Why the iPhone antenna issue is somewhat important

“Oh no, not another iPhone post, please.” OK, but hear me out just one last time.

Apple is holding a press conference today. No one knows exactly what they are going to say, who is going to say it, or whether people will be satisfied with what they say, but it’s a big deal in the technology world. The iPhone 4’s antenna issues have been documented. Experts are saying there will be a recall. I personally don’t think the issue warrants it. But why is this a big story?

I believe it is because of what this device is. It’s a computer. It’s not a phone, or just a phone. As I and others have said, sometimes a dropped call is a good thing. I use my iPhone for so much more than calling people, which at this time in history is becoming quaint. The iPhone 4 compares to a Mac from 2000 – AND it fits in your pocket! The power of these devices is only accelerating. I’ve long said that these devices will be our main computers. We’ll carry them to do certain tasks, and then dock them to do tasks that require more monitor space.

Look at where we are. It’s a device that fits in your pocket. It turns on instantly. It connects wirelessly to the Internet (in two ways). I has a built in still and video camera. It can triangulate where you are in the world. It has a 32GB hard drive with no moving parts. An on and on. I think sometimes we miss the revolution that it is. Still, it is a device, made by a company. There are other companies that make similar devices. It’s the computer wars of the early 90’s all over again, with some different players. It is still a big deal, in terms of technology and in terms of communication.

Yes, Apple thinks different. They don’t always think right. While most other companies have evolved their online presence to include things like Twitter and/or Facebook and have openly shared any issues and bugs with an online community, Apple has not. That’s what I want to see change today, or at least start to change. They may think they don’t need to. They may think they are successful because they don’t have that open presence. I believe that if they continue to be closed, it will be self-destructive. There are many who enable this closed attitude – its fans, journalists, and customers themselves. However, Apple is getting more popular and with that will come increasing demands that they be more open, or at least more honest.

Apple’s latest issue with the antenna is not a big deal. It is an issue on a lot of cell phones including previous iPhones (like the 3G in my video above). They can do minimal things to make it right, like give people a free bumper and improve the software that displays signal strength. The reason that they need to change their software at all is because they made it so that the signal would look better than it really was. It was all about the bars (thanks AT&T you have some culpability in this too). Now it’s time to be honest. Stop with the lofty talk. It’s one thing to try to make superior products. It’s another to act superior. Please, no more Jony Ive videos. He’s a great designer, but those videos now couldn’t look any more phony (no pun intended). Let’s have just a wee bit more REAL.

Apple’s iPhone 4 Timeline

Steve Jobs blames audience at Keynote for too many wireless hotspots after demo of web access craps out.

Steve Jobs blames user error for initial reports of iPhone 4 reception problems.

Apple blames formula for iPhone reception problems (they’re “stunned”).

No response to Consumer Reports testing of signal degradation.

Apple deletes, then keeps, support forum threads regarding CR article.

Apple fanboys blame Consumer Reports for flawed tests that show signal loss in iPhone 4. (so MacLife, how did Apple test for the problem when they informed us about the signal strength bar issue? Was it more rigorous than the Consumer reports tests?)

Apple has a reception problem.

Apple should listen to its customers and stop pretending there aren’t problems. Those problems might not be a big deal, but stop with the blaming of others.

Flickr photo by Stone Mirror

The iPhone 4 Defect

I feel lately like Apple is the genius younger brother in the computer world. You know, the one who doesn’t get blamed for bad things that happen, because he is so smart, even brilliant, and innocent. He’s always got a plausible excuse for why something bad happened. Then people pat him on the head and say, well, it’s OK young man, just don’t let it happen again.

With Apple’s iPhone 4, the cute answers have been “don’t hold it that way“, and “we’re stunned that blah blah blah” when it comes to a reception issue that many people have reported. I’ve been saying for several months now that Apple is at a crossroad. These kinds of answers won’t cut it because they’re an adult company now. What they’re telling their customers is bullshit. There is no other word for it (well there is, but this one has the best bang for the buck).

Steve jobs reportedly told people not to hold the iPhone 4 a certain way, you know, the same way that virtually all of their advertising demonstrates to hold the phone, and the way Jobs himself held it at its introductory keynote. Then there was the letter that admitted that they we’re “stunned” to find the way they measured signal strength be wrong. In other words, they were lying all along about those signal strength bars. They were making it look like they had more signal than they actually did. They just said they didn’t know, or think it was possible, that they were lying.

Well, today, none other than Consumer Reports called bullshit. They said the phone, by bridging the gap in its new antenna design, could lose -20Db in signal, and that could lead to dropping a call. Unlike what Apple has said in their letter, the other iPhones did not lose the signal like the iPhone 4. Antenna experts reached slightly different conclusions. Then they acknowledged a problem.

OK Apple Genius, your move.

Flickr Phone

An important, and long-awaited announcement from Flickr is their new iPhone application and it looks to be a good one. I literally started playing with it a few minutes ago and quickly grabbed some screenshots from the iPhone screen. The opening screen gives a nice slideshow of photos from your contacts. One of them, depicted above, is from our former DTLT student Serena Epstein. In short, it allows viewing photos already in your Flickr account, as well as uploading photos that you have just taken, or photos from your iPhone library.

I had been using FlickIt and AirMe to upload photos to the Flickr website, and another app called Darkslide to view my Flickr photos. However, the new Flickr app does it all, and seems to work quite seamlessly as it includes the ability to geo-tag photos. It is one of those iPhone apps that immediately feels right to use, almost like it was there from the beginning. The one downside is that uploads do not include the camera information. So far the only way to get that information included is to use the email to Flickr method. Let’s hope that an update will fix that shortcoming.

All in all, it looks like this program will be on the hallowed “page 1” of my iPhone. It was worth the wait. Here’s the link to the Apple Store for the application.

Instant Image Publishing

Several weeks ago I posted about AudioBoo, a way to instantly post audio on the web and feature that content in a WordPress blog (at UMW Blogs). In my continued fascination with instant publishing, I wanted to bring you the equivalent in instant image publishing.

Here’s what you need. An iPhone, using its built-in camera. An app called AirMe, which you set up to upload the image you take, to an account of your choice. In our case we use the Flickr service. I’ll talk about the Flickr piece in a moment, but I don’t want to gloss over how AirMe works. I grab the iPhone and start the free AirMe app. It works on top of the camera app and it allows me to take a picture, if I like it I use it, or I retake it. I can also use an image that is already on my iPhone. As long as I’m connected to the AT&T network, it will instantly start uploading. In 30 seconds, give or take, it’s done.

Now it’s available on Flickr. So, similar to the audio recordings on AudioBoo, the image is instantly hosted on a photo sharing site. However, like we also did with AudioBoo we are going to republish it to a WordPress blog automatically. We again employ our good friend FeedWordPress. We use the RSS feed from Flickr using the tag iPhone. In no time at all the image is up on the blog.

I have a preset title of “Latest iPhone Photo” and it posts the thumbnail that links to the Flickr page for the photo.

Caution, of course, needs to be exercised because it will publish whatever photo you send. The current iPhone has even better quality than the one I own, and network coverage is getting better all the time. This will only get better and easier with time. I was hoping to have this procedure worked out in time for my MS Ride this year but . . . better late than never.

A Real Podcatcher for the iPhone


Sometimes Apple leaves features out of products for inexplicable reasons . We’re on version 3.0 of the iPhone software and their iTunes application does not allow you to subscribe to a podcast using the standard itpc:// protocol, nor can you add a feed manually, like you can with the desktop version of iTunes. The screenshot from the iPhone above shows you what happens when you click on an iTunes subscribe link in the web browser.

An alternative program with the above features that you can use for the iPhone is called RSS Player. I mentioned this app in my post about AudioBoo, and it will allow you to get more podcasts that are outside of the iTunes universe. It’s $0.99 from the iTunes store.

As an example of how to give users a practical way to subscribe to podcasts using the iPhone, I created this video demonstrating how you browse to a webpage using the iPhone and by clicking a specially coded button, it will automatically start the process for adding a new feed to the RSS Player program.

The example podcasting site, which has some content and multiple tests of AudioBoo, is simply called Podcasting @ UMW. The RSS Player button is created by using the following link (using the rssplayer:// protocol) – rssplayer://www.podcaster.fm?feedurl=http://podcasts.umwblogs.org/feed. RSS Player will work over WiFi or 3G and there is no 10MB file limit like there is with iTunes. The app is a little bit wonky and lacks some of the polish of an iPhone app, but it gets the job done.

Small Pieces Constantly Changing

UMW New Media iPhone Version

An interesting thing happened on the way to, and from, our presentation on “Small Pieces To-Go” at the ACCS 2009 conference. Change. Alright, change isn’t a big deal in our world, but it’s one that I found very exciting and it’s a pretty good indication of where things are going in the mobile computing environment. Mr. Groom and I focused our presentation on how the WordPress platform is ready now for the iPhone ecosystem. By ready, we meant that there are plugins that exist today that will give you an iPhone friendly view of a given web page. For example, the photo above is a screenshot from the iPhone version of the UMW New Media Center site that I’m working on. This view of the site is (actually, was) the way that users of the iPhone would see the site. Users with a traditional computer laptop or desktop would see the standard view, as shown below:


The disadvantage of the first iPhone view (using the iWPhone plugin) was that it was take it or leave it. To see the original version of the site the owner would have to turn the plugin off, then you could view the page in the traditional way. While I was putting together the presentation, a plugin that wasn’t working under WordPress 2.7, got an update. MobilePress had a bit more functionality, like adding page links and a search field. It also offered a much needed link labeled “View Full Version”. Here’s an example of the MobilePress version:

MobilePress view of UMW NMC

Overall, it was a nice experience, with more content on display and those extra added features. So that’s what we went with, knowing full well that somewhere down the road, a better solution would be available. Jump ahead just two days and a tweet from ijohnpederson reminding me of another option that days ago was not working. The latest version of WPTouch was released the day Jim and I presented, and it does indeed kick the iPhone web page look and feel up several notches.

NMC site using WPTouch plugin

The backend of the WPTouch plugin has lots of knobs and dials to play with as well. It even provides you with a Photoshop template that will assist you with creating your own custom icons. Way cool! Another advantage of WPTouch over the other iPhone theme plugins is that it will work on Android phones.

The last little gem of an announcement came from Blackboard. Their iPhone enabled view is coming soon. I’m sure it will be as open and flexible as any of the WordPress plugins.