Friday, February 27, 2009 - CBS News To Go, & CNET!

The "news on demand" landscape on the iPhone is changing daily. The latest entrant is, an application that streams video and audio to your iPhone, think of as a refined version of Ustream exclusively for CBS content. The application provides access to a large segment of CBS programming, including the CBS network, the CW, Showtime, CBS Sports mobile, ET, CBS radio, The Insider, CNET and CBS News.
For this blog post I will zero in on CBS News and CNET content. First off, the UI is easily browsable with the ability to create your own feed. This is easily accomplished by tagging the content you are interested in, for instance CNET Apple Byte, CBS News Headlines Now & Letterman's top 10, once tagged the application will refresh the content under "My Feed", giving one button access to the content that interests you. Navigation is intuitive, making use of a back button and application wide search.
Stepping back, CBS News content is broken down into the following subcategories: Early Show, Headlines Now, Katie Goes Mobile and Politics on Mobile, most of the clips are 1 to 3 minutes in length. The clips are sorted with the newest content on top, scroll to browse.
It is good to see CBS leveraging the CNET acquisition, CNET programming is front and center with the following categories: Apple Byte, CES, CNET Live, CNET Top 5, Car Tech, Daily Debrief, Download First Look, First Look, Holiday, Insider Secrets, Loaded, Mailbag, Planet CNET, Prizefight, Product Spotlight, Quick Tips and The Buzz Report. I must say, is easier to navigate then the CNET website is to access their broad array of content.
Content is plentiful, so how well does the application work? Initial testing, via wifi, steaming is great with no stuttering or skipping, buffering is almost non existent and the picture looks good on the iPhone screen. I plan to test today via 3G. Initially the application is fairly stable, with one crash during ~2 hours of heavy usage.
Conclusion, I look forward to exploring this application over time specifically focusing on the timeliness of the news. My initial impression is positive, having quick access to CNET content is a plus.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Rocketron - Hands on Part 2

Two more days of using Rocketron...
Content: Rocketron's news content is updated continuously, and unlike the NYTimes application, there is no long extended wait for the content to update, somehow it seems like Rocketron is updating in the background - I like this magic! There is a refresh button in the upper right corner of the UI, it is used to update the content while you are perusing news articles. One nice touch I did not notice during the first day of use is that each article is time stamped and displays how long ago it was added (days, hours, minutes), making it easy to determine freshness of the news. Although interestingly it does not appear that the articles are sorted and displayed with the newest content always at the top of the page, it looks like there is an algorithm placing the popular/important articles as the headliners. Thus, you may find an article with an age date of 4 hours ago, followed by an article that is less than 10 minutes old. I guess if I had it my way, I would rather have the articles sorted strictly by post time, with the freshest at top, this consistency would make it more difficult to overlook/miss an article.

Sound quality/Listenability: First off, the text to speech is very good, with some inflection added, pausing at sentence breaks and decent reading of numbers. This technology has really improved over the years. Don't get me wrong, it is still apparent that this is computer generated audio, but it is nowhere near as monotonous to listen to as TTS was just a few years ago.
In my last post I mentioned that the audio seemed fuzzy/lispy via earphones, it is interesting, it seems like after the first 30-60 seconds of listening the "lisp" goes away? Not sure if it is acclimation or somehow the audio improves? Either way, it is not a show stopper.

General Use: Beware! If you are using Rocketron to read the news traditionally, be aware, that each time you launch a new article a short audio advertisement will play through the external speaker of your iPhone if you do not have headphones attached. This could be disruptive depending on your environment! It is easily remedied by turning the volume down on your iPhone.
I do not have feedback on the "customization" feature, I added a couple of terms to "news I want" and "news I don't want", but it is difficult to tell how well the filters are working, I guess time will tell. The stability seems to be good for a 1.0 release, I did have one application crash when launching an article, upon relaunch of Rocketron everything seemed OK.
Since you need to keep the iPhone from going to sleep while listening to Rocketron news, you will see a drain on your battery, this impact can be lessened by dimming the screen brightness or if using Rocketron while driving, getting yourself an iPod power adapter for the car.
A unique and useful feature of Rocketron, is the ability to record your feedback and send it back to the Asyncast from within the application with the touch of a button, the feedback process is well implemented on the About page of the application.
I have not yet had a chance to trial Rocketron on my wife's first generation iPhone via the Edge network, I hope to do that soon. Overall, I plan to keep Rocketron on my iPhone and move it to my news screen with the USAT, AP and NYT news applications. Rocketron will be my "go to" news provider when I want news on demand while driving!


Monday, February 23, 2009

Using Rocketron - Hands On

A couple of hours of using the Rocketron iPhone application, hear are a few findings:
How it works:  The Rocketron iPhone application requires a persistent network connection to stream the text to speech (TTS) audio, thus the TTS conversion is processing on Rocketron's servers and streaming to the iPhone for playback.  Per the Rocketron FAQ, the Rocketron application requires a 3G or Wifi data connection, I can vouch that the streaming audio works fine with 3G (10-20 sec initial load time) and Wifi (no perceivable load time) - I plan to test with an edge iPhone tomorrow.
Audio quality:  On the way home from work I played Rocketron audio through my car stereo, the audio quality was fine for spoken word.. AM type quality with no drop outs, the only complaint I had was that the 5-10 second commercials that play between articles are noticeably louder than the TTS audio - I hope the folks at Rocketron address this, the ads themselves are not that annoying.
Once home, I listened via a standard set of Apple earbuds, the audio was fuzzy with the esses lisping, I plan to do more testing - as it was tonight, it was close to unlistenable for more than an article or two at a time.
Play Mode: Gives you quick easy access to the audio articles, the text of the article is not displayed... this is the "driving & jogging" mode.  You choose a category and touch the big play button, you can skip to the next article just as easily by touching the equally big "next article" button.  
I used "Play mode" during my test drive home from work all was fine until I had to stop at the super market, thus, I shut down Rocketron, unfortunately I found out that the application/server did not queue to the article where I had left off, play mode re-started at the top article again, forcing me to have to manually skip forward through the articles I had already listened to - not a huge deal, but Apple has really spoiled us with audio books on the iPod.  Since you are logged onto the server every time you launch Rocketron it seems reasonable that a future enhancement will be to queue up at the article you left off at - sounds like a great 2.0 enhancement!
Content:  Reuters, News corp and the UPI appear to be the main sources of articles for Rocktron.  Articles are added throughout the day at a leisurely pace, at this point it does not look like you will be using Rocketron for up to the minute breaking news stories.  So far no complaints with the content, although it would be great to have this technology available for the NYTimes Op-Ed articles!
Customize:  You can also "customize" your news feeds by feeding "News I Want" terms and "News I don't want" terms into your settings.  An example I am testing, I placed "baseball" into the "News I don't want" setting, in theory articles about baseball should be dropped from my feed.  This is something I plan to test over time and report back the results.

I have not moved this App to my "News screen" yet or even decided if it will find a permanent home on the iPhone, but after a couple of hours of using it.. I am liking it, and given the price, I recommend giving it a try... Back to testing!

Rocketron - Listen to the News on You iPhone!

For those of you who have been following my iPhone rants over the past few weeks... you know that I am looking for Apple to add a text to speech (TTS) engine to the Touch OS 3.0. Yes, I want my iPhone to read to me when it is inconvenient for me to read from the screen.

I may be getting my wish piecemeal! A new news gathering application called Rocketron 1.0 (free) is now available on the App Store (the name is unfortunate, sounds more like a gaming application!), with Rocketron you can listen to and/or read read your daily news!

Initially, the application looks promising, the developer touts the following on their website:
  • Get the latest headlines for World, US National, Business, Politics, Entertainment, Sports, and Technology.
  • Hear any article in spoken form, just press Play.
  • Play Mode is like an iPod loaded with news! Skip and repeat individual stories, and change news categories faster than switching albums.
  • Customize your news by specifying “News I Want” and “News I Don't Want.”

My daily routine includes browsing news from the NYTimes, USA Today and AP Mobile News applications, at first glance, it appears that Rocketron has solid news content, at least on par with USAT. The interface is logical, select a category, (World, Sports, Tech, Business, etc) then select an article, after a brief advertisement the text article appears, to have the article read to you, touch the "Play article" button, wait 10-15 seconds and the article is read to you - the reading is on par with OS X's Alex TTS reader. In other words, listening to a 10,000 word thesis is probably beyond the scope of this application, but listening to a typical news article is tolerable. Rocketron also has a cool "Play Mode" I suspect that this feature will be great for use while driving. In the 5-6 articles I have listened to so far, I did find that you should go into the iPhone settings and set "Auto-Lock" to never, otherwise Rocketron will stop reading to you when the screen blanks.

I am looking forward to using this application over the next few days.. and sharing my findings, for now the price is right! The content looks solid... and the TTS is tolerable... initially it looks like a step in the right direction!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

iPhone as Geologger? Tidbits Uncovers a mystery?

Our friends over at have uncovered behind the scenes coding in iPhoto '09 that leads one to think that Apple has some GPS tricks up their sleeve for the iPhone. I had an earlier post with regards to using the iPhone, Trails and Maperture Pro to geotag your photos. It looks like Apple might be toying with the idea of leveraging the iPhone and iPhoto to tag your photos from your personal camera. Interesting stuff.. Thanks Adam and crew!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Update: Dataviz Tardy with Documents To Go for iPhone!

As mentioned in a couple of posts below, I have been anxiously awaiting Documents To Go for the iPhone. This was supposed to be the week.. at MWC '09, but, our friends over at iPhone J.D. found a reference to DTG on an Italian website, it looks like we will be waiting awhile longer! Maybe Apple will release iWork for the iPhone in the mean time! We can hope!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

MWC '09 - My 2009 (Touch OS 3.0) Wishlist!

Mobile World Congress is running from Feb 16 thru Feb 19 in Barcelona Spain. Apple does not plan to have an official presence at the world's largest mobile communications trade show, but there are sure to be announcements that will either directly or indirectly impact the iPhone user/market. For instance, Dataviz is rumored to be set to announce the availability of Documents To Go for the iPhone. Documents To Go is essentially Office for handheld platforms. I used it extensively on the Palm OS and have been anxiously awaiting its arrival on the iPhone (or for Apple to release iWork for the iPhone). Besides a usable office type application (Word, Excel, PowerPoint compatibility, editing and syncing), what else would is needed to boost productivity with the iPhone in 2009?

My wish list for 2009, peripherals and Touch OS 3.0:

  • Copy/Cut & Paste. Several applications have included this functionality within the application. The iPhone Spreadsheet "Plus" has copy and paste and it is a pleasure to use.. Apple we need Copy & Paste at the OS level across applications.

  • HomeScreen/Application Management. Ever try getting from the homescreen to screen six, seven or eight quickly? No a lot of fun. I am not sure what the answer here is, maybe nested icons that open a new screen directly from the main homescreen. Hopefully Apple has some UI magic up its sleeve to provide the iPhone power users with a better experience.

  • Text to Speech at the OS level. I mentioned this in a previous post, since then Amazon has announced the Kindle 2 with text to speech. The idea of opening an article in Instapaper, Safari, AP Mobilenews or having newsfeeds/twitter posts read with the touch of a button is very appealing, perfect for the car or gym. Hopefully the Amazon Kindle 2 will push Apple to a degree.

  • User Selectable background processing. This is one rumor that is making the rounds with regards to Touch OS 3.0. The idea is that you select one or two additional applications that are allowed to run in the background, similar to Apple's, the iPod application or the Nike+ application on the Touch G2. I hope this rumor has some substance behind it! I would use it to set Trails to geotrack my location when shooting photos, and not have to worry about the phone state.

  • External Peripherals - Blue tooth or via the dock connector. Specifically an external portable keyboard, either wireless or connected to the dock connector! I have no problem with the onscreen keyboard for emails, texting or twittering. But the idea of editing an Excel or Word document in Documents To Go with half of the screen real estate occupied with a onscreen keyboard is not appealing. Palm had a fold able portable keyboard that connected with their Tungsten series of PDAs in the early 00s... I wish Apple would follow suit! Soon... Increased screen real estate for editing and true touch typing! Leave your laptop at home.
  • System Settings Profiles. The ability to create & save profiles with specific system settings, for instance: dim screen brighness, shut down wifi and shut down the cell radio all with one selection. The current state, a user must go into Settings and set each item separately, and then reset to the prior state.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Geotagging, Creating Location Aware Digital Images!

How to leverage your iPhone to geotag (add GPS location data to digital images taken with your point & shoot or dSLR [note: the iPhone 3G automatically geotags images taken with the iPhone]) your digital photos and save yourself $100.

  • Install a GPS datalogger application on your iPhone 3G, I can recommend using "Trails" ($2.99). The data logger is used to create a GPS track of your movement, placing the data into a GPX file.

  • Make sure to sync your camera's clock to the date & time on your iPhone.

  • Launch the datalogger on your iPhone, the iPhone will have to remain in "awake" mode to track your movements, I suggest shutting down wifi, 3G and dimming the screen brightness to save battery life if you are planning to shoot for several hours.

  • If you are using "Trails" touch the "+" to create a new track, place your iPhone in your pocket and...

  • Start shooting digital images as you normally would, you can pause and re-start datalogging at anytime. Keep in mind, as long as Trails is logging your location to a track and you are simultaneously taking photos, the GPS data can then be synched up to your images.

  • When you are done shooting, halt your GPS tracking in Trails and email the resulting track file (GPX) to yourself.

  • The last step is to sync the GPX file with your digital images, resulting in location aware digital images. There are a few applications out there, HoudahGEO ($30) is very popular, I use Maperture Pro beta (currently $0) as a plugin for Apple Aperture. If you are an Aperture user, I recommend using Maperture Pro as it fits in nicely with Aperture workflow, you import your images (RAW or jpeg) as you normally would, then you select the images that you want to geotag. Then launch the Mapeture Pro plugin and drop the GPX file onto the Maperture Pro interface... and presto your images are updated with location information. No need for a separate $100 GPS data logger.

  • In conclusion: 3 easy steps... 1. TRACK (iPhone 3G with Trails) -> 2. SHOOT images(your camera) -> 3. Sync GPS data to Images (HoudahGEO or Maperture Pro).

What can you do with you location aware digital images? With Aperture or iPhoto you can display your images on a google map and sort/organize by location. Additionally, there are a number of photo sharing web sites that support displaying geotagged images on a map such as Picasa Web Albums, Smugmug, Flickr and Panoramio.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Serendipity! The Spice of Life!?

In a round about way I found It goes something like this: I switched from Twitterific to Tweetie, then installed Instapaper on my iPhone to maximize the Tweetie feature set, fell in love with Instapaper and purchased Instapaper Pro. While reviewing the Instapaper blog I saw mention of the "Give Me Something To Read" website. This website is now an icon on my "news and information" homescreen and I visit this website daily for unique reading.

Instapaper and/or Instapaper Pro are must have applications if you are a reader of web articles, for an overview of Instapaper functionality... see the excellent review. Briefly, Instapaper Pro is my "go to" application for reading any web article longer than a couple of sentences. Tweetie has built in functionality for sending a web article to Instapaper, NetNewsWire has Instapaper compatability coming soon and with a simple addition of the "Read Later" bookmark in mobile Safari you are seconds away from loading article upon article into Instapaper for review at your leisure. (Note, the $9.99 pro version is worth it for the "tilt scroll", switchable black background [great for bedtime reading] and marking your place in the article if you have to exit Instapaper mid-read)

The "Give Me Something To Read" website leverages the back end of Instapaper, collecting article selections from among the most frequently bookmarked articles... this is kind of like Digg without all the childish gaming! There are traditionally 5 articles added per day, and I usually find at least 2 or 3 articles that are of interest. Each article has a link to the original article, a brief 2-3 sentence teaser and the "Read Later" button, if the article is of interest just touch the "Read Later" button and send it to Instapaper for reading at your leisure.

I really enjoy the mix of topics, with recent titles such as: "Technology is Heroin", "How to Save Your Newspaper", "Obama's Vietnam" and "Eminem: The fall and rise of a superstar" to name just a few. From sources ranging from the Boston Globe to the UK Independent to, you name it! As you can see the topics cover just about every gamut from tech to politics to religion to light fare! If you have a curious hunger for serendipity... Give Me Something to Read is a website worth checking out.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


On Monday 2/9 Veronica Belmont posted on Twitter asking her followers to tweet the 3 iPhone/Touch applications that they could not live without. There are currently over 5oo replies, the results are interesting. See for yourself, go to use the search link at the bottom of the page and then search "#3apps".
Veronica posed the question, such that a majority of the replies do not include games, you get a sense of the productivity/social/communication applications that iPhone users are using. In my opinion,cutting through the junk apps the clutter the "top tens" on the App store. I think the results are probably skewed with regards to twitter applications, since the survey was conducted exclusively with twitter users. Other than that, To Do applications are big: Things, Remember The Milk (RTM) & Omnifocus all have a presence; Facebook is on a lot of lists, again many people see a real value with Evernote!
I found it worthwhile to browse the replies.. looking for Apps I may have overlooked, you may too!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Update: iStayFit is Improved with Updates

In early January I suggested using iStayFit as a tool to track your workouts and motivate you during the New Year resolution hoopla. Since that time there have been several significant updates that provide an even better user experience.

IStayfit is now at version 2.4 and has added the following enhancements:
  • Workouts and exercises are now fully customizable, with exercises you can create your own data entry scroll wheels to collect whatever data (numeric or text) you feel necessary for the given exercise (go to to view the video). As an example, if you ride a stationary bike you can setup a scroll wheel that collects time, miles, average speed, and percieved exertion level (light medium, hard, crazy!).
  • You can now add exercises to a workout in real time - ultimately allowing you to modify your workout on the fly!
  • The ability to email your logs and import into Numbers or Excel for further analysis is now available. This email export function allows you to selectively choose via date range the workouts to export.
  • The developers have also added a rest period stopwatch that you can customize to your preferred length of time for each individual exercise and if you so choose you can have the timer beep when it is time to start the next set.
  • You can now track your weight in iStayfit and view a graph from within the application (note: the developers promise additional graphing in future releases).
  • Additional sets can be added to an exercise on the fly by double tapping the "next set" arrow, thus if your exercise is setup for 3 sets and you decide to do an extra fourth set - recording that set is now possible.
  • iStayfit tracks your workout time and workout progress via a pie chart (for example: 6 of 11 exercises are complete) displayed on the set entry page.
  • Bottom line, this application is all about recording your workout/exercise session in real time. With each release iStayFit becomes more customizable to your workout needs, true some of the new features are bloat.. such as weight tracking and graphing. But overall, in my opinion this application is many times better than carrying around a notebook at the gym, you always have the results from your previous workout at your finger tips! You can always push your self to top your previous best!

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED... after 2 solid months of use!

1.5 Million Books on your iPhone for FREE!

Big news, Google has created a mobile interface for Google books. Go to with your mobile web browser to see for yourself. On the opening page you are presented with a search field, a few featured books and several categories such as Adventure, Business & Economics, History, Political Science and Travel to name just a few.

The opening page or home page as Google refers to it will also display a list your recently viewed books.

Choose a topic, let's browse History...

While browsing you are presented with title, author, year published, number of pages and a thumbnail of the book cover. Once you select a book you are presented with the reader interface and book content.

Considering that this is a web application (note, internet connection required to read, thus reading Google books on a flight will require prior planning, such as loading into Instapaper) the reader interface is sparse but acceptable, the navigation bar provides a contents button and page numbers (forward & backward navigation). The text is readable, touch once on the paragraph to see the original scan from the actual book. Photos and diagrams from the original text are also included and displayed via the web interface.

As noted earlier, you have access to over 1.5 million books, the texts are all public domain books, thus most of the texts are rather dated, you aren't going to find Grisham's latest here. But you will find many of the classics from authors such as Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin, Rudyard Kipling, Jack London and Nikola Tesla. Once again, another great reference for your iPhone, be sure to bookmark it in Safari or add as an icon to your home screen.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

iPhone App - Wishlist! Text to Speech!

What do I really want/need on my iPhone? Text to speech! I want text to speech built in at the OS layer, so that every application has access to it! Wouldn't it be great to launch Instapaper or Tweetie or NetNewsWire or USA Today or AP Mobile News (Ok, you probably get the idea) and touch a button and presto.. text to speech, your iPhone is reading content to you! Make it an open API so that third party developers have access and choose how to incorporate this functionality into their application. This is killer functionality...while driving or at the gym... Apple.. are you listening? Please... add to Touch OS 3.0! Please!!