habits but they also have your personal information. This is usually name and address but it could include gender, age, and household income. Congratulations you have just been targeted.

So now the companies who started out in the first model are trying to convert to the second model. They may abolish their program and come out with a new program. This happened with my BlockBuster “Gold” card. Or they may give you an incentive to link your card with your personal information. Just today I bought something at CVS. I did not have my card with me and the cashier gladly took a brand new on right off the stack and used it to get my 25% discount on my case of soda. When the receipt printed out I found the most remarkable message. It said that if I wrote down my email address right now and hand it back to the cashier, I would get a $4 coupon in my email. Wow $4 for my email address. That means that it must be work a whole lot more than $4 for CVS to be able to link my anonymous card to an email address that they can use to target me as a consumer. I did not take CVS up on the offer primarily because it wad not my card to begin with. Had I wanted to take advantage, I would have created a throwaway email address just for this purpose just to see what they did with the address. This is not technically spam since I have an existing relationship with this company.

I’m concerned about how easy it is for marketing companies to start collating all this mined information. At least one company is tracking you at the payment method level (ipromise.com) creating a model that spans fast food, groceries, electronics and more. Be very careful giving out your personal information. It may be worth setting up a PO Box just for the junk mail. You should definitely maintain at least one throwaway email address that you can give out and keep separate from your real email address.

Be careful giving out email addresses to even organizations that should be reputable. I recently gave an email address to my child’s teacher for communicating about grades and the like. A few months later I received an email from a company on this email address. It turns out that an employee of this company knew one of the teachers who gladly gave this company the entire student email list. The company was so inept that they sent a 2 MB email to several hundred people with every email address in the TO line. I was easily able to see who of my neighbors was also affected by this breach of trust. I contacted them, the school and the company and tried to set it all right. I luckily could just throw way the email address. For other, their personal email address is now out in the wild. If just one of those recipients was running a system infected with malware (read Windows), then all those email addresses were compromised. Sure enough within a couple of weeks, I began receiving spam to that email address. That email address had only been created for one purpose and had only been given to one teacher. Here we have a clear chain of evidence.

In summary, your personal information is very valuable. Make sure you are getting something of value if you are going to give up information that can readily identify you. This may all be moot soon. What’s next? Bio metrics? Don’t get me started. Who has a larger finger print database? Law enforcement or DIsney World? Disney World now requires a finger print to get into the park.

Best Hotel Feature: a TV I Can Actually Use

I recently travelled to a conference and was impressed by the TV in the hotel room. It was a 32″ HD flat panel display right in the room. It looked really good and I was able to watch an episode of Lost in HD. One problem was that I could not plug in my device into it. So when I wanted to watch a movie or listen to music, I pulled out my laptop (15″ display) or iPod (2″ display) and left the HD TV set idle in the corner. I’m not going to pay $10 to watch a movie that I can see on DVD via NetFlix for a lot less. Why don’t these hotel operators allow you to plug into the TV and actually use it? Somebody has.

I checked into the Marriott this week in San Francisco and was immediately impressed by the TV in the room. The TV itself was a 32″ HD TV. That’s not the special part. What was special was the breakout box set on the desk. On the front of it were RCA, VGA, HDMI, S-Video, and audio jacks right on the front page. The device has auto-sensing capability that immediately enables that port as soon as you plug the device in. I was able to plug in my iPod and in less than a minute, I was watching a movie on the full screen — very cool. Later, I tuned the TV to a specific channel (NASA TV) and plugged in just the audio jacks from my iPod. The device left the video and used my audio. I had my iPod remote and A/V cables so I was all set.

It’s not perfect. Here are a couple of small complaints.

1) Although an ethernet cable was included in the hall closet, there was no VGA cable. I do not know anyone who carries a VGA cable around. I carry a DVI to VGA adaptor but it was gender-challenged and could not be plugged into the box.

2) The set up of the desk made using the TV as a computer screen less than practical. If the desk had been on the other side of the room then one could use it as a computer screen. As it is set up it would work as a presentation screen for your Keynote presentations (, or PowerPoint if you are still using that).

3) The audio quality left something to be desired. When I was using the line out on my iPod connected through my RCA cables, the audio level was very low as though the breakout box was expecting amplified output. When I switched to the amplified output port on the iPod I was able to crank up the volume but even on max on the TV and iPod, it was hard to hear over the air conditioning and 10th-Floor street noise.

In a related experience I recently took the family and iPod to a resort in Disney world. While the hotel room left much to be desire, the room was clean and the TV was just a regular old 27″ TV. Since it was a normal TV, I immediately spun the TV around, plugged in my iPod and had Cars playing for the kids.

Travelers should come to expect this kind of breakout box and TV in the room. This is the way the in-room entertainment industry is going rather than opening up the TV so you can use it like Disney did. To be prepared for that, travelers should bring along the appropriate cables. The first cable on the list is the RCA adaptor for your iPod, DVD player or camera. If you are lucky these might be the same cable. For me, I have one cable for my iPod and one for my camcorder. These two cables looked the same but were not interchangeable. If you want to do any kind of PC presentation, you will need HDMI, VGA, or SVIDEO cables to work with your laptop. Each interface has it’s advantages but in general that is the order you should prefer them. My experience with HDMI on my TV at home was less than stellar. It did not give me access to the full screen.

The last tip it to look at the remote control. Some feature may actually be available to you. When I played a letterbox movie from my iPod, I had to adjust the screen size to get it to stretch vertically correctly.

Silver Surfer has a Nice Shine

I went to see Fantastic Four: The Rise of Silver Surfer at a midnight showing at the Metreon in downtown San Francisco. I went into this movie with very low expectations. I was pleasantly surprised by the experience and recommend this movie as a good summer “popcorn movie”. I was in the audience with some enthusiastic fans so that probably tipped the balance.

I did not see the 2005 movie in the theater. I waited for it to come out on DVD. I may have seen it for the first time on a 2 inch iPod screen. It too surprised me. That gave me a little hope that I might enjoy this sequel.

In preparation, I visited Wikipedia to find out who Silver Surfer was. I have not read the comic and I am not really that familiar with the Fantastic Four, let along their nemesis. I first heard of the Silver Surfer from a Marvel Comic Screen Saver that I beta tested for Berkeley Systems in the early ’90s. This was also my introduction to the X-Men. I’m glad I read up on Silver Surfer or I may not have understood one key point on the story. The movie plot line pretty much follows the origin story as told in Wikipedia,

One complaint that I have with the movie has to do with the Von Doom character’s return. It is not really explained. You see someone working on him and then he’s suddenly back. They could have done more with that character. There is a sub-plot about them working together. It starts off in the right direction and then goes awry when Doom goes against his own logic.

The comedy was good. The characters are getting more used to their powers. You got to see Mr. Fantastic stretch a lot. Invisible Girl’s powers are the most improved. At one point she describes an ability that we fortunately do not get to see. The other two characters are used well and their relationships are developing. The comedy is kept PG for the most part without being too juvenile. Invisible Girl once again gets some screen time without her clothes in an embarrassing moment. The city sent them a bill for damages after a thwarted robbery.

The special effects were top notch. The bar has been raised so high nowadays that this caliber of effects have become expected. There were only a couple of scenes that caught my eye as being original. The planet killer animation reminded me of the now 25 year old animation sequence from Star Trek II of the Genesis planet. What was state of the art then barely keeps ones interest today.

The Silver Surfer character was voiced by Lawerence Fishburne. He gives a strong silent performance. I would have like the character to interact more with our stars so we could learn more about him. We learn that he’s a he and that he has a she back home somewhere that he is keeping safe. Ultimately its a comic book movie so I’ll get over it.

Finally the movie played a little bit like a travel log. The main characters jumped from London to China to New York to Siberia almost instantly. Fortunately they now have a flying convertible to get them from place to place. Oh yeah, its got a Hemi. Look the the Silver Surfer to get a movie of his own at a theater near you. Perhaps well get some character development to give us more insight into the character.

GTD with OmniFocus

I’m a recent convert to the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology. I have heard a lot about it from listening to Leo Laporte podcasts. I did some investigation. I bought David Allen’s book. I have tried using the methodology using just iCal and am now trying iGTD and iCal. I recently learned about OmniFocus. This product seems to do things better than iGTD — for me anyway. While at WWDC, I heard about a small event to show off the product. I made my way over to the Westin. There I found Merlin Mann of 43folders fame, Ken Case of OmniGroup, and Ethan Schoonover of Kinkless GTD. The product is still beta but it looks promising. I got myself added to the beta list so I can try it out.

The event was very informal. It started with the usual introductions. Many people in the audience were already using the beta version and were active on the mailing list. Others, like me were familiar with GTD but had not used OmniFocus. A few people were just interested in general organization help.

Merlin is a very interesting character. He is the evangelist for this project. He also brings balance to the project with Ethan Schoonoveras playing the part of the other half of the brain. It was fun. Thanks Apple for providing the room and the food.

Get an iPhone in the Hands of Your Developers

Apple has stated that they will control the iPhone platform and not open it up to developers. They have also inferred that they will support Dashboard Widgets on the iPhone. Most Dashboad Widgets are just HTML and JavaScript. You can use DashCode to create them. You can do a lot with these tools and there are over 2,000 publicly available Widgets. Like Vista Gadgets and Yahoo! Widgets, users can create simple apps focused on very simple common tasks. More experienced Widget programmers can reach beyond WebKit and run real code. In order to do this you need an SDK.

* Apple should make an SDK for the iPhone available and encourage users to develop new apps for the iPhone. There are a handful of apps I use all the time on my Palm that I would want to replace with equivalent widgets on my new iPhone.

* Apple should give all WWDC attendees an iPhone tomorrow. I know I am dreaming but what a great investment it would be if Apple wants to have some apps there a soon as the iPhone launches. This is not without precedent. In 2003 Apple gave all attendees of WWDC an iSight. This spawned all kinds of video-related development like Delicious Library. I’m sure Apple could work out the logistics of the AT&T contract. The key is to get it into the hands of the developers soon. This could be accomplished via the Apple Developer Connection store to allow developers to order an iPhone right away.

* Apple should release an iPhone simulator. This is not as good as the real thing but it has worked for Palm and WAP developers to let them test their apps quickly.

If Apple does allow third party widgets on the iPhone it will surely be in a walled garden to protect the stability of the system. Apple will highly curtail what information is exposed to those apps and what those apps are allowed to update. Apple can much better handle the bad press describing them as having a draconian and controlling hold on the platform than they could handle a report of a malicious or poorly-designed Widget destroying data or running up a monster cell phone bill. It easy to understand Apple’s protectionism but opening the platform up is the only way to insure longevity and take the platform in directions that Steve Jobs has not thought of or shudders to think of.

WWDC 2007 Predictions

We are down to 12 hours until the Apple World-Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) 2007 begins and Steve Jobs gives the Keynote address. I wanted to commit to blog my thoughts about what might be coming tomorrow. This is all speculation. I have no inside information or magic crystal ball. I have not been really good about following the other blog sites this week to see what other people are saying.

Let me start by listing a few things we will not see tomorrow. I do not expect to see new laptops, at least not traditional laptops. The MacBook and MacBook Pro have both been updated recently, albeit minor updates. I think we are due for a new design for the MacBook Pro because the design has changed very little since the release of the titanium PowerBooks in 2001. Although WWDC would be a good place to release new laptops, they were just updated last week with new processor, bus, and screens.

I do not think we will see new iMacs. The iMac is targeted at the consumer user. If we see new iMacs it will probably be at a MacWorld. I think we will see the iMacs get thinner and take advantage of the new LED technology in the near future but certainly not this week.

What about the Mac Mini? The Mac Mini was last updated the same time as the iMac and is for a similar audience. I did hear some rumblings about the possibility of the Mini being discontinued. That would only make sense if there were something new to replace it at the same price point. The Mini is the perfect kiosk machine. The Mac Pro’s are too big and you can’t always use an iMac. Apple needs to have a product in the Mini space. If Apple backed off on the use of a single 2.5″ hard drive they could make the Mini less expensive and with a bigger hard drive at the same time. The form factor would have to change. I think that is highly unlikely. Apple has three products with the same footprint (Airport Extreme, AppleTV, and Mac Mini). Apple clearly likes the form factor. I do not see the motivation in changing this product. I would like to see Apple get back under $500. That was the original price point and the product has crept up since they moved to the Intel Processor.

Like the laptops, the Mac Pro was recently upgraded to the new 8-way design. I do not see any changed in this product line. The form-factor is getting a bit dated. Like the MacBook Pro, they look just like their PPC predecessors.

Also on the list of things we are not going to see would probably be any updates to the AppleTV and AirPort Extreme. Both of these product have recently been updated.

Now I can start speculating about what would like to see. I wish there were a product between the Mac Pro and the Mini — something that could accommodate two 3.5″ SATA hard drives. With innovations like TimeMachine coming in the next version of the OS, it would be great to have a Pro-sumer machine that could internally accommodate more than one drive. The Mac Pro is just too big – at least for my needs. When you look at the price points, there is room between the Mini and the Pro for a small mini tower. I like the iMacs. I also think there is some cost benefit to keeping the same monitor and simply upgrading the computer. I still have my old blue and white 17″ monitor setting in a corner of my office. I use it occasion when I need to test something with a VGA monitor. More often than not its a PC. I still have the blue and white Yosemite G3 that I bought in 1999 but it has been running headless for many years now. So there you go. I want a product for about $500 that has two hard drives, one optical drive, the usual ports, and can plug into an external monitor. It would lack card slots. Two monitors would be nice but that may be a differentiator of the Mac Pro.

Monitors have not been updated in a while. I could see Apple releasing some new thinner monitors. Here’s the evidence. At last year’s WWDC, there was much talk about resolution independence. I really did not see much discussion about what that would mean to the consumer. Then last we we got some new laptops with the option for a higher resolution screen. If you run your current apps on this new screen, it will be rendered smaller. If the apps and the OS were updated to be resolution independent, you could scale your screen to any resolution and the picture would still look great. I have not seen one of these new screens up close but I have to imagine that the image quality would suffer if you did not run the screen at its native resolution like any LCD screen.

Argument number two for some updated monitors is the recent statement from Apple responding to Greenpeace. In that response, Apple disclosed that they were working on new LED monitors. The first of those LED monitors arrived in the updated 15″ MacBook Pros.

The next argument is the lack of iSight. This does not make sense to me. The iSight was a good product. How do you do video iChat on a Mac Pro or Mac Mini without an iSight. So a new monitor with a built-in camera would be Apple-like but the iSight is still a better solution.

The Apple TV is also another compelling reason. Other competing monitors have some sort of TV or input capability. It would be nice to be able to plug in an HDMI device into my monitor and switch between the two inputs or even do a picture-in-picture thing.

The final argument that I have is multi-touch. If the monitor had a touch screen as standard equipment it would fundamentally change the way user interact with their computers. It may have not be the primary input method but it could augment the experience. This would have to come in conjunction with some sort of new surface for the screens. Today’s screens suffer horribly if someone touches them. For this I look at the iPhone. This is the same problem but on a different scale.

In summary, I would not be surprised by an announcement of a new screen to complement upcoming enhancements in the OS.

That’s about all the speculation I have for hardware, at least traditional desktops and laptops. What else is there? I think there is room for a product between the iPhone and the iMac. This would be a device that runs Mac OS X or a version of OS X. It would be primarily wireless but not a phone. It’s primary interface would be multi-touch. I do not see this device having a hard drive or optical drive. Flash memory is nearly ready for such an implementation. I see this device as being a combination notepad, graphics tablet, e-book reader, and PIM. It could leverage the same widgets that run on the iPhone and run some light-weight apps for simple editing tasks. If I can edit a Word or Excel document on my Palm, I should be able to do the same thing on this device. Inkwell may actually get to be used. Remember Inkwell?

So why haven’t we heard about such a device? Apple is good at keeping secrets. I think the reasons that we heard about the iPhone so far in advance was that it needed FCC approval. Since Apple had to disclose it to the FCC they might as well let the buzz build up for 6 months. This same logic could be applied to the AppleTV which was also uncharacteristically pre-announced. Such a new device would fundamentally be a computer with a standard 802.11 interface and not require special FCC approval. Apple could keep it a secret.

So that’s my speculation about new hardware. The model is not unlike the original plans for the Newton. Apple had planned to release several devices all running the Newton OS. If you take the phone out of the iPhone, you still have a killer PIM. It’s too expensive to just use as an iPod but if you can edit documents on it then you can take it into the meeting room with you as a tool. This new device could be priced in the $999 price point. Hopefully it would let you use a bluetooth mouse and keyboard as a replacement for the Mac Mini.

Do I think we will see a new iPod this week? I think a new iPod coming out this week would really confuse the public. This month is all about the iPhone. I’m sure there will be an iPod out that can do everything that iPhone can do without the phone capability but with a hard drive so I can store a few movies on the disk. The iPhone lacks a hard drive and with only 8 GB would not hold my library that I like to carry around. This would be a good Christmas product or a Macworld 2008 release.

Since this is a developer conference I need to get back to the heart of the matter and that is Leopard. Apple announced leopard a year ago and sent everyone home with a developer preview. I immediately noticed that the Finder had not been touched in this preview and there was virtually no discussion about ay changes to the Finder. Core Animation will be pervasive in areas like TimeMachine. It does not make sense for there not to be Core Animation. However, the Finder remains untouched in recent builds of Leopard. Then Apple announces that a feature-complete version of Leopard is coming. Translation: Apple will let us see what they have been working on to replace the Finder.

When you mix the Finder with Core Animation and multi-touch, you get some really cool possibilities. Think Minority Report but on a much smaller scale. I really do not see people waiving their arms in the air like Tom Cruise. You can image all the Repetitive Street complaints workers would have. This also goes hand-in-hand with the idea of a tablet device. Users could zoom in on documents to see a preview right in the Finder. Items could be stacked together in piles using natural physics and gravity.

The Finder itself is a representation of the hierarchical nature of the underlying file system. Documents are stored in folders. Folders are stored in other folders or on Volumes (hard drives). Looking back to the Newton again for inspiration I am reminded that the Newton did not have a hierarchical file system. The Newton uses something called a soup to store data. When an application wanted to save some data it created a new soup and save the data into that soup. The soup remembered all the meta data about your data. All the user had to worry about was wether or not it was being saved to the internal memory or a removable memory card. This sounds a lot like ZFS. Apple has already gone a long way in this direction. When you want to save a document, you save it in the Documents folder. This has been around since Mac OS 7. Users don’t care where things are store so long as they can find them and they get backed up. Sun recently spilled the beans on ZFS so it seems like a sure thing.

I’m sure there’s at lease one more wiz-bang thing that we’ll see tomorrow that I have not thought of yet but there seems to be a common thread in my predictions anyway. I think Apple will be attacking our expectations as to how we interact with a computer. All the pieces are in place for a tablet form factor that could actually be a viable product. Previous incarnations failed because they did not address the nature of the form factor. Having multi-touch, resolution independent graphics, ZFS, and a new Core Animation finder could all come together to make a tablet work.

We’ll see in 12 hours.